About that "3D Laser Printer" line

It no doubt seemed like a good idea at the time - lots of marketing ideas do :wink:
However, it causes a great deal of confusion. I almost missed the early bird pricing because I’m not interested in purchasing a 3D printer, and that was what I thought it was based on that line. The Glowforge name intrigued me enough that I clicked through anyway.
My experience is that everyone is confused by the line, in one of two ways. People who know about this type of stuff assume it is additive manufacturing, e.g. laser sintering. People who aren’t knowledgeable think it is a laser printer that does embossing or raised ink or something like that on paper. In both cases, when they discover their initial assumption is wrong, people wonder what it actually is. When they figure out that it is a laser cutter/engraver, the reaction is generally “Why isn’t it just called that?” and “Then why is it called a 3D laser printer?” Lots of time wasted over this, and a toehold gained for doubt and confusion.
As I said, some marketing ideas seem great at first but fail out in the world. This line fails completely.
How do other people feel about it?

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I feel like if you watch the videos or read anything about it, you figure out real fast what it is, despite being called a 3D laser printer.

I get where they called it that because that’s what Dan said that the average Joe called his laser cutter, but I doubt it cost them a ton of sales because of it. To me it’s a non-issue.

I do agree with you, however to me personally it is all new technology so I didn’t have a preconceived notion of what it was or was not. I find now, though, since I am going to own one and try to tell someone about it, that I have difficulty explaining exactly what it is. My engineer son-in-law told me when he first looked at it that it was a CNC vertical mill. If I say that I’ve bought a 3D laser printer, people think of a laser version of an inkjet printer.

@dan addressed this a bit in a few of the G+ interviews. Pretty much the public labeled it a printer.

I agree about the ambiguity to those familiar with existing CNC laser contraptions. I have owned a laser printer for 20 years. 3-D? That seems to be the new angle. I appreciate the common perception of the device but on a semantic level there is a little static. To quote Wittgenstein: The meaning of a word is its use in a language. I believe the power of the product’s name will make these quibbles meaningless. It will be a Glowforge and everyone will know what it does.

I personally like it. I don’t particularly care what other people call anything, and i know I will interchangeably state that I printed or cut things which I show people from the Forge. I still refer to anything off my 3D printers as printed, even though it is additive manufacturing. And I even refer to the filament as ink 90% of the time.

Many more projects which catch the eye out of a Forge will be engraved than will be just cut. So laser printer does fit better in a technical sense than laser cutter does. Though laser engraver even better yet. If I call it a cutter, you can wonder if it engraves or not. If I call it an engraver, you can wonder if it cuts or not. If I call it a printer then there are less preconceptions which are accurate in any way at all.

A little confusing? Sure.
IMHO calling it a 3D Printer sounds much better than calling it a “2.5D CNC Laser Engraver Marking and Cutting Device”.
Just like “3D Printer” sounds way better than “Computer-Assisted Multi-Axis Plastic-Filament Melter and Positioner” (CAMAPFMAP).
Heh… or how “Microwave Oven” sounds way better than “Radiation-Based Food and Dish Maker-Hotter”.

And just like a traditional laser printer requires toner to “imprint” onto paper, the Glowforge can use cermark to “imprint” onto metal, and not just onto a single flat surface. So there we go, 3D Laser Printer. Happens to also be capable of cutting and engraving a whole range of materials of different sizes and shapes.

@jacobturner When people see my vinyl plotter, they nearly always ask “Oh, is that your printer?” I explain that it is a cutting plotter, that it cuts and does not print, and that it is essentially a computer-controlled hobby knife. They nod, say “ooh”… and then ask me to print them out some cut-vinyl decals. At that point i just smile and nod.


Maybe it is destined to be a 3D printer after all. I posted in another forum that if one could defocus the beam enough, a thermoplastic filament that is fed in front of that beam, could allow layers of plastic to build up. Thoughts on this idea?

Not really feasible. You could go to great lengths to make it happen… but it would be abysmal compared to any other printer on the market.

You need to feed the filament to the location you are currently fusing. So you need essentially a full extruder head (with only the heating element removed) strapped to your gantry. And then feed the filament through to that location. Which also means you need the spool of plastic somewhere in the Glowforge.

Then you need to have a bed which the plastic will fuse to, but that won’t be cut by the laser. And of course you have to have the laser in proper focus so that it will hit the entire width of your filament but not more. Which means a pretty precise focus, and it will need to shift as you change layer heights. So max height of your print is the focus range, which I always forget the precise depth of. Something like 1/2" though. Which is REALLY small for a 3D printer.

So, you have amazing X and Y dimensions, crappy Z dimension. And some of your X and Y are lost for the spool to sit somewhere. And you need a custom bed with some precise requirements. And lots of control questions on getting the laser to hit precisely how/where you want it to. That filament extruder strapped to the gantry needs to move with the focus changes (Z height changes), but I am pretty sure that the part which moves as you change focal depth is internal to the black box. So you need a second motor to do all of the extruder adjustments, which is synchronized to the focal height.

And another complication… filaments sell in 1.75mm and 3mm. But most people print in 0.1-0.3mm layer heights. This is trivial in a 3D printer because you melt the large filament and squeeze through a small hole, effectively giving you thin filament. We don’t have that in the bootstrapped laser 3D printer, so you have to either use 1.75mm filament and have TERRIBLE resolution, or you need custom filament spools. And those custom spools would have insanely thin and easily broken threads.

As @jacobturner said, turning it into a Fused deposition modeling (FDM) 3D printer wouldn’t work great. On the flip side, you should check out this thread on turning it into a selective laser sintering (SLS) 3D printer. :grin:

Thanks for the feedback!

I think it is possible the more I think about it, however you would not be able to use filament. It would require sheets of plastic or material to be laid on top of each other in which each layer would be cut out, then the unused portion of the sheet removed for recycling, then fuse the layers by a defocus pass (if not already fused from the cut), then repeat with the next layer.

So… feasible: yes.
practical: no.

Oh man, this reminded me of the paper 3d printer. It laminates sheets of paper together, cutting and coloring each layer as the put it down. There was an article I read about it awhile back, I think they were partnering with Staples.

The company is Mcor (http://mcortechnologies.com/)

Here is a video of them taking out one of there 3d prints.


Ah yeah! Those things are awesome. They were at CES this year. The full color print is awesome!

In college I had a final project that made from almost this exact process, but I had to hand cut and layer everything. … though I had to keep it much more low res on the Z axis lol

Fortunately the latest version I saw uses a roll of paper so that it can only lay down the segment applicable to your print. The case in the video used up a full ream of paper for just that tiny little thing! I suppose if they have a paper recycling machine right next to the printer it would work well enough…

Ow! My eye socket!

like one of these?!