Last Update: 22 November 2019
Documentation in Progress

This part of the resources is still a work in progress, please be patient while I take the time to finish it in the coming days -Chris

Design programs come in many forms and can largely be separated in two main categories: 2D design and 3D design. 2D design is largely considered to be an easier starting point for first time CNCers since it mostly consists of laying out simple shapes, pre-made artwork, and occasionally some graphics that you find online. Not only is this design process easy to learn, but it’s also very versatile. By making these simple line drawings you can make signage, lettering, flat-packed furniture, joinery, inlays, stencils, household items, etc. The majority of the cutting you’re looking to do on your CNC will probably be limited to 2D work.

The more complex 3D designs aren’t for everyone, but the result is certainly impressive. By cutting out intricate contoured patterns on the CNC, the result is a perfect looking carving job that’s done in a couple hours rather than the weeks of hand-work that it would normally take. The caveat here is that learning to create 3D models is another step above the 2D design work and has a much longer learning curve. The process of making g-code for 3D models is also usually much more difficult than for cutting out 2D drawings.

All of this is to say that if you want to carve something out, you first need to know what you’re going to make and how you’re going to make it. Whether it’s a picture, a 3D model, or even a napkin drawing; you must find a way to convey your ideas in a form that’s sharable and outside of your head. Many people create designs for their CNC routers and share them online, either for free or for a price; so this can also be leveraged in your own work. Half of the projects we’ve made ourselves have been off designs we’ve found online, and we made a list of these websites for your reference so that you could do the same:


If you’re interested in that sor tof

If you’re only interested in downloading and using other peoples designs

In the world of CNCing, we use computer aided design (known as CAD) to help us draw out or otherwise create our ideas.

An awesome resource for design for CNC can be found here:


CAD is a tool we use to draw and design our ideas on the computer. There are many different types of CAD softwares, as you can read about in the later section on CAD.

CAD (computer aided design) allows you to design and create digital models that you will use to recreate in the physical world with your CNC machine. There are many different free and paid CAD programs that you can use.

If you already use a CAD program like that isn’t on the list, you should be able to use it without any issues. If you don’t find one you like on our list, feel free to try out some other ones that may not be on the list. Common file formats that CAM (computer aided manufacturing) software typically accept include:

  • DXF
  • SVG
  • STL


2D design

Inkscape (free)

Inkscape is a free and open source desktop tool that lets you draw vector drawings. There are many advanced features and tons of resources online to help you learn Inkscape.

AutoCAD (paid)

AutoCAD is a well known 2D drafting software used heavily by engineers and architects. This software is great for drawing and editing for use with 2D designs and can export, save, and edit DXF designs to be used with most 2D CAM.

A professional licence for AutoCAD may be high for many users, but you can get an educational licence for free, or you can use an AutoCAD alternative like DraftSight.

Vectr (free)

Vectr is a simple web and desktop based vector graphics editor that lets you draw and design online or on your desktop. A good option for someone who wants to make simple 2D designs for things like signs.  

3D design

Onshape (paid and free)

Onshape is a powerful cloud-based 3D modelling software recommended for both beginners and experienced modellers. Since it runs completely on your internet browser, you can run it on almost any modern computing device without having to download anything.

Fusion 360 (paid and free)

Fusion 360 is one of the most popular 3D modelling and CAM programs used by hobbyists. It is free to use for makers and hobbyists, as well as businesses and startups making less than 100,000USD per year.

Fusion 360 is unique that it provides advanced CAD and CAM in one package, allowing you to go from design to toolpathing in one environment.