Basic, Plus, or Pro? Which Glowforge is Right for me?
So this questions gets asked… All.The.Time in the Glowforge groups on Facebook and frankly I think almost everyone is tired of answering it. It all comes down to a matter of opinion, in truth. However, in order to never have to type out my own very personal opinion on this subject again, I’m going to make a short post showing the differences between the three models so you can make your own decision. For real, all of this information is on Glowforge’s website, so for many of you this will feel like a redundant post – and yet people keep asking “what’s the difference” so I’m putting it here.
That all being said. I love my Glowforge. I think it’s a great machine and it was totally worth it for me. I know this post sounds salty, but hopefully it will help someone find the machine that’s right for them.
What Do I Need For the Glowforge?
- Some Design Ability – you can buy lots of files so you don’t need to be able to draw necessarily, but you should make sure to be familiar with some form of design software such as Illustrator, Silhouette, etc. In my opinion, this is the number one thing you should understand before buying this machine.
- Wifi – if your Wifi sucks and you cannot use a hotspot of some kind you will not be able to use the Glowforge as it is not (and cannot) be hardwired. The software is in the Cloud and requires internet access.
- A Location to Vent the Machine – you will need a window or some area to vent the fumes from the machine.
Here is a short primer on how each machine is different and what all of them have in common.
WHAT THE MACHINES HAVE IN COMMON
All of the Glowforges have the same basic shell. With the exception of a few internals, and the passthrough they look nearly identical. They have the same cutting area, crumb tray, and basic abilities.
- 19.5” by 11” (Glowforge Basic and Plus)
- 19.5” by ∞ (Glowforge Pro)
- Maximum material height: 2″ (50mm)
- Drag-and-drop with live camera preview
- Works with Mac, PC, iPhone, Android, and more
- JPG, PNG, SVG, PDF, and more
- Dual cameras: wide-angle & macro
- Custom 40W (Basic) / 40W (Plus) / 45W (Pro) laser
- Precise to 1/1000th of an inch
- Full autofocus
- 40 Watt Laser
- 6 Month Warranty
I own the basic, and personally think it’s the best deal. I can cut large things by cleverly piecing them together, but truthfully I don’t make large things often so for me the Basic was the way to go.
The basic does not have a passthrough but you can “hack” a pseudo passthrough with this trick.
* NOTE: The price on this unit has gone up and is no longer eligible for the referral program. They are clearly trying to push people towards the Plus and Pro. I still stand by the Basic as the best deal – yeah even though I don’t get referrals from it anymore, my opinion stands. Buy what’s right for you and don’t let people push you one way or the other to use their referral!
- 40 Watt Laser*
- 1 Year Warranty
- 2X Top Speed (really only relevant to engraving)
- “Improved Hardware” – they are super vague about this, but it is likely something to do with the gantry system to help with the slightly higher engrave speed. With the beta testing the super fast engrave speed many machines were shaking or the print heads were skipping lines when set at top speed.
- Will Likely Ship Faster
I personally think the Plus is a rip off. Almost $1500 for 6 extra months of warranty? I didn’t have a single issue until well after a year and would rather spend that cash on materials or save a bit more for a second Basic. I think it’s ridiculous and now that that it no longer has the stronger laser that it’s not worth it. I’d rather try and get extended warranty service through my Visa than bother with this.
The faster speed only helps if you are doing large engraves, and even then it may not make a huge difference. Many users report it doesn’t make much of an impact overall.
NOTE: The older Plus model had a 45watt laser. They downgraded this. I honestly think they are planning to phase the Plus out.
- 45 Watt Laser
- 1 Year Warranty
- 3x Top Speed
- “Improved Hardware”
- Improved Cooling – operating temp of 65-81F (Basic and Pro are 65-75)
- Passthrough Slot – this allows you to make longer prints. However, it’s only for materials 1/4″ thick or thinner so good luck trying to engrave large cutting boards etc.
- Will Likely Ship Faster
If you know for sure you’ll be making mostly oversized signs then the passthrough might be worth it for you. The improved cooling can make a difference if you have your machine in a garage or it’s particularly hot in your location.
I’d still rather get two basics than a Pro, but again that’s my opinion. Many people love the Pro and the seamless look of the larger signs is worth it to them.
This unit straddles the line for me – at this price point you’re getting close to a budget that will buy you a more powerful laser (or one with a rotary) and the main advantage becomes the simplicity of the GF interface and the size. For example – I have my machine on the second floor of my house – to buy a Boss or Trotec I would need to have it craned in, which can get super pricey.
