Glowforge: The over engineered Makerbot of laser cutters


Does anyone else think the fancy magnetically attached, auto focusing laser head sounds a LOT like the fiasco that was Makerbots “smart extruder”? The more complex a machine the more likely it is to break down.

It seems to me that glowforge will go down as a case study as to why the United States is no longer a place where you want to have products manufactured. With the product being constantly delayed due to feature creep and, in the end, being so over engineered that its prone to failure (as Dan said himself is the case since the line of broken ones in the office is longer then the line of working ones).

In 2014 Makerbot dominated the 3d printing market. By 2016 a Taiwanese company no one had ever heard of called XYZPrinting dominated the market with their smaller machines that did 80% of what the Makerbot did but cost 1/5th the price.

As a customer, I DON’T CARE that your product is fancy! I want it to work, I want it in my hands, and I want it as cheap as possible.

The one selling point the glowforge has over other laser cutters is the camera that lets you draw on the material so you don’t need to know CAD software to make stuff. MARK MY WORDS, 6 months after the glowforge finally comes out there will be asian knock offs that wont be as pretty, they wont do EVERYTHING the glowforge does, but they will do 80% of what the glowforge does, they will cost 1/2 the price or less, you wont have to wait 2 years to get them, and they will DOMINATE the market.

Let's list the benefits of the removable laser head, as it pertains to laser cutting!

I think the autofocus head is amazing. Its a pain to have to worry every time if your bed height is exactly right to get the best definition in your cut/engrave. Even then its static, so cutting through a piece of thicker material gets more inefficient the deeper you go. The autofocus will be so incredibly useful, and for the price point its really going to change the way other laser makers are offering features.

You might think that knockoffs will be great, but believe me, I have a chinese laser, and while it works, it SUCKS to use. The software is horrendous, the hardware quality is incredibly poor. I had to rebuild my laser to get it to even cut when I got it. It squeals and ive already had to replace bad capacitors in the power supply. I wont deny that its great having a laser to play with, but Im incredibly excited for the possibilities the glowforge will provide me over this chinese laser.

If you arent looking for fancy, useful features, why didnt you get a redsail or a k40 or another chinese laser instead? They have them sitting by the boatload in california ready to go for dirt cheap prices.


I already did! :stuck_out_tongue: 6 months ago I got an ebay k40 for $310 and thats my point. Yes, glowforge has sold millions of dollars worth of laser cutters, but in that time, how many millions of dollars worth of laser cutters have asian manufacturers sold because people wanted it now and cheap. Would you rather have 1 fancy laser cutter that has all the bells and whistles 2 years from now, or would you rather have 9!!! k40’s for the same price, that are the same power as the glowforge, can cut all the same materials, and you can have it in a week?


I bought a k40 in the meantime. Im glad I did. Ive enjoyed it, but it is also a clunker with questionable software, very poor ventilation, and inconsistent quality. Its been great to keep me somewhat happy until the glowforge ships, especially for the price, but I wouldnt want 9 of them. They cant do variable power engraves, or autofocus, or even not crash when I want to engrave before I cut.

I guess it just depends on what you need a laser for. I do highly detailed prop work, so a laser that is capable of doing more detailed cuts is important for me. Ive had to do a number of things by hand even though I have the k40 because of its limitations. I wont have that problem when the glowforge gets here, but thats because of all the fancy things it has built in.

oh, and btw, my k40 is quite a bit weaker than a glowforge in cut power. it takes a couple passes to get through most materials. 8 passes to get through 5mm acrylic.


For the same price as the glowforge I can get a Chinese 80w cutter that’s twice the power as the glowforge, has a bed you can raise and lower (which functionally does the same thing as glowforges auto focus head, allows you to get the laser lens the optimal distance from the material), it has a 4th rotary axis for engraving cylindrical objects, and it can be here Monday!

edit: and it has a larger 25x20 bed


But how plug & play is it? That’s the thing that keeps me (and probably lots of others here) from going the cheap Chinese route. I don’t want to be requiring or swapping out boards or any of that stuff. I’m confident that I could figure it out, but I’d rather not have to.


I say go for it! As for me, I don’t want 9 Chinese lasers. I want 1 Glowforge, and I intend to wait for one. But what works best for me isn’t for everyone. It’s good that you have a choice.


yeah thats awesome. It wont autofocus for you, you have to manually move the bed, but Ive been considering getting one of those myself. The power, bed size, and rotary are enticing. If thats all you need you should go for that. If I had room and extra money I probably would. I dont plan on cancelling my gf order though. Its just got way too many cool features that I know im going to use that the others dont.


There is always a focus on price versus quality. The biggest issue is going to be how much is your time worth?

Because a $2000 to $6000 investment has a value to someone, longevity and functionality are probably important to that person.

Someone can by a $1500 computer and expect it to last 4 to 5 years, run any program that they choose to purchase, have peripherals that come down the line after the purchase, and be serviced as need be.

Another person will buy a “knock off” computer for $400 with the expectation of 4 to 5 years, required to tweak settings, hardware, software and find instructions (if any) wrong or in chinese only. They can buy a new computer every year for $400 (either buy choice or complete hardware failure) and have 4 computers for the price of one quality computer. They might only do 80%, but isn’t that close enough?

Now the $1500 purchase does put the effort of maintenance and add-ons/upgrades, but so does the $400 purchase (except 4 times the effort).

