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monkeysarefun

Darkly Labs emblaser - affordable laser cutter - review

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Ah, lasers. Like most people of my age reading this, my childhood memories are playing with trainsets and watching science fiction TV shows. Which always had lasers - aweome weapons that when fired at someone would make their skeleton visible before they crumbled into dust. Seeing that, I decided that I would one day get a laser, to turn people into skeletons and dust.

Time passed and lasers did become reality but proved TV wrong because when pointed at someone were only strong enough to remove crap tattoos and unwanted hair. Disappointed, I decided my childhood dream would remain just that.

 

But then my other interest stepped in and saved the day. In my quest for making my other interests – model architecture and ship modelling more 21st century I began looking into laser cutters, that would cut paper, card and wood accurately. Because, who would not want to make models with LASERS! And not just models, imagine – your other half says “I really need you to cut this for me”. “No worries, I'll just get my LASER!

 

 

It became apparent though that at least what is available here,  laser cutters fell into two basic camps. The well engineered (usually) American ones such as Trotec and Epilog. Their webpages always seemed suspiciously reticent to reveal their prices and instead of a price would have 'Call us for an option that suits you' or 'let us work out a finance package'.

 

Suspicious.

 

I did finally manage to track down through a forum a price of $9000 for an entry level model .That is US dollars. Here in Australia It was close to $20,000. I know that we deserve to pay more for everything because we are Australian but that was a lot of money to justify cutting out some windows and ship frames, no matter how accurate they would be. Also these things are 30 watt and up CO2 lasers, way overkill for what I need. In addition, they are large, very large. In Australian terms about the size of one of those barbeques on wheels, and I just don't have the space.

 

The other camp is the Ebay Chinese laser cutter. On face value these seem incredibly cheap in comparison. Sub $1000, and thats Australian dollars. I read some reviews and ignoring the ones that began “Once I'd replaced all the wiring with Australian safety standard wiring” or “once I'd replaced the ventilation fan with one that vented” I still wasn't confident that the photos showing cooling systems involving buckets of distilled water and hoses and aquarium pumps to cool the laser was something I''d be happy to use. I'm sure Chinese laser cutter enthusiasts exist (the same people who overclock their PC's and root their mobile phones) and would have it no other way, but I just wanted something I could plug in, turn on and then put away again when finished. Also, like the others, these have a very large footprint.

 

Then I discovered the Emblaser laser cutter. Its made by the strangely named Darkly Labs, in Melbourne. Here is a link. Unlike the 30 watt and up CO2 lasers used in the previously mentioned laser cutters, these use 4watt laser diodes, so don't need they integrated cooling systems and so on. They do 2 models, an A4 size and an A3. Apart from the actual size, all performance specs are the same between them. The footprint is much smaller, and they weigh only a couple of KG so can be easily carried around and put away after use.

 

So I ordered one.I decided that the A4 one would be enough for me.  Apart from size they also offer a choice of either 3 or 4 watt laser unit. Assuming that ordering the 3 watt would be akin to ordering the slightly less sharp Stanley knife, I went with the 4. Delivery was estimated at 3 to 4 weeks, but I got it in just under, though it only had to go Melbourne to Sydney, OS would possibly be longer. On arrival I opened the box to find:

 

Lots of packaging peanuts.

 

 

post-22541-0-75863600-1455698091_thumb.jpg

 

Once removed - its a flat pack laser!

post-22541-0-34989500-1455698119_thumb.jpg

 

 

 

And here are the parts. It does come with allen keys (3) and the only other tools needed are a phillips head screwdriver and either long nose pliers or tweezers to help thread the driving belts around the motor drive shafts.

 

post-22541-0-92376700-1455698150_thumb.jpg

 

Construction is meant to take several hours so I chose a suitable large flat area – my tiled lounge, and after banishing the dog to the rug I commenced. Parts are either 3D printed or cut from acrylic, and other than a couple of holes in the top that weren't quite completely drilled through were accurate and gave no drama during the build. After two hours the basics were together

 

post-22541-0-13830500-1455698183_thumb.jpg

 

Then lunch break, which gave me the chance to rehome the huntsman spider that had appeared overnight in my bathroom

 

post-22541-0-31335600-1455698207_thumb.jpg

 

The final part of assembly is the superstructure – laser and belt drives. Apart from some conflicting info in the instructions about the second belt, which can be sorted out by looking at the pictures, theres nothing too hard here. The important part is getting the belt tension right because this will affect the accuracy of the cuts. You need to follow the instructions here. Also at this point if you have the 4 watt laser unit before installing the printed circuit board, set the dip switches to all on because by default they are set for the 3 watt laser which isn't capable of handling the 3 amps that the 4 watt laser can. I didn't do this and its a little inconvenient to get to it later once you've realised this.

