Glowforge prep advice

I finally pulled the trigger yesterday and placed my order for a GF. But now I find myself in “hurry up and wait” mode, since I’m at the back of the line and won’t be seeing it for several months. But there must be some things I can do to ready myself in the meantime, so I’m hoping those of you who’ve already received your units can point me in the right direction.

Just to give an idea of my experience or lack thereof, I have a background in photography, design & graphics, etc., but none in 3-D. I plan on using my GF to do 3-D (or 2.5-D, if you prefer that term) sculpting, not just straight up-and-down cuts. From what I’ve read, you can either use flat vector images with gradients to create the sculpted look, or actual imported .stl files. I’d prefer the first option, since I’m very proficient in Photoshop, and can muddle through reasonably well in Illustrator. I’m much less proficient with actual 3-D modeling (I’ve experimented with it using Photoshop), but since I have some wait time on my hands, I can learn if needed. So which option is better for sculpting work with curves and angles?

I also see that you don’t get access to the Proofgrade materials store until your GF is about to ship. Does the same apply to accessing the online program that operates the machine? I’d love to try it out and get familiar with the GF software over the next few months. Even if I’ve got no way to print yet, I’d like to build some familiarity with the software so I can hit the ground running once I get the unit itself. Any way I can do that?

Thanks in advance for any advice.


That’s great! Congrats!

It actually doesn’t interpret vector gradients as other than black. But it does with raster. I don’t think it takes stl files. But I’ll let somebody else clarify these things since I’m half asleep.

My best recommendation is read up in this forum. There are a LOT of talented and smart people here. I’ve learned a lot from them.

Enjoy! And welcome!


Congrats on your order and welcome! You’re coming in at an exciting time and can learn along with the rest of us. Things are really ramping up as folks are getting their machines so there should be an explosion of new info getting posted. I’ve received my golden ticket (delivery email :slight_smile: ), but it’s a few weeks before delivery so I can’t speak from direct experience yet. We seems to have a very similar background. I’m pretty proficient in photography and various graphics arts with a good background in vector and raster programs, but I have little (none) experience with 3D stuff.

There have been a few looks at the GF UI (user interface) though and it seems to be pretty basic and not requiring a lot of experience to get familiar with it. (People are able to scan/trace and get cutting within minutes of getting their machines.) All the detailed prep work seems to happen in graphic and photo editing software like you’ve mentioned and with a 3rd party 3D modeling software. Becoming more proficient with the 3D and vector programs might be your best bet.

Here’s a good place to get started along with lots of searches and reading on the forum.


Yes, and by all accounts it doesn’t get far without a connection to a Glowforge, so you wouldn’t see much if you did have access.


Welcome aboard @Reeveseye ! I have to say, it is definitely worth the wait.

Currently, it does not accept .stl files.

For sculpting, you have two options.

The first is using depth maps. Here is some good resources for it.

The second option is slicing a 3d model into segments (similar to the Globe project in there video). This will require learning a 3d modeling program.

I would also check out #glowforge-tips-and-tricks. The community here made a bunch of tutorials which should be a big help. Here is the table of contents.

Lastly, you should add yourself to the map. You can check around to see if there are any Glowfolk near you that have there Glowforges, they might be nice enough to let you come by and check it out!


In addition to @joe and @kittski’s references there are also several online STL->Depth Map tools as well (google) although for all of this we will need for the final 3D engraving tool to be enabled in the GFUI to assess their methodology.


First off, my thanks to all of you for the welcomes and replies. I’m disappointed that I can’t play with the GF user interface, even if I can grudgingly concede to the reasons why the company doesn’t make it accessible. But the screenshots in Kittski’s “Peek at the user interface” link were informative. Looks like it’s set up so most of the work should be done before you ever import a file into the UI.

Special thanks for that one. The link to Mpipes’s post was a real eye-opener. I have no problem with going into Illustrator, creating the gradients needed, and exporting the image as an .svg file. I’m curious, though - why would a .jpg make a worse depth map unless the image resolution was significantly lower? If you had a properly rendered grayscale .jpg at a nice high resolution (say, 8" x 8" @ 300dpi), would that provide an acceptable bas-relief when printed? Don’t get me wrong - if using .svg files is the best way to go, then that’s what I’ll do whenever possible. I just want to know my range of options. I’d much prefer to stick with 2-D design programs, since that’s where my experience lies.

I’d be glad to, if I could figure out how. I poked around on the map a bit, but wasn’t sure how to add my own marker to the realms of Southern California where I reside. Apparently I’m graphically adept, but Googlally challenged.

1 Like

So in general JPG is a terrible format. (period)

Now for a more technical explanation is how a JPG compresses, which is it throws away information that the creators thought “oh, humans will never perceive the difference” similar to MP3 format for music. They are often right at the higher settings where you as a person can’t tell, but believe me human perception is not the same as information for an algorithm…

Here is the photoshop histogram of a photo taken of me as a jpeg (iPhone) and you see those weird vertical spikes. Clearly the real world has smooth gradations of power. That doesn’t matter to you, but think of what those spikes mean for the engraver, those would be weird steps in a gradient. That’s why lossless compression (such as PNG or TIFF [set to lossless] are always better formats)


Ha! No argument here. As a longtime photographer, I’ll be the first to describe the format as a necessary evil to be used if needed, but avoided if possible. As I said, I’ll stay within the bounds of vector graphics whenever possible. My main interest in the use of .jpg files is for any possible projects I attempt involving using the GF to etch a photo into various media. In that case, a .jpg might enter the project simply because when it comes to photos, sometimes that’s all you’ve got. I was wondering if a grayscaled high-res .jpg would have a chance in hell of functioning as a sort of depth map to produce some kind of 3-D photographic bas-relief when engraved. Probably wishful thinking, and doubtless I’ll be better off just sticking with flat engraving if I’m trying to use the GF to etch a photo. From your explanation, it seems like any attempt at an actual photo sculpt would be dithered and uneven at best, and a flat-out waste of laser power at worst. At this point I’m just daydreaming/spitballing, trying to think of various projects to try out once my new toy finally arrives.

jpegs are fine for online photo viewing, or viewing on most mobile phones; high resolution jpegs are fine for printing 99% of the time if you aren’t into editing (actual printing, not engraving). i tend to avoid them otherwise.

1 Like

yes, but of course less awesome than other formats. You will see (just like you can when you zoom in inside photoshop) ringing at high-contrast areas (where you want the best definition in an engrave) so you end up with a randomly wavy pattern (like on screen). Lots of folks (including me) have done photo engraves with various results (I had very good success with a lithograph which was a jpeg but admittedly a linear crosshatched one)

1 Like

Welcome! We can’t wait to get it to you… in the meantime, you discovered the community here, which is just about the best thing about the product. (Just about!) The links folks are providing will make you an expert before it even arrives.