3D engraving question

I have a basic and what file type do you use to 3D engrave? Or is this only in the premium package as I do not see the option in my drop down menu, but I am not sure I’m using the correct file type.

It’s about material.

When using proofgrade it’s called “3D engrave”, non-pg is “vary power“. Same thing.

They just named it differently for some reason.


No, anyone can use it, with a couple of limitations.

If you want the option to pop up automatically, you need to use a raster image (jpeg or png), or you can use the Variable-Power option on a gradient vector.

You also need to pay attention to the material being used. Plywood is not set up for 3D engraving, since it tends to look odd because of the veneer. Hardwoods, acrylic and draftboard will all pop up the option in the Engrave settings when you are using a raster image.


Thanks, you guys are the best!


A good 3D engrave requires a special kind of raster that is quite different from a photograph. In order to do the 3D, the computer needs to know which parts are high and which parts are deep and which ones are mid-way down (by 252 levels.)

This is done by making white where there is no cutting and black where there is maximum cutting, and the various grays the between depths. This looks somewhat strange if your eyes are used to photographs, so you need to look carefully thinking about that result. A light shining on a person’s face with one side light and the other dark is easy for you to see but the computer will make the lighted side high and the darker side low so looking as if the person’s face is caved in. there are many height maps available but you may need as real 3d program like Blender to make your own.


Just to be clear, this is a very specific and narrow definition of “3d engrave” that @rbtdanforth is talking about, one where there’s an actual relief carved into the face. For that you use a specific type of image called a heightmap, which is usually generated from a 3d model.

In the UI, the “3d engrave” option is suitable for any kind of engraving where you don’t want dithering. I use it all the time on rasters of all types to get a smooth progression of shades in my engravings instead of a dithered pattern of dots.

The Glowforge definition of “3D engrave” (aka “vary power”) is merely that the laser power varies smoothly according to greyscale and has nothing to do with using a heightmap as described by @rbtdanforth. I’d suggest using the term “relief engraving” for heightmaps, I think it’s more precise.

Per @dan himself:

Example of using vary power on baltic birch plywood:

On canvas:

On a wooden box:

On maple hardwood:

On walnut:

You can even engrave the color off of cardstock:


Not one of these used a heightmap, yet they are 3d engraves as per Glowforge’s definition of the term.

Some info about making heightmaps



There are of course many who complain that trying to use vary power does not produce the variable darkness found in the Image. 3D engrave presumes 3D and yes relief carving is another way to describe it, even when you use a photograph. It is just that the photograph looks weird with half of a face as a depression.

Using the dot dithering sets the halftone by the density of totally black dots and thus is independent of the amount of scorching needed for a specific halftone. This gives a full range of grays much like a newspaper photo with the clarity determined by the size of the dots, a very high LPI having more detail and less obvious dots than a low LPI.

The photo is not 3d because it does not contain 3d information, a height map does not have the shading information and depends on lighting to show the actual 3D so a 3d tiger has no stripes unless applied by a separate dither type second pass, but a photo is 2D no matter what hints it gives to the eye.

And yet the setting is called 3d engrave and it applies to any and all rasters it’s used with. Consistency in terminology is important.

Reality always beats odd definitions, in actual use relief carvings are generally called semi-3D as they are not full 3D like the lions in front of the library (why so many libraries have those lions I have no idea.)

If an image is using visual tricks like implied shadows, and all the concepts of 2D imagery then all you are doing is using scorched wood like wood burning to create that image, If you increased the depth of the engrave the worse it gets which increases the point.

If the design is abstract things are fuzzier, Moorish patterns of two heights or mandalas of a dozen heights are 3D because there is no “actual 3D” such as with the lions, but if the abstract is using the normal 2D tricks to imply more depth then it is either 2D or Semi-3D as the actual 3D is implied and not actual.

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