 

Finally after just over 4 hours, its all done. And theres only a couple of bits left over. Seriously here, don't be too cavalier with the nuts and bolts – they really don't supply very many extras so if you lose 2 you'll probably be 1 short. Also, definitely read through the instructions before starting, though I know that goes against what it means to be a man.

 

post-22541-0-89136200-1455698241_thumb.jpg

 

At this point it looks all ready to go, building things,cutting things as requested, removing crap tattoos and hair and so on. And maybe even turn people into dust and skeletons..

 

To be continued..

Edited by monkeysarefun
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Thanks for posting this - interested to see how you get on. When you get up and running I'd be interested to know how you get on with the belt-driven system in terms of accuracy & repeatability and if you have any issues with backlash etc.

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Is the spider supplied as part of the kit?

 

They would be if they could - Huntsman spiders are natures pranksters and love appearing in unexpected places ,mainly involving cars.  Their favourite joke is to hide  on top your sun visor so when you fold it down there he is right in front of your face..... as you do 100kmh into the sun...

 

Now back to it.

 

The first test is to turn it on and see if I put everything in the right spot. The green light came on and the fan on top of the laser unit and the other behind the PCB both started which must be a good thing. There is practically no noise at this point and I had to hold my hand to the fans to make sure they were working, thats how quiet it is. So now the next task is to focus the laser.  This entails removing the laser shield, setting the height using a supplied template then focusing the laser by turning the lens at the base of the unit until the light point is smallest and sharpest.

 

Removing the shield sets the laser power at just 10% for safety reasons but the supplied novelty orange eye-wear is still necessary. However, wearing them makes it difficult to pick accurately when the laser is pinpoint because through them it goes from 'faint dash' to 'small blurry star' and stays 'small blurry star' until you turn it too far and the lens drops out. Fortunately there is help in the forum where it is recommended that you get the focus roughly close using this method, then load in some paper or card and create a test line, then remove the shield, turn the lens a quarter turn, repeat line (after displacing it a couple of millimetres from the first) and compare the two. The second will either be wider or narrower. If narrower, repeat the above and keep comparing until it starts to get wider again, at which point turn the lens back an eighth of a turn and compare again. Eventually you will find the finest line, at  which point the tedium is over.

 

post-22541-0-60748200-1455865197_thumb.jpg

 

Seriously though, the focus (and belt tension ) are both the most important things that will affect the performance and accuracy of the laser and are well worth taking time over. It took me close to two hours to get the focus to  point I was happy with, but I should not need to do that again.

 

The Emblaser connects to a PC or laptop via a supplied USB cable.

 

So now it should all be ready to go but I'll just add something about the baseplate here first. The supplied base is  fairly thin anodised aluminium and although its quite fine to put items straight on this and laser away there are a couple of issues. Firstly its only supported at the 4 corners and being thin as it is, isn't guaranteed to be level over its whole area, mine had a slight dip towards the centre, and its the A4 model, the A3 would be worse. Secondly, the lasers 0,0 or start point is 'somewhere' down at the bottom left of the plate but there is no indication exactly where to enable you to put your workpiece in place accurately. I fixed both issues by getting some 12mm MDF, cutting to the same size as the base but with notches where th 4 corner supports are to lock it in place, put it on top of the baseplate and then lasering on an A4 grid so I could accurately place my work. To do this though you obviously need to fire up some software...