WHAT CAN THE GLOWFORGE DO (AND NOT DO)
People seriously tend to not look this up and it baffles me. Check out this link to learn more:
Material Capability (Cut & Engrave)
- wood (be careful of some finishes or cheap plywoods which can be hard to cut. The hardness will make a difference as well you may not be able to cut super hard woods)
- plexiglass / acrylic (many thicknesses, colors, and kinds, can be cut up to about .5″ but that’s really pushing it and takes multiple passes)
- fabric (will leave a smell, you’ll need to wash it after)
- leather (veg tanned only)
- mylar, acetate (and some other clear materials)
- rubber (and rubber stamps)
- paper (many kinds including glitter, cardstock etc.)
- felt (synthetic and wool – but the wool will really smell)
- Delrin (acetal)
- foods (only if you use the machine for food only)
- EVA foam (many types of foam are safe)
- Mother of Pearl Veneer
- Faux Leather IF it is Polyester or Polyurethane
Material Capability (Engrave Only)
- glass (finicky, some glass won’t work as well depending on how it’s made)
- ceramic tile
- anodized aluminum
- stone (depends on the stone as to how good it looks, slate tiles work well)
- crystals (like agate slices)
- bone and shell (I’ve heard bone smells like hell, but it can be done, use both with caution as excessive bone and shell dust can damage the lungs)
The Glowforge Cannot
- Engrave or Cut Metal. It can mark metal with a special marking spray but the spray (Ceramark) tends to be pricey and can be a bit finicky to use.
- Cut or Engrave most Faux Leather (or Many Real Leather Products) – Most faux leather contains PVC which is highly toxic and corrosive to your machine as it releases chlorine gas. When it comes to leather, you need to use Veg tanned leather only. Most “Genuine Leather” products that are not specifically listed as Veg tanned are chrome tanned and thus toxic to cut/engrave.
- Cut or Engrave PVC (such as vinyl records) – this will absolutely destroy your machine with chlorine gas. Don’t do it
- Engrave or Cut materials when you don’t know what they are – don’t risk it.
What About the Filter?
Do. Not. Get. The. Filter.
It’s utter garbage unless you only plan to cut acrylic or really need it for a trade show where there will be no window or something. The filter is overpriced and inefficient. It fills up super fast (we are talking a week or two for many users) and the replacement filters are $250. Almost everyone who has gotten the filter hates it. You basically cannot use it with wood or MDF, so really, trust me. Save yourself the $1000 and do not buy it. There are many creative ways to make your machine mobile and to adjust the venting for all different types of windows (vertical, small, regular, dog doors etc. Be creative). However, if you cannot vent out of a window or you cannot install a wall vent (like for a dryer) you’re probably better off not buying a machine sadly.
What About the Premium Membership
$50 a month? Nah. Hard Pass.
Unpopular opinion maybe, but the premium membership is a MAJOR waste of money. It currently has a few neat features and they offer free files each month I think, but you’d be way better off spending your money on an Adobe suite subscription (which is similarly priced) and really building your design skills. If you go that route you end up with marketable, real-world skills vs a very light, low functionality interface with some clip art that may or may not be licensed for commercial use (they are vague on this, and in the end, you are liable, not them). If you cannot live without this membership contact Glowforge in the chat and try and see if they’ll give you the discounted $15 pricing. Be real nice, and maybe they’ll hook you up (no promises). I really would skip this. You do not need it and it’s not even close to comparable to some free options out there. Honestly if it was a one time charge maybe, but this monthly price is laughable.
For real. This is a very expensive piece of equipment, take the time to check out the FAQs on Glowforge’s website. I don’t know how many times I see people posting questions like “How do I cut this metal thing” when they’ve ALREADY BOUGHT the machine only to find out that the Glowforge cannot cut metal. Get educated on what the machine can and cannot do before buying. Even if money is no object to you – it’s such a waste if you have no interest in learning the design skills or your main goal was to cut faux leather (most faux leather contains PVC which is toxic and dangerous for the laser) or something.
HELPFUL STARTER POSTS
If you’d like to learn more about the Glowforge check out some of my other posts to learn about materials, setup, and some design resources:
In the end, it’s up to you. I’m personally fond of the Basic. It’s a great way to get your feet wet and then determine if laser cutting is for you. You can then upgrade to a larger, more industrial machine if it becomes a real business for you.
Obligatory Glowforge Discount Code Plug
Sign Up for Blog Posts Updates
And finally, if you’d like to be updated on posts like these in the future you can sign up for my email list. You will only receive an email if there is new content, and only once weekly in that case: