Buying The Glowforge
In deciding to start our business we had a few choices to make immediately. The first was, what should we call our store? We have been fondly known to friends for some time as the Randeltons, a combination of our last names Rand and Helton. The name seemed fitting since this will be a joint venture combining both our skills and interests. The second decision to make was which Glowforge model to purchase. There are three versions available: Basic, Plus, and Pro. Before I get into the particulars of what makes each model different, I want to talk about all the general considerations you should consider before purchasing a Glowforge.
Buying a Glowforge: Things to Consider
1. Materials that work with Glowforge
Having a laser cutter is a great thing, but no so much when you have nothing to cut. So what materials can you use and where do you get them? There are two ways to get materials – you can purchase them through Glowforge directly or source them yourself.
Purchasing materials directly through Glowforge is the easier option, but not necessarily the most cost-effective. They have created a market place on their website to sell materials that are compatible with the Glowforge. This is a great solution for someone just getting into laser cutting. They call their material Proofgrade and it can be almost exclusively purchased through their website. They claim that their materials are much better than other sources because they have gone to great lengths to make sure they are laser safe and consistent.
Laser safe and consistent are the two issues you will need to navigate a lot when laser cutting. There are a lot of adhesives and materials that are poisonous when burned. So Glowforge ensures their plywood and other materials fit that quality standard. You will also find that material thickness, dimensions, and quality can vary slightly in materials. Glowforge say they have solved a lot of these issues with their Proofgrade products. Glowforge sells quality products, but the cost is quite a drawback.
So where else can you get quality materials that are laser safe? Below is a list of the recommended materials Glowforge suggests.
Cutting & Engraving
Wood, cardboard, rubber, fabric, plexiglass(acrylic), cork, leather, derlin(acetal), sandpaper, paper, mylar, foods, and others materials.
Glass, ceramic tile, marble, anodized aluminum, rubber stamps, titanium, stone, corian, and other materials.
While Glowforge says their laser cutter can cut and engrave other materials than the ones specifically listed, you really need to look hard to determine what’s safe to cut and engrave. Certain material compounds are hazardous when laser cut. For example PVC and certain adhesives have chemicals that emit deadly fumes when heated. So it’s best to stick to the recommended materials until you feel comfortable moving into others.
Proofgrade vs Non-Proofgrade
Before I purchased the machine I had a hard time determining the cost of Proofgrade materials, which was necessary to determine if I could make a profit selling products made from them. Unfortunately, Glowforge hides them behind a owners portal, meaning you must own a Glowforge before you can access the marketplace to purchase Proofgrade materials. Luckily for you, I am sharing the pricing information with you. Ultimately, I rolled the dice and lost. From a business standpoint Proofgrade is far too expensive to be competitive. For example I was able to source wood locally that I cut down myself for about $1.50 for one 12×20 board. The closest comparable product on Glowforge’s shop comes in at $20 for the same size board before shipping costs. Clearly, it’s impossible to turn a profit on Glowforge with Proofgrade materials.
Paper coating, reduced smoke, recommended by Glowforge who also provide customer support and troubleshooting
Cost, shipping times, shipping costs, limited options
1/8″ Medium Draftboard (Unfinished)
12×20 – $4
20×48″ – $25
Thick Draftboard (Unfinished)
12×20 – $6
20×48″ – $35
Medium Walnut Hardwood (Finished)
6″x12″ – $7
8″x36″ – $35
Medium Cherry Hardwood (Finished)
6″x12″ – $7
8″x36″ – $35
Medium Red Oak Hardwood (Finished)
6″x12″ – $7
Medium Basswood Hardwood (Finished)
6″x12″ – $5
Medium Maple Hardwood (Finished)
6″x12″ – $7
8″x36″ – $24
Medium Poplar Hardwood (Finished)
6″x12″ – $5
Medium Walnut Plywood (Finished)
12″x20″ – $16
20″48″ – $65
Medium Cherry Plywood (Finished)
12″x20″ – $16
20″48″ – $65
Medium Maple Plywood (Finished)
12″x20″ – $16
20″48″ – $65
Thick Walnut Plywood (Finished)
12″x20″ – $20
Thick Cherry Plywood (Finished)
12″x20″ – $20
Thick Maple Plywood (Finished)
12″x20″ – $20
Thick Basswood Plywood
12″x20″ – $15
Medium Basswood Plywood
12″x20″ – $11
Medium Black Acrylic (Cast, Opaque, Glossy)
5″x10″ – $3.25
12″x20″ – 9.50
(They have a wide range of colors and style all around this price.)
