It finally looks like 3D printing is about to take off in a big way. But not all 3D printers are alike.
One clever new example is Glowforge, a desktop 3D laser printer that allows you to create a large variety of consumer items out of any material — from a leather handbag or wallet to hard wood jewelry boxes and household items to a child’s doll house or even office furnishings.
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Designs are derived from popular software such as Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator, Glowforge’s own online catalog, or even from drawings from pen and paper. There’s no need for complex CAD software.
Glowforge is designed to be the middle ground between the maker movement and industrial manufacturing. “If you’re making one to 100, a laser is exactly the tool for the job,” said Dan Shapiro, Glowforge creator and CEO. “The laser can take the cutting of fabrics, for example, off your plate.”
Glowforge is a kind of hybrid 3D printer. Unlike 3D printers such as the Form 2 and others that use additive technologies to build objects out of plastic, Glowforge uses subtractive technology that cuts and engraves materials like wood, leather, foam, paper, acrylics, cardboard, fabrics, stone, metal, glass, consumer electronics and even food. After the printer makes the component parts, each piece is labeled to assist in assembling the item later.
“The Glowforge turns everyone into a micro-manufacturer. Things are being created exactly for what’s needed and when they’re needed, domestically, on-the-spot. It’s just-in-time fabrication as well as creating beautiful things out of lovely materials that are actually going to last,” Shapiro said. Lets face it: no one want to carry a plastic handbag.
Glowforge’s one-button interface makes it as easy to use as a microwave oven, and it gets non-technical people involved in making things. “It’s so empowering to kids to be able to imagine something and then go and build it. That’s why kids like to draw and why they love legos and blocks. Glowforge takes that to an entirely different level.”
Just choose a project and place your material inside the printer, where the machine automatically produces a 3D scan, adapting the design based on its measurements.
Then, preview and make adjustments on your Mac, PC or tablet and Glowforge’s dual cameras capture the material and give you an accurate preview of the product. Then push the button on the machine. Glowforge runs automatically, using autofocus to achieve accurate depth and position with most prints taking between two and 20 minutes to complete.
“This isn’t a gadget that appeals to people because it’s interesting; it’s a tool that’s interesting because it’s useful,” said Shaprio. “I felt that was the promise of 3D printers that never quite been realized and that is really exciting.”
Glowforge is launching a 30-day day pre-order campaign, where the current model will be available for $1,995 — half off the regular price of $3,995. Pre-orders can be placed on the Glowforge Website.