Engraving Metal with a Laser


Engraving the lid of a (real, functioning) Macbook Pro was the first big “WOW” project when we launched Glowforge, and it’s still one of the most popular projects for new owners. 

macbook pro engrave

But tattooing your laptop is just the beginning. Anodized aluminum is a material with tons of possibilities!

Here are the questions we hear most often from folks just starting to explore:

Can I engrave anodized aluminum with my Glowforge?

Yes, you can definitely use a Glowforge to engrave anodized aluminum. It’s one of the hundreds of laser-compatible materials available, and certainly one of the most popular (along with wood, glass, acrylic, and more).

Whether you’ve got a laptop to personalize, a piece of jewelry to embellish, or a flask for special occasions, you can engrave it with your Glowforge in minutes.

What’s the difference between using a laser and a conventional CNC mill to engrave aluminum?

It depends on what exactly you’re making, but for many projects, a Glowforge is a faster, cleaner, and more precise way to engrave anodized aluminum.

If you’re already familiar with conventional metal milling, you’ve probably used tools like drill presses, band saws, and jig saws before. Those are beloved tools for a reason, but for a lot of projects, we prefer to use a Glowforge.

When you use a Glowforge, the cuts are always precise – no tape measures, t-squares, or angle-finders required.

A conventional CNC mill works by physically removing material with a bit, while the laser on your Glowforge is vaporizing only the surface color. Engraving with a conventional CNC mill leaves a raw unprotected finish, whereas laser engraving preserves the protective coating anodizing provides. 

One big difference: with a laser, there are no metal shavings to sweep up!

Can I cut aluminum with my Glowforge?

No. You can be confident that your Glowforge won’t harm your aluminum product – no matter what happens, you won’t slice your Macbook in half! If you are interested in metal cutting, it’s easy to use your Glowforge to make precise jigs and templates out of acrylic. These jigs make it faster and more accurate to cut metal on a bandsaw, a router, and with hand tools.

Can I use Glowforge to print pictures on aluminum?

Yes, it’s as easy as dragging and dropping your image into the app, then using the live camera preview to put it in place

Here’s what that looks like:

How big is the print area of a Glowforge?

The work area of the Glowforge Basic and Plus is about 11″ (279 mm) deep by 19.5″ (495 mm) wide. 

However, on the Glowforge Pro, you can print truly enormous objects like signs and furniture with Pro Passthrough. This lets you print on sheets that are up to 19.5” wide and as long as you want. Just slide your material through, and your Glowforge Pro will print section-by-section without interruption. The current record print on a Glowforge Pro is a 50 foot street sign!

Do I need any special software to use Glowforge?

Nope! Your Glowforge comes free with Glowforge Print software, which makes it easy to create laser projects from photos, clip art, and hand-drawn art. It also opens PDF files from any software you use already. That can be graphics software like Photoshop and Illustrator, free software like Google Slides and Inkscape, and engineering software like CAD programs.  We’ve even seen Glowforge owners design in Microsoft Word!

Back up, I can design with just pen and paper?

Yes! We’ve seen beautiful prints drawn in pencil, even scribbled in crayon. No fancy software required.

If you’re making personalized aluminum products for a client, this means that your customer can sign their names on a piece of scrap paper, you can use the camera in your Glowforge to turn their signature into a design with just a tap, and then laser-engrave the mark into a finished piece. Then you can do it hundreds of times (for an entire wedding party, for example).

And if you’re an imaginative toddler, you can scribble your wildest dreams in crayon, then bring them to life with Glowforge.

Can my child really use a Glowforge?

If your child already thinks that your iPad is really theirs, they can make it official with Glowforge. Adult supervision is required for those under age 18.

engraved iphone

What if I have more questions?

If you’re reading this page, you’re probably doing your due diligence on a big decision. You probably have more questions. Lots of questions.

That’s why we have a team of Glowforge experts available for 1-on-1 chats to help you get the info you need. Whether you have questions about a specific feature or making financing work for you, you can get answers from a real person on your schedule.

Just set up a time that’s convenient for you here