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Glowforge is Not Actually a 3D Printer, it’s a 3D Laser Printer

Picture of Hanna Watkin
by Hanna Watkin
Oct 7, 2015

Marketing a new product is tricky. Glowforge calls itself a 3D laser printer, but it can’t actually print in 3D. Makers are excited, though!

The Glowforge is a CNC laser cutter engraver, but as that is a mouthful, they have decided to call it a 3D laser printer.

While 3D printers use additive manufacturing, the laser cutting technology uses subtractive manufacturing. This technology has been used for decades in industrial applications, but typically costs around $10,000. (Learn more about the differences here.)

CEO Dan Shapiro, a former Google employee, is determined to make laser cutters much more accessible.

He believes there are plenty of people hungry to make more of the things in their lives but simply lack the tools. As explained to the New York Times in February: “It’s like we’re all eating fast food and we’ve forgotten how to cook.”

In order to cut costs, Glowforge will be using different ways to substitute sophisticated software for  hardware components.

For example, a camera inside the laser cutting chamber and image processing in the cloud will take the place of a motion planner which usually determines how the laser cuts material.

And to make everything even more simple and sleek looking, there are no buttons on the Glowforge interface; you design the piece on your tablet or computer.

Who Can Use Glowforge

The aim with Glowforge is to be able to create beautiful things.

The company promises it will be able to cut wood, fabrics, leather, paper, linoleum, food, and even some plastics. It will also be able to engrave (but not cut) glass and metal.

Shapiro’s Seattle-based startup is hoping to bring the laser printer to market by December, and for a limited period is offering the Glowforge at a discounted pre-order price of $1,995. That’s 50% off the final retail price.

The machines are sure to have a large following among jewellery makers, print makers and artisans.

But can this machine, which is about the size of a suitcase, compete with a 3D printer for productivity and value? What do you think? Would you use a 3D laser printer?


License: The text of "Glowforge is Not Actually a 3D Printer, it’s a 3D Laser Printer" by All3DP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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