You certainly have identified an issue that is very important. I feel your frustration. It is hard to sift through all this information and figure out what to focus on.
Marketing from Glowforge makes it look easy. It is easy. They have an ecosystem of design and materials and workflow that just works (of course aside from malfunctioning machines). It is an excellent business model and I hope it is successful. It seems to be doing ok, but it’s hard to tell overall.
But there is the rest of the story that marketing won’t give you. Welcome to reality. Lasers are noisy, smelly, smokey, finicky, delicate, and complicated systems. Step outside the Glowforge workflow and you will have some work to do.
Venting is a big issue. They are finally getting to a point that they are making good on initial promises of a filter. But it is totally different from what was first imagined and it will always remain one of the downsides of having a laser. People just have to deal with a venting setup or pay for filters. Some people cancelled their orders because they couldn’t solve the venting issue.
The trace function makes it seem like anyone can just throw something in the bed and they can engrave and cut perfectly. It is a great marketing asset. It works well for its limitations but it will never substitute for digital literacy. To get your money’s worth out of the Glowforge, you will have to learn a vector design program and at least rudimentary bitmap editing skills. That’s the reality unless you are willing to pay for designs. And paying for designs will never get you the product you really want to make in the material you really want to use.
The Glowforge was designed so that it wouldn’t require a separate chiller. That is a game changer. Seems great, until you realize that this requires an operating environment that is going to challenge some people, too hot or too cold. Some people cancelled because they wouldn’t have a shop to fit into the temp profile.
Proofgrade is amazing. I love it. When I need to make something fast, I use it. I can’t for the life of me get a finish for wood objects that they have. But there are so many things that I want to make that Proofgrade would never be able to fulfill. Meaning, lots of thick acrylic, edge lit signs. I have a cheap source of it and I can use it like cardboard. Never would be able to do that with Proofgrade. Being tied to Proofgrade can be a big problem though. Supply doesn’t always keep up with demand. Some folks are stuck because of this.
In the end, all of us has to do a lot of homework to get the most out of our machines. Some of us had the benefit of getting in during the long winter before production machines came out. But there are many veteran forum members who started out with little or no knowledge and this was before the forum had thousands of posts detailing everything one could think of. I spent a lot of time combing through laser sites and YouTube videos to learn enough to ask questions on this forum. We were lucky that from the outset there were some folks who had experience. For example, I read through every one of @m_raynsford’s blog posts. I watched every one of SabarMultimedia’s videos. And I spent hours and hours fiddling with a pre-release and having hardly anything to show for it because everything I wanted to do required testing and redesigning and muddling my way through it.
It is hard to figure out where to start. The best way is to make a circle and a square vector. Copy them. Fill the copies. Make each one a different color. Now you have four things you can test. For cutting Start with fast speed and low power. See what happens. For engraving start with lower LPI and a fast speed (1000) and lower power (10). See what happens. Rinse and repeat. I do that still with materials I am trying out. I don’t make charts or complicated test patterns. Just this.