Medium Natural Leather
5″x10″ – $11
12″x20″ – $24
Thick Natural Leather
5″x10″ – $12
12″x20″ – $30
Thin Natural Leather
5″x10″ – $9
Where to get Non-Proofgrade Materials
Sourcing materials is complicated. Thankfully, I live in California where the air standards are higher. This is helpful because certain materials have to meet certain cutting standards. I can buy a 4’x8′ sheet of 1/4″ plywood from Lowe’s that is laser safe. The keywords you want to look for with wood is NAF or non-formaldehyde added. It’s also sometimes tagged “green”. You just have to search, make calls, and visit stores to scout materials. You should be able to find a local plastics store that sell acrylics and other safe plastics in your area. It just takes effort and foot work to find materials. Scouring the internet and ordering online is also great, but you will deal with time delays and shipping costs. But for some this may be the best option depending on the availability of product in your area.
2. Wifi and the Internet
Wifi Connection to the the Glowforge
Unlike a lot of CNC or laser machines, Glowforge does not connect directly to a computer. This is a definite plus for me personally. It allows me work somewhere and then print somewhere else. This flexibility was clearly what they were aiming for and I think they hit the mark. On the other hand, if your wifi network goes down, gets jammed, or you don’t have wifi in your shop you will need to consider remedies to those issues.
Internet Connection to the Glowforge
When you’re ready to print you’ll go through Glowforge’s proprietary web app. The most worrisome part of this setup is that your designs have to be uploaded to the cloud, so if their website is down, you can not print. You also can’t print if your Internet or wifi goes down. These are two very big potential problems. (Update – In the 3 months since getting the machine the website has never been down.) So, you’ll want to make sure you have a solid wifi and internet connection. What’s nice about this setup is that all your designs are saved online for reuse. However it gets really messy because they don’t have a foldering system yet, making it difficult to keep your work organized.
3. Space Requirements
This machine requires a fair amount of space. You will need to find a large strong surface near a window to allow for ventilation. The Glowforge measures 38″ wide by 20.75″ deep and 8.25″ tall. It also weighs 55 pounds so you will need something fairly sturdy to put it on.
Another thing to consider is that the box it comes in is 46″ x 29″ x 16″ and must be kept in case your Glowforge needs to be sent back to the manufacturer for servicing. If you don’t keep the box you’ll be charged $249 for a new box to ship it back in. This box is very large and will take up a chunk of your storage space. Make sure you have room to store the box unless you’re willing to pay a fee in the event you have to ship it back.
Fumes are a big factor in buying a Glowforge. Currently when you purchase there is an option to buy an air filter which allows you to place the machine anywhere in your home supposedly fume free. I’m skeptical of that claim but since they haven’t shipped any air filters yet I can’t prove or disprove this belief. So if you want your machine and business to start now you will need a window and a place to blow your fumes.
You want to make sure that you don’t have any neighbors really close to where your exhaust will be going. In general the smoke and smell aren’t too overwhelming, but I probably wouldn’t want it blowing directly in my yard. You’ll also notice that the smell dissipates really quickly after a cut has finished. So you only have to worry while the machine is running. A very thin amount of smoke is also visible when you’re cutting. The acrylic smell is very light when etching but very strong when cutting. It smells a bit like a nail salon. Both get quickly blown away with a breeze outside after cutting.
I mainly work with wood and acrylics so I don’t have a much experience with the fumes of other materials but each will have distinct attributes and smell that may or may not bother neighbors.
Comparing Glowforge Models
Comparing Glowforge models.
