Glowforge charms the maker market

Glowforge is already a phenomenon: Just four days after the Seattle-based start-up began taking preorders for its 3D laser printer online, the company’s revenue reached almost 3.5 million USD. Even though the printer is technically a CNC laser cutter engraver, it fits right in with the maker culture that 3D printing helped unleash as it lets lets people use raw materials like leather, paper, plastic, fabric, or cardboard to make products with a push of a button.

Glowforge is already a phenomenon: Just four days after the Seattle-based start-up began taking preorders for its 3D laser printer online, the company’s revenue reached almost 3.5 million USD, about twice as much as the start-up expected to make in 30 days. Even though the printer is technically a CNC laser cutter engraver, it fits right in with the maker culture that 3D printing helped unleash.

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Glowforge’s printer lets people use raw materials like leather, paper, plastic, fabric, or cardboard to make products with a push of a button. It also engraves over a dozen different kinds of material like leather, fabric, acrylic, plywood, and even food, allowing users to engrave seaweed for their sushi dinners or chocolates for a birthday party. One useful feature is the printers’ sensing ability: It detects what material or product is in the tray before it starts engraving. This prevents costly mistakes when engraving, for example, the metal cover of a laptop.

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The Glowforge laser printer measures 37 inches wide, 20 inches deep, and eight inches tall and has a number of noteworthy features, including autofocus that allows for precise 3D printed creations, dual cameras to preview printed objects, a way to trace images and drawings made by hand, so that the print-out shows the exact image (here’s a list of specifications).

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The Glowforge is clearly aimed at creatives who love to see their ideas become reality in a short time span. The printer can derive designs from software like Adobe’s Photoshop or Illustrator or even from a simple drawing. Users don’t need complex CAD software, which definitely adds to Glowforge’s appeal for creative types without a technical background.

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But even for those who don’t want to make their own designs, Glowforge offers a way to adorn existing or make new products. A design catalog offers easy access to a variety of patterns and layouts. The printouts, or rather cutouts, since the Glowforge uses subtractive technology, are ready in between two and 20 minutes, depending on the design.

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The ease of use that Glowforge promises is intriguing and not surprising, considering how the business idea came about. Glowforge’s CEO and co-founder Dan Shapiro had access to a laser and liked the creative opportunities it offered. When his children asked him to make toys and costumes for them and their friends, he was not too impressed with the laser’s performance. Most designs took a long time and the laser was neither easy to use nor safe for kids.

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He looked for better affordable options and realized there were none on the market. As an experienced entrepreneur who had already sold a business to Google, Shapiro realized that inventing an affordable, easy-to-use laser cutter could not only be a great device for his kids but also a good business opportunity. Investors seemed to agree: Earlier, Glowforge received more than 9 million USD in funding from True Ventures, Foundry Group, MakerBot, and Google among others.

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The basic Glowforge model will eventually retail for 3,995 USD, but Glowforge is selling the printer for 1,995 USD over the next month. Since ventilation is important, Glowforge offers an air filter for the basic model, which costs an additional 500 USD. Pro models for maker spaces are also available at a higher price. The Glowforce printers are expected to ship in December of this year.