Best CNC Software [2021] for Hobbyists and Pros [Free and Paid]

Best CNC Software [2021] for Hobbyists and Pros [Free and Paid]

Best CNC Software [2021] for Hobbyists and Pros [Free and Paid]

When I first stepped into the world of CNCs, I was overwhelmed by the many software programs used in the process.

I wanted to figure out how these software programs worked and which software was best for a particular purpose (like hobby CNC and Production CNC work).

Here I walk you through all the best software choices for CNC routers and explain the advantages and disadvantages of each.

In a CNC machining process, there are four kinds of software involved. These are:

  • Computer-Aided Designing (CAD) software: Creates 2D, 2.5D or 3D designs
  • Computer-Aided Machining (CAM) software: Converts the designs to G-code, a language understood by machines
  • Control Software: reads the G-code and creates signals to control the stepper motor drives
  • Simulation software: reads the G-code and predicts errors that may arise while machining 

However, many software programs can do more than one function among the four.

There are dedicated software programs for each of these functions, but there are all-in-one software bundles that do everything as well.

After carefully considering the ease-of-use, reliability, compatibility, and community support, I have put together a list of some of the best software for your CNC application.

Some of these software are paid while some are free. The free ones are mostly Open-Source CNC software.

I have also categorized them so that its easier to understand what each software does.

Best All-in-One Software for CNC Applications

These software programs have the functions of CAD, CAM, control, and simulation software rolled into a single package.

An all-in-one software can save you a lot of time and money.

1. Easel

Easel software window
Easel
CADCAMControlSimulationPaid/Free
EaselYesYesYesYesPaid

Quick Summary of Easel Software

The Easel software from Inventables is a truly all-in-one software which lets you do everything from CAD, CAM, and Control within a single software.

You can create designs, convert them into G-Code and run your CNC machine with Easel.

Easel also has a pro version that lets you work on 4x8 workpieces, has more tool and design libraries and has the V-carve option.

Easel is web-based software and doesn’t require you to install any software and therefore, it can run on Windows and MacOS.

However, this also means you need an active internet connection at all times to run Easel.

Easel has a monthly subscription fee of around $20 per month and a yearly subscription for around $13 per month.

Using Easel does not require you to have any expertise in CAD/CAM software and is easy to use with a good user interface.

You can connect to your CNC machine via a USB cable and Easel works best with GRBL controllers.

It can be made to work with Marlin controllers but getting it to do so would require some tinkering.

Easel has a wide user base and a great online community at the Inventables Community forum.

For learning Easel you have the dozens of free tutorial videos provided by Inventables and also multiple YouTubers who make Easel tutorial videos.

Overall, this is a great All-in-one solution for beginners and hobbyists who don't want to learn multiple software for operating their CNC.

2. Carbide Create

Carbide Create window
Carbide Create
CADCAMControlSimulationPaid/Free
Carbide CreateYesYesOnly with Carbide 3D CNCsYesFree

Quick Summary of Carbide Create Software

If you want a do-it-all software, Carbide Create is a good choice. It combines CAD, CAM, G-code Sender and simulation capabilities into a single package.

Carbide Create was made by Carbide 3D, the makers of the famous Shapeoko CNC machine, and hence it was designed keeping the needs of hobbyists in mind.

It is simple to use, and you are not required to have any CAM software expertise to run it. You can import DXF and STL files to create G-code.

You can create 2D shapes directly from Carbide Create and convert them into G-code and use it to control your CNC machine.

Carbide Create is free to use and is compatible with Windows and MacOS operating systems.

Carbide Create can do 2.5D machining. For 3D machining, you can use MeshCAM, which is a paid software but quite powerful.

2.5D machining is when you can move two axes simultaneously ( x and y) and move the third axis (z-axis) while the other two axes are still.

In 2D machining, you can move the x and y-axis together or independently. In 3D machining, you can move all three axes simultaneously or independently. So 2.5D lies somewhere in between 2D and 3D machining.

