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Best CAM Software for CNC: Free and Paid [2023]



John Abraham
Hey I'm John. I write about Manufacturing, Metalworking, CNCs and Lasers at Mellowpine. If you have any questions related to CNCs or Lasers, I'd be happy to answer them. Reach me at mail@mellowpine.com


Best CAM Software

CAM (Computer Aided Manufacturing) is an operation in manufacturing used to make a part program from a design file.

It is performed by certain software programs developed to analyze the geometric data of a design and convert it to G-code.

This article lists and reviews the best CAM software programs to work with CNC machines.

MellowPine is reader-supported. When you buy through links on my site, I may earn an affiliate commission at no extra cost to you.

Best CAM Software for CNC in 2023

1.Autodesk Fusion 360CAD, CAM, SimulationFree & Paid
2.DeskProtoCAM, SimulationFree & Paid
4.EstlCAMCAM, ControlFree & Paid
5.OpenBuilds CAMCAMFree
6.CamBamCAMFree & Paid
List of best CAM software programs

1. Autodesk Fusion 360

AUTODESK Fusion 360 interface(Source: AUTODESK website)
Autodesk Fusion 360 interface (Source: Autodesk)
Fusion 360Windows, MacYesPaid (Commercial use)
Free (Personal use)
Quick Summary of Fusion 360 Software

Fusion 360 is CAD/CAM software from Autodesk. You can use it for making designs and generating G-code files.

Autodesk is widely known for its software products and is a popular choice among college students and professionals working in engineering and manufacturing.

Being a cloud-based software, Fusion 360 always requires an active internet connection for operation.

The maximum duration you can work on Fusion 360 without the internet is 14 days (2 weeks). After that, it’ll ask for authentication to verify your license.

Fusion 360 works on computers running on Windows and Mac. It’s beginner-friendly software and has a simple workflow.

It even has an online library loaded with many designs that you can access, allowing for a faster workflow.

If you purchase the software license, you can use their team collaboration feature to work with other members of your team working on the same project.

Fusion 360 allows you to apply the texture of different materials to the designs and you can preview the simulation of your part program directly in the software.

The software has good support from its large and active community with customer service for technical support.

2. DeskProto

DeskProto software interface
DeskProto software
DeskProtoWindows, Mac, LinuxOccasionallyFree (limited features)
Paid (advanced features)
Quick Summary of DeskProto software

Deskproto is an advanced 3D CAM software from Delft Spline Systems. The software has been active for over a decade.

Throughout this period, they’ve released several versions of the software. The latest one is version 7.1.

You can use the software for free or buy a license. The paid version unlocks access to various advanced features, suitable for business applications.

Delft Spline Systems offers Commercial and Hobby/Educational licenses for the software available at different prices.

The software is beginner friendly. Its optional wizard-based workflow guides you through the process of importing a design to exporting the code.

DeskProto wizard workflow
DeskProto wizard workflow

Deskproto is a light software that works on Windows, Mac, or Linux OS computers.

It requires an active internet connection during the initial authentication and does can operate operate offline, eliminating the need for a constant internet connection.

The software supports a variety of vector, bitmap, and geometry file formats like DXF, AI, SVG, STL, BMP, JPG, etc.

Deskproto has a large library of machines and tools preloaded into it, and you can use it to set the stage of operation. You can even add your own configurations.

For support, it has a dedicated community forum where each day, active discussions happen.

The developers will not provide direct support if you are using a free or paid hobby version of the software. Others can contact them directly through email or phone.

Here’s a more detailed review of DeskProto software.


Solidworks window
SOLIDWORKS software interface
Free (for 1 year)
Quick Summary of SOLIDWORKS software

SOLIDWORKS CAM is an add-on software that works in unison with SOLIDWORKS CAD, the main software.

To access the features of SOLIDWORKS CAM, you must have SOLIDWORKS CAD pre-installed on your computer.

It only works on PCs running on 64-bit Windows OS. It’s a memory-intensive software that requires 16 GB of RAM and at least a 3.3 GHz processor.

SOLIDWORKS is best suited for professionals, allowing you to make codes for 2D and 3D designs.

It is paid software, but the developers provide a free license for startups and entrepreneurs. To access the free license, you can contact Dassault Systems.

They offer good support to the customers. You can download learning resources, training materials, and tutorials from the customer portal.

4. EstlCAM

EstlCAM CAM software
EstlCAM CAM software
EstlCAMWindowsNoFree (unlimited trial)
Paid (~$60)
Quick Summary of EstlCAM software

EstlCAM is a simple beginner-friendly CAM software. You can use the software for free as an unlimited trial or buy a full license for around $60.

Unlike other software, it does not require a powerful computer but is only supported for Windows computers.

To make it compatible with different versions of Windows OS, the developer has made separate drivers.

The software accepts many different file formats and is compatible with 3D designs. Some of the formats it accepts are the following.

  • STL
  • DFX
  • PLT
  • SVG
  • HPGL
  • PNG
  • JPEG
  • GIF

EstlCAM has a simple workflow. Once you import the design file, it’ll ask you to set the tool details, based on which the software will automatically generate a toolpath.

For toolpath files like G-code and NC, EstlCAM has an integrated CNC controller interface to send the code to the CNC machine.

EstlCAM also allows you to configure it with popular CNC control software like Mach 3 and Mach 4, LinuxCNC, PlanetCNC, Carbide Motion, and firmware like Marlin and GRBL.

If you are a hobbyist, then the free version will do the job for you, but if you work with CNC machines regularly, I recommend getting an Estlcam License as it provides toolpaths faster.

