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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.