 

As part of the price of the Emblaser you get a license for Cut2D Laser desktop 8.0. The thought of having to learn yet more software can be annoying but in practice this one  is very easy. It looks like a basic CAD package and you can use it as such to draw up projects, and I do use it to create simple shapes - stars or lines - to use as tests when first cutting new materials but in practice you would import ready created files in either .dxf or .pdf format, set the cutting parameters - laser power, speed and number of passes - and hit the 'go' button. This create the gcode  ready for the laser to follow. Just as you don't need to know how petrol works to drive a car, you don't need to know anything about gcodes here because the Cut2D package automatically fires up VTransfer (which you download for free from the darklylabs site) which in turn controls the laser cutter. It is quite possible to use other packages, and there is another gcode sender app for free on the darklylabs site (I think you have to use that plus some extra buggering around if you have  Mac, but that is the price you pay for being awesome) and to play around with the gcode if that is your want, but this set up makes it no harder to use the laser cutter than it does to use an inkjet printer.

 

Except you have to wear silly glasses.

 

OK,, at this point I have the laser ready to go, the software all licensed, my laser connected to my laptop all set up outside in case I start a fire.  The first thing to engrave is a test pattern downloaded from the darklylabs site. For a test piece I just cut a bit off the box that the emblaser came in, taped it down to the MDF base with a couple of bits of masking tape (it is slightly breezy and I didn't want it to get blown from under the laser). Ran through the checklist that is in the manual - novelty glasses on, no pets near by, no flammable things nearby, emergency services on speed dial, and hit the 'go' button.  And - it did what it was meant to! I had no idea what settings to use so I just picked 100% POWER (Jeremy Clarkson style) and 20mm/sec.. and off it went, making quaint litle R2D2 noises when doing curves but apart from the occasional little puffy wisp of smoke there were no dramas at all.

 

post-22541-0-87435700-1455868106_thumb.jpg

 

Lines are all sharp (its my photography that is a bit blurry) and the circles are accurate. To confirm this I kept the test piece taped down, rehomed the laser then ran the test file again and it cut precisely at the same point so I'm happy that the effort of getting the tension right and the focus good was all worthwhile.

 

So tomorrow, I can start cutting things up.

 

To be continued.

Edited by monkeysarefun

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Thank you for taking the time to write this up, I'm looking forward to the next instalment 

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Two questions:

1) what's the link to this company?

2) what did this cost you, except an arm and a leg? ;)

 

:)

Sorry, as per the banner at the top my first post was one of the ones that got 'truncated' and when I replaced it I forgot to add the link - here it is:  The link

 

All up with the 4watt giode it was around $1100, but that is Australian  dollars, you'd need to work out the exchange rate.

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I have had a look at darkly Labs web site for the Emblaser.

 

I can't say I am impressed.

1) I cannot find any information as to what thickness materials their laser will cut and at what speed.

 This is the sort of information I would need to know to compare with other manufacturers before considering spending money.

 

2) Purchasers have posted a number of problems which do not appear to have been resolved.

 

Gordon

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Under the "emblaser" drop down there is a tab called "materials" which lists various materials and thickness etc.

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Thanks Alant.

 

There are a lot of materials listed.

The thickest the laser can cut is  Foam -LD45 High Density at 10mm.

Ordinary Foam core board - 5mm, Birch 3 ply - 1.5mm, MDF and Poplar ply (3 layer laser friendly) - 3mm.

Interestingly I read the list that this laser cannot cut acrylic.

 

Interesting.

 

Gordon A

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Thanks Alant.

 

There are a lot of materials listed.

The thickest the laser can cut is  Foam -LD45 High Density at 10mm.

Ordinary Foam core board - 5mm, Birch 3 ply - 1.5mm, MDF and Poplar ply (3 layer laser friendly) - 3mm.

Interestingly I read the list that this laser cannot cut acrylic.

 

Interesting.

 

Gordon A

True for the 3w version, but in the forum bods say with the 4w laser it can cut 2mm acrylic ok

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Thanks Alant.

 

There are a lot of materials listed.

The thickest the laser can cut is  Foam -LD45 High Density at 10mm.

Ordinary Foam core board - 5mm, Birch 3 ply - 1.5mm, MDF and Poplar ply (3 layer laser friendly) - 3mm.

Interestingly I read the list that this laser cannot cut acrylic.

 

Interesting.

