Reviewing the Glowforge: A Desktop Laser Cutter

Glowforge

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If you haven’t heard of the Glowforge, let us fill you in: it’s a table-top laser cutter and engraver, and yes, it is as cool as it sounds. It was one of those tech developments that, when it went public, people were torn: is it going to be wondrous, or wacky?

Turns out, it’s the former.

Glowforge came out with the Glowforge Basic and Glowforge Pro back in 2016, and while both come with hefty price tags –$2,500 for the Basic, $6,000 for the Pro –more and more small business owners are starting to see it as a notable investment.

Of course, you don’t have to run a small company just to buy one: it’s still a really cool gadget to have if you have the money to burn. But is it worth the price?

We got our hands on the Glowforge Basic, because that’s the only thing we can afford here at Gizmosphere, and what we found was: yes, it’s totally worth the almost-three grand price tag, despite what our bosses have to say. Of course, if you’re an actual company whose services rely on etching and laser cutting, this is one of those techs that serve as a reason to upgrade your business.

Glowforge Basic: Design

Measuring at just 8.3 x 38 x 21 inches, the Glowforge Basic is the size of a large-format printer, meaning it won’t take up too much space on your desk or on a shelf where your regular printer would be. At the top is a large, glass door that folds up. At the front is a second metal door that flips down, covering the front of the device. Open both doors to get access to the cutting area. Also at the top is a simple control panel consisting of a big, circular button along the lower right corner of the top area. When pressed, the button emits a teal light to indicate that it’s ready to be set-up. Once the light turns white, it means the Glowforge is ready to cut. For finer controls and other functions, you’ll have to use the Glowforge web app.

The cutting area contains a cool-looking laser head that’s attached to a metal arm, allowing it to slide around the cutting area. The laser itself is a liquid-cooled tube that is affixed on the back of the cutting area. At the bottom is a removable black tray that acts as both the work area for the laser and as a catch basin for any debris created during the cutting process. On the outside of the cutting area are two rows of white LEDs that act as indicators of the lasers status

Glowforge Basic’s design allows for materials that measure 18 x 20 inches, a pretty big chunk of material if you ask us. On the back is an exhaust vent that connects to a flexible duct tube included in the box. This tube is then vented out your window. It’s a bit of a hassle, but laser cutting and engraving creates toxic fumes, and you can either spend a few extra minutes setting up your Glowforge by the window and then spending an extra few minutes to setup the exhaust, OR you can spend an extra $995 for the Glowforge Compact Filter, an intake fan with a filter cartridge that allows you to cut without dealing with the exhaust. We wanted to test the filter, but our editors said are you insane our budget was running a bit high, despite us arguing about the importance of prototype testing.

Glowforge Basic: Cutting Stuff Up

The Glowforge is designed to etch and cut through various types of material, from acrylic and leather, paper and rubber, and even wood. Anodized metals, ceramic, stone, and glass can also be used for the device’s etching capabilities.

You could buy these materials from Glowforge themselves: the company has a line of raw materials called Proofgrade which have QR codes printed on it which the laser scans and automatically adjusts settings for the best cut possible.

If you want to use your own materials, like us, you can, you’ll just have to follow the guide on the Glowforge app. The app itself isn’t particularly difficult to use and the learning curve is very forgiving. We wanted to try cutting up steaks, but our editors said I swear to god if you break that we’re docking your pay that this isn’t the intended use of the manufacturers and we shouldn’t bother.

We tried various cutting and engraving projects on acrylic and wood Proofgrade materialsa, and all of them came out perfectly: cuts were accurate and precise, with the edges coming out even and smooth. However, if the protective film on the material is removed prior to cutting, edges can have a few scorch marks. That being said, we didn’t see scorch marks on non-Proofgrade wood and acrylic materials.

While logos and simple graphics were easy enough to etch, photos were understandably more difficult to properly etch on materials. The Glowforge Basic, however, does have SD, HD, and 3D options that allow for more high-def etching. However, setting this up will require some technical editing processes that a casual user might not have. Regardless, once the setup is completed, the Glowforge is able to burn fine details that are overall very sharp.

Glowforge Basic: An Expensive, But Fun, Toy

The Glowforge Basic is designed for small businesses that need laser and etching printers that are affordable and sleek. Retailing at just under $3,000, the Glowforge Basic does make a lot of sense for businesses that might offer laser and etching services to their clients. While there are other portable laser printers out there, we’ve found the Glowforge Basic to be the pound-for-pound champ because of its ease-of-use, price point, and performance quality.

That being said, there are a couple of drawbacks: scorch marks can appear on non-Proofgrade materials and Proofgrade materials that have the protective film removed. It doesn’t always happen on non-Proofgrade materials, but there is a chance of it happening. In our tests, we did get some scorch marks, both on non-Proograde materials and Proofgrade materials with the protective film removed, and they were small but noticeable. However, this wasn’t consistent throughout and, honestly, we don’t actually know what causes it, whether it’s an issue with the Glowforge or the material itself. Caveat Emptor, I suppose.

The biggest drawback for us, however, has to be the non-inclusion of the Glowforge Compact Filter. Sure, setting up the vent isn’t that much of a hassle, but the Compact Filter’s $995 price tag seems a bit too high for us, especially if you’re not really using it for business. It’s an expensive toy, for sure, but we’ve had a lot of fun playing with it so, I guess it’s worth it, especially since portable laser printers are a tech trend that we believe is here to stay post-Covid.

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