What to practice while waiting for my 'Forge

Hey gang,

Glowforge will be my first foray into lasers, though I’ve been a huge admirer of many laser-made projects over the years. While I’ve done some basic vector work in Illustrator and am an old hand at photoshop, I’m sure that once my GF arrives it’ll be a dive into some VERY new topics.

On that note: any suggestions for software or techniques I (and other new GF owners) could start to get comfortable with now to minimize the time between “oh, I can make a coaster or a pre-designed catalog item” and “if I dream it I can make it”?

Or to put it another way: favorite design software for laser items - GO!


Adobe Illustrator will be a very useful tool as well as any vector based software platform.

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I have a vision, to change the world of tabletop gaming. I have spent a few months on drafting designs, and went to professional design company and worked with them to turn my drafts into solid 3d objects using the solidworks program. I intented to make them with a 3d printer, but the current easily available tech on to make these particular objects is nonexistent.

I originally ordered the forge to cut simple shapes out of acrylic for “simple” stuff. However, since spending so much time in the forums, I’ve learned tons from the others here on techniques and with that knowledge, I’ve changed my plans to make all these 3d objects out of lasercut acrylic.

To practice and prepare: start thinking about 3d objects you have, and how to make them out of 2d flat pieces. Think of supports and edges. Try drafting it out in Illustrator or inkscape. I also suggest doing forum search for the term “joinery” to help give example to 2 pieces of flat materials interacting with each other.


As mentioned in another post, Affinity Designer looks like it would be a good alternative to Adobe Illustrator since I spent all my money on the Glowforge :slight_smile:


Welcome! There are many first time laser owners here (myself included), so you aren’t alone. @jordanloshinsky and other regulars here took the time to put together a repository of a lot of helpful links. Link Repository - collection of links

Otherwise, I would say just look through this forum, there is a lot of helpful advice and tips from very knowledgeable people.

Personally for software, I’m planning on learning Fusion 360 (if you search for that, there are a lot of topics on it and some nice tutorials in the forum) for 3d models.


Thanks for the replies so far!

After posting, I realized (as Sawa’s post was talking about) part of what I’m hoping to learn is less tech/software and more design. Are there any useful tools/techniques/things to use to get into laser design before I have an actual laser in my hands?

I’ve been trying to get some practice in every day in Affinity Designer, and it’s been a lot of fun. There is still some learning curve, but I’m getting there and I have lots of time before getting my Glowforge. I think you would like it, too.

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Thanks for the bump @joe

And to any forum members who enjoy cataloging and organizing , I am lookin for one or two more to help keep the list organized and up to date. If you enjoy spread sheets and sorting man do I have a project for you :smile:

You’ve hit it with it’s as much, if not more, about how to design than it is the software tools if you want to go beyond coasters, signs and catalog items. How things fit together is not as easy as it may appear.

Look around at all the plastic things you have that contain electronics. What appears to be a simple plastic case can take months of full time work to get just right. And it’s not because the designers and mechanical engineers don’t know how to use their software packages. A lot of it is specific to how to design a part so it is moldable (the corollary being how you join a wooden box together or stitch and rivet a leather bag), but a lot of it is also about fit and function. And then you prototype and correct. And that’s just a plastic box.

My suggestion is search the Internet for videos of how people make things you’re interested in making. This is the Internet, so be warned idiots and the eager-but-not-so-well-informed abound and own video cameras, but bad ideas can be as informative as good ones. People who know what they’re doing also love to share.

Once you have an idea of how your category of thing is made, focus on how to make it with your tool - a laser cutter. Joining things together using a sloped surface is a lot more difficult with a laser. There are plenty of threads here about how we may be able to cut slopes, but unless you’re only using acrylic you have to ask: if I get a slope, how charred will it be, how will it join, if I have to clean it how will I do that? On the other hand, a laser will make so many other parts of the process easier. For some things I think “how this type of thing is made” will change. Because how things are “properly” made is completely dependent on the tools available. Like your English teacher said, “you need to know how to use language properly before you can use it improperly.”

Remember, you don’t have to use a laser for the entire project. For what I’m interested in, I believe the laser will reduce and improve a lot of things, but I will still be using non-photon based tools to complete the entire project.

And I would do the learning and the designing side-by-side. The brain learns by doing, so get an idea for something really simple and then struggle with your software design tool. As you implement your research in your design tool you’ll run into practical problems. That will lead to research on how to fix your specific issue. And so on and so on.


