App & Software Review

Glowforge Aura review: a beginner-friendly laser cutter for hobbyists

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When Glowforge CEO Dan Shapiro instructed me that the Aura “simply works,” I used to be skeptical. As somebody who owns a vinyl cutter, I’ve lengthy needed to cope with choosing out the best supplies, ensuring the machine has the best blade, and creating my very own designs. I used to be anticipating an identical degree of legwork (minus the vinyl) when the Glowforge Aura arrived on my doorstep — however it proved me flawed.

At $1,199, the Glowforge Aura sits on the upper finish of the entry-level laser cutter value vary. Nonetheless, it makes up for that by making laser reducing and engraving a ridiculously easy activity. Whereas Glowforge doesn’t promote it as such, the Aura is a CNC (pc numerical management) machine that makes use of a laser to make exact cuts and engravings based mostly on data that will get fed by way of its accompanying software program.

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Like Glowforge’s costlier fashions, the Glowforge Aura can slice and cube by way of a whole bunch of various supplies, together with wooden, acrylic, leather-based, paper, rubber, cardstock, and an entire lot extra. However with a value that’s a number of thousand {dollars} lower than the $6,995 Glowforge Pro and the $4,995 Glowforge Plus, it comes with some limitations, together with a smaller, 12 x 12-inch reducing space and a 1/4-inch depth restrict when reducing (or 3/4-inch for engraving) that makes it harder to work with massive, thick sheets of fabric. Each of Glowforge’s premium fashions, then again, allow you to minimize supplies as much as 18 inches extensive and half an inch thick and in addition include a Pro Passthrough slot that lets materials dangle outdoors the reducing space for outsized initiatives.

At 20.5 inches lengthy and 22 inches extensive, the Aura is smaller than Glowforge’s different cutters however not precisely small.
Photograph by Emma Roth / The Verge

One other downside is that the Glowforge Aura comes with a weaker 6W diode laser versus the 40W CO2 laser within the Glowforge Plus and the 45W CO2 laser within the Glowforge Professional. The stronger CO2 lasers enable Glowforge’s premium printers to chop and engrave at a a lot sooner charge when in comparison with the Aura. They’re additionally in a position to minimize by way of clear and translucent supplies, one thing the Glowforge Aura can’t do as a result of its diode laser emits a blue gentle that may cross by way of the fabric with out scoring it.

When a laser cuts or engraves materials, it emits fumes that may very well be dangerous to your well being. That’s why, for this evaluate, I used the Aura alongside Glowforge’s personal air filter, which the corporate sells individually for $399. The filter combines HEPA and carbon filtration know-how to purify the Aura’s exhaust. You don’t have to buy the filter in the event you don’t wish to spend the additional cash — the Aura comes with a air flow hose which you could place outdoors of a window as a substitute. 

Setting every little thing up was easy: I popped the Aura’s laser into place utilizing the built-in magnet after which slid within the crumb tray that catches extra materials. From there, I related the cutter’s air flow hose to the Private Filter. The machine and filter have been a lot larger than I had anticipated. At 20.5 inches lengthy and 22 inches extensive, the Aura simply barely match on my desk, so I opted to place it atop my espresso desk alongside the air filter, which is concerning the measurement of a small desktop tower.

After connecting the Aura to Wi-Fi (you may’t print with out an web connection), I used to be prepared to start out crafting. You management the Aura by way of Glowforge’s net app — there aren’t any controls on the machine itself moreover the massive, glowing button that you just press if you’re prepared to chop or engrave one thing. The identical goes for the Private Filter. Each units shut on and off robotically, though you may at all times simply unplug them if you’re accomplished. 

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Immediately beneath the Glowforge emblem is a digicam that captures the fabric contained in the cutter.
Photograph by Emma Roth / The Verge

I sourced nearly all of my check initiatives from the on Glowforge’s web site. Outdoors of some free designs, particular person initiatives price between $0.99 and $19.99 (excluding supplies). Or you may subscribe to Glowforge Premium, which prices $50 per 30 days or $600 yearly and provides you limitless entry to many of the paid designs. On the time of testing, Glowforge’s web site listed 2,789 Aura-compatible initiatives, of which 2,727 are “Free with Premium.”

For my first minimize, I began out small. I created a Glowforge gift box by placing common copy paper into the machine, affixing some masking tape to its facet (per Glowforge’s directions), and shutting the lid on the Aura. The machine comes with a digicam on the within of its lid and takes an image every time you shut it. A picture of the paper instantly surfaced on Glowforge’s net interface, with a flattened define of the giftbox superimposed on its picture. I dragged the design round to verify all of it match, entered printer paper as my materials, and hit the massive button on the machine to start out reducing.

You’ll be able to comfortably watch the laser do its job due to the orange-tinted lid on the Aura, and it’s fairly cool to observe. The Aura took about 12 minutes to chop out the design, which I discovered a bit lengthy provided that it was simply slicing customary copy paper. What me, although, is that the Aura can also be able to flippantly scoring the paper as nicely, which created strains that made it simpler for me to fold the paper right into a field form. I didn’t simply use the machine with paper, although — I bought an opportunity to check out just a few several types of woods from Glowforge’s line of Proofgrade supplies, in addition to sheets of black and crimson opaque acrylic.

