Consumer 3D printing has been languishing in regards to fulfilling the promises of delivering useful products on demand. Mostly because of size and cost, additive printing technologies are still limited to outputting plastic toy quality dimensional reproductions that nobody really wants. Unless you’re a designer prototyping small models or parts for a larger design, the cost vs. quality doesn’t quite yet add up. But maybe more people would be better served by printers with a more subtractive nature…
Glowforge founder Dan Shapiro envisions 3D printing for consumers requires more versatility for wider acceptance; a more varied gamut of materials readily available for consumers to customize – paper, wood, leather, acrylics, glass, metal, and even certain foods. Expanding material options can tap into the already healthy community of makers and sellers online – think Etsy – who would like to embellish, rather than reinvent or design wholly new items (though the printer is also capable of being a tool for this purpose also). Shapiro’s Glowforge printer uses subtractive laser carving instead of additive plastic printing to accomplish this goal.
The Glowforge printer is designed for engraving, carving, and cutting, all with a user experience that scales from pros down to non-designers (it even looks like a standard large format injket printer). Drawings on paper can be used as direct tracing templates for engraving thanks to the printer’s onboard camera; scans sent via Wi-Fi can accomplish similar plan-to-material engravings from digital file format sources if you’ve ditched pen and paper. The printer is also equipped to recognize a catalog of materials, adjusting the depth and intensity of the custom 40W (basic model) / 45W (pro model) laser to carve out varied designs of varying depth according to user’s whims.
At a pre-order price of $1,995 the Glowforge still exists within the prosumer tier of home office products. Halve that price and you’ve got a serious proposition for crafters, makers, and small studio designers looking for an additional customization tool, an inevitability as 3D printing technology prices continue falling with maturation and availability. That all said, there’s already an ineffable desire to get our hands on one of these laser cutter printers to explore the possibilities of customizing anything and everything we can put into the printer bed (including toy figures to reenact this memorable laser scene).