Since shipping has started, nobody still here is likely considering dropping the Glowforge for another laser.
But, some of you may be going back to look for referral credits (that program is still going, right?), or just want to share the news with friends and family.
At Maker Faire I spoke with quite a few people who were interested in the machine, and by the end of the weekend, I had a full sales pitch developed. Reasonably certain I led to three sales, but wasn’t passing out my own referral code, so I will never know
What you are buying when you choose Glowforge instead of another laser, is an “Apple vs Android” scenario. But where Apple (the Glowforge analogue) made a nice user experience and locked away most customization, Glowforge seems to have left full control available, but tucked it out of the way for a clean intuitive UI.
Glowforge makes the user experience better by removing the “pain points” of Lasercutting.
If you are familiar with 3D printing, then you know of pain points… bed adhesion, bed levelling, slicer configuration to ensure proper dimensions and tolerances, bed temperature, fan speeds and activation…
All of those are the things people starting in 3D printing HAVE to learn. But modern printers have automated quite a few of them. Sure, you may have a bit less control in some cases, but you get to pull a machine out of the box and just start making baubles.
Well, in Laser Cutting, the pain points are there, but different. The primary pain points are mirror alignment, material/design alignment on the bed, focusing the laser on your material, and figuring out the speed/power to achieve your desired results with the material.
Glowforge completely eliminated the mirror alignment pain point. This is a huge boon to starting users! Alignment can often be done just once, but after that painful process, you are likely quite upset at anyone bumping your laser, and you are absolutely NOT eager to re-arrange your shop, let alone take the laser traveling. But, the always-on-spot optical alignment of Glowforge means you are happy to toss it in your trunk and run off to a friend’s house to share the love.
Aligning your design to your material in most lasers is achieved by either working from the 0,0 origin (Glowforge doesn’t have one of those) if you are doing square material stock, and working on a corner (not often an option with scrap/pre-used sheets), or by using a visible laser pointer via beam combiner, or just running the whole head around your perimeter (not effective if you want to align based on a hole in the middle somewhere). But, with the Glowforge, you place your material on the bed, then you have an image of that material presented in the computer, where you can arrange your pending cut/engrave routine at will.
The cameras also remove the third pain point: focusing the laser on your material. This one is not hard to do on most lasers, you have a little trinket which you place on your material, slide the laser head down snug against it and you are all set. But, if you almost always work with 1/4" material, and one day decide to do a 1/2" sheet instead… you are likely to forget to re-focus, because you haven’t had to for months on end. Then when you re-do the 1/2" sheet… I hope you remember to restore the focus to your 1/4" normal location, or you will have another botched job later…
On the Glowforge… you have to specifically request in the interface if you want to NOT have the laser properly focused, regardless of the size of material you use.
The last pain point is removed only if you are using Proofgrade material. Which is something that most of the time you won’t bother with. But when you have a time critical job or a giant order, picking up some proofgrade for a reliable cut is absolutely the way to go. Or even just when you are starting out and want to know what a good job COULD look like. Cut your teeth on Proofgrade, pay attention to the auto-magic settings, and get a feel for how to look at a piece on non-proofgrade and decide if you used too much or too little power.
On the flip side, the main down sides to the Glowforge are size related. The laser is “only” a 40W laser, so you are mostly working with 1/4" materials. The bed size is a “mere” 12x20 (roughly), so you are working with things about the size of a large picture frame, or building from pieces. And the main detractor is the depth, with no object over 2" tall being able to go in the machine.
For me personally, I have another laser that is stronger, and I am free to modify to be as big as I want. Yet almost everything I have done, or seen and wanted to do, can fit in the Glowforge. And my machine is a pain to use (not true of most lasers, mine is just really crappy student-built), so in every case where I can use the Glowforge, I absolutely will. If you want to make something very large, layers are your friend!