Carbide Create is a good all-in-one solution for Shapeoko users and a great CAD+CAM solution for non-Shapeoko users.

Best CAD Software for CNC Applications

The first step in CNC machining is creating the model or designing. Here I talk about the best design software choices for CNC routing/machining.

1. VCarve Pro

VCarve Pro CAD + CAM software
VCarve Pro CAD + CAM software
CADCAMControlPaid/Free
VCarve ProYesYesNoPaid

Quick Summary of VCarve Pro Software

Vectric's VCarve Pro is a CAD plus CAM solution for CNC machining.

Unlike other CAD modelling software like Fusion 360 and solidworks which have broad functions, Vectric makes software exclusively for CNC work.

This means there are more specific features and tools for CNC work in VCarve Pro compared to the others.

This software lets you make 2D and 2.5D models with which you can generate toolpaths (CAM) using VCarve itself.

Some of the features offered include 2D designing, image tracing from an existing photo, trueshape nesting (for optimum space use).

CAM features offered are toolpath generation for Machining, pocketing, drilling, inlays, threading and engraving.

VCarve Pro sells at $700 for a single license.

The only missing feature in this CAD plus CAM solution is 3D modelling.

Although you can import 3D models into VCarve Pro, to do 3D modelling you will need Vectric's Aspire software.

In CAM, the 2 sided machining feature is really handy for machining two sides of an object in a single session.

VCarve Pro does not have adaptive milling in it's CAM module and that's a key difference from Fusion 360 which has adaptive milling.

Adapative milling is a really useful feature for metal machining that helps to maintain a consistent chip load and ultimately higher accuracy.

Vectric has brought out dozens of free videos that teach you how to use the software with your CNC machine and this is a great advantage for beginners.

This software is easier to learn and has a much lower learning curve compared to Fusion 360. However that also limits the capabilities a bit.

There is a free unlimited trial offered for this software which lets you test its features except saving toolpaths and exporting functions.

Vectric brings out newer versions of their software occasionally and to do the upgrade, you need to pay an upgradation fee.

Vectric has a highly active user base. The community at the vectric forum can be really helpful for learning and troubleshooting.

Overall, VCarve Pro is a great tool for CAD modelling and CAM toolpath generation if you're working wood, aluminum and other non-ferrous metals.

2. Autodesk Fusion 360

Autodesk Fusion 360 window
Autodesk Fusion 360
CADCAMControlPaid/Free
Fusion 360YesYesNoPaid (Free for personal use)

Quick Summary of Fusion 360 Software

Fusion 360 from Autodesk is a well-known designing platform used for creating 2D and 3D designs.

It can do CAD and CAM software functions, and it even has a G-code editor.

The software has several tool and shape libraries that can save your time. It is a truly industrial-grade tool.

The CAM in Fusion 360 has an adaptive milling feature unlike VCarve Pro which is handy for metal milling.

You can install it on a Windows or MacOS computer. The software is free for personal use, but the features will be limited in the unpaid version. 

The limitations include the number of active documents you can have at a time ( maximum is 10), lack of rendering and simulation features.

In CAM the limitations include not having the automatic tool change and rapid feed features. These limitations can considerably increase your job time.

However, unlike most other software, it is possible to do a lot of meaningful work with the free personal version.

You can get a free student license if the educational institution you belong to has a Fusion 360 license. The full fledged version will cost you roughly $350 per year.

One key difference between the licensing of Fusion 360 and VCarve is that Fusion 360 is a subscription software and you need to pay for it every year.

Also Fusion 360 is a cloud based software and you need to connect to the internet at least every 2 weeks for it work properly, unlike VCarve which is not cloud based.

On the other hand you buy a perpetual license for VCarve Pro and you only need to pay again if you want a version upgrade with new features.

Fusion 360 has good technical support from Autodesk that provides you with resources to learn the software. 

The forums, blogs and groups on their official website have a large online community of users to help you with your queries.

Fusion 360 is for users who want to access advanced features in CNC Machining and don't mind the learning curve involved with mastering it.

3. SOLIDWORKS

Solidworks window
Solidworks
CADCAMControlPaid/Free
SOLIDWORKSYesYes (as add-on)NoPaid

Quick Summary of SOLIDWORKS Software

SOLIDWORKS from Dassault Systems is a powerful and capable CAD plus CAM software suited for industrial and professional use.

The CAM software in SOLIDWORKS is available as a separate paid add-on with different versions to suit your requirements.

Due to its wide range of capabilities and features, SOLIDWORKS is a heavy to run software with a large download size.

For optimal performance from the latest SOLIDWORKS software, it is recommended to have a computer with at least a 3.3 GHz processor, 16 GB of RAM, a compatible graphics card (you can find it on their website) and 64 bit Windows 10.

You can purchase the student edition for around $120 per year from their website. Startups and entrepreneurs can use it for free for one year, provided SOLIDWORKS accepts your application.

You can design 2D as well as 3D models. However, you’ll need a Windows PC to be able to run SOLIDWORKS.

As it is a paid software, the customer support is good and reliable. Their website provides a customer portal, training and tutorial videos.

4. Inkscape

Inkscape wallpaper
Inkscape 1.1
CADCAMControlPaid/Free
InkscapeYesNoNoFree

Quick Summary of Inkscape Software

Inkscape is free-to-use software that is primarily used to create vector drawings. The advantage of vector drawing is that the lines have a mathematical function related to them and can be manipulated to create G-code.

It can export files in the DXF format that CAM software can use to create G-code. 

Alternatively, you can also download plug-ins for Inkscape that will let you create G-code directly in Inkscape.

You can install it on Windows, MacOS or Linux operating system based computers.

There are several tutorials on their website and many more YouTube videos to help you through your design process.

5. AutoCAD

AutoCAD window
AutoCAD
CADCAMControlPaid/Free
AutoCADYesNoNoPaid

Quick Summary of AutoCAD Software

Coming from the makers of Fusion 360, AutoCAD is a widely known CAD software and supports both 2D and 3D modeling.

The designs you create are well detailed, and it allows you to color-code your lines for ease of understanding. 

The yearly license of AutoCAD is priced at around $1775, and you can run it on computers with Windows or MacOS operating systems.

For a Windows PC, you might need a PC with 64 bit Windows 10 or 8.1, atleast a 2.5 GHz processor, 8 GB of RAM, and 1 GB of graphics memory.

MacOS users need High Sierra or above, 64 bit Intel CPU, and atleast 4 GB of RAM for basic performance.

AutoCAD has a very large user base and has a subreddit that you can use for troubleshooting. It also provides user-friendly and reliable official support.

Best CAM Software for CNC Applications

Controller software and motion controllers cannot read 2D or 3D design files. The design file needs to be converted into direction and speed commands called G-code.

CAM software takes in the design files (e.g. STL, DXF) and converts them into G-code.

This G-code is then used by the control software to output signals that result in the movements of the CNC.

Although there are CAD plus CAM solutions like Easel and VCarve Pro, there are advantages to using dedicated CAM software.

The following software programs are considered as the best dedicated CAM software programs on the market.

1. Mesh CAM

MeshCAM CAM Software
MeshCAM CAM Software
CADCAMControlPaid/Free
MeshCAMNoYesNoPaid

Quick Summary of MeshCAM Software

Mesh CAM is a paid CAM software developed and sold by GRZ software.

This software is almost a plug-and-play solution, which highly reduces the amount of machining knowledge you need to know.

The software chooses most parameters automatically based on the quality level that you pick.

For an experienced machinist, this means there's less freedom to customize while for beginner's it makes things really simple.

MeshCAM accepts STL and DXF files from all 3D CAD programs.

If you have a 2D file, then MeshCAM lets you load the file into it and extrude the 2D drawing into a 3D model. This 3D files is then used to generate toolpath.

One highly popular feature of MeshCAM is that it can convert a JPEG image into a machinable 3D file. Which makes things much quicker by not having to model it in CAD first.

MeshCAM is sold in two versions, MeshCAM and MeshCAM PRO. The standard version sells for $250 while the PRO version is sold at $500 for a single license.

MeshCAM Pro offers a toolpath simulation tool apart from all the features in the standard version. This helps in identifying any errors before doing the machining.

Although the single license is intended for a single user, MeshCAM allows you to install it in up to 3 computers.

The Nomad 3 CNC from Carbide3D uses MeshCAM as its default CAM software for 3D models.

MeshCAM claims to have more toolpaths than all other competing CAM software and that makes it easy machine even highly complex parts using this software.

2-sided machining is made easy in MeshCAM due to a feature that lets you add support/tabs on the sides of the stock without needing a vise.

These tabs greatly help in keeping the stock zeroed and also helps hold down the part after its flipped over for machining the other side.

MeshCAM can run on both Windows Os and Mac OS.

If you're unsure of whether MeshCAM is the right fit for you, they offer a 15 day free trial for their software.

GRZ software offers email support for any queries related to MeshCAM for their customers.

Overall, MeshCAM is a great, quick and easy CAM solution for most kinds of CNC machining work.

2. CamBam

CamBam CAM software
CamBam CAM software
CADCAMControlPaid/Free
CamBamNoYesNoPaid

Quick Summary of CamBam Software

CamBam is a CAM software made by HexRay Ltd. and is highly popular among CNC users.

This software is a paid one and sells at $150 for a single license.

CamBam has all the CAM features you need for any CNC machining task.

Unlike MeshCAM, CamBam is less the plug-and-play type and requires you to manually choose several parameters which MeshCAM chooses for you.

This means there is a learning curve with CamBam compared to MeshCAM which doesn't required much knowledge of machining.

However, if you're someone who loves to manually set each parameter and wants full freedom with your CAM software then CamBam is a great choice.

In comparison with MeshCAM Pro, CamBam doesn't have a inbuilt toolpath simulator, but CamBam is much cheaper in comparison.

You can use a separate simulator like NC viewer which is free, for simulation.

A major drawback of CamBam was that it did not support spline editing. Now CamBam support spline objects as well in its CAM software.

CamBam offers a free trial which lets you run 40 sessions with all the features to test everything.

Unlike MeshCAM which works with a Mac OS, CamBam works only with a Windows OS.

Also, a lot of users prefer MeshCAM for 3D milling whereas CAMBAM is preferred if the primary use is to do 2D and 2.5D milling.

Overall, if you want more control over your CAM work and not a plug-and play solution then CamBam is a good choice.

3. Estlcam

Estlcam CAM Software
Estlcam CAM Software
CADCAMControlPaid/Free
EstlcamNoYesNoPaid

Quick Summary of Estlcam Software

Created in 2014, by a German software Enigneer named Christian Knüll, Estlcam is the most simple and least expensive (except the opensource Openbuilds CAM) option in this list of CAM software.

Estlcam lets you do 2D and 3D toolpath generation by cutting out all the complexities for a quick operation.

At $60 for a single license, Estlcam is truly a hobbyist friendly CAM software.

What is remarkable about Estlcam is the much lower learning curve and quick turn around times which a lot of hobbyists prefer compared to the bulk of other CAM solutions.

Many beginners in CNC work use Estlcam as their first CAM software to learn CAD and CAM and then later opt for pricier software after they learn the trade.

Estlcam offers a limited time free trial with all the features for you to test before buying it.

This CAM software runs only on windows OS and not on Mac OS.

There is no dedicated forum for Estlcam, however this software is really popular among users of Mostly Printed CNC (MPCNC) and their forum has an active community of Estlcam users.