You’ll be able to comfortably watch the laser do its job due to the cutter’s tinted lid.
Photograph by Emma Roth / The Verge

Glowforge advises that you just use its personal Proofgrade supplies, that are designed particularly for the corporate’s laser cutters. According to Glowforge, utilizing supplies from different sources — particularly in the event you don’t know the components in them — can enhance the chance of the fabric catching hearth or emitting hazardous smoke that the machine can’t correctly filter out. Whereas Glowforge does have some extent right here, that doesn’t imply it is best to shrink back from utilizing non-Proofgrade supplies utterly. There are dozens of cheaper, non-Proofgrade supplies you should utilize, too, you simply have to verify they received’t injury your laser and don’t comprise dangerous chemical compounds. For instance, this 24-pack of 12” x 12” x 1/8” basswood sheets on Amazon prices $35.99, whereas Glowforge’s Proofgrade 12” x 12” x  3/25” black acrylic prices $19.99 for a single piece.

There are some benefits to utilizing Proofgrade materials. For one, they arrive masked — which means a layer of tape covers the fabric’s floor to forestall burn marks through the reducing course of. And QR codes printed on the tape let the Aura decide which materials you’ve loaded contained in the cutter. This implies the kind of materials ought to robotically floor in Glowforge’s net app when you’ve closed the lid. You don’t get this with non-Proofgrade supplies, so that you’ll should manually enter your reducing settings. Luckily, the Glowforge group has compiled a list of non-Proofgrade materials and recommended settings here, though evidently they’re not but optimized for the Glowforge Aura.

As somebody who helped run a small Etsy store that concerned designing, reducing, and delivery decals for automobiles, partitions, water bottles, and different surfaces, I hoped to interrupt out a roll of vinyl to see how the Aura fared as a cutter. Nonetheless, I used to be a bit disenchanted to be taught that you just really can’t minimize most kinds of vinyl with laser cutters — not solely can the fabric hurt your laser, however in addition they produce fuel that’s dangerous to your well being when heated up. That mentioned, there are some types of laser-safe vinyl, however I simply didn’t have any readily available.

The cutter may even flippantly rating customary copy paper.
Photograph by Emma Roth / The Verge

After utilizing the laser for some time, I discovered that reducing and engraving supplies aside from paper tends to take a fairly very long time. I had the possibility to check out just a few completely different designs with various ranges of element, together with a cellphone holder, a pair of earrings, an earrings stand, and a set of coasters. I made all this utilizing Proofgrade hardwood supplies, with the extra intricately designed earrings taking round 45 minutes to carve out. I even minimize out The Verge’s emblem on acrylic with a design I unexpectedly put collectively in Glowforge’s net app.

A phrase of recommendation: in the event you’re going to create your individual designs, you’re higher off doing it in Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, Gimp, or another picture enhancing software program. Glowforge’s net app has solely fundamental instruments that you just’ll want a Premium subscription to entry, together with the flexibility to create strains and shapes or add textual content — and even that’s tedious. Fortunately, Glowforge’s net app accepts all several types of recordsdata, together with JPG, PNG, SVG, and PDF, making photographs straightforward to import from separate apps. There’s additionally the Premium-only AI text-to-image generator, known as Magic Canvas, however the designs it outputs aren’t all that helpful, as there are just a few issues AI simply can’t generate but (e.g., arms).

Right here’s one of many AI designs generated by Glowforge’s Magic Canvas.
Screenshot by Emma Roth / The Verge

Simply because the Aura is fairly straightforward to make use of doesn’t imply there isn’t any upkeep concerned. I discovered myself having to assemble all of the small bits of leftover wooden, paper, and acrylic that fell by way of the holes within the crumb tray. The crumb tray itself additionally bought fairly burned up after a number of makes use of, however it wasn’t one thing {that a} moist paper towel couldn’t repair. I additionally discovered that regardless of utilizing the Private Filter, the Aura nonetheless does produce a obscure burning scent when reducing or etching wooden, so that you may wish to open up a window when you’re utilizing it. Oh, and that’s one other factor you’ll have to keep up: Glowforge says its Private Filter cartridges can final for as much as 100 hours of printing, and so they price a hefty $135 to replace

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I minimize out a cellphone holder, coasters, earrings (and the stand), together with The Verge’s emblem.
Photograph by Emma Roth / The Verge

There are different machines on the market at related costs, just like the $1,499 xTool M1 10w laser engraver, which additionally comes with a blade for reducing vinyl, in addition to the $1,199 Creality Falcon2, which includes a 22W laser on an open body. Whereas I haven’t had the possibility to check out both of those cutters myself, neither cutter comes with the identical deep design catalog because the Glowforge, making them barely much less pleasant to learners. Nonetheless, xTool still offers a gallery of community-sourced designs, and there are many different third-party design websites, like 3axis.co and Ponoko. However their extra highly effective lasers nonetheless give each units a leg up on the Aura. 

Both approach, the Glowforge Aura makes up for its hefty price ticket with its ease of use. It’s an excellent machine in the event you’re simply beginning out with laser reducing and wish to use the cutter as a interest or to make crafts for a small Etsy store. However in the event you’re not prepared to fork out $1,199 for a machine that’s much less highly effective than another machines in its value vary — together with an additional $50 per 30 days for entry to readymade designs — the Aura won’t be the most effective cutter for you.

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