Glowforge Is Taking On the Crafting World With Its New Aura Laser Cutter
It's all the things people love about Glowforge in a smaller, considerably more affordable package.
Russell Holly is a Managing Editor on the Commerce team at CNET. He works with all of CNET to assemble top recommendations as well as helping everyone find the best way to buy anything at the best price. When not writing for CNET you can find him riding a bike, running around in Jedi robes, or contributing to WOSU public radio's Tech Tuesday segment.
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Editor's note: Due to multiple issues in our ongoing test of the Glowforge Aura, CNET does not currently recommend this laser cutter.
If you've heard the name Glowforge before, there's a reasonable chance your first thought is big. While incredibly capable machines with some extremely cool software, both Glowforge models you could buy last week were designed for either industrial or commercial environments. This week, there's a new Glowforge in town. The new Aura is not only small enough to justify having in your house, it's thousands of dollars cheaper than the current slate of products. After using it for a few days, it's clear this is something you're going to see in the background of many home crafting workshops.
There are a lot of powerful high-end laser cutters out there competing on price right now, but when it comes to convenience and ease of use, anybody who has ever used a Glowforge will tell you it's got the competition beat by a mile. From any web browser, you can build a design to either cut, engrave, score and sometimes all of the above using an actual image of what's inside your Glowforge as the blueprint. The software helps you perfectly place designs and then cuts them with ease, and offers a massive library of fonts and images to help if you're down for paying the monthly subscription to access it.
Take that impressive software and apply it to something crafty people can use for their own home projects or to start selling things of their own, and you've got the Aura. It's got a 12-by-12-inch bed that can cut materials up to 1/4-inch thick and supports a ton of materials for engraving and cutting. While the Glowforge Aura is a class 4 laser, it isn't as powerful as the one you would get in the company's flagship machine. This means you won't be able to do everything a larger Glowforge can do, including some of the Glowforge-made "Proofgrade" materials. When I tried to use the nearly fully transparent Glowforge Medium Glass Green Acrylic, I was met with a warning in the software that my Glowforge did not support this material. But if you want to engrave actual glass, Glowforge's website says it'll work just fine. We'll be testing this and a lot of other things in our full review.
To further Glowforge's march into home crafting, the company has placed special emphasis on being able to handle adhesive vinyl and iron-on vinyl with preset settings for each. Both of these materials are massively popular with other home crafting machines, so seeing Glowforge make an argument for the Aura being the only machine you need for everything is a solid way to reach homes with limited space. And given the price difference between a Glowforge Aura and something like a Cricut Maker 3, it's an argument Glowforge will really need to nail.
Like its predecessors, the Aura can either be vented out a window or you can also pick up the $400 personal filter. Like the Aura itself, this filter is smaller than existing models, but it's also got a much nicer overall design and setup takes seconds. I've been burning away at bits of wood in my office for days now and the air quality sensor in that room hasn't budged, which is amazing.
Glowforge Aura is available at Michaels and Joann starting today for $1,200 and comes with some test materials to get you started. A full review of this laser cutter will soon follow, but seeing Glowforge bring its super simple software to a home-friendly price point quickly makes this something easy to recommend to home crafters looking to expand their capabilities in the craft room.