I’m a teacher, and for two years I’ve had access to a Pro Glowforge at the school I work at. I’ve made cool things, like a planner cover and stencils for my stair runner.
I was so excited when the Glowforge Aura came out, both because of the awesome projects I’d be able to do at home, and because an affordable laser from a known brand had the potential to really bring laser-cutting into the craft world.
I wanted to love it. I wanted to love it so, so much.
A month later, I found myself ordering the xTool M1, because the Aura was that disappointing.
The xTool M1 is far superior to the Glowforge Aura. The laser is more powerful, communication between your computer and the machine is instantaneous, and the accompanying software is free and robust. The machine cuts more material, such as vinyl, tumblers, and larger pieces, and is less expensive to buy.
This post isn’t sponsored. Nobody sent me the Glowforge Aura. Nobody sent me the xTool M1. I bought both. I do receive an affiliate commission if you buy either product through a link on this site, which would help me a ton given I just dropped $2000 on laser cutters.
Why I Prefer the xTool M1 Over the Glowforge Aura
Reason 1: The xTool M1 Just Works
Let me tell you a bit about my first month with the Glowforge Aura. Setup was easy, although I was cranky there weren’t paper instructions.
But then I tried my first project. And my second. And my third.
And something went wrong every single time.
My main issue was that the machine kept getting stuck in the “calibration” phase, which seemed to happen when the machine overheated. I detail that saga in this video:
But other things went wrong too. This was supposed to be a circle:
And I spent 20 minutes troubleshooting why the app didn’t seem to sense my cut pattern:
Turns out, if your design stretches outside of the printable area, the Glowforge app won’t print it. Wouldn’t it be nice if it gave you an error that says that, rather than forcing you to figure it out yourself?
So then I bought the xTool M1.
And it just worked.
I’ve had it over a month and I’ve done four different projects with it. And not once did I have to spend any time troubleshooting. I haven’t had to contact support. I haven’t spent any time googling weird issues.
Reason 2: The xTool M1 is Faster Than the Glowforge Aura
But one of the most annoying things about the Glowforge Aura is the lag time between when you hit “print” on your computer, and when the machine is actually ready to start.
Part of this is the fact all Glowforge machines are cloud based. So you upload your design into the online app, the app sends it to servers somewhere, then the servers send it to your machine. Your design has to fly all over the country before it makes it to your machine.
But also, the Aura has to do some complicated calibration dance before it’s ready to start. This takes a solid 30 seconds. I videoed it. Feel free to watch:
Maybe this doesn’t seem like a big deal. But it has to do this dance no matter what you’re sending to the machine. Often times, I print alignment circles before I print my main design to make sure the material and design are aligned.
That means every time I reprint the circles to check my positioning (often 3-4 times before printing the real design) it has to do this stupid routine.
It’s a massive time suck, and it turns what could be a 5-minute project into a 20 minute one.
Compare that to the xTool M1, which has a hardwire connection running between your laptop and the machine. When I hit “print” on the laptop, the M1 is ready to start almost instantly.
Reason 3: The xTool M1 Has Free, Better Software
This is what the Glowforge application looks like:
See all the things with a purple lightning symbol next to them? They require Glowforge Premium.
So without Glowforge Premium, you can make your design bigger or smaller. You can move it around.
That’s it. That’s all the free functionality.
If you’ve got bigger pockets than I do, and are willing to drop $50 a month or $239 annually on Glowforge Premium, you can now also flip the design around, add text, add basic shapes, and make a puzzle.
This isn’t terrible, but it’s also not $50 a month-worthy.
xTool’s Creative Space is (currently) completely free, and it looks like this:
You can flip the design, insert shapes, insert text, draw vectors, add an image, and precisely resize your design to inputted dimensions. There are probably other things too, but these are the ones I’ve done so far.
It’s also really easy to split your design into different layers if you want to engrave one part and cut another, and your SVG didn’t account for that. To do this with Glowforge, you have to bring the file into another software and edit it there, then bring it back to Glowforge.
So overall, the xTool app is easy to use, free, and does more things.
The only caveat to the xTool app is that it’s software that is downloaded and installed on your computer, verses Glowforge’s web app that operates in your web browser.
Personally, I think this is better, however it does require you to have a wired connection to the xTool machine. You need either a laptop or a desktop that is located right next to the xTool.