Inkscape is a free vector program. It is pretty good at vectorizing a bitmap image.

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Well stated!

We so often loose sight of what needs to be done and focus on the tools. Simply giving someone a really good hammer doesn’t make them a carpenter. Know the craft you want to do and how to use the tools available to you is really the key.

I’m so thankful for this form as a great source of information and inspiration.


I downloaded inkscape, after having used illustrator in the past years ago. Once i figured out howvto setup grid guides, i went to town drawing the lines that would be the cuts, to turn a 3d object into 2d, snd once its cut out, reassembled into 3d again with acrylic solvent.

I might miss something and maybe not make it perfect. I may learn how to design a better cut down the road. But when i draw out my cuts and make the object in my head, i’m going back and revising these designs and starting from something is better than starting from scratch.

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With respect to design principles, I found the course Universal Principles of Design on Lynda.com (based on William Lidwell’s books) to be VERY interesting for any designer. If you are not a member I believe the episode of the current week is available for free. I get free access to all their courses through my local library.

Edited: sorry, I forgot to include the link: http://m.lynda.com/Higher-Education-tutorials/Universal-Principles-Design/193717-2.html?name=universal-principles-of-design


I’m using a bunch of programs, myself… in no particular order:

  • SketchUp Make (free for non-commercial makers) or SketchUp Pro
  • Inkscape (but I’d use Illustrator or Corel Draw if I could justify large enough workflows that needed them)
  • Autodesk Fusion 360 (again, free to non-commercial makers)
  • Meshmixer and 123D Make (both free)
  • OpenSCAD (free) [the idea of using math or formulas for designs fascinates me]

…but I’ve also got a Shapeoko 2 CNC mill, so some of these softwares go both ways.


I am building a 16" bandsaw. Frame and wheels are done. Ready to mate them on the mounts. It has been a great experience in reading plans, design, measurement, software, tool use, glue up, materials, and a whole host of things that are assisting me. For instance. I now know where to buy fasteners of any kind, having gone to five different hardware stores to get just the right one. Still haven’t gotten a 3/8 inch knock down bolt. As good a teacher and engineer as Mathias Wandel is, there are some things that just aren’t specified in the plans that I have to figure out for myself. So for example the trunions that allow the table to tilt. The 1:1 printouts are not following the stated curve for the radius of of the circle. free Sketchup doesn’t do real circles. My vectors for the trunions, on which I am hoping to put some angle ticks with the GF to show tilt are not matching up to the included plans. I can’t figure it out. I’ve never used a digital micrometer before and figuring out when and how to use it is important. I imagine that most people take a ready-made design and modify it some way to fit their particular needs, especially as to what is available in terms of materials and tools. I’m also relying on local help. I asked a friend if she had a heavy duty belt sander I could borrow. She didn’t at the time, but guess what her hubby got her for her birthday? She told me that next year I needed to ask to borrow a Lexus. Before I started on the bandsaw, I spent a lot of time working through my own designs of things. My kitchen matchbox was a great way to interact with the community (thanks @jacobturner) in addition to learning the design software. So that’s how I’m preparing, in addition to reading every forum post and collecting all sorts of materials.


Just curious, @marmak3261… what did you mean by “free Sketchup doesn’t do real circles” ? You didn’t mean spheres, did you? I’ve never noticed any problems, I’ve been using Sketchup quite a bit lately.

Sketchup approximates circles using line segments. Some other programs define circles differently to give a true circle representation. In sketchup I believe the default is 24 segments. You can increase that number, say maybe 72, to get a much smoother circle.


What @rpegg said. But I didn’t know you could adjust that. Fixed it. Thanks so much both of you for asking and explaning.

@marmak3261 Ah, right. Yeah, the default of 24 is a bit low for my own liking too, I’ve unconsciously got in the habit of ramping it up as needed, which you can do at any time until you start making more complex group objects.

@rpegg That said, one could argue that ALL X-Y coordinate systems approximate a true circle, it just depends on how high of a segment count or decimal place you want to accommodate.


Certainly. I was just answering the question. It’s not something that has ever come up for me. Displays, X/Y motion systems all eventually have to deal with the conversion. I imagine there are advantages to using S/W that defines a circle in terms of Bezier curves or some other manner of defining what a circle is. If the definition starts with line segments that needs to be handled differently when having to scale a circle to a larger size. The segments become much more obvious unless the segments are dynamically increased. Some laser or CNC controllers use G-Code that just send the command for a circle and then the controller interprets that into X/Y positions.