Common problems/questions

Hello! You’ve been referred to this post because you have a common problem or question. Check out the list below to see what this post can do for you. Just click on a topic that interests you.

1: I'm new to Glowforge and really have no idea where to start

Hey, welcome to the forum!

Glowforge has a getting started page, it’s definitely worth your time:

https://support.glowforge.com/hc/en-us/categories/360002142613-Learn-By-Doing-Your-First-Prints-and-More

When you’re ready for even more info, you’ll find everything in here interesting and useful, read through it and everything it links to.

New owner (well, almost) - #11 by evansd2

If you like to learn via video, check out this thread by @polarbrainfreeze, he’s one of the most expert users on the forum:

New Introduction to Laser-Cutting Course on Udemy

And lastly, don’t forget that there are more tutorials in the Tips and Tricks section of the forum. This will get you started:
Community Glowforge Tutorials: Table of Contents

 
1a: What other tools/materials should I buy to go with my Glowforge?

Owning a Glowforge is the beginning, there are many tools and accessories that can be really useful. Here’s a roundup of good threads about this.

What are some things to buy while waiting on your Glowforge? - #26 by evansd2

As for materials, there are so many to choose from that there’s no single answer for “where can I get materials?” The good news is that there are many threads to choose from, just search for things like “hardwood source” or “material suppliers”, and you’ll find lots of information.

Here are some common searches:

Hardwood:
Search results for 'hardwood source' - Glowforge Owners Forum

Acrylic:
Search results for 'acrylic source' - Glowforge Owners Forum

Plywood:
Search results for 'plywood source' - Glowforge Owners Forum

Leather:
Search results for 'leather source' - Glowforge Owners Forum

General materials:
Search results for 'material source' - Glowforge Owners Forum

Occasionally someone does a roundup of a specific material supplier list, so they get an honorable mention here:

Great list of acrylic suppliers:
My Acrylic Palette - Suppliers List

Excellent list of wood suppliers:
Looking for an alternative to the GF wood - #10 by shollg

 
2: I want to find masking/tape to cover my materials

On what to look for in masking material and why masking tape is not the same thing as transfer tape:

Masking paper size - #14 by jamesdhatch

Most brands of paper-backed masking material are very similar, so price is the big difference between sellers – in general, getting the least expensive transfer tape will be just fine. Click through for a recommendation for inexpensive masking material.

Cheapest 12" wide masking tape - #6 by evansd2

Lastly, buyer beware. You can typically buy rolls in 100 yard lengths or 100 foot lengths. In general 100 yard rolls are half the cost per square foot as 100 foot rolls. Don’t be tricked, read carefully!

 
3: I want to design/make a box

There are lots of sites that help you create boxes,here’s a listing.
Is there a free box building website - #3 by evansd2

If you want to make a foldable tabbed box, typically out of heavy paper, check out templatemaker. Lots of discussion here:
Search results for 'Templatemaker' - Glowforge Owners Forum

 
4: What materials are dangerous to laser?

The main ways to damage your machine with a material are through fire, melting, or chemical reaction.

Fire:
Layered materials like cardboard and stacked papers can be fire hazards. Some foams are prone to fire. Acrylic is prone to fire. There are good reasons why Glowforge insists that you monitor the machine when it’s cutting, fire is at the top of the list. Search the forum any time you’re trying a new material, chances are someone’s tried it or will have advice.

Melting:
Lots of plastics aren’t great candidates for lasering, they melt rather than cut. HDPE (think milk jugs or soda bottles) is a prime example. It’s possible to laser it, but it’s quite melty and you could end up with a mess.

Chemical:
Cutting PVC–aka vinyl or polyvinyl chloride–forms acids inside your Glowforge and will kill your machine, possibly the very first time you cut it. The bottom line is that you should never use it. There is a lot of discussion on the forum:
Search results for 'PVC damage' - Glowforge Owners Forum

Some resins can also pose the same chemical risk as PVC. Here’s a great tip:
Stablized wood - #17 by cynd11

Other:
Some (not many) materials reflect laser light, copper is a well known example. Cutting or engraving reflective materials could theoretically cause your laser to bounce back at your Glowforge and damage it. I’ve never seen this actually happen to anyone, but it’s a good idea to just avoid copper altogether. If you’re not sure if a material might reflect CO2 laser light, search the forum and the internet at large.

The main way to damage yourself is via toxicity. Almost everything you laser will produce toxic or harmful fumes, that’s the whole reason for good ventilation and/or filters. There’s an old saying, “the poison is in the dose”, so the entire idea is to get rid of all the smoke or gasses or dust that your laser might kick up and minimize your exposure.

In general when it comes to toxicity and otherwise dangerous byproducts of lasering a specific material, the final word is on a document called a material safety data sheet, commonly referred to as an MSDS. If you want to be completely sure, try to get that document from the manufacturer. In particular look at the “combustion” or “thermal decomposition” sections. MSDSes can be a little tricky to read, but they’re the authoritative source for this info.

A nice roundup of things to look out for:

"Do not laser" list?

And here’s another list of "don’t"s in plain english:

Things NOT TO CUT

And another:

Stuff you shouldn't laser

As with anything, this is a guideline and you should use your judgement on any and all info in this post and anything linked here.

 
5: Why won't my laser cut through my material?

Not sure about why, but this is how you troubleshoot it.

HELP! Not cutting all the way through gifts! - #7

An excellent guide from GF support:

Not cutting through material again - #4

Check your lens orientation.

Help! My GF has stopped working - #16 by jbmanning5

Plywood is sometimes inconsistent, especially if you buy it from a big box retail store. Here’s a trick that might help you figure out if your plywood has problems.

Trick for inspecting plywood

 
6: I don't know what settings to use to cut my material

Working with settings can be a bit confusing. Glowforge has a very good guide for what the settings do:

https://support.glowforge.com/hc/en-us/articles/360033633574-Working-With-Manual-Mode

Now that you know what it all means, it’s fast and easy to test your material. Here’s my method:

New material cut test method

If you want to look at a list of materials, feel free, but beware these settings are just estimates. Testing is much better in the long run. Anyway, here you go:

Spreadsheet for Non-Proofgrade Materials - #3 by jeffarazzi

 
7: Are there any tricks to removing masking from lots of parts?

Yes, there are!

How to remove masking from 423 parts at once

 
8: How do I design finger joints?

The easiest way is with a box generator, see above in #3. If you want to do something more custom, read this thread:

Variations of finger joints

And especially this bit about designing your own finger joints:
Variations of finger joints - #48 by evansd2

 
9: My photo engrave isn’t turning out well. How do I prepare a photo for engraving?

There’s no simple one-size-fits-all answer to this, but there are some best practices to follow. There have been several good posts about the subject, collected here:

Photo engrave disaster - #4 by kittski

Another good guide:

How I Prepare Photos for Engraving Using Photoshop

Once your photo is edited properly, there are many settings options to explore. One interesting (though time-consuming) method involves using two passes:

Grandparents Photo on PG Maple Hardwood

As a last resort there are always people on services like Fiverr that can edit photos for a modest price.

 
10: I really like a design I see here, should I ask for the files?

No, you shouldn’t. It’s against forum rules to ask for a design file. For more information:

Egg Cups for Easter - #3 by evansd2

 
11: What can the Glowforge do with metal materials?

First the bad news:
In general the Glowforge isn’t powerful enough to remove metal material, so using the laser to cut or engrave into the metal really isn’t possible in almost all cases.
There have been some cases where it appears that the Glowforge has actually etched into titanium, but I’ve never seen it duplicated so I can’t confirm it. (If anyone knows of a post that confirms this please let me know.)

Now, the good news:
There are ways to interact with metal. I’ll go through the basic categories.

So, with these techniques you can do a lot of cool projects by very creative people, here are a few:

Resist etching:
Using spray paint as a resist for etching metal
Yet another metal engraving

Paint removal:
Custom Altoids tin
Zippo Lighter Engraving

Dry Moly lube:
Knife trials!

Cermark:
Another replica electrical antique

Laserbond:
Sterling silver and laserbond

Embossing:
Engraved paper and embossing metal

50 Likes
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Very helpful!

2 Likes

That’s lovely - under 6 I’d link the the First Prints on the support page as well.

2 Likes

Replying in lieu of “liking” twice.

3 Likes

Yes! Nice one evansd2!

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