Is It Worth Buying a Glowforge Laser Cutter?

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Guides, Laser Cutters, Laser Engravers, Laser Guides

Is The Glowforge 3D Laser Printer Worth It

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Key Takeaways

  • Glowforge overview: Glowforge is a brand of laser cutters that can create and engrave various products from different materials. Glowforge printers are easy to use, versatile, and fast.
  • Glowforge models: Glowforge offers three models of laser cutters: Basic, Plus, and Pro. They differ in their laser power, speed, warranty, and pass-through slot feature. The Pro model is the most expensive and powerful one.
  • Glowforge materials: Glowforge has its own line of materials called Proofgrade, which have QR codes that adjust the settings automatically2. You can also use third-party materials, but you need to find the best settings for them and be careful about the warranty.
  • Glowforge pros and cons: Glowforge printers have many advantages, such as easy setup, intuitive software, online community, and high-quality prints. However, they also have some drawbacks, such as high cost, internet dependency, limited software, noise level, and short warranty.

Glowforge kicked the Kickstarter community into gear in 2015 when the Glowforge 3D laser printer came onto the scene.

Since then, Glowforge has become an established brand, producing high-quality laser cutters – marketed as 3D laser printers – that can be used at home. Glowforge has amassed a large, loyal customer base and fostered a wide community of makers and small business owners.

In this article, I’ll explain whether Glowforge laser cutters are worth it, their pros and cons, and examine them across every major factor to consider before buying.

Why Are Glowforge Printers So Popular?

Glowforce is a compact, at-home 3D laser printer and engraver. The labeling as a “3D laser printer” can be a bit of a misnomer, as it is actually a laser cutter; however, the brand has marketed these machines as laser printers and refers to all designs as “prints.”

Glowforge printers can be used commercially or at home, and they’re super easy to use. The software is intuitive (but online only), built-in cameras track your designs, and all Glowforge lasers ship ready to plug in and start.

As a result, they’re great for starting your own small business or Etsy shop. This has led to a robust and supportive community, who are constantly sharing ideas and trouble-shooting issues on the Glowforge community forum.

There are three models:

  • Glowforge Pro
  • Glowforge Plus
  • Glowforge Basic
Glowforge Pro, Plus, and Basic

The differences between these three lasers come down to their cut speed and laser strength, which impacts their price.

Glowforge Basic

Glowforge Basic

The Basic model offers amazing benefits to crafters who want to enjoy the abilities of a Glowforge printer without spending too much money. The Basic is an entry-level model for laser cutting and engraving.

The specs for the Basic are:

Glowforge Basic

Glowforge are the easiest to use lasers for home business owners looking to create cool projects and sell them on Etsy or other stores and make money.

Glowforge here
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Glowforge Plus

Glowforge Plus

The Glowforge Plus has similar abilities to the Basic but comes with faster speeds and extended warranty.

Here are the specs for the plus:

Glowforge Plus

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Glowforge Pro

Glowforge Pro

The Glowforge Pro has a more powerful 45W CO2 laser head. Because with this extra power it can get hotter, it also has more advanced cooling systems, which cuts down waiting time between projects. 

This premium model also has a pass-through slot, which allows you to undertake massive projects. The Glowforge Pro also engraves 3x faster, and cuts 1.2x faster than the Basic.

The Glowforge Pro specs are:

Glowforge Pro

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Which Materials Are Compatible With Glowforge Printers?

Proofgrade materials

Glowforge has its own line of materials called “Proofgrade” materials. These materials have a QR code on the front, and once the materials are placed within the printer, the QR code is scanned, and the laser automatically adjusts your settings for the material.

Glowforge Proofgrade material
Proofgrade material. Source: Glowforge

Glowforge proofgrade materials come with a “mask” over them, which prevents the material from getting damaged or stained by the smoke produced while cutting with the laser beam.

Those new to laser cutting will benefit from using the Proofgrade materials, as you won’t need to tweak any settings, and you’re covered by your warranty if any errors occur. However, they are more expensive than if you source materials like acrylic and wood sheets elsewhere.

Non-proof-grade materials

Third-party materials can still be used; however, you’ll need to find the best laser settings for them. Always conduct a test cut before starting a project.

It’s also worth noting that if you damage or break your Glowforge while cutting third-party materials, your warranty will not cover this. It’s unlikely to be a problem, as long as you’re sensible, but still worth mentioning.