 

Gordon A

 

I guess this is whats called a 'horses for courses' situation. Before purchasing the cutter I had a specific list of things I wanted it to be able to cut. My interests are architectural modelling and ship modelling. I model in card and wood, I have no interest in plastic so did not go into any research about its abilities there. I model Australian architecture primarily and one feature of the buildings here, at least in Sydney is the decorative iron work on verandahs and porches. Terrace houses, shops and especially pubs feature it heavily (yes, I know this pub is actually in Queensland but its just an example!):

 

post-22541-0-24615200-1455949154_thumb.jpg

 

 

 

 

Sure scalelinks do etched railings but they aren't quite accurate when it comes to the style of  panelwork that we seem to have here, plus after using it on more than two buildings it would be repetitive rather than every building an individual as it actually is. . So one stipulation was that it has to be able to cut very fine detailed scale lacework from either photo paper or at least (if that is too big an ask) from printer paper. Can it do this? I don't know yet. Additionally it must be able to cut up to 1.5mm card (which I use for the building shells), fine accurate sash windows from at least photo paper. I'd like to give etching bricks a go too.

 

From the ship modelling side of things it needs to cut ply to 3mm, as well as 2mm thick wood such as Huon pine and Walnut, and further – cut shapes in these not just straight lines.

 

A couple of years ago I thought I'd found the answer in the Silver Bullet cutting machine, kind of a heavy duty version of the Cameo cutter that people are doing great stuff with here. I know its me, not the machine but I was never able to become  friends with it. These cutters are obviously great for styrene - and I did play around with some gothic church windows but for my preferred material of cardstock it was very frustrating, due to the fact that you have to stick it to a self-adhesive mat. In practice the mat is either too sticky so the cardboard is permanently glued to it and you rip it all up trying to get it off, then spend 2 days scrapping all the cardboard fluff off it before you can use it again, or its not sticky enough and whatever is being cut pops up off the mat and jams itself up in the cutter head.

 

So I sold that to fund the emblaser. Again, will the emblaser have a whole host of yet unknown problems that will make me sell it and buy a 3D printer (or a knitting machine...)? I guess I'll find out.

 

The other interesting prospect is its apparent 3D engraving skills ( the link idefauts to page 2 - page 1 has the interesting bits on it)

 

http://forum.darklylabs.com/index.php?p=/discussion/362/3d-engraving-using-picengrave-pro-5#latest

 

If this is capable then it would be ideal to make the 'gingerbread' and scroll work on the sides and sterns of wooden ships – my chisel carving skills arent good enough to make uniform lengths of mouldings, or multiple identical fittings which is what is needed. So if it can do this then I am extra happy.

 

As for other materials, I'm sure there are others I'll try. I do have a supply of styrene and am happy to give that or anything a go if someone wants something tried out as part of deciding whether to buy a laser cutter. Just keep it sensible, no “Try it on your tongue”, “Give asbestos a go!” “Point it at a plane!” and so on, OK?

 

Anyway, its been a bit hectic to get much done, but I did fit the MDF and draw the grid on it. At this point I read in some of the forum posts on the darklyweb site about the effects of different materials that are under your work can have on the finished product. Apparently MDF can scorch the back of the work - as well as giving off stinky smoky fish aromas. Apparently the ideal material is an aluminium honeycomb sheet but I can't seem to find it easily down here, apart from ebay where the same chinese seller has it for a choice of $199 with free postage, or $99 with $100 postage. I'll keep looking but in the meantime have put a piece of glass on top of the MDF, edges coloured black in case difraction of the laser is a danger.

 

I only have time for a quick test so I thought I'd give the 3mm ply a go. 6mm sec at full power and 3 passes as recommended on the darklywebs forum through it cleanly.

 

post-22541-0-56700300-1455949688_thumb.jpg

 

Enthused, I tried something a little more complex to see how its accuracy is. I've always liked those little wooden gears and thought I'd try one of those. Found a suitable one in google, and heres the cool bit – imported it into inkscape, pushed the trace bitmap button, exported resultant path to a .pdf, imported this into the laser2D package, set laser settings and I was ready to go – all up in under 3 minutes. Thats so good, from thinking "I wouldn't mind having one of those little wooden gear wheels!" to holding it in your hand 5 minutes later.

 

And here it is, again same settings

post-22541-0-72384600-1455950031_thumb.jpg

 

These are atraight off the cutter, and not yet cleaned but anyway, gotta dash - I live just above the angry red blob - and I've got to move all this stuff indoors before it hits! i wondered why it was suddenly dark...)

post-22541-0-16311300-1455950106_thumb.jpg

 

To be continued...

