X Carve vs Glowforge: Should You CNC or Laser? [Reviewed]

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The X Carve by Inventables, and Glowforge’s Basic, Plus and Pro range are some of the most popular hobbyist and small business machines around – ideal for cutting and shaping materials.

But they’re very different: the X Carve is a CNC router, and the Glowforge range are laser cutters and engravers.

The X Carve is a CNC router designed for cutting and carving wood and other materials, while the Glowforge is a laser designed for engraving (and cutting thin, softer materials).

So, which is the best for you? We’ve compared the two to help you pick.

I’ve reviewed both the X Carve and the Glowforge range across each factor to highlight the differences between the two and what type of applications each is best suited to. So if you’re considering buying an X Carve or Glowforge, make sure you read this guide first!

We also recommend which Glowforge to pick based on your price range, needs and goals – as they range greatly in price.

CNC PICK

Inventables X Carve

Available at:

LASER PICK

Glowforge Basic/Plus/Pro

Available at:

X Carve vs Glowforge: At a Glance

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First off, it’s important to note that the X Carve and Glowforge are different types of CNC machines.

The X Carve is a CNC router that uses a metal bit driven by motors to cut and carve materials, while the Glowforge is a laser engraving machine that uses a CO2 laser. So while there are things that both machines can do, there are also some important differences to be aware of. 

For example, one limitation of the Glowforge is that it can only work on 2D workpieces, whereas the X Carve can machine 2.5D projects.

The X Carve is better at cutting thicker workpieces and soft metals, offers a larger working area, is cheaper than even the cheapest Glowforge model, the Glowforge Basic (although the X Carve Pro is more expensive), and the X Carve can be upgraded – including adding a laser engraving module.

On the flip side, the Glowforge also has some clear advantages over the X Carve.

It’s much quicker and easier to assemble, is better for engraving with a small spot size for higher precision, is enclosed whereas the X Carve is open air, and comes with a clean-up system for safer, cleaner working. 

So, which machine is “best” for you depends on your experience level, your applications, and your budget.

Now, let’s take a closer look at the similarities and differences between these two machines to help you decide which is best for you.

Cutting Area

The X Carve provides a cutting area of 29.5”x29.5”x4.5”, which is in line with what most other similarly-priced hobbyist CNC routers offer. It provides more than enough space for working on a variety of small and medium-sized projects. 

Inventables X Carve

The Glowforge comes in three models – Basic, Plus, and Pro – and they all have dimensions of 38×20.75×8.25”.

However, the working area is actually just 11” deep and 19.5” wide, meaning you can cut and engrave materials up to 20” wide, 18” deep, and 2” high for the Basic and Plus. 

The dimensions are mostly the same for the Glowforge Pro, except that the passthrough feature in this model means you can engrave objects of unlimited length. So, as you can see, you get a fair bit more cutting space with the X Carve.

Glowforge Pro

If you’re looking for a larger working area, you may want to consider the X Carve Pro.

This is an upgraded version of the X Carve that comes in two sizes – 2ft x 4ft and 4ft x 4ft – and only costs slightly more than the Glowforge Pro.

Winner: X Carve

Accuracy & Speed 

It’s often difficult to say one machine is going to be faster or more precise than another because it depends on the settings you’re using and the materials you’re working with.

As is explained on the Glowforge site, there are also other factors like the thickness of your workpiece and how fast you move the laser head. 

Some X Carve users have stated that 40W lasers (the type used in Glowforge machines) are considerably faster at cutting thin workpieces of certain materials (this user uses 1/4” plywood in the example).

Engraving accuracy will also be higher with a Glowforge.

On the flip side, the X Carve will likely achieve faster cutting when working with thicker materials and non-ferrous metals, and Glowforge CO2 lasers can only engrave metals rather than cut them. 

Both machines are accurate and offer decent speed levels for what they’re made for, so really it depends on what you’re going to be doing with your machine.

Winner: Tie

Material Capability 

One of the main differences between routers like the X Carve and engravers like the Glowforge, as I explain in my CNC routers vs Glowforge guide, is how capable they are of cutting different materials. 

The Glowforge machines use powerful CO2 lasers which can do things many diode cheaper engravers can’t, such as cut hardwood. However, laser engraving machines are designed primarily to engrave and cut only small depths, whereas CNC routers are far better suited to cutting than engraving. 

A picture of the Glowforge engraving wood

For example, with a router like the X Carve, you can cut materials like wood, plastic, and foam much thicker than you can with a laser.

Another difference is when it comes to working with metals.

If you want to engrave the surfaces of soft, non-ferrous metals such as aluminum, then you’re much better off with a Glowforge. If you want to cut aluminum, you’re definitely going to want to go with the X Carve, as this would be very difficult and time-consuming with a laser.

An X Carve metal cutting

Overall, neither is “better” in this regard due to the Glowforge being superior at engraving and the X Carve more suitable for cutting, so just make sure you’re aware of this distinction.

Winner: X Carve for cutting, Glowforge for engraving

Software & Usability 

Whether you’re using a CNC router like the X Carve or a laser engraver like the Glowforge, you need quality software for creating designs and controlling your machine.

Luckily, both these machines come with software packages included. 

With the X Carve you get a three-year subscription to Inventables’ Easel Pro. Easel Pro is basically an all-in-one CNC suite covering the CAD/CAM stage and g-code conversion, but retains user-friendliness you may not expect from CNC programs.

Easel X Carve software

Easel Pro is also specifically designed for beginners and is widely regarded as one of the most intuitive software on the market.

In fact, Inventables claims it to be “the world’s easiest CAD/CAM software”.

Glowforge also has its own Glowforge App for creating 2D designs and sending them to your machine. You can even import photos to create designs.

