The ThingMaker won't ship until this fall, but the app is already available and can provide plenty of entertainment value in the meantime. You're given a selection of stock figures (and creatures) to choose from, but once you hit the edit screen any part can be swapped out thanks to the ball-and-socket construction that all the pieces follow. Your samurai warrior doesn't need a pair of fairy wings but they certainly couldn't hurt, right? And there's nothing to stop you from giving your fighter a dinosaur arm. The app doesn't judge. Pick whatever color you want, and even the texture. When you're done designing you can pose your creations and set them against stock backgrounds like a desert, ancient ruins or an underwater scene with a sunken ship.
Right now the designs are pretty generic, but the company has plans to draw on its IP library. So eventually you'll be able to print parts inspired by a number of famous Mattel franchises, like Barbie or Hot Wheels.
The real fun begins when you have it connected to a 3D printer. Though the ThingMaker app works best with its namesake device, designs can be sent to a number of printers already available from MakerBot, Ultimaker and Dremel. You can also export the design by itself to a web browser or cloud drive. You can send all or a few of the pieces to the printer, and the app will do the rest. It's devilishly simple.
Of course, "simple" doesn't mean it's meant for children -- not little ones, anyway. The printer is really meant for teens 13 and up, and precautions are in place to prevent younger kids from hurting themselves. The door will lock when the printer is in use, and the print head retracts. The safety features plus the price tag of $300 will certainly hit a sweet spot this fall for many parents who might be looking to get into 3D printing -- especially now that they can say they're doing it for the kids.