Choosing Software

Last Update: 8 December 2020
Whichever software toolchain you choose should make the most sense for you and your CNCing ambitions. To give maximum flexibility, we made the LongMill software agnostic meaning it can accept input from nearly any software out there. Here’s an example:
  1. Dan has previous experience in graphic design and now he’s jumped into the world of CNC routers with the goal of engraving his designs onto nice wood slabs.
  2. He starts by creating his vector artwork in Adobe Illustrator since he’s had previous experience using it for graphic design.
  3. After having made the artwork, he opens it up in Carbide Create. He prefers Carbide Create because it’s an offline software that is easy to use and capable of v-carving, a great process for cutting intricate designs with a CNC.
  4. Once Carbide Create has made the machine code file, he opens it up in UGS. UGS is the software he uses to interface with his LongMill, allowing him to easily jog it around, set the origin point, perform probing, and he can use it to load and execute cutting files.
  5. Every time UGS completes a cutting file, Dan is now able to grab his completed artwork engraving off his LongMill!
In this example, Dan used three pieces of software in his software toolchain. This allowed him to start with a program he was comfortable with for the design aspect (Adobe Illustrator), then move on to a beginner friendly CAM software (Carbide Create), before finally running the generated code file using the machine interface program (UGS). This is just one software combination of many. Here are some other possible examples:
  • Inkscape → Carbide Create → CNCjs
  • Easel Easel Easel
  • AutoCAD → CamBam → bCNC
  • Rhino RhinoCAM → Source rabbit UGS
  • Picture online → F-engrave → bCNC
  • TinkerCad → CAMLab → CNCjs
  • Onshape → Kiri:Moto → Kiri:Moto Sender
  • Blender → ESTL CAM → UGS
There’s A LOT of CNC software information that we’ve put together over the years. If you don’t want to be overwhelmed, check out our Toolchain wizard that we built below. By asking you 5 easy questions, it’s able to point you towards a couple software options that would work well for you. If you’re looking for something a bit more substantial, we also have a few sections below the wizard which outline some of the software that we would recommend since we’ve used it personally. If you’d like to see everything we’ve got, check out our full Software Table which contains all the data for the over 80 CNC software options that we tested in order to power our Toolchain Wizard.
 

Toolchain Wizard

This Wizard was built with the goal of providing you with general software suggestions based on your CNC needs. Check it out!
 
 

Software we recommend

A good, personalized toolchain should meet your:

  • previous CNC experience
  • previous design experience
  • types of projects you’ll be making
  • budget
  • and computer operating system

You’ll see below that many of our go-to software picks tend to be available for free and can range from beginner-friendly to more advanced. We also tend to more highly recommend software that is both Design-and-CAM-in-one since that helps to streamline the process of making projects on your CNC.

Remember that the design step in CNCing can be completely optional. If you’d like to browse a list of sites we put together where people share their CNC project designs either for free or for a price, click the button below. Half of the projects we’ve made ourselves have been off designs we’ve found online; feel free to leverage these resources in your own work with the right permissions.

 

Design & CAM (beginner-friendly)

If you’re looking for software that takes advantage of most CNC features while remaining easy to pick up, we recommend checking out these software options:

Name Type Difficulty
(1-4)
I want to…
Compatibility Price
Vectr 2D Design 1 Use an online tool to design simple signs and other 2D projects Online Free
Easel 2D Design, 2D CAM, Int 2 Make signs, carve simple images, and other 2D projects Online Free & paid
Carbide Create 2D Design, 2D CAM 2 Make signs, v-carvings, and other 2D projects PC & Mac Free & paid
Inkscape 2D Design, 2D CAM 3 Stick with something that’s open-source with lots of features for 2D project design All desktops Free
F-Engrave 2D CAM 1 Use a simple 2D CAM program for engraving and v-carving signs Windows/PC Free
Halftoner 2D CAM 1 Make halftone carvings of normal pictures onto my projects Windows/PC Free
Kiri:Moto 3D CAM 2 Create 3D reliefs, trays, and other parts from 3D models Online Free
CAMLab 3D CAM 2 Create 3D reliefs, trays, and other parts from 3D models Online Free
 

Vectr

Vectr

https://vectr.com/

Vectr is a simple web and desktop-based vector graphics editor that lets you draw and design online or on your desktop. Though it’s not built out for CNC use, it’s certainly a reasonably powerful option for beginners who want to make simple 2D designs for things like signs. It stands out because of its intuitive layout.

Recommended tutorial videos

 

Easel

Easel

http://easel.inventables.com/

Easel is a free (with paid pro features) web application that makes it easy to design and cut objects online. With a handful of presets for common bits and materials, as well as a simple user interface, it’s an awesome program for getting started with CNCing. There are tons of guides on Youtube that cover lots of different things you can do with Easel. A very simple, intuitive design and CAM program for beginners.

Recommended tutorial videos

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Carbide

Carbide Create

https://carbide3d.com/carbidecreate/

Carbide Create is an awesome free (with paid pro features) program that works great for 2D and 2.5D carvings, if you want to work with SVGs and DXFs, or if you’re looking to do V-carving. With a much larger list of presets for common bits and materials, as well as a simple user interface and some additional features, it manages to outperform Easel in many aspects: though these advantages come with some additional complexity. Still, it’s an awesome program for getting started with CNCing and similar to Easel there are tons of guides on Youtube to check out.

Recommended tutorial videos

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Inkscape

Inkscape

https://inkscape.org/

Inkscape is a free and open-source desktop tool that lets you draw vector drawings or convert regular pictures into vector format with lots of granular control. This program has been around for a long while and though it was never really meant for CNC it gets the job done using community-source plugins. There are many advanced features and tons of resources online to help you learn Inkscape.

Recommended tutorial videos

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F-Engrave

F-Engrave

https://www.scorchworks.com/Fengrave/fengrave.html

F-Engrave is a free and open-source software which provides several useful features if you are looking to do engraving work. This includes v-carving, b-carving, importing DXF and bitmap files, and more. To learn about how it works, check out the documentation online or watch the YouTube tutorial videos.

Recommended tutorial videos

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Halftoner

Halftoner

https://jasondorie.com/page_cnc.html

The halftoner program is quite old but very simple. By importing images, you’re able to chose from a selection of patterns which will enable you generate black-and-white halftone v-carves from that photo. Its use case is very limited but it’s good at what it does.

Recommended tutorial videos

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Kiri:Moto

Kiri:Moto

https://grid.space/kiri#cnc

Kiri:Moto is a 3D CAM software which allows you to create g-code toolpaths using STL files through your browser. To add to it’s convenience, Onshape has support for Kiri:Moto as a plugin. This means that you can create your 3D files in Onshape and bring them into Kiri in the same browser window! Stewart Allen (the creator) is a great guy who works hard to keep the software updated and working well. It’s a great and simple program for cutting 3D parts.

Recommended tutorial videos

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CAMLab

CAMLab

http://camlab.sienci.com/

CAMLab is our very own 3D CAM software which allows you to create g-code toolpaths using 3D, STL files through your browser. We’ve been working hard on it so that it can be easy to use while having a variety of very powerful features. Cut 2.5D profiles, and 3D reliefs with ease by generating the g-code through your browser, exporting it to your computer, and using a g-code sender like UGS to run it on your machine! CAMLab is based on Kiri:Moto so Stewart Allen (the creator of Kiri:Moto) deserves a lot of credit for all his great work. Another simple program that’s great for cutting 3D parts.

Recommended tutorial videos

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Design & CAM (advanced)

For those that are looking to use their CNC more regularly and want to unlock its full potential. If you plan on learning 3D design for the first time, an awesome resource which teaches you how to design for CNC can be found here: https://www.3dhubs.com/knowledge-base/how-design-parts-cnc-machining/
 
Name Type Difficulty
(1-4)
I want to…
Compatibility Price
Carveco Maker 2D Design 2 Design baseline and reasonably advanced 2D and 3D carvings Windows/PC 15USD/mo
Vectric VCarve Desktop 2D Design, 2D CAM, Int 2 Design baseline and reasonably advanced 2D and 3D carvings Windows/PC 349USD
Onshape 2D Design, 2D CAM 3 Model in 2D or lay out complex, 3D parts with lots of granular control and plug-ins Online Free & paid
Fusion 360 2D Design, 2D CAM 3 Model in 2D or lay out complex, 3D parts with lots of granular control and plug-ins PC & Mac Free & paid
 

Carveco

Carveco Maker

https://carveco.com/carveco-software-range/carveco-maker/

Carveco Maker is Carvecos entry-level product yet it comes with quite a bit of power. It has a lot of features similar to Vectrics Vcarve software such as standard toolpaths, 2D drawing, V-carving, and 3D importing but it can also create reliefs from 3D models and images and allows you to perform manual relief smoothing. This is a highly featured software that’s built for semi-professional CNC use and its capabilities reflect that. It’s also impressive how clean the user interface is when factoring in all the features it has. If you’re interested, check out this comparison we did between Carveco Maker and Vectric Vcarve Desktop:Vectric VCarve Desktop vs Carveco Maker – Which Should You Choose

Recommended tutorial videos

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VCarve

Vectric VCarve Desktop

https://www.vectric.com/products/vcarve-desktop

Vectric Vcarve Desktop is one of Vectrics mid-level products, with products like Cut2D and PhotoVCarve being more entry-level. It has quite a lot of features similar to Carveco Maker such as standard toolpaths, 2D drawing, V-carving, and 3D importing but it’s limited in that it can’t modify 3D models and all projects are limited to a 24″x24″ cutting size. It still has unique CAM toolpaths and has also been built for semi-professional CNC use so its capabilities reflect that. If you’re interested, check out this comparison we did between Vectric Vcarve Desktop and Carveco Maker:Vectric VCarve Desktop vs Carveco Maker – Which Should You Choose

