Interview with Dan Shapiro, creator of the Glowforge laser cutter

Originally published at:

the Glowforge laser cutter

Glowforge, the 3D laser printer

Is this just a laser cutter, or can it also sinter (which is I guess what I assume would be meant by laser “printer”)?

Sinter printer?

My God, those things actually shipped?

*checks calendar*

And in the same decade they were promised! …although apparently just barely.


The Glowforge website uses the terms “printing” and “printer”. Its a laser cutter and engraver … I find the terms they are using to be misleading and confusing. But maybe that’s just me.


Hopefully, the Glowforge folks have paid attention to laser safety, unlike Cubiio.

I always like the price of the Glowforge, but I’m pretty weirded out by needing an Internet connection. Also the website talked about “membership fees” and “monthly limits”.

Making everything a subscription may make the VCs happy, but it’s a real turnoff to me.


In the industrial machinery world, things can get even crazier. Some milling machines are so crazily locked down that they can’t even be moved without the manufacturer’s permission.

This was always one of the big criticisms of Glowforge when it was first announced. The machine is indeed a laser cutter/engraver just like others of its ilk that perform the same type of operations. But in a move only Microsoft would think of doing, Glowforge decided to re-purpose the word “printer”, presumably for marketing purposes to make it seem more consumer friendly. “3D Laser Printer” is just marketing-speak.


It is potentially confusing, but it is, to my mind, not unreasonable since you can send it vector files and it very much acts like a printer in tracing out the file you send to either cut or laser engrave the medium. A vinyl cutting machine, for instance, is used to “print” signs, and printing signs (not using vinyl) is also a use of the Glowforge. [Vinyl cutting machines for sign shops use blades. Never cut vinyl with a laser cutter as lasers vaporize the PVC creating an acid, which can hurt people and machines.]

Some argue that subtractive processes can’t be “printing” since historically printing has involved adding ink or toner to paper. However, if you look at this dictionary definition of printing you’ll note that the definition centers around the results (creating text or pictures) rather than the exact process:

print | print |

verb [with object]

1 produce (books, newspapers, magazines, etc.), especially in large quantities, by a mechanical process involving the transfer of text, images, or designs to paper: a thousand copies of the book were printed .

• produce (text or a picture) by printing: the words had been printed in blue type .

• (of a newspaper or magazine) publish (a piece of writing) within its pages: the article was printed in the first edition .

• (of a publisher or printer) arrange for (a book, manuscript, etc.) to be reproduced in large quantities: Harper printed her memoirs in 1930 .

• produce a paper copy of (information stored on a computer): the results of a search can be printed out .

• send (a computer file) to a printer or to another, temporary file.

• produce (a photographic print) from a negative: any make of film can be developed and printed .

2 write (text) clearly without joining the letters: print your name and address on the back of the check | [no object] : it will be easier to read if I print .

3 mark (a surface, typically a textile or a garment) with a colored design or pattern: a delicate fabric printed with roses .

• transfer (a colored design or pattern) to a surface: patterns of birds, flowers, and trees were printed on the cotton .

• make (a mark or indentation) on a surface or in a soft substance by pressing something onto it: a beetle scurried by, printing tracks in the sand with its busy feet .

• mark or indent (the surface of a soft substance): we printed the butter with carved wooden butter molds .

• fix (something) firmly or indelibly in someone’s mind: his face, with its clearly drawn features, was printed on her memory .

Note that we “print” photos. And photographically printing, say, black and white photos is actually a subtractive process. We expose the photosensitive medium to light, then develop the exposed paper to turn the silver halide black, and we then stop the process and wash away the excess halides with “fixer”. Yet I’ve never seen any debates about whether printing black and white photos in a dark room is “printing”.

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Is it really okay to laser cut vinyl? I’d always though it was either vinyl chloride or poly vinyl chloride, but either way, that chloride part wasn’t a good thing to be heating up with a laser.

Okay, exhaust it outside or through a charcoal filter and it’s someone else’s problem, but is it really something you want to be doing often?

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Good point. I meant that Glowforge is used to make signage, not that it is used to cut Vinyl. Nobody should ever cut vinyl with a laser cutter as it creates corrosive and toxic gas that hurts people and equipment. I’ll edit my post to note that.




I’m slightly concerned about the people who will run it inside without ventilation and without the nearly a thousand-dollar filtration system Glowforge has as an add-on item. My institutional laser cutter has dual filtration, a powerful blower to expel any leftover gassing from the building, and an air line at 10 psi to keep the lenses and mirrors clear of ash and other debris. AND IT STILL REEKS.

These MIT grads fell prey to the friendly, ease-of-use Laser cutter they had in their home. Lasering through wood is the same as burning it in an enclosed space. Filtration and ventilation needs to be mandatory.


:open_mouth: The wiki on activated carbon says that CO is not well absorbed by it, so an activated carbon filter would be inadequate to protect against CO poisoning :frowning:

CO monitors are now more common in homes, and required in many rental units by state law, so people may have some notification if their laser cutter is venting CO. But, OTOH, they may be using the cutter in a den or workshop that doesn’t have a CO monitor.

Uh, you develop photos, not print them.

Really? So you have never ordered photographic prints? :thinking:

ABS is also a potential toxic gotcha if burned or vaporized - the “A” is acrylonitrile, and “nitrile” is essentially a friendlier name for cyanide (generally used for organic functional groups covalently bonded to the CN radical rather than metals ionically bonded to it).


I’ve had one for the last year. There are no membership fees, and no usage limits.

They do have a “design store” where one can specify how many of a thing the purchaser should be able to produce for a given price. I’ve never used that myself though, and outside of a little playing around with the sample material pack that came with it all my production work has been on materials of my own selection with great success.

It has its shortcomings and limitations, but overall the production quality of the machine itself as well as what it produces are top notch. I have no regrets about buying one.


Carbon Monoxide detectors are now mandatory (2011 law) in rental homes in California, but it is not required unless the dwelling has an attached garage, fireplace, or gas appliances, and I’m not confident that a detector will work when installed on the ceiling, as many of the combination smoke/CO alarms are.

That’s interesting about the carbon filter, but makes sense- how can you eliminate a gas without venting it outdoors? I don’t have the science chops to know, but it sounds expensive and complicated.