Thanks to the rise and accessibility of 3-D printers, someday we could all be wearing plastic dresses and filling kids’ playrooms with toys printed right at home (probably not a world I even want to live in). Though we are quite a few years away from that life, kids’ need for completely customizable toys is real.

Cue the 3D Magic Maker, from Tech 4 Kids, which allows kids to create everything they can imagine, including animal figures, building sculpts, doll accessories, jewelry, and more using the included stencils, molds, 3D Magic Gel, and UV chamber.

3d_maker_and_creationsKids can select one of the molds or stencils and fill it in using one of the three gel colors. Then, they slide the mold into the 3D chamber, close the door, and push the “timer” button. In about one minute, the UV light in the chamber heats and solidifies the gel, giving kids a bendable, flexible plastic piece. Kids can use more gel to fuse together two or more pieces, creating 3-D structures and sculptures.

The set includes fun molds such as a bridge, a turtle, a fish, a puppy dog, and a helicopter. Plus, there are two blank plastic sheets that allow kids to go abstract and create anything they want, such as 2-D letters or pieces to form a cool 3-D house.

The hardened gel is shockingly durable. It was a bit tough to get the little fishy out of the mold, but once I realized the gel can withstand a decent amount of pressure without breaking and I wasn’t afraid to wrench it out, it came out with ease. And, if any piece of your 3-D creation does break, you can easily repair it with a little more gel and another brief stint in the UV chamber.

Unlike play baking ovens, the gel hardens in the UV chamber in about a minute. Especially great for kids with short attention spans, there’s practically no waiting—kids will barely have time to start filling in a second mold before the first one is finished and ready for play. Plus, there’s no heat for parents to worry about, ensuring kids’ safety.

Once kids get the hang of tracing and drawing with the gels, they can get even more creative and use plastic pieces such as water bottles to enhance their creativity. Air bubbles can sometimes get stuck in the gels, but they are easy enough to shake out and keep playing. And the gel goes a long way—I was able to create a bridge, a fish, a turtle, spell my name out in script, make an abstract smiley little alien, and still had plenty of gel left over for more creations. Kids will likely want a few more colors to play with, since the set comes with green, orange, and red—the latter two are very similar—so be sure to snag the kiddos some add-on packs to extend the 3-D fun.

While this system of stencils and gels that harden and turn into bendable plastic pieces is not technically a 3-D printer, it is a great engineering tool, teaching kids the basics of how things are built up and constructed, while challenging them to find ways to turn 2-D pieces into 3-D structures. Tech 4 Kids’ 3-D Magic Maker is the perfect fusion of entertainment and STEAM learning, changing the way kids play and harness their imaginations.