The program is available on both desktop and mobile, with apps for iOS and Android, and it’s super easy to use.

However, as the software is online-only it’s reliant upon having a strong internet connection, unlike Easel which can be downloaded and used wherever.

Glowforge software

Overall, Easel Pro certainly offers more advanced design and control possibilities than the Glowforge software. 

Winner: Tie for usability, X Carve for advanced design & control

Upgradeability 

The majority of hobbyist CNC routers, the X Carve included, offer a variety of upgrade options that can improve performance and add different functions, and many users love to tinker with their machines. 

For example, Inventables offers a complete upgrade kit for $499 which provides a stiffer belt for more sturdy and precise movement, an upgraded Z-axis for cutting thicker objects and increased rigidity, and improved motors. 

You can buy the belt, motor, and Z-axis upgrades separately if you don’t want all of them, and it also offers a wasteboard upgrade kit, so there are plenty of options. 

Perhaps the most notable X Carve upgrade for people considering an X Carve or Glowforge is the X Carve laser module sold by JTech Photonics

The X Carve using a laser module

By adding this upgrade you get laser engraving capability without removing your router’s natural cutting ability, so your X Carve can then essentially do just what a Glowforge can.

On the other hand, you can’t add a router onto a Glowforge.

In terms of upgrades, the Glowforge is designed to be a complete solution and it doesn’t offer anywhere near the same level of customizability as the X Carve.

There’s no 4th axis upgrade, meaning you can’t engrave circular objects, and the Z-axis can’t be upgraded due to the restricted area in the enclosure, so you’re restricted to cutting at 2” depths.

The only Glowforge upgrades you’ll find are STL file 3D printable upgrades for the exhaust.

Winner: X Carve 

Assembly

The Glowforge is designed for optimum user-friendliness and is aimed at beginners, and due to its fantastic, almost fully assembled design it’s super easy to set up – more so than virtually any CNC router.

It shouldn’t take more than an hour to get up and running, and it comes with very detailed and helpful instructions to help you along the way.

Setting up the X Carve is a bit trickier and more time-consuming.

This is because, unlike some other popular CNC routers, the X Carve parts come mostly unassembled. How long it takes to assemble will vary based on your experience, but for most people, it takes between five and eight hours. 

Winner: Glowforge 

Clean Up & Safety

For anyone getting into the CNC hobby, it’s super important to go for a machine that’s going to be safe and easy to clean up in your home workshop. All types of CNC machines can emit dust and particles that can be both messy and dangerous to breathe if not contained properly. 

The creators of the Glowforge clearly had this in mind when designing their kits, as they all come with exhaust vents and hoses.

So, all you need to do is position the hose outside a window and you can safely use the Glowforge in your home without any mess.

If you want to go one better and be able to use your Glowforge anywhere without needing a window, Glowforge also offers an air filter for this purpose. 

Glowforge air filter

In contrast, virtually all hobbyist CNC routers, including the X Carve, don’t come with a clean-up kit included. 

Many hobbyists just use their routers in well-ventilated workshops with face masks and goggles, but if you’re concerned about safety or don’t fancy sweeping, you can purchase a CNC dust collection system.

The cheapest systems start at around $200.

Winner: Glowforge

Price & Value for Money

The Glowforge machines are fairly pricey, each retailing for the following:

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

In contrast, the X Carve costs $2,047. So, you could add the X Carve upgrade kit and the JTech Photonics laser module and it’ll still set you back less than the Glowforge Basic.

That’s not to say that the Glowforge machines are overpriced, because they offer extremely intuitive, user-friendly, all-in-one solutions for beginners and small business owners, so if that’s what you’re looking for then the price may be justified.

However, I think that the X Carve will overall offer better value for most people, especially those who want to set up an Etsy store but who don’t want to spend $5,000+ on a Glowforge Pro (they’re worth it if you’re already up and running and selling your wares though).

Winner: X Carve 

Who is the X Carve Best for?

As I touched on in my introduction, it’s difficult to declare either the X Carve or Glowforge as the “best” due to them being different machines with different target audiences. What I can say, however, is that each machine is better suited to different types of applications, and therefore people. 

Let’s take the X Carve first.

With this machine, you get a larger cutting area, so it’s better if you want to work on a variety of medium-sized projects. For example, you can use an X Carve to create small furniture, something the Glowforge isn’t intended for. 

As is the case with all decent CNC routers, the X Carve is also a more effective machine at cutting and carving thicker materials than the Glowforge, particularly if you’re working with thick wood and aluminum. 

It comes with one of the most impressive hobbyist CNC software there is, and to top it all off you can add a variety of upgrades including a laser module. So you can turn your X Carve into a laser engraving machine and do what the Glowforge is designed for.

If the X Carve ticks your boxes, you can easily get your hands on one via Matterhackers.

Who is the Glowforge Best for?

While the X Carve has the edge in some aspects, that’s not to say it’s better suited to everyone and all of Glowforge’s models are a viable X Carve alternative for some applications. For starters, the Glowforge laser range is designed to be accessible for small business owners, as well as complete beginners.

Assembly should take under an hour and is a walk in the park, while the extremely intuitive Glowforge software and apps make creating and sending designs to your engraver really simple. 

The Glowforge is a superior option for engraving materials if you don’t want the hassle of ordering and adding new components onto an X Carve. It also comes with a clean-up system that makes it safe and suitable to use in homes, whereas CNC routers can leave dust and chips all over a workspace. 

If this sounds like the machine for you, you can purchase a Glowforge through the Glowforge website today, or via Dynamism.

CNC PICK

Inventables X Carve

Available at:

LASER PICK

Glowforge Basic/Plus/Pro

Available at:

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