Overall, this is a good choice for a hobbyist who's looking to make quick inroads into CNC work, but as you learn and your requirements change you might feel a bit limited.

4. Openbuilds CAM

VCarve Pro CAD + CAM software
VCarve Pro CAD + CAM software
CADCAMControlPaid/Free
Openbuilds CAMNoYesYes (with Openbuilds Control)Free

Quick Summary of Openbuilds CAM Software

Openbuilds CAM is a free web based CAM software made and supported by the creators of the online community Openbuilds.

Now, Openbuilds is an end to end CNC manufacturing company which sells their own machine kits and software.

True to the philosophy of the open source maker movement, the software made by Openbuilds is free and open for use to anyone.

Openbuilds also makes the openbuilds control which is a G-code sender software which I have talked about below in the Control software section.

One important drawback of Openbuilds CAM is that it only works with Openbuilds Control G-code sender and you cannot use any other control software.

However once the G-code is input into Openbuilds control you can send it to any GRBL based controller board.

This CAM software needs an active internet connection to work.

The great thing about Openbuilds software is the community around it who have great experience in using and troubleshooting it.

Instead of support from a brand like with MeshCAM you get support from the Openbuilds community, which is expected as its a free software.

Overall, this is a good CAM software for hobbyists and people who love the simplicity of a free software and the great community behind it.

Best Controller Software for CNC Applications

The G-code generated by the CAM software is fed into an interface between the computer and the control board of the CNC.

This interface softaware is used to send the G-code from the computer to the CNC controller board. Therefore this interface is also called as a G-code sender.

Some examples of stand-alone G-code senders include Universal G-code sender (UGS), GRBL Candle, and bCNC.

The G-code that's received in the controller hardware is interpreted by the firmware that's installed in the control board.

The firmware then instructs the board to send out signals that result in the motion of the CNC.

Examples of standalone firmwares include GRBL, Marlin.

GRBL is generally used in Arduino based controllers.

I talk in detail about the best GRBL based controller here-Best CNC GRBL Controllers for Hobbyists.

Now, there are software programs that can do both the g-code sending and interpreting tasks.

These all-in-one control software do all the tasks that's to be done after g-code is generated. Examples include Mach3, Mach4, LinuxCNC, PlanetCNC.

All-in-one control software

These software programs do the process of sending the G-code as well as interpreting the G-code for outputting signals for motor movement.

You don't need a separate controller firmware or G-Code sender if you use these sfotware.

1. Mach 3

Mach 3 window
Mach 3
CADCAMControlPaid/Free
Mach3NoYes (with LazyCAM add-on)Yes Paid

Quick Summary of Mach3 Software

Mach 3 is a control software that you can install on a 32-Bit Windows PC to control the motions of your CNC machine through a graphical user interface.

You can either import the G-code from your CAM software to Mach 3 for machining or use the LazyCAM add-on to convert DXF, BMP, JPG, and HPGL into G-code.

With the LazyCAM add on, Mach3 can be called as a CAM plus Control Software that does everything except CAD modelling.

For Mach3 to work the computer should be connected to the CNC using a parallel port cable.

You cannot directly connect to the CNC via USB when running Mach3 (Unlike GRBL). This is because Mach3 runs in real-time and USB does not support real time access.

A workaround to this is to use a breakout board like Smoothstepper as an intermediary.

Smoothstepper has a parallel port end which connects to the CNC and the other end that connects to the computer can be a USB or ethernet port.

The USB version is called as a USB SmoothStepper (USS) and the ethernet version is called Ethernet SmoothStepper (ESS).

In the absence of the breakout board, Mach3 turns the host computer into the motion controller.

However, a breakout board is highly recommended as it results in much lower latency and immunity from electrical noise compared to connecting directly from the computer.

Mach 3 can control a maximum of 6 axes and is compatible with several breakout boards.

