Glowforge vs CNC Laser Cutter/Etcher



I keep seeing people imply some sort of difference between a Glowforge and CNC Laser Cutters. I don’t get it. In what way is a Glowforge NOT a CNC Laser Cutter?


I’ve never really seen anybody say that the Glowforge was not a laser cutter/engraver. The Glowforge is being called a 3D laser printer for marketing purposes. It’s easier to get across what it with that term to some of their target demographics that aren’t necessarily familiar with laser cutters.

The only real difference between this and other laser cutters is the significantly more user friendly software experience, and of course the more home friendly design.


Forget the whole laser printer garbage. That was simply marketing at its lowest. At best it was a failed attempt to hop on the 3D printer bandwagon. At worst it implied we’re so stupid we don’t know the difference between cutting and printing. Please. I almost didn’t buy one because of that.

But, to the topic, I’ve seen people say things along the lines of “I don’t know if a Glowforge can do it, but a CNC Laser Cutter can so you may need to go that route.”


I’ve never seen that sort of comment on here. The closest thing would be people saying a CNC would be a better choice for something, with CNC in that case meaning a mill.


While Glowforge IS a computer numerical controlled laser cutter/etcher, it’s differences are significant and distinct enough to be in category of it’s own. It’s like comparing a Yugo with a Tesla.
Things it does that others don’t: Trace mode scans material, Drag-and-drop with live preview to position designs on the material, Wide Angle Camera — View of the entire laser bed

Macro Camera — Able to view one square inch with resolution of 0.002” (0.05mm)

Camera can record stills for documentation and sharing of projects

Optical Thickness Measurement — Optical system measures the height at various points across the material to 0.005” (0.13mm)
Continuous Autofocus — Laser focal point can be changed as the head travels, following complex curves during cuts and engraves
Near-UV illumination under the laser head for invisible QR and barcode detection
Fixed Alignment — Factory calibrated optical system does not require user calibration
Passthrough slot allows the use of material that’s up to 1/4″ (6.3mm) high, up to 20” (50.8cm) wide, and as long as desired.

And that doesn’t include all the magic that the software has now, and it will continue to improve via the cloud on a regular basis.


I agree that a Glowforge is better than most CNC Laser cutters, but at its base it is still a CNC Laser Cutter, just one with more features.

I think that calling it a 3D laser printer is confusing. I think that the only reason someone would say “I don’t think the glowforge could do that, you should use a CNC Laser cutter”, would be to use a different (non-CO2) or higher wattage laser.


Most of us (I am assuming) ignored the 3D printer stuff. I was looking for a laser cutter/engraver when I happened on the GF website. When I saw the video and some You Tube stuff, I was sold (sort of). I really didn’t like the fact that you need internet access to run it and it only has 2" (at that time 1.5") Z depth. I almost bought a Spark laser system.

I can’t believe someone might be turned off by a marketing term. We are bombarded (intelligence insulted) by much more egregious marketing all the time (read sex sells). - Rich


Yes 3D laser printer is particularly confusing since it is in fact the opposite. A laser printer is an additive device (adds toner to paper and does build up thickness, albeit small) while the GF is of course a laser cutter/engraver and a subtractive device.


Careful. There are a number of things it doesn’t do that others commonly do. Things like large (8-12" depth) pass-thru slots, larger bed, ability to run locally without an Internet connection, physical LAN connection, rotary engraving option, etc.

More like a Lincoln vs a Cadillac.


Well as far as bed size, there are larger and there are smaller ones out there. You can purchase a larger one.

The LAN one is what will prevent me from ever owning a GF at work (we use a domain bound Wifi authentication, and no way am I attaching my personal account to a shared laser cutter) so another brand will be used.


personal hotspot with a lan built in to provide wifi =P. probably against the rules lol


3D printing.
Technically, a 3D shape can be achieved with either an additive or subtractive process.
Although additive is understandably what most people associate with the term, it is not exclusive.
In my mind the term “sculpting” could accurately be applied to 3D printing, even though it is additive.
3D sculpting might have been better received.


And of course not on the network… which is the whole point… They are actually very liberal (you can bring pretty much anything but it needs to be identifiable via your account so they know who to call if it causes problems)


I understand 3D shape creation can be additive and subtractive, but printing is basically always additive (you lay down some form of ink). I suppose technically you could print in a solvent ink and wash something away? But you are still adding something to the shape initially in that case. My CNC mill can never add something nor can the GF.


Understood, but that’s my reason for letting them slide on the use of “printing”. As I said, 3D sculpting would have probably been better received.


NAC would slap that down super fast


The whole “3D Laser Printer” thing bugged me quite a bit at first. Hardly anything it does can be considered “3D”, it doesn’t “print”, and there’s already a type of product called a “laser printer”.

However, after having used a laser cutter that interfaces through a print driver for a few months now, I can hardly stop myself from using the term “print” to refer to sending a job to the laser cutter. In fact, while typing this small anecdote I had to actively stop myself from referring to my laser cutter as a “printer” several times.

To paraphrase something I believe Dan said “we kept calling it ‘printing’, at some point we decided that we shouldn’t fight it any longer and just call it a ‘printer’”.

I’m still not thrilled with the “3D” part, but maybe after some 3D functionality is demonstrated I’ll come around on that as well.


foot printing in snow? :grin:


That sounds like something that would be said on that Facebook group or Reddit than here on the GF forum.

A little context would be helpful. Where did you see the suggestion and in what features was the GF supposed to be deficient?


Oh, I don’t recall. I read several sites on laser cutting. But, it appears to me, based on responses, that, as I previously understood, Glowforge IS a CNC laser cutter and that’s what I wanted to confirm.

Thanks all!