Reason 4: The xTool M1 Does More Things
The Glowforge Aura can cut wood, leather, non-clear acrylic, cardstock, cardboard, paper, cork, and food. Neither the Glowforge Aura nor the xTool M1 can cut clear acrylic.
The xTool M1 can cut all of the things the Glowforge Aura can cut.
It also has a fancy blade that allows it to cut vinyl. I am Not A Cricut Person (NACP,) so I can’t speak to how well the xTool cuts vinyl in comparison to the Cricut, but the Glowforge Aura cannot cut vinyl at all.
(Or at least, it can’t cut normal vinyl. I’ve heard rumors that the Glowforge Aura can cut some special heat-transfer vinyl that was specifically designed by Glowforge.)
As a NACP, I was excited at the idea that I could try some basic vinyl projects without having to spend $$$ on a Cricut.
The xTool M1 can also engrave tumblers. It requires a special tumbler attachment that’s sold by xTool and is around $300. You can also buy it as a combo deal with the xTool and save some money.
The Glowforge Aura currently cannot do rotary engraving, and I wouldn’t bet on it being added. There’s only about an inch of space between the laser and the bed of the machine, so I have no idea how they would create a working rotary attachment.
Finally, the bottom comes out of the xTool M1. Like, just straight up unscrew it and drop the laser on whatever surface you want. (But be safe and smart, friends.)
Normal xTool Bottom
xTool Bottom Removed
You could engrave the top of a desk! Or a giant piece of plywood! Or a giant piece of leather!
All of these are impossible to do with the Glowforge Aura. While it has a passthrough slot, the slot can only take material that’s 1/8″ thick and 12″ wide.
Other Comparisons Between the xTool M1 and Glowforge Aura
The reasons above are the primary reasons my Glowforge is collecting dust.
But there are some other things you might want to take into consideration when deciding between the two machines.
The Glowforge Aura retails for $1200. The xTool M1 technically retails for $1499, although I’ve never seen it actually priced for that. It currently priced at $1099 on the xTool site.
To bundle the xTool, rotary tool, and air assist usually costs $1399.
Glowforge is a US-based company out of Seattle, and I suspect this is one place they have the edge over xTool. When my Glowforge had it’s calibration issue, I submitted a support request and had an email response two hours later.
Overall, my interaction was positive, and I was impressed by the speed of response. I would’ve been more impressed if I hadn’t had to contact them at all.
It’s worth noting that customer support automatically has access to all the pictures your Glowforge Aura takes, which was referenced in my conversation with the support person.
xTool is based in China, and I suspect their customer support is much weaker. I should mention, though, that I haven’t actually had to use it, so maybe it’s great?
The Glowforge Aura is a 6 watt diode laser. The xTool M1 is a 10 watt diode laser.
The maximum material size of the Glowforge Aura is 12″ x 12″ x 1/4″ without having to use the passthrough slot.
The xTool M1 has a larger bed meaning it can take material up to 15″ x 12″. It can also take thicker material, although I’m not totally sure where it maxes out. The xTool App stops out at .63″ of thickness, but I definitely engraved this clock last week, and it was almost an inch thick.
The xTool M1 also has an on/off switch. This is silly, but it really annoyed me that the Glowforge Aura did not. It’s worth noting though that the xTool also made more noise while in “sleep” mode, while the Glowforge Aura was basically silent.
Ease of Setup
They were both really easy to install. Attaching the exhaust hose to the xTool M1 was slightly more difficult than attaching the hose to the Glowforge Aura, but by “more difficult,” I mean it took me two minutes instead of one.
Things the Glowforge Aura Does Better Than the xTool M1
I came down hard on the Glowforge Aura in this post, because I was disappointed in almost every possible way. But there is one thing it does better.
When you hit print, both the Glowforge Aura and the xTool M1 start counting. Glowforge’s looks like this:
See how that’s a countdown? You know exactly how long your project will take to print, and if you’ve foolishly uploaded a project that will take 10 hours (guilty,) you know it.
The xTool M1, on the other hand, starts a timer:
I hate it so much. I have no idea how long this project will take, and I have to wait until enough of the project is printed for me to judge what percent of the circle has filled up before I can estimate it.
Dear xTool: It would not be that hard to fix this. A countdown would be so much better.
It’s very obvious that I recommend the xTool M1 over the Glowforge Aura, to the point where I don’t know who I would recommend the Glowforge Aura to.
Maybe someone who is really concerned about customer support? Or really, really loves a project countdown?
I don’t know. But to me, the xTool M1 is the clear winner. Buy it here.