Learn By Doing: Your First Prints and More

Working With Manual Mode

  • Introduction

    Using manual mode successfully involves juggling a host of parameters to vary the amount of laser energy that is imparted into a material. Carefully combining the effects of each parameter allows precise control over the speed of a print, the depth of an engrave, the level of detail achievable, and where possible, the colors that can be produced.

    Depending on the type of artwork uploaded, you many need to define up to 8 different parameters to create a setting from scratch. Alternatively, select a material and a setting that seems close to your desired outcome, click the arrow to the right to reveal the Proofgrade settings we’ve defined, and iterate from there.

    Below you’ll find a description of each of the parameters, what they do, and how they affect your print results. Some of these can be difficult to master, so be ready to experiment, or check our community forum for other customers exploring similar ideas and materials.

    Printing on a huge variety of materials is exciting, but extreme caution is required. Beware that printing with custom settings creates a high risk of fire or damage to your Glowforge. Follow all instructions in the Glowforge user manual carefully and never print with your laser unattended.

  • Legend

    The following symbols provide a quick visual reference for the effect of each setting: Speed refers to the time it takes to complete your print; depth refers to the amount of laser energy imparted to your material and therefore the depth of your engraves and scores; and resolution refers to the level of detail that can be acheived.

    Legend

  • Speed

    Speed controls the maximum speed at which the laser head can move around the printable area

    Speed

    How does this affect my print?

    • Increasing speed decreases your overall print time, as the laser head can move more quickly around the printable area.
    • Increasing speed decreases the depth of engraves, cuts, and scores, as the laser has less time to impart laser energy into your material.
    • Increasing speed reduces the quality of a print. In the case of an engrave, the laser has less time to make an accurately positioned mark on your material. In the case of a cut or score, too much speed can result in the laser head jerking when changing direction, causing jagged lines and bumps in your print.
    • Too much speed when cutting and scoring can also result in dark corners when the laser head changes direction. This is due to the additional laser energy put into the material during the between the the rapid acceleration and deceleration of the head.
  • Power

    Power controls the maximum amount of laser energy imparted to your material

    Power

    How does this affect my print?

    • Setting higher power levels allows more laser energy to be put into your material, causing your engraves, cuts, and scores to be deeper.
    • Using higher powers than necessary can reduce the amount of detail in an engrave, as the laser energy can damage the surrounding area.

    Precision vs Full Power The amount of power produced by the laser tube can vary in use. We offer two levels of power control, to maximise both cutting efficiency, and ensuring high quality prints:

    Precision power, as the name suggests, is precise, consistent, and lower in power than the maximum possible output of the laser tube. It’s ideal for cutting and engraving delicate materials such as paper, or when you require a very detailed print result.

    Full power allows the Glowforge to put more power into your material, whilst sacrificing some consistency. This makes it perfect for cutting, where we’re concerned with the laser going through the material, rather than engraving or scoring to a consistent depth.

  • Engrave Resolution

    Engrave Resolution, or Lines per inch, controls how many horizontal passes the laser head makes when engraving a design.

    LPI

    How does this affect my print?

    • As the diameter of the laser spot doesn’t change unless modified using Focus Height, there are only so many spots that can fit into an inch of vertical space before there are gaps between them, or they start to overlap.
      • Using low Lines Per Inch (LPI) can results in stripes in an engrave, or jagged edges when engraving curved objects, as the laser spot barely, or doesn’t overlap.
      • High LPI causes the laser spots to overlap, smoothing the appearance of engraved shapes.
      • Using high LPI also causes engraves to be deeper. This is caused by the laser passing over the same spot more than once, and removing material each time.
  • Number Of Passes

    The number of passes controls how many time the laser repeats the entire engrave step.

    Passes

    How does this affect my print?

    • When engraving, using more than one pass has a similar effect to using high LPI, and causes a deeper engrave. For intentionally deep and 3D engraves this is perfect, but in most cases, a single pass is all that’s needed.
    • When cutting, multiple passes may be needed to cut through thick non-Proofgrade material. The number of passes option makes this easy, and prevents having to run the print twice.
  • Focus Height

    Focus height can override the autofocus result, changing the size of the laser spot and how efficiently it can mark the material. For the highest levels of detail and most efficient cutting, the focus height should not be changed.

    Focus Height

    How does this affect my print?

