Glowforge vs Snapmaker: Is 3 Better Than 1? (CNC & Laser)

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If you’re looking for a laser engraving machine, both Glowforge’s and Snapmaker’s product ranges let you laser engrave and cut hobbyist projects.

However, while you sacrifice the top-end of laser cutting power with the Snapmaker (max 10W vs Glowforge’s 40W CO2 laser), you gain a 3D printer and CNC cutter – and save a decent amount of money compared with the top-end Glowforge Pro.

So, how do you decide which one is right for you?

In this guide, we take an in-depth, side-by-side look at the Glowforge and Snapmaker to help you decide.

We’ll closely examine all the important aspects, from cutting area, material compatibility, and accuracy to software, assembly, and safety, so you’ll have all the information you need to make a decision. 

3-IN-1 PICK

Snapmaker 2.0 AT

Available at:

LASER PICK

Glowforge Basic/Plus/Pro

Available at:

At a Glance

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The Glowforge product range – Basic, Plus and Pro – and Snapmaker 2.0 AT range are both fairly unique in their own right.

The former is marketed as a beginner-friendly professional 3D laser printer, although the high price means it’s best suited to people who are fairly committed to the industry and making their small business work.

The Snapmaker is notable for being one of the few 3-in-1 CNC machines on the market. As well as having a laser engraving module, it also operates as a 3D printer and CNC carving router. 

This means there are some pretty significant differences between the two. For starters, the Snapmaker clearly offers a greater range of functionality and is, therefore, more versatile than any Glowforge model.

However, if you’re primarily interested in laser engraving, it’s important to understand that the 40W CO2 laser seen in the Glowforge machines is considerably more powerful than the Snapmaker’s diode laser.

This just scratches the surface of our Glowforge vs Snapmaker 2.0 comparison, though. Let’s now take a closer look at the benefits and limitations of each machine. 

Cutting Area

The Glowforge range offer good work areas, with the Pro even offering infinite length cutting and engraving – reminiscent of conveyor belt 3D printers.

Glowforge working areas are:

  • Basic: 18″ x 20″ x 2″
  • Plus: 18″ x 20″ x 2″
  • Pro: 18″ x unlimited x 2″

The Snapmaker 2.0 comes in three different models with the following cutting areas:

  • A150: 160 x 160 x 145 mm
  • A250T: 230 x 250 x 235 mm
  • A350T: 320 x 350 x 330 mm

So, as you can see there are some fairly stark differences between the two in this regard.

The Glowforge offers significantly more room in terms of width and depth than even the largest Snapmaker model. That being said, the upright design of the Snapmaker means you have a lot more room when it comes to height, so there’s more flexibility in this regard.

Whereas other lasers can be upgraded for larger depths, the closed enclosure design of the Glowforge prevents any upgrades like this, so you’re stuck with the 2-inch cutting depth. This also means you can’t upgrade any Glowforge to a 4-axis model with a rotary module – whereas you can with the Snapmaker.

Overall, if you’re looking for a larger working area for more medium size projects, most people will be better off with the Glowforge. 

Winner: Glowforge 

Material Capability 

There are some important differences between the Glowforge and Snapmaker’s effectiveness at cutting different materials which could sway you in the direction of either machine.

Let’s start with the Glowforge.

Unlike many other hobbyist laser engravers that use diode lasers, the Glowforge models use 40/45W (depending on your model) CO2 lasers which are significantly more powerful.

For example, in my Glowforge vs X Carve review, I explain how these lasers are significantly faster at cutting thin plywood than some CNC routers. 

You can work with a wide variety of other materials with the Glowforge, such as plastics. You can also engrave soft metals such as aluminum, although you’ll struggle to cut such metals with this machine. 

Glowforge laser cutting and engraving wood

The laser module used in the Snapmaker models is less powerful (less than 10W) and not well suited to cutting thick or hard materials. It comes with two thin 1.5mm plywood sheets, so this is the kind of thickness you’d be working with.