So what is someone’s time worth. If someone is a tinkerer, then why not buy a Raspberry Pi for $35 (kit at $90), monitor ($100), external storage ($100 and up) and save even more?

Value doesn’t always mean the initial price. Value is what someone is willing to pay (fiscal and non-fiscal) and be willing to be satisfied with.


The fiasco with Makerbot was because they rushed their product to market. They knew internally that the product had a lot of issues, but shipped anyway, because deadlines meant more than customer satisfaction. This happens a lot when you are a publicly traded company. You put the stockholders needs above the customer’s needs.

Makerbot finally fixed their smart extruder (took almost 3 years to really fix it) but their brand is garbage in the minds and hearts of many people. I’m not sure they will ever recover from that fiasco. (I like their printer now that the extruder is working, but I would never recommend their printer to anyone, because I still don’t trust them).


Yep. They kinda knew their extruder design was not optimal, because there were a lot of people out there with better ones. The other thing about being a publicly traded company is that you want (sometimes) to be able to lock customers into your product, which the smart extruder would have done if it had worked. (Instead, it locked a lot of people out of their product.)


Hey – the smart extruder on my Z18 works great – so I’m not quite sure why you are bashing it. As for cheap knock-offs, if there hadn’t been a Makerbot, their wouldn’t be any cheap knock-offs of it. And with them, you get what you pay for…

As for cheap lasers – readily available today from China. Get a refund for GF and go get one. Then wait for the cheap, not nearly as good, knock-offs of the GF after its release and get one of them. You will get what you pay for. The rest of us will be quite happy with our piece of amazing :slight_smile:


Oh man, as a customer, I DO! I want it in my hands and working, but I also want it to not look like butt. I want the software to be simple and to set it up just by looking at the photos and to use it in my office with my dogs without worrying that it’s going to do it’s best to kill us. I want it to stop me from being dumb and I don’t really want to understand how it works. I want this community because it’s full of awesome and information. And I don’t want to vent out a window because I’m pretty sure my window is painted shut. And I want the flashy button to be blue, because that matches my office.

Bells and whistles. 9 lasers I can’t do anything with or hate aren’t much use.


Yes. The magnetically attachable head sounds cool. But is not a feature I care about, and now have concerns which I didn’t when I placed the pre-order. (Attaching something with magnets to a moving platform is not ideal.) The auto-focusing, however, is a feature that was part of the original design and is a reason I pre-ordered.

There is a difference between design and manufacturing. Their location for manufacturing has nothing to do with how or where they design the product. Well, not at least the feature list. “Copycats” or secondary manufacturers who create a cost-down of a device are nothing new. Which is the example you’re providing. I don’t consider “cost-down” the same as engineering a new product.

I think you’re mixing up terms here, making it difficult to understand what you meant.

This functionality is effectively available today. If you know the dimensions of your material, can scan a picture and use image trace in a vector program (like Illustrator) you can achieve the same results. GF has simplified the workflow (removed lots of those ifs). Of course, we’ll see knock-offs of this feature.


Pick two.

That’s the rule. Been the rule as long as people have been making hardware.


When making something for someone, I am often asked about why someone else might charge more or less for the job, or why they might be able to ship it sooner.
I tell them:
I can make something very high quality, very fast, but it will be very expensive.
I can make something very fast, very cheap, but it will be very low quality.
I can make something very high quality, very cheap, but it will take a very long time.

If someone else if offering something quicker, cheaper, then it is likely going to be lower quality, it may fail, and they may not stand behind it.


Ick. I remember those. But, no, in this case I didn’t make the connection. That’s partially having worked with MakerBots and all the issues I’ve had with them vs all the times I’ve used Epilog and ULS lasers, plus every other 3d printer I’ve dorked around with.

I’m with you there on having my product as cheaply as possible, HOWEVER, Asian markets haven’t managed this is the last 15 years. Their lasers break down at the sneeze of a hat, and they admit that the whole reason they make them that cheap is so “You’ll buy another” when it breaks.

I’m a little more American or Canadian in my thinking where I’d rather fix something than throw it away.

So, I get your upset, but I don’t fully see it going that route. Because, as I’ve kind of hinted, I’ve been waiting for this for a really long time.


And at one time, Makerbot was the cheap knock-off, when compared to the larger industrial FDM 3D printers by the big boys like 3D Systems and Stratasys… well, didnt stratasys eventually acquire Makerbot anyway?


This ignores the fact that they have pending patents and others that produce similar capabilities will be prevented from selling them in venues where these patents exist. Evaluating the patents I’ve seen so far, I suggest they are far from finished with their applications.


Ehm… I build and sell laser cutters to educational institutions.
They all have the camera draw option. I don’t know the quality of Glowforges, but mine works fine.
They also all have the option of autofocus, although depending on the optics installed, that’s not necessarily as useful (a 4" lens with beam expander does not have the same need for autofocus as the small lens on the glowforge).

My machines start at 1.300$US. The largest one takes 1300x950 mm materials with slot feeding, has got a 120W laser and costs 10.000$US delivered including a one-day on-site course in the machine and Fusion360.

Just for a comparison. The only thing I am really interested in - is the air filter. What Glowforge makes here sounds a bit like magic, but if they pull it off - that’s the lottery ticket I am waiting for. The best I can purchase for my client’s costs at least 3.000$US + delivery (and they are heavy and sized like a refrigerator).