    • Changing the Focus Height is the same as switching from autofocus to manual focus on a camera. If the Focus Height is not set accurately, the laser spot will be blurred, and will cause the edges of your engraves to seem less sharp
    • Changing the Focus Height also reduces the amount of energy the laser can put into your material, much like when focusing the sun through a magnifying glass. If the lens (or magnifying glass) is not in the right position, the energy from the laser (or sun) is spread over a wider area and the amount of heat that can be produced is reduced. As a result, engraves will be less deep, and the marks made when cutting and scoring will be less deep and wider.
  • Grayscale - Dots and Patterns

    Much like a newspaper print, using a grayscale option converts your artwork into a series of tiny dots. This is called dithering. The darker your artwork, the more dots that are produced and the more they overlap. The concentration and position of these dots translate visually into areas of white, gray, and black. The pattern density slider is key to getting a good result when using dithering and is explained in a later section of this tutorial.

    Dots and Patterns

    Convert to dots vs Convert to patterns Dots and patterns both translate your artwork into a series of tiny marks, but arrange these marks slightly differently.

    • Convert to dots arranges the marks in a way that appears natural and random. We find this works best for engraving curvaceous and organic images, such as photographs.
    • Convert to patterns arranges the marks in a much more orderly and structured way. This structure is sometimes visible and detracts from the quality of an engrave. You may find it works well for graphical images, such as images with lots of straight lines and edges.
  • Grayscale - Vary Power and Min Power

    The Vary Power and Min Power settings control the maximum and minimum amount of power used during an engrave, based on the color of the uploaded artwork, the power level set, and the Min Power level defined. In its simplest form, when Vary Power is enabled, the chosen power level controls the depth of the darkest parts of your artwork, and Min Power controls the depth of the lightest parts. Pure white pixels are ignored regardless of the chosen settings.

    If we take a gradient of 1-100% gray as an example, enable Vary Power, and set the Min Power to 0, the Glowforge printer will apply 1% of the power level to artwork that is 1% gray, 5% of the power level to artwork that is 5% gray, and 100% of the chosen power level to artwork that is 100% gray.

    Vary Power

    Taking the same 1-100% gray gradient but setting our power level to 80, and Min Power to 20 results in the darkest parts of our artwork being printed at 80 power, and the lightest parts being printed at 20% of 80.

    Min Power

  • Pattern Density

    In conjunction with dithering, the Pattern Density can be used to make the light areas of your image appear darker or deeper, and the dark areas of your image lighter and less deep. It's a powerful tool, especially when engraving photographs.

    How does this affect my print?

    Let’s assume we upload a photograph that includes both light and dark areas, and engrave it using full speed, 100 precision power, and Convert To Dots.

    In this scenario, unless we have carefully processed our image to prepare it for engraving, we will likely find that the lightest areas in our image don’t make a mark on our material, and the darkest areas are very dark and deep, and may be merged together into a big brown blob.

    If the lightest areas of our image don’t mark the material, increase the value of the left hand Pattern Density slider. This is somewhat equivalent to darkening the light areas of our image, which when combined with the Convert To Dots option, increases the concentration of dots within a given area, causing more of them to overlap, and visually translating to a darker print result.

    PD Light

    If the darkest areas of our image muddle together or are too deep, decrease the value of the right hand Pattern Density slider. This is somewhat equivalent to lightening the dark areas of our image, which when combined with the Convert To Dots option, decreases the concentration of dots within a given area, reducing the amount of times the dots overlap, and the depth of the engrave.

    PD Dark

  • Testing and Saving New Settings

    Printing on a huge variety of materials is exciting, but extreme caution is required. Beware that printing with custom settings creates a high risk of fire or damage to your Glowforge. Follow all instructions in the Glowforge user manual carefully and never print with your laser unattended.

    Manual settings can be used on both Proofgrade materials (for custom effects) or on your own materials. When experimenting with new materials, run a small test print at minimum power first, and gradually increase the power until you achieve the desired result. Some materials behave unexpectedly when lasered, and it's important to proceed with caution.

    After dialling in a custom setting, save your parameters for use on any future designs.

    Saving a setting - actual size - Low FR Gif

    Saved settings are tied to a specific print operation. You can have a unique list of settings for Cut, Score, Vector Engrave and Bitmap Engrave. For each step, once you’ve selected the operation, you’ll see the list of available settings.

    Unique Settings Per Operation