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Forget plastic — Glowforge 3D laser printer builds with wood, fabric, leather

Introducing Glowforge - The 3D Laser Printer

Forget what you know about conventional 3D printers, because a Seattle-based company has unveiled what appears to be the next generation of 3D construction. Called the Glowforge 3D laser printer, this revolutionary new machine throws out the common model of printing with additives and instead cuts away at supplied materials to produce almost anything you want.

Want to design your own etched leather wallet? Simply supply the piece of leather you wish to use, upload your desired design into the Glowforge’s web or smartphone app, and voila! The printer perfectly etches your design into the leather while also cutting it into a shape that’s easy to fold into a wallet. The possibilities are only limited by your imagination.

First introduced via a Kickstarter campaign in 2015, the Glowforge went on to set a 30-day crowdfunding record, raising more than $27.9 million. And while it’s taken a little while for these printers to actually come to market, on Monday, April 23, Glowforge officially took the covers off its 3D laser printer. Now, whether you want to print a personalized leather pet collar, a coffee maker, an outdoor business sign, or even a pediatric surgical training tool, you should be able to do so at the touch of this device’s button.

“From the very start, we designed the Glowforge 3D laser printer to unlock people’s creativity,” CEO Dan Shapiro said.  “We set out to reinvent the idea of ‘homemade.’ What if you could print what you wanted, when you needed it? What if you could sketch a design, then turn it into something real you could use, without complicated software? What if your gifts were personal instead of purchased? What if it was easy to print your ideas a hundred times, so you could launch a business?”

Because the Glowforge 3D laser printer utilizes a subtractive manufacturing process instead of the traditional additive manufacturing, the list of compatible materials is nearly endless. Owners have the option of using wood, fabric, felt, acrylic, paper, and even chocolate, among many others mediums. After placing the preferred material inside the printer, the Glowforge begins carving and etching the product using an incredibly precise laser light. In a demonstration video posted to the company’s website (and embedded above), it claims the laser possesses a precision accuracy of up to the width of a human hair.

Outside of the innovative hardware native to Glowforge’s printer, the machine purports to allow even the most amateur of artists to create unique projects. You can upload image files, hand drawn sketches, or use one of Glowforge’s many available templates and designs to begin a project. Moreover, users have the ability to customize or create new images and templates via Glowforge’s web application, or by using their smartphone. If using a computer program isn’t ideal, the printer has the ability to analyze drawn images, then cuts or etches the materials accordingly.

Glowforge doesn’t require any additional software, and should need only a stable Wi-Fi connection to work. You can create and print from software including Adobe Illustrator, Inkscape, CorelDraw, Adobe Photoshop, GIMP, Autodesk 360, and Sketchup, or forego software altogether — the Glowforge comes with cameras capable of scanning a drawing and transforming it into a print.

The Glowforge Basic, Plus, and Pro are now available for purchase on the company website, but be warned that these devices don’t come cheap. The Basic version will set you back $2,495, and is meant for home and hobby use. The Plus costs $3,995, and features “upgraded components” and more power to print 20 percent faster, as well as a double warranty. Finally, the Pro is meant for serious designers, entrepreneurs, and small businesses, and can handle all day use. Glowforge claims that this model can print large projects like home decor and furniture, but you need to be willing to pay $5,995.

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