In contrast, 40W lasers can precisely and quickly cut much thicker 1/4” sheets.

In our Snapmaker review, we tested it using the provided plywood sheets and found it completed the project in 37 minutes – 11 minutes faster than the estimated time. The results were very accurate.

Engraving and cutting out a wooden box with the Snapmaker 2.0 laser engraver

However, the Snapmaker default 1600mW laser isn’t suitable for engraving aluminum unless you’re etching anodized or painted surfaces.

To do aluminum engraving, you’ll need to pay $399 extra for the High-Power 10W Laser add-on, which we have also reviewed.

Snapmaker 2.0 AT engraving aluminum
Engraving on aluminum with the 10W laser add-on for Snapmaker AT models.

Now, it’s important to remember that the Snapmaker isn’t just a laser engraver, and the carving router opens up more possibilities in terms of material cutting.

This module is much better suited for cutting and carving, so you can cut softer materials of greater thickness. However, it’s not recommended for cutting aluminum.

CNC carving with the Snapmaker 2.0 AT
We carved this accurate chess piece using the Snapmaker CNC carver and the 4-axis rotary module add-on.

Overall, the Glowforge is a far superior engraver, but the ability to easily switch between different tool jobs for different applications with the Snapmaker means I’m calling this round a tie.

Winner: Tie

Software & Usability 

Both the Glowforge and Snapmaker 2.0 laser engravers come with software packages for creating designs and operating the machines. 

Glowforge’s eponymous laser engraving software is designed for optimal usability.

It provides a really simple and intuitive interface for creating your designs, whether you want to hand draw them, use clip art, or photos.

However, it requires internet access as it’s cloud-based, which may frustrate some. You also have to wait in the queue if you’re not a premium subscriber, unless you want to pay an additional monthly fee for priority.

You can also import files from popular SVG and editing software like Adobe Illustrator and Inkscape, or purchase print-ready designs from the Glowforge library.

A screenshot of the Glowforge software

Once you have your design, all you need to do is drag and drop in the Glowforge program to send it to your machine ready for engraving. The software is available on both desktop and mobile, with user-friendly apps for iOS and Android.

Snapmaker’s software, Luban, is also really beginner-friendly and offers functionality for laser engraving, 3D printing, and carving in a single program.

It’s more modular and customizable, with a plugin system and API for adding new features, and it comes with 4th axis functionality built-in, with clear instructions and guidelines for every function.

The Snapmaker Luban displaying "CNCSOURCED" in the program

Due to this, Snapmaker Luban takes this round.

Winner: Snapmaker 

Upgradeability 

The unique, enclosed design of the Glowforge means that it isn’t very customizable and upgradable compared to other lasers, such as the Flux Beamo and other Glowforge alternatives. However, you can create your own improvements such as this one.

In contrast, the modular design of the Snapmaker means there are a number of upgrades you can make to improve performance.

The most popular and significant upgrade is the 4th axis rotary module, which will set you back $599.

This allows you to engrave cylindrical objects like glasses and mugs, so it greatly widens the scope of projects you can work on. This isn’t possible with the Glowforge, which is only capable of engraving and cutting 2D objects.

Snapmaker offers several other accessories and upgrades for its modes, including an enclosure for improved safety, a more powerful 10W laser module, and an emergency stop button.

Winner: Snapmaker

The enclosure keeps fumes from 3D printing ABS out, as well as the light and fumes from laser engraving.

Assembly

One of the best things about the Glowforge is how incredibly easy it is to get set up.

It’s designed to come as a fully complete solution and is almost fully preassembled, so all you need to do is some minor tweaks and you’re good to go.

It shouldn’t take more than an hour to get your Glowforge up and running.

The Snapmaker 2.0 is also very easy to get up and running and takes around 60 to 80 minutes. While the entire machine doesn’t come preassembled like the Glowforge, the parts do, so you just need to do some basic things like attaching the printing tool head and the heated bed to assemble it.