Range of materials

A glance at the community forums will confirm that Glowforge can cut and engrave a wide range of different materials:

Cut and Engrave

  • Wood (hardwood and plywood)
  • Veneers
  • Acrylic
  • MDF
  • Draftboard
  • Leather
  • Acetal
  • Rubber
  • Mylar

Engrave only

  • Anodized aluminum and paint coated metals
  • Glass
  • Ceramic
  • Phone cases
  • Steel (using spray)

The Advantages of Glowforge Laser Printers 

Below we will outline the advantages of Glowforge printers which have attracted so many people to these models.

Pros

User-friendly

Versatile

Easily Programmable Settings

Software File Compatibility

User-friendly

Glowforge is known for how incredibly easy it is to use the printer and the software.

It is so easy to set up that Glowforge, reports that most users can print within 30 minutes of taking the printer out of the box. I had the same experience.

The process is explained step-by-step within the Glowforge web software, so you can get your first prints done without issue.

Once set up, all Glowforges are really easy to use. You can seamlessly print clip art, or import hand-drawn sketches onto the software for printing. Compared to similar-priced laser cutters like OMTech, you sacrifice laser power (OMTech have 80-100W models for the same price), but gain in user-friendliness.

The Glowforge web app means you can take your designs with you wherever you go. If you sign up for Glowforge Premium, you also get access to designs from the Glowforge team and other users which you can print at home. Alternatively, Premium users can have their designs vetted and approved by Glowforge and earn money when other users print them!

The built-in live-feed camera allows you to see your prints take shape in real life. This camera comes with 3D auto-focus abilities, which enables the camera to focus automatically on the cutting bed as the cuts go deeper.

Versatile

We have already mentioned the variety of materials that the Glowforge can cut and engrave.

The ability to cut, score, and engrave everything from wood to rubber means that there is no limit to your designs.

You can also use larger materials to create your designs thanks to the pass-through slot on the Glowforge Pro. However, the Glowforge Basic and Plus do not have a pass-through slot, so you can only cut and engrave material sheets as large as their working areas.

Easily Programmable Settings

Glowforge printers come with preprogrammed settings when it comes to cutting, engraving, or scoring the proofgrade materials. Once the QR code on the materials is scanned, the settings automatically adjust.

The same settings can be manually selected for non-Glowforge materials as well.

If you wish not to use the preprogrammed settings, you can easily customize the settings in Manual Mode. However, you may have to do a few test runs to make sure the manual settings meet your requirements.

The software then allows you to save your favorite custom setting for future use.

Software File Compatibility

The Glowforge app comes with a free and paid subscription. The free version is fine for beginners, as it still allows you to import multiple file formats, like PDF, JPG, PNG, and SVG.

The Glowforge app is also compatible with other software. Glowforge creators commonly use Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, CorelDraw, Inkscape, Procreate, Sketchup, Autodesk Fusion 360, and Silhouette to produce their Glowforge projects, so you should be covered.

The Disadvantages of Glowforge Printers 

The Glowforge is a brilliant buy, but it comes with some possible disadvantages. I’ve listed good alternatives based on each disadvantage, too, in case that’s helpful for you.

Cons

Expensive

Internet Access is Required

Short Z-height and No Rotary

No 3rd Party Control Software

Warranty Issues

Noisy

Expensive

The upfront costs of the printer models themselves are pricey:

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

The Glowforge Air Filter comes at an additional cost of $999, although many don’t purchase this if they have airflow in the room in which the printer will be installed.

Other additional purchases that are not necessary but useful include:

  • Materials
  • Premium subscription
  • A large table
  • Shipping costs – this depends on where you live but international shipping can be very expensive due to the weight of the printer.

Despite these high costs, the Glowforge remains one of the most versatile and fastest home printers, making it an excellent investment.

If this is too much, there are lower-cost alternatives to Glowforge lasers that offer similar power. For example, OMTech 50W is slightly more powerful than Glowforge, yet half the price. FSL Muse Core is $3499, yet offers similar power to the Glowforge Pro. You can read more in out comparison article on Muse vs Glowforge.

Internet Access is Required

The thing most users complain about is that you need an internet connection to operate the Glowforge software.

There is no downloadable, offline, desktop version and no port to connect the printer to the computer. There is also no port for an ethernet cable on it either – it only works with WiFi or a hotspot.

The Glowforge App must be used on a device connected to a stable internet connection. Using a Desktop PC or Laptop is much easier than using it on your phone or tablet due to the smaller screen sizes of the latter.

Some lasers from other brands offer online software besides other offline software. But, software choices are limited with Glowforge, and internet problems equal job interruptions.