Recommended tutorial videos

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Onshape

Onshape

https://www.onshape.com/

Onshape is a powerful, cloud-based 3D modelling software suitable for both beginners and experienced modellers. Since it runs completely in your internet browser, you can run it on almost any modern computing device without having to download anything. Some perks are that it has a large library of user-created models and standard hardware that you can directly import, use, or edit. It also has data management features such as file versioning, and a bill of materials. Ultimately quite advanced however its CAM plugins can vary in quality.

Recommended tutorial videos

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Fusion

Fusion 360

https://www.autodesk.com/products/fusion-360/overview

Fusion 360 is one of the most popular 3D modelling and CAM combination programs used by hobbyists. It has powerful, industry-level features with the most complete CAM package for 2D and 3D cutting operations. It’s free for makers and hobbyists (with some restrictions) and they offer great training resources as well as a full playlist which teaches every step in learning how to use the CAM part of Fusion. Fusion 360 is a great option if you’re wanting to take the deep dive on CNC programming.

Recommended tutorial videos

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CNC Interfaces

Many of our software picks don’t tend to have a built-in machine interface so we have a couple of independent programs that we’ve found work well. For most users, we recommend using UGS Platform as the go-to interface software:
The full list of GRBL-compatible senders is generally maintained here: https://github.com/gnea/grbl/wiki/Using-Grbl but we’ve put together a more digestible list that you can reference below of the ones we’ve gone through and personally experimented with. All of these work well in most capacities and are easy to learn and pick up:
 
Name Type Difficulty
(1-4)
Notes Compatibility Price
UGS Interface 2 A good default machine interface that’s lightweight but has good functionality All desktops Free
CNCjs Interface 2 Another great interface option that can be more reliable on certain systems since it’s not Java-based All desktops & Online Free
OpenBuilds Control Interface 2 A newer software that seems to be promising in it’s reliability and additional features All desktops Free
Easel 2D Design, 2D CAM, Int 1 Works directly through Easel in your browser. Quite minimal but can get the job done Online Free
VTransfer Interface 1 Only packaged with Vectric products. Has almost no features so it’s pretty limited Windows Free
bCNC CAM, Int 3 The go-to by many when setting up their CNC to run off a Raspberry Pi. Reliable and python-based All desktops Free
Source Rabbit Interface 1 Based off UGS Classic, it has some additional features while remaining lightweight All desktops Free

UGS

Universal G-Code Sender

https://winder.github.io/ugs_website/

This Java-based program comes in two forms: classic and platform. Classic is easier to use and pick up, Platform has many more features and is more configurable. The software is lightweight and reliable with a pendant available, and Platform additionally has customizable windows, a good spread of plugins, and easy macros. blank
 

CNCjs

CNCjs

https://cnc.js.org/

CNCjs can be built to run as a local web-app using Node.js or can be installed as a normal program onto your computer. It’s got lots of great features and functionality including surface probing and easy-to-make user macros. It’s got a pendant available and can be run on a raspberry pi. blank
 

OB Control

OpenBuilds Control

https://software.openbuilds.com/

Designed to work with Openbuilds CAM, it can still be used independently. Although it’s not as established as the other software on this list, it’s packed with some good features and is simple and colour-coordinated for improved ease of use. Pendant available. blank
 

Easel

Easel

https://easel.inventables.com/

Extends through the Easel online software, allowing you to connect to your machine directly through your browser. It doesn’t have a lot going for it as it’s purposely limited to cater towards new users, but it’s usable and convenient if you’re already using Easel for design and CAM. The interface aspect has no difference between the Free and Pro versions of Easel. blank
 

VTransfer

VTransfer

https://docs.vectric.com/docs/

VTransfers barebones layout means that it’s dead easy to use and understand. The downsides to this is that it offers no gcode visualization, keyboard jogging, or other common interface features. blank
 

bCNC

bCNC

https://github.com/vlachoudis/bCNC

A python-based interface software and CAM utility. The main downside is that the software interface is very un-intuitiive and the getting the software installed isn’t beginner-friendly. blank
 

Source Rabbit

Source Rabbit

https://www.sourcerabbit.com/GCode-Sender/

This program is a modified version of UGS Classic with similar functionality and a modified layout, but with some of the added features that UGS Platform has. In some areas it’s been too far simplified that it reduces functionality, for instance the visualizer will only show g-code in the positive axes instead of showing the entire file. blank
 
 
If you’ve got any other questions about the CNC toolchain or need some clarification, feel free to contact us directly or ask via our Facebook and website forums.