It’s important to understand that there’s a reason the Snapmaker 2.0 doesn’t come preassembled – the modular design which allows for customizability.

So, while the Glowforge is easier to set up, the Snapmaker 2.0 wouldn’t be the machine it is if it came preassembled in the same way. 

Winner: Glowforge 

Clean Up & Safety

All CNC machines can emit dust, fumes, and particles when in operation, which can both cause mess and be dangerous to breathe in, so you need to ensure you have a safe working environment.

The Glowforge comes with an impressive clean-up system included, consisting of an exhaust vent and hose.

By positioning the hose outside a window, you can use the Glowforge in your home without having to worry about mess or fumes. You can also buy an air filter separately which allows you to use the machine anywhere, even without a window.

There are safety and clean-up parts for the Snapmaker, such as an enclosure and air purifier, but these need to be purchased separately.

Some users may choose to just use the machine in a well-ventilated area with goggles and a face mask, but it’s always recommended to have a proper clean-up and purification system for optimum safety.

Winner: Glowforge

Price & Value for Money

The Glowforge machines are some of the more expensive laser engravers on the market, retailing for:

  • Basic – $3,995
  • Plus – $4,995
  • Pro – $6,995

The three Snapmaker 2.0 models are cheaper alternatives:

  • A150 – $1,199
  • A250 – $1,499
  • A350 – $1,799

Glowforges are expensive, but you get unbeatable user-friendliness, 40W CO2 power, and good work area. Even the Glowforge Basic can cut larger parts than even the largest A350T Snapmaker model.

Additionally, those Snapmaker prices are only for the basic kit. To supercharge your experience, you may opt for one of a number of upgrades that can increase your investment cost:

  • 10W high-power laser: $459
  • 4-axis rotary module: $599
  • Enclosure: $399-599 depending on which size machine
  • Air purifier: $499
  • Emergency stop button: $59

Overall, value comes down to what you need – the Glowforge is clearly the better option for larger projects, but if you’re looking for a more budget-friendly or versatile option, the Snapmaker 2.0 is better value.

Winner: tie

Who is the Glowforge Best for?

The range of differences between the Glowforge and Snapmaker 2.0 engravers make it difficult to declare one as the “best”, but what is clear is that each is better suited to different applications and hobbyists.

For example, if you’re looking for a powerful CO2 laser capable of effectively cutting and engraving materials like hardwood, and that offers a generous working area, the Glowforge is the better choice.

What really makes the Glowforge stand out is how incredibly user-friendly it is.

In fact, I’ve yet to come across a laser engraver that’s as beginner-friendly as the Glowforge. The software and app make it super easy to create designs and operate the machine, it’s really simple to set up, and it comes with an effective cleanup system included. 

The price is higher than most similar machines, but you do get what you pay for in terms of quality.

Want to try the Glowforge out for yourself? You can purchase the Basic, Plus, and Pro models today through the Glowforge website.

Who is the Snapmaker Best for?

While the Snapmaker laser may not be as powerful as the Glowforge, and while the working area is a fair bit smaller, there are also areas in which this machine excels.

The most obvious is its three-in-one functionality – it’s the best 3-in-1 CNC machine in this category and is perfect if you’re interested in using two or three of the techniques rather than just one.

With the ability to laser engraver, 3D print, and carve with the router, it’s super versatile and can be used for a wide variety of projects.

It’s a more economical choice than the Glowforge and its modular design, combined with the intuitive software, make it a great option for beginners and casual hobbyists. The ability to add upgrades such as the 4th axis rotary module is also a big plus.

If you prefer the Snapmaker to Glowforge, you can get your hands on one via Amazon or the official Snapmaker store.

3-IN-1 PICK

Snapmaker 2.0 AT

Available at:

LASER PICK

Glowforge Basic/Plus/Pro

Available at:

FAQs

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