Short Z-height and No Rotary

Glowforge can only engrave materials sheets. When the crumb tray is installed, you can only place materials up to 0.5” thickn. If you remove the tray, you can cut up to 2” thick materials, but it’s still only good for sheet materials, not tall objects. 

Another disadvantage is that Glowforge doesn’t support a rotary add-on. A rotary will extend your laser capabilities to also engrave flasks, bottles, and cylindrical objects. While many other lower priced laser machines support rotaries, you can’t ever engrave such objects with a Glowforge.

This, for me, is the biggest downside. We all know how well items like yeti cups, flasks, beakers and glasses sell online, so being unable to engrave cylindrical objects is a big loss. 

If you really need a rotary, then I recommend the FSL Muse Core, or if you don’t need to engrave large objects, a cheaper option is the Flux Beamo

Or, if you’re fine with a diode laser rather than a CO2 laser, the xTool D1 Pro has a cheaper rotary bundle for around $1000 that can still engrave anodized metals.

No 3rd Party Control Software

You can run a lot of laser machines with 3rd party software like Lightburn, but not Glowforge. You have to stick to the Glowforge App. 

This becomes more unsettling when you also consider that Glowforge App is not an offline software on your computer. 

You’re always at the mercy of the company for using the machine you’ve paid for. Although the company is trustworthy, it’s still a risk if Glowforge were suddenly to go bankrupt and stop supporting the software.

Warranty Issues

The Basic model comes with a 6-month warranty, while the Plus and Pro models have a slightly longer warranty at 12 months.

These warranties are thought to be too short, especially considering the initial cost of the printer and how long it can take to finish repairs if required.

Users would certainly benefit if they were offered an extended warranty option.

The warranty does not cover any issues that arise because of non-proofgrade materials, which limits the usefulness of the warranty. This may compel the users to get their materials from Glowforge only, while most users prefer their freedom to secure materials from their favorite sources. Plus, Proofgrade materials are sometimes out of stock, making it a necessity to turn elsewhere for materials.

Any damage caused by manual settings will also not be covered by your warranty.

Noisy

Anyone who has owned a Glowforge printer can attest to how loud these printers are. The noise is contributed to the exhaust fans.

It can simply be the normal running of the fan, but excessive noise can be caused by debris on the fans. You should regularly check and clean the exhaust fan and the air assist fan to reduce noise.

According to the Glowforge community, noise can be reduced by turning off the internal fan. To prevent overheating, an external duct fan can be attached.

The Bottom Line: Is Glowforge Worth it?

We believe that the Glowforge 3D laser printer has a lot of value and the basic model has a reasonable price point. Glowforge are the kings of beginner-friendly, intuitive lasers, and if you want an easier, less complex experience, they’re the best machines for you.

With an east set-up process, you can produce high-quality laser cuts and engravings in no time.

Although there are a couple of disadvantages, such as the warranty issues, lack of rotary, limited software, and the noisy fans, these are outweighed by the pros!

The Basic model is a good place to start; however, experts will not regret investing in the Pro model either.

Glowforge Pro

Glowforge are the easiest to use lasers for home business owners looking to create cool projects and sell them on Etsy or other stores and make money.

Glowforge here Dynamism here
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So, what are you waiting for? Why not buy your Glowforge printer today and start creating beautiful designs! If you need more information on Glowforge, then check out our article on everything you need to know about Glowforge.

FAQs

Can you make a living with a Glowforge?

Certainly! Glowforge is for at-home use, which means you can begin a small business engraving items or creating intricate decor for interior design. Many Glowforge laser owners make a living selling their crafts and designs online.

You can also make money with Glowforge by selling your designs to the Glowforge community.

Can Glowforge do photos?

Although Glowforge cannot print photos like a normal printer. It can, however, make laser engravings and cuts of photos, clip art, and sketches. Glowforge lasers all have high-quality lasers for engraving accurate grayscale images and portraits.

How is Glowforge a 3D printer?

Glowforge machines are not 3D printers. But, because Glowforge call it a “3D laser printer”, probably to emphasize its grayscale engraving capabilities, it’s commonly mistaken for 3D printing. Glowforge machines are actually CNC laser cutters.

How long does a Glowforge laser last?

According to Glowforge, the laser tube is expected to last for two years, whereafter it will need replacing. But, this depends on how much you use the laser. 

How long does Glowforge take to cut?

The average time has been reported to be 12 minutes; however, it can take a few seconds up to several hours, depending on the size of the print, the material, and the design overall.

What are Glowforge’s best sellers?

The best sellers made with Glowforge printers include:

Wooden signs (like house numbers and names)
Personalized wood products
Engraved leather products
Acrylic jewelry

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