In 2015, when Seattle-based startup Glowforge took in more than $27.9 million from a Kickstarter campaign in 30 days, a record, it became clear that their idea for a 3D printer for the home or office that could engrave or cut virtually any design on any surface would be a hit with consumers. Today, having received more than $60 million in funding and released their do-it-all virtuoso of a printer to the public on April 23rd, the validation of excitement for Glowforge’s series of 3D laser printers remains strong.
Built upon laser cutting and engraving technology, the Glowforge product line differs from many 3D printers in that it uses a subtractive manufacturing model, instead of the mode of additive manufacturing used in most 3D printers. This reliance upon cutting and engraving via laser means that users are able to insert virtually any type of surface they can imagine into the Glowforge to bring a customized design to life, whether it’s wood, leather, fabric, acrylic, glass, cardboard, paper, or yes, even chocolate.
The ideas furnished in Glowforge’s own catalog are wide-ranging and universally stunning in their beauty. They include walnut veneer Macbook key caps (material cost, $12), a wooden louvered shoji lamp ($21), leather custom-engraved sandals ($31), leather covers for a variety of items ($5), engraved glass spice jars ($10), and much more. Or, you can simply upload your own design via the Glowforge web or smartphone apps, adjust the parameters, insert the surface which you’d like it to work upon, and watch as your creation comes to fruition in a matter of minutes.
From the very start, we designed the Glowforge 3D laser printer to unlock people’s creativity, CEO Dan Shapiro said. We set out to reinvent the idea of ‘homemade.’ What if you could print what you wanted, when you needed it? What if you could sketch a design, then turn it into something real you could use, without complicated software? What if your gifts were personal instead of purchased? What if it was easy to print your ideas a hundred times, so you could launch a business?
The laser-cutting process is impressively precise, with a margin of error which the company claims is within the width of a human hair. The Glowforge line of 3D laser printers are undoubtedly the most consumer-appealing products of their kind released on the market to date, but their versatility and ease of use come at a cost.
The Glowforge Basic starts at $2,495 and offers the ability to engrave your designs into glass, wood, leather, acrylic, and the metal surface of a Macbook. The Glowforge Plus, which offers upgraded components, a more powerful laser to print up to 20% faster, and a double warranty, begins at $3,995, a price which will rise above most hobbyists’ budget. The highest end model, the Glowforge Pro, begins at $5,995 and promises components prepared to handle all-day use, a package aimed at ‘serious makers, home entrepreneurs, and small businesses’.
While the Glowforge isn’t going to be for everybody who has a passing interesting in taking up novice-level craftsmanship, it could serve as an unparalleled hobby lobby which could unleash a household or individual’s creative side, and potentially offer a stream of revenue which pays for itself, depending on how appealing your imagination is to consumers who don’t have the power of a Glowforge at their fingertips.