Edited by monkeysarefun
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Thx! Including shipping half way across the globe plus associated costs, that's well above my budget :(

 

Living down here, that usually MY problem! It is exciting times though in this sphere. The Emblaser was funded through kickstart, and there is a similar one but with extras that I would have gone for but the release keeps getting pushed back: https://glowforge.com/

 

There will be others with cheaper postage, in a couple of years as with all technology the emblaser will look lame and clunky!

 

post-22541-0-73900400-1455955155.jpg

 

(Yes I know, this picture isn't actually what the caption says but its funny!)

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I've been following he Emblazer for some time - in two minds as to whether to get one - so it's great to see someone on this forum with one!

Although you finding that damn spider with it probably puts me off for good.

 

I recall that running the laser at 100% shortens its life though?

 

Please keep us updated with your experiments and how you get along!

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I've been following he Emblazer for some time - in two minds as to whether to get one - so it's great to see someone on this forum with one!

Although you finding that damn spider with it probably puts me off for good.

 

I recall that running the laser at 100% shortens its life though?

 

Please keep us updated with your experiments and how you get along!

Re the laser power question. - that is correct for the 3W laser however the 4W can take more power than the 3amp maximum supplied by the PCB so its life will not be affected.

 

And don't worry about added spiders, he arrived in my house of his own accord - he wasn't hiding in the box!

Edited by monkeysarefun

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Hi again trendsetters!

 

Not much more to report today, I've spent a couple of hours with the emblaser, some plywood and some Huon pine and the laser has passed every test.

 

post-22541-0-23149200-1456035462_thumb.jpg

 

The ships frames, the little numbers (are the 'waste' from the ships frames - but even the waste is too good to throw away).and the random piece of iron lace downloaded from the internet are 3mm ply, the scroll work is 2mm Huon pine. I forgot to add something for scale, but the piece of iron lace is 50mm square if that gives an idea.

I'm very happy with these early results AND I'm extra excited about this:

 

post-22541-0-10266700-1456035609_thumb.jpg

 

This is walnut, roughly sawn to about 4mm in the bandsaw and although darklylabs say 4mm is beyond the focal point of the laser to cut, here is the reverse after I 'drew' (not sure what to cal the process yet - 'burned' sounds too destructive) a couple of stars on it, the second one is so very near through.

 

post-22541-0-57942200-1456035942_thumb.jpg

 

For what I'll be using this for in the real world, cutting out frames, knees and deckbeams etc, this is a big pass.

 

So from the ship modelling side of things I cn say the Emblaser has more than met my expectations. Big pass there. Next week I'll get back to the more architectural side of my requirements, small scale items cut from cardstock and hopefully brick engraving.

 

Now back to looking for random things on google just so I can cut them out of 3mm ply!

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That really is great! Excellent results.....

 

The glowforge looks extraordinary, but I see it's not actually there yet....... Interestingly, I see it's a CO2 laser, and not a diode laser -which is great for outright power, but less so for life-span?

 

Keep posting!

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That really is great! Excellent results.....

 

The glowforge looks extraordinary, but I see it's not actually there yet....... Interestingly, I see it's a CO2 laser, and not a diode laser -which is great for outright power, but less so for life-span?

 

Keep posting!

Yes, I have been waiting 12 months and it kept getting pushed back and I ran out of patience. I'm interested to see how they manage the laser cooling - the Chinese C02 lasers seem to expect seperate containers of chilled water and aquarium pumps, yet this seems to have it all in side somewhere. The footprint and weight though still count against it for me compared to the emblaser.

 

But I am intrigued by the fact that in the tech specs bit it says it cuts and engraves 'foods'. That DOES give me an idea though - helloooo ebay!:

 

post-22541-0-65555600-1456043824.jpg

Edited by monkeysarefun

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You're a bad influence on me....

 

I was showing a video of this to my wife (together with the Glowforge) - and she said 'which one are we going to get...?'

 

So I've just ordered an A4 Emblazer to see how we get on with it. If we love it and use it a lot, we can always upgrade. The Glowforge relies on the Cloud, which always worries me (I do prefer things to be stand-alone, rather than being dependent on a 3rd party to work), although if it turns out to do what it says on the packet, it will be a cracking machine!

