Review: Glowforge Pro Laser Cutter

Laser Cutting Maker News
Review: Glowforge Pro Laser Cutter

Manufacturer: Glowforge
Link: https://shop.glowforge.com/collections/printers/products/glowforge-pro
Price: $5,995 as tested (I also tested the optional air filtration unit, which is an additional $1,295)

Setting up this machine is pretty simple. You pull it out of the box and remove the packing materials. They’ve got a handy guide showing you exactly where to remove parts that may not be immediately evident. That’s about it. There’s no real construction necessary.

In Use

This is such a beautiful piece of hardware. It just looks great and feels fantastic in your hands. From the weight of the lid (with nice little gas pistons to hold it in place), the thunk of the operating button, to the gorgeous laser tube on display, it’s pretty.

Cutting and engraving performance does not disappoint in terms of quality. The engravings were very consistent, especially if you use the “proof grade” materials that Glowforge sells. The fact that you can toss in the purchased material and the machine automatically knows what it is and what power to use for engraving and cutting is fantastic. It does all this using a sticker with a QR code, pre-placed on these materials. You can still use your own materials, not purchased from the Glowforge store, but you’ll have to manually adjust your power and speed settings, much like any other machine on the market.

The fish eye camera on the inside of the lid.

One thing I absolutely LOVE about the Glowforge is the camera. Having a camera in the machine that allows you to precisely place designs on your stock visually is a delight.

Not only does the camera allow you to place objects, it can scan designs too. This little trick is fun every time I do it. In the example above I quickly sketched out a skull with a little tab to hang it from. The camera picked it up and traced it clearly and I was able to select sections to cut vs to engrave.

The final result picked up the hand-drawn style easily and I love how it looks. I’m very happy that the ability to scan is a free feature, however being able to put a simple circle or text on the design within the software will require a monthly subscription.

I tested the optional air filtration system as well. I really liked it. I can’t really say that I have much to compare it to, but it did seem perform admirably. I felt like I smelled less burning material using this filter than I previously had when I vented my k40 outside. This is likely due to the quality of the filter as well as the fantastic construction of the Glowforge itself.

Software

In order to run this machine you have to load a web based client and connect the machine to wifi. There is no physical connection available, nor local wifi hotspot. You have to connect to their cloud. Unfortunately, this meant that there were periods where my unreliable internet meant I also could not use my laser cutter. That was a disappointment.

When people first told me this machine required their cloud to operate with zero backup options, I thought it wasn’t that big of a deal. Then I thought of all the other hardware we’ve seen become inoperable because the company couldn’t keep the servers up. For example: Pebble, Chumby, and LittlePrinters.

The interface. Note that most of the buttons here only work if you subscribe. I do love the camera view though!

Within the software I was appalled to find that the Glowforge pro, a $6,000 machine, didn’t have the option to add basic shapes or text without paying for a monthly upgrade priced at $50 per month ($20 per month if you shell out for a whole year). You can design items in other software, export the svg file, then import it into the Glowforge cloud.

The annoying fact is that most of the buttons in the user interface are only for people who are willing to sign up to their subscription. For me, their interface basically just became a system to visually place files I designed in other software. It was effectively a gatekeeper to an expensive machine, a speedbump, whose sole purpose was to try to squeeze me for more money.

What a delightful marketplace! note: the “free” items you see are only free if you’re a paid member.

There is a built in marketplace where you can purchase and download designs, and that’s great. I love this for folks who find the creative design side to be difficult. I also love that you could theoretically make a little extra money designing items for others to use.

Conclusion

The cloud-only, paid software feature issue really bugged me. I don’t think that charging a monthly fee of $50 ($20 on discount) to be able to add basic shapes and text, or simply mirror your imported design, is acceptable. Not at all. This feels aggressively manipulative to a customer who just shelled out $6,000 for a machine. I would have a hard time finding the specific user who I would recommend this to, based purely off the software experience. Maybe if you’re in a classroom and your budget is huge but your skill and time are very limited, it could be a good fit due to how easy it can be to download a file and use a pre-configured material.

It’s a beautiful piece of hardware, such a shame that they’ve chosen this route to make money at the cost of their user experience.

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I get ridiculously excited seeing people make things. I just want to revel in the creativity I see in makers. My favorite thing in the world is sharing a maker's story. email me at hello (at) calebkraft.com

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