Christian Knull (the developer) uploads many educational videos of EstlCAM software on YouTube. You can refer to those to visually learn the software.

You can run EstlCAM software offline, and it doesn’t need internet access to operate. You can activate it online or use an offline license key for initial authentication.

Here’s a more detailed review of EstlCAM software.

5. OpenBuilds CAM

openbuilds cam software
OpenBuilds CAM software interface
OpenBuilds CAMOS-independentYesFree
Quick Summary of OpenBuilds CAM Software

As it’s clear from its name, OpenBuilds CAM is a free CAM software from OpenBuilds. They are known for their open-source software and hardware products.

OpenBuilds CAM runs on internet browsers. Hence it is OS-independent and compatible with most devices.

Unfortunately, you’ll need to have access to the internet to use the software.

The software has simple controls that are well spread out on the user interface. It gives out part programs in G-code format.

You can learn the software easily from its community through forums, YouTube videos, and using the quick start documentation on its website.

Once you open the software, it’ll ask you to configure some options. You must set your machine, controller, and tool configuration for the software to work.

They have some common values preloaded on the software for easy access, but you can also enter your custom values.

OpenBuilds CAM can also work with their control software, OpenBuilds CONTROL.

The control software is not browser-based. It works on computers running Windows, Mac, and Linux OS.

6. CamBam

The user interface of CamBam software
The user interface of CamBam software
CamBam softwareWindowsYesFree & Paid
Quick Summary of CamBam software

CamBam is a CAM software for Windows PCs. It is a good CAM solution for hobbyists and businesses.

The CAD-compatible software allows you to make simple designs using lines and basic shapes, but cannot be considered a replacement for full-fledged CAD software.

If you import and make changes to the design file, CamBam automatically optimizes toolpaths to match the initial design.

The software is compatible with 2D, 2.5D, and 3D designs. Some of the supported file types include DXF, STL, RAW, 3DS, etc.

CamBam also supports 4th-axis wrapping, which is helpful when working on cylindrical workpieces.

The plugin support is a helpful feature. It allows you to further enhance the capabilities of CamBam software with additional pieces of software.

CamBam provides a 40 sessions free trial where you can try and test all the features of the software.

After crossing the trial sessions, you’ll need to purchase the full version of the software to access all the features. Else you’ll have to use it for free with limited features.

HexRay, the developer of CamBam, is always open to feedback from the software users. Using this, they continuously bring updates and keep the software bug free.

For support, they have a dedicated forum, and you can contact them by filling out an online form.

Here’s a more detailed review of CamBam software.

7. MeshCAM

MeshCAM software interface
MeshCAM software interface
MeshCAMWindows, MacYes (for authentication)Paid
Quick Summary of MeshCAM Software

MeshCAM is a paid CAM software developed by GRZ software. It is a popular choice among hobbyists.

The software is quite easy to use, even for a non-machinist. Its wizard-based toolpath generator simplifies the workflow and allows beginners to quickly learn the software.

MeshCAM has a simple user interface. It allows you to easily navigate and work with different parameters.

It is compatible with STL and DXF file formats which most CAD software supports. MeshCAM is known to process large design files of up to 500 MB.

You can also import 2D files like JPEG into MeshCAM and extract them into 3D designs to make toolpaths.

The post-processors loaded onto the software allows you to get a G-code that works with most CNC machines.

If you can’t find a post-processor built for your machine, the developers allow you to raise a request to make one that works for your machine.

MeshCAM uses different settings on the same design for generating toolpath for different operations.

You can run the software on computers running on Windows or Mac OS. Also, it requires at least 4GB of RAM to run smoothly.

MeshCAM doesn’t need an active internet connection to work. It only requires internet access for the initial installation and license authentication.

If you are looking for more advanced software, check out the Pro version of MeshCAM. It offers extra features like toolpath simulation, pocket toolpath, contour toolpath, etc.

To check the generated toolpath’s simulation, you can use any free CNC simulation software and save some money.

Here’s a more detailed review of MeshCAM software.

Final Thoughts

The controllers onboard CNC machines cannot analyze the design files. It needs to be converted to a language that the controllers on these CNC machines can understand.

CAM programs are the most efficient way to convert a design file to code ready to be sent to a CNC machine.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are CAD, CAM, and control in CNC?

CAD, CAM, and control in CNC are different operations performed sequentially to make something using a CNC machine. CAD, short for Computer-Aided Design, is the process of making designs on a computer. CAM, short for Computer-Aided Manufacturing, is the process of converting the design to code that CNC machines can understand. Control is the process of setting the optimal machining parameters to execute the machining process. All these operations are done using their dedicated software.

Which language is used in CNC programming?

In CNC, G-code programming language is used. It is an alphanumerical language that CNC controllers can read, and it has details about the cutter location, speeds, tools, RPM, etc. Generally, CAM software automatically generates these program codes, but they can also be programmed manually.

What are some of the best CNC software?

Some of the best CNC software are Easel, Carbide Create, VCarve Pro, Autodesk Fusion 360, SOLIDWORKS, Inkscape, AutoCAD, DeskProto, MeshCAM, CamBam, Estlcam, Openbuilds CAM, Mach 3 or 4, GRBL Candle, etc.

John Abraham
Hey I'm John. I write about Manufacturing, Metalworking, CNCs and Lasers at Mellowpine. If you have any questions related to CNCs or Lasers, I'd be happy to answer them. Reach me at mail@mellowpine.com

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