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Photo via Glowforge.
Photos via Glowforge.

Glowforge is bringing back the idea of “homemade” with its new 3D laser printer.

The young Seattle startup today opened up pre-orders for its innovative printer at a limited time price of $1,995 each — it normally will retail for $3,995 — with an expected ship date at the end of 2015.

The device, also called the Glowforge, lets people use raw materials like leather, paper, plastic, fabric, or cardboard and make products with a push of a button. It has no screens and measures 37 inches wide, 20 inches deep, and eight inches tall.

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Glowforge co-founder and CEO Dan Shapiro showed me a quick demo last week, taking walnut and frosted acrylic materials to create a nice 10-piece candle holder.

Dan Shapiro.
Dan Shapiro.

Using the Wi-Fi connected printer is fairly simple. A user can design and develop their creation from a web browser on a computer, tablet, or phone. This both reduces hardware costs for Glowforge and also automatically takes care of any layout or alignment problems that typically arise with current options, Shapiro said.

The Glowforge device then produces a 3D scan of the materials, and users can make any adjustments. It has dual cameras that capture the material and render a preview of the final product. There’s one step after that.

“All I do is push a button,” Shapiro said.

Prints take between two and 20 minutes. Some projects come out ready to use, while others, like the candle holder Shapiro made, snap together with tabs and slots — this is possible to do without adhesive thanks to the printer’s precision cutting technology.

Glowforge paduak and walnut votive candle holder

Glowforge, which raised $9 million in May, differs from traditional 3D printers in a few ways. Unlike of most 3D printers available today that make objects out of plastic strands, Glowforge uses a laser to quickly cut and engrave products. Along with smartphone sensors built into the printer, the lasers allow the device to cut and engrave materials that are curved, uneven, or irregular. Glowforge’s dual cameras also measure the thickness of material to a precision of four one thousandths of an inch.

You can check out the full tech specs here. This FAQ page also answers other questions about how Glowforge works.

Glowforge is compatible with design software like Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, Inkscape, and Autocad. Users will also be able to search through a catalog of premium designs uploaded by people from the Glowforge community who are able to make money when someone uses their creation.

“We know we will have amazing designers in the community,” Shapiro said. “Every time someone has their hands on this technology, they cook up something different we don’t even imagine. We want them to earn a living by selling designs.”

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One additional way to design on the Glowforge is to simply draw something with a pen and have the device automatically cut an outline that eventually turns into a dimension product.

“Kids can design and print stuff without using a computer at all,” Shapiro noted.

You can create “almost anything” with Glowforge,  including jewelry, light fixtures, smartphone engravings, wallets, and toys, Shapiro said. He even made a book bag that had the exact dimensions for his laptop and other personal items — all for $58 and six hours of work.

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Glowforge engraved leather wallet

Glowforge cardboard lamp

Glowforge laser project composite

Shapiro was inspired to start Glowforge after his last project, the hit kids board game Robot Turtles, which became one of Kickstarter’s most successful campaigns ever and is now on sale at stores like Target. The former Googler teamed up with fellow Seattle area startup veterans Tony Wright and Mark Gosselin to launch the company last year.

Backers of Glowforge include Brad Feld’s Foundry Group and True Ventures, which led the $9 million round in May, along with people like MakerBot co-founder Bre Pettis, former MakerBot CEO Jenny Lawton, Wetpaint founder Ben Elowitz, KISSmetrics founder Hiten Shah, director of open source at Google Chris DiBona, and former Swype CEO Mike McSherry.

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