The Basic as you probably guessed is the base level model. The Plus is their second tier model and the Pro is their highest level model. There are differences in each model as displayed in the image above. When considering the differences I asked my self the following questions:
Are there materials the Pro can cut that the Basic can not? The short answer is no. They all have similar powered laser tubes that all have generally the same material limitations. The long answer is that you may be able to cut through something a bit thicker on the plus or pro that you might not be able to on the basic. The pro also has a pass through slot. This allows for materials that are larger than the bed of the machine to be cut or engraved. The Plus and the pro are also 20% faster than the basic. They can cut faster, which if you are starting a business could save you time and when you multiply that 20% out over time you could make up the cost difference. You would need to see if the number saved was greater than the extra $1500 (Plus) or $3500 (Pro) cost. The warranty also varies for the basic vs the more advanced models: 6 month to 12 months.
With these differences understood I imagined two scenarios to help determine which model to purchase.
Scenario 1 – My financial restrictions are not a factor.
If I was to take my money out of the equation, what would I pick from a business stand point? The extra 20% speed could be very important, but only if our business was booming, and if that was the case it I could always replace this machine with a faster one. So I think I should ignore the speed differences.
What exactly does the passthrough slot allow me to do? It can let you put a long board through the machine so you can do a large cut or engraving. I don’t really want to work on things bigger than the 12×20 bed size so I think this isn’t a big factor for me. Also to use the passthrough slot your machine needs to be turned side ways and I don’t have the physical space at my home to achieve that.
The warranty is a big consideration. This is a new type of machine that didn’t even exist a few years ago. The company isn’t that old and I am not so experienced with laser cutting. Having that security seems like a good idea. However if that is the only real consideration of whether or not to go with the Plus is it worth $1500? I’m not so sure. For another $1000 I could buy another basic.
Scenario 2 – I may never make a dine. What can I afford to loose?
Obviously I should spend as little as possible to test the waters. But I don’t want to handcuff my self so much that the whole venture is rendered pointless. I don’t see any functional ability gained from the Plus, and Pro. I will be able to make all the same things I wanted to create with any of the machines.
It seems like the two scenarios are in agreement. The most practical and financially sound model would be the Basic.
One more Glowforge consideration before buying.
There is one more consideration that I did not do enough research into before purchasing. Cooling. The Glowforge is advertised as an in-home unit for the average maker. What they don’t explain very well is that the machine can overheat easily, and if it’s too hot it won’t cut. If you look at the image above you will notice a note saying “enhanced cooling for all-day use.” I should have asked myself, wait, are there temperature issues with the Basic and Plus that would prevent all day use? The answer is essentially yes. The Basic and Plus need the ambient temperature around the machine to be at a cool 75 and below. I don’t know about you but I never keep my home that cold. Th Pro model extend to 81 which I think we all can agree is a much more reasonable temperature.
So If you do purchase the Basic or Plus you will need to plan how to get cool air to your Glowforge. Originally we planned to put the machine in our kitchen next to a window but quickly realized the temperature issue would prevent it from working. We ended up moving It to the living room and placing it next to our in wall air conditioner. If you don’t have a cooling solution two things will happen. Your cut will start and then stop at some point in the middle of you print and wait for the air to cool down (The cool down takes a long time, even with cold air blowing directly at the intake so it best to have the air flowing before you start your print). The second is that it may not start at all. These are huge issues you need to consider before almost any other factors. The extra 20% speed, passthough slot, or even the warranty really don’t matter if the machine wont run because of temperature issues.
I would suggest putting this consideration first ahead of all others.
Buying your Glowforge Model
Help support this blog by using the purchase link below and get a great discount on your Glowforge: $100 off a basic and $500 off Pro.
Once you have decided to purchase a Glowforge you will have a couple options. The first is cash or credit purchase. With a purchase this big you may not have all the money you may need to start your business. You can do what I did, which is to put it on a 0% interest for 15 months credit card. If you go this route I highly recommend this card. Signing up helps support this blog.
Another option is to use a service called Affirm. Glowforge has partnered with them to offer monthly payments at a cost. This is a more expensive offer, but may be a more realistic payment option for some. The interest rates are high – 10-30% – so I wouldn’t recommend this payment plan option.
Go take a look at the affirm offerings by clicking the little Affirm blue text under the price of each model.
Congratulations! Your Glowforge is on its way!
What to do now?
It’s time to start getting your business plan in order. You need to start sourcing materials, putting design ideas on paper, and the most importantly is figuring out where to put your new machine.
More to come later!