Here’s What I Made (Finally) With My Glowforge Laser Cutter

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engraving in the Glowforge forum—crank up the contrast being the most useful piece of advice. The company has also upgraded its Web-based software to create default settings for photo engraving. I’m looking forward to more improvements like this, and the company seems to be delivering them.

In general, I’ve found the Glowforge app straightforward to use, as far as it goes. But there are simple tasks—cutting out a rectangle, for example—that seem like they should be easier to do directly within the app. After engraving the family photo on the maple hardwood, I wanted to trim the edges to the exact aspect ratio of the jigsaw puzzle template included in the Glowforge catalog. The work-around for this involved creating a rectangle in another graphics program and uploading that image—essentially an instruction set for the laser—to the Glowforge app.

I should note that I’m coming to the technology with a limited background and skill set in creating digital graphics. There’s a lot to learn—particularly as I eye more complex projects that involve fitting together cut pieces to form 3D objects—but there is also a wealth of resources in the Glowforge forum, and a community of users and Glowforge employees that seem eager to help and share experiences.

Your acuity with design and graphics software such as Adobe Illustrator, AutoCAD, and Inkscape will have a big impact on the results you can obtain with the Glowforge. My neighbors, who are software and design professionals, have taken to it much more quickly, creating a protest sign for the recent Women’s March in Seattle, and a beautiful and unique “Circle of Fifths” spinner they can use to randomly select what key to play in when they’re making music with friends (see image below). But even they have encountered a learning curve in understanding how the Glowforge app will translate their designs into instructions for the laser—where it should cut, where it should engrave, and how deeply?

The designs in the Glowforge catalog, paired with the Proofgrade materials, save a lot of effort in this regard—and point to an ongoing revenue stream for Glowforge as a company.

After trimming the engraved family photo, I flipped the wood over (so that burn marks from the cuts in the next step would not mar the finished product) and refreshed the image in the Glowforge. I pulled up the jigsaw puzzle design in the app, positioned it over the piece of wood, confirmed the pre-set cut instructions, and hit the glowing button.

The jigsaw puzzle pieces were cut in a couple of minutes and fit together beautifully. The finished puzzle—which took about 30 minutes of laser time, plus another hour and a half spent learning—was a hit with the family (see below).

I’ve only just scratched the surface of what can be done with this technology. The creativity of other Glowforge users on display in the forum is inspiring. I’m looking forward to experimenting and learning more, and, most of all, seeing what my kids will do with this amazing tool that brings together the digital and physical world.

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