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Could well be a bad influence on me too!

 

Thank you very much for all this invaluable information - I thought I was well up-to-date on availability of small friendly equipment but had completely missed the Emblaser.

 

Two years ago I very nearly bought a Silver Bullet cutter and since then have bid (unsuccessfully!) for s/h Black Cat Cougars. In the end, however, I opted for a Silhouette Cameo to explore the possibilities of this type of cutter. While I am very impressed with the Cameo, which is a really excellent machine for the money, there are limits as to what you can do with the 'sticky' mat and a blade. The Cameo has only about a quarter of the cutting force of a Silver Bullet, but I think this is only part of the story because even with much more downward force the limitations of the work-holding (and removing!) and the ability of a blade to execute a sharp change of direction remain. Indeed, the thicker the material being cut the more challenged the blade becomes on those right-angles. Admittedly the ability to accurately cut multiple layers to laminate partially gets round the problem, but it takes a few layers to build up the 2mm 'heavy card' of a Scalescenes kit. 

 

So, even though it may get me into trouble, please keep the posts coming, and in case I haven't fallen before your machine comes, Giles, it would be good to know how you get on with the Duty and VAT - and if mine is already on it's way I will at least know what to expect from TNT/DHL.

 

Chris

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Indeed this is the Devil telling me how much I want one of these   :girldevil:  I guess the VAT going to be £100 plus Customs clearance  charge   On the positive side Mrs B rather wants one as well  ( wonder if she wlll pay for it   :jester: )

 

Please keep us advised

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Will follow feedback with interest and decide whether to commit to buying.

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Just checked and I think the duty will be 4.5% plus VAT and clearance charge 

 

assuming   I can still read a HM Trade Tariff after 23 years 

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I don't have the slightest intention of buying one, but was Googling to find any UK links, and came up with this. No idea if it's accurate though.

http://www.dutycalculator.com/dc/194719622/diy-tools-crafts/crafts-tools-supplies/die-cutting-machines/import-duty-rate-for-importing-darkly-labs-emblazer-from-australia-to-united-kingdom-is-1.7/

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You're a bad influence on me....

 

I was showing a video of this to my wife (together with the Glowforge) - and she said 'which one are we going to get...?'

 

So I've just ordered an A4 Emblazer to see how we get on with it. If we love it and use it a lot, we can always upgrade. The Glowforge relies on the Cloud, which always worries me (I do prefer things to be stand-alone, rather than being dependent on a 3rd party to work), although if it turns out to do what it says on the packet, it will be a cracking machine!

 

I don't think you'll be disappointed. I haven't made anything useful yet, but its awesome to use.

 

I just found some window cutting files which I prepared for my Silver Bullet cutter but it didn't do the corners sharply and the finished windows all got wrecked trying to prise them off the sticky sheet afterwards so I gave up on them. I just did some quick tests with the emblaser using photo paper, 1mm card and just for fun, the 3mm ply to see what comes out, and I think it does ok:

 

post-22541-0-28295500-1456136389_thumb.jpg

 

 

Here they are,the layers are  just plomked on top of each other, roughly...

 

post-22541-0-93833700-1456136469_thumb.jpg

 

It seems to handle all media thicknesses I tried. The crispness, especially on the 1mm card (cheap grey stuff!) is pretty remarkable I think.

 

post-22541-0-84027000-1456136544_thumb.jpg

 

Finally, just to see how small the detail I can get out of it, I just tried rescaling  the bit of iron lacework I did in plywood earlier, plus a bracket. I didn't tweak the gif so its a bit rough and  I was pretty rough handling them because they are just quick tests, so some of the  little bits fell off but the fineness of the details and the potential  is clear:

 

post-22541-0-59616600-1456136778_thumb.jpg

 

So I'm still very happy so far,

 

To be continued...

Edited by monkeysarefun
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Blimey!

 

 

I now need to find where I can buy 'Rowmark' (and what kind of Rowmark it is - as they produce all sorts of plastics) in the UK so I can do 'plasticard' stuff as well......

 

I earn my living as an engineering designer and consultant, and often have to come up with strange linkages and whatnot- so I'm looking forward to being able to make little proving models for myself and Clients...

Edited by Giles

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