Laser printers are great, when they work. But up until now, they couldn’t print you out a wallet, a perfectly fitting pair of jeans, or a nifty wood-cut drone. A new 3D laser printer called Glowforge aims to let anyone do just that at home.
Unlike most 3D printers, the Glowforge doesn’t create objects out of any sort of paste or liquid that solidifies. It doesn’t use an additive process at all. Instead, it precisely cuts or embosses materials, which can then be put together to create something.
The Glowforge has a concentrated laser-emitting a beam about the width of a human hair, that can cut through any organic material. The printer itself looks a bit like a large scanner, and it works in a similar fashion: Put a piece of material inside the printer bed, let it scan what type of material it is, and then choose what you want to print. Glowforge’s accompanying app will then give you a countdown on how long your item will take to print.
Glowforge’s CEO, Dan Shapiro, told Quartz that his printer can be used in three different ways. Budding artists can draw designs right on a piece of material, and the printer will cut around the lines, or they can download designs through Glowforge’s app and print those. They can also use pretty much any design file from Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, or any 3D modeling software to create more intricate designs. And, Shapiro says, “There’s no design background required.”
Shapiro showed Quartz a range of intricately cut wood items made on the Glowforge, including a mahogany computer stand, a homemade version of the board game Settlers of Catan, and a keyboard holder. They all seemed like stylish projects one might find on a successful Etsy page, and the Glowforge would undoubtedly be a useful tool for cutting down the time it takes woodworkers and other crafters to make their tchotchkes.
But things got interesting when Shapiro showed off his belt. “You’ll notice it only has one hole,” he said. He broke his last belt, he explained, and instead of buying a new one, he ran a spare piece of leather he had through the Glowforge, and cut himself a belt that had the exact width to fit him. He’d done the same with a wallet that fit just the cards he carried, and even a leather bag that had a pocket exactly the right shape for his iPad Air. If he upgrades to the iPad Pro, he could just print a new leather pocket, take off the old one and sew the new one on.
Shapiro said the bag took him about an afternoon’s work to put together. The Glowforge cut holes into the pieces of leather to sew them together, but he still had to assemble it by hand. A more skilled leather worker, he said, could probably do it in about an hour.
It’s easy to test out designs too: Just use scraps of cardboard—Shapiro prefers old Amazon boxes—and print until you perfect your design. The printer can also engrave stone and metal, melt chocolates, and cut cloths like denim. Shapiro envisions a future where home consumers will be able to print themselves a pair of jeans that fit them perfectly, and aren’t any harder to put together than IKEA furniture.
The Glowforge is available for preorder today at $1,995, but will cost $3,995 when it goes on general sale. It could be the printer that finally brings 3D printing into the average consumer’s home, though for now, Shapiro said Glowforge’s most likely customers will be arts-and-crafts types, and those who sell their products on sites like Etsy. “We’re reinventing what it means to be homemade,” Shapiro added.