It also provides a wide range of customizability for the user interface and a collection of operations through the wizard. You can use these to create the most common designs without the need to generate G-code.

Mach 3 is a paid software, but you can use the demo version, which has several limitations on functions and the number of lines of code.

You can purchase a single license and use it on multiple machines if you are a hobbyist.

The license for Mach 3 will cost you roughly $175 and can be purchased from their website.

Mach 3 has a large user base. Therefore you will be able to find solutions to most of your problems online. However, the official updates for Mach 3 have been stopped.

The software has a simulation mode that unlocks all the features. However, you’ll have to uninstall the parallel port drivers to enable it. Meaning you cannot control the CNC machine while simulation mode is enabled.

2. Mach 4

Mach 4 window
Mach 4
CADCAMControlPaid/Free
Mach4NoYes (with LazyCAM add-on)Yes Paid

Quick Summary of Mach4 Software

Mach 4 is designed for newer computers and works using the USB port to connect to your CNC machine via a motion controller.

It has a better graphical user interface than Mach 3 and can handle large files. Hence Mach 4 requires 512 MB of Video Card and 1 GB of RAM.

Mach 4 is priced at $200 for the hobbyist version and can only run on a single PC, the ID of which should be mentioned while obtaining the license.

For industrial use, the Mach 4 will cost you around $1400.

It has a remote link that you can use to control and monitor your CNC machine remotely.

It has a modular design, meaning you can easily add, remove or create features and provide great customizability. Sadly, it runs only on Windows, just like Mach 3.

Control software acts as the interface between your computer and the controller of your CNC machine. It reads the G-code instruction and converts them into commands that the breakout board can understand. It can also be used to manipulate your CNC machine manually.

3. LinuxCNC

LinuxCNC silverdragon UI window
LinuxCNC Silverdragon UI
CADCAMControlPaid/Free
LinuxCNCNoNoYes Free

Quick Summary of LinuxCNC Software

LinuxCNC is a control software developed using the open-source Linux platform and hence is a free CNC software.

LinuxCNC has been around for a long time and has been used to develop other software such as the Mach 3 software on this list.

It can control up to nine axes simultaneously. However, a USB interface is not recommended as USB communication is slower in transferring instructions than parallel ports.

LinuxCNC can only be run on PCs with the Linux OS installed, and the system requirements are low. You can even run it on Raspberry Pi4 and above.

It uses the parallel port on your computer to interface with your CNC machine. You can also use the ethernet port to interface your machine via ethernet breakout boards (the most popular ones are from Mesa).

Just like Mach3, LinuxCNC converts the host PC into the motion controller and does not need necessarily need a breakout board.

However, using an ethernet card (such as mesa) helps in hardware step generation and encoder counting rather than using just a parallel port cable.

The most popular choice of ethernet card for LinuxCNC is the Mesa 7i76e.

LinuxCNC has a large online community, and the software itself has a forum-like feature that lets you post questions to other users around the globe.

It has a graphical user interface that is highly customizable, and it supports touchscreen interface devices and pendant controllers.

4. PlanetCNC

PlanetCNC window
PlanetCNC
CADCAMControlPaid/Free
PlanetCNCNoNoYes (only with PlanetCNC hardware)Free

Quick Summary of PlanetCNC Software

PlanetCNC is a free CNC machine control software that you can use to control your CNC machine using G-code.

However, PlanetCNC is a combined hardware and software solution. The control software works only with the CNC USB controller Mk3/4 hardware that's sold by PlanetCNC.

The software comes free with the hardware.

Unlike LinuxCNC and Mach3, PlanetCNC has a USB connection between the Mk3/4 controller and the computer.

This controller is then connected to stepper drivers. If you don't want to use separate stepper drivers, PlanetCNC sells their Mk3/4 board with integrated steppers as well.

If you wish to connect this controller to a parallel port stepper driver like Gecko, you need to buy the DB25 adapter that's sold by PlanetCNC.

In addition, PlanetCNC has CAM software capabilities as well. You can import DXF, NC Drill (Excellon) files, PLT/HPGL files, Gerber files and convert them into G-code.

Apart from generating G-code, you can also edit the G-code you have imported and scale the design according to your workpiece size.

You can run it on 64 and 32 bit Windows, MacOS(High Sierra or higher), 64 and 32 bit Linux, RaspberryPi 3 and 4.

The interfacing with the motion controller can be via USB or ethernet.

Standalone G-code Sender software

These software programs act as GUI or interface between the controller board and the computer.

1. UGS - Universal G-code Sender

UGS - Universal Gcode Sender window
UGS - Universal G-code Sender
CADCAMControlPaid/Free
UGSNoNoOny G-code sendingFree

Quick Summary of UGS Software

UGS is a control software that acts as an interface between your computer and your CNC machine.

UGS is compatible with many motion controllers like GRBL and can be run from devices running Windows, MacOS, Linux, or on a Raspberry Pi.

UGS plus GRBL combination is the most popular software for Arduino based CNC machines.

You can download it from the UGS Github page for free. There are two options to choose from, the classic and the platform.

The platform is the recent version and is more advanced than the classic version in terms of the graphical user interface and support for various controllers.

You can import G-code from your CAD/CAM software into G-code and use it to run your CNC machine while also letting you edit the G-code.

2. OpenBuilds CONTROL

OpenBuilds CONTROL window
OpenBuilds CONTROL
CADCAMControlPaid/Free
Openbuilds ControlNoNoOny G-code sendingFree

Quick Summary of Openbuilds Control Software

It is a control software that interfaces your computer with the CNC machine and is best suited for hobbyists.

I liked the graphical user interface to be quite intuitive with a well-organized and clutter-free design.

OpenBuilds CONTROL can read G-code and run it on your CNC machine. You may also simulate or edit your G-code.

You can use OpenBuilds CONTROL to flash GRBL firmware onto controllers. 

It doesn’t have CAM capabilities. However, you can use OpenBuild CAM, a web-based software that converts your design into G-code and sends it directly to OpenBuilds CONTROL.

You can also use your smartphone to control jogging by connecting it to the same WiFi network as the computer.

OpenBuilds CONTROL is a light software and can run on Windows, MacOS and Linux computers.

3. GRBL Candle

GRBL Candle window
GRBL Candle
CADCAMControlPaid/Free
GRBL CandleNoNoOny G-code sendingFree

Quick Summary of GRBL Candle Software

GRBL Candle is an open-source free to use control software for your GRBL based CNC machine.

It can be downloaded from their Github page for free, and you can install it on Windows or Linux computers.

The user interface is minimalistic and easy to use. Furthermore, you can map keys on your keyboard to control the axes.

You can import, view and edit G-code. In addition, you can view the path the tool makes before and while cutting.

The interfacing with the controller is via USB. However, it can only support a maximum of 3 axes.

It is suited for hobbyists and DIY enthusiasts. In addition, GRBL Candle has a large online community of users and forums that can help you with GRBL Candle.

CNC Controller Firmware

These are software that are run only on the controller hardware of the CNC. Usually the user does not interact with the firmware and that's done through another GUI like UGS, GRBL Candle or Openbuilds Control.

1. GRBL

GRBL Controller Firmware
GRBL Controller Firmware
CADCAMControlPaid/Free
GRBL FirmwareNoNoFirmware Free

Quick Summary of GRBL Firmware

GRBL is an open source firmware that controls Arduino ATmega328P boards (Arduino Uno).

This firmware is connected to the computer through a USB connection and does not need a parallel port, which is a major advantage.

It's a free, open-source firmware that was developed over the years primarily for CNC milling.

The current version of GRBL is v1.1.

GRBL currently allows only up to 3 axis control and that's one limitation of this firmware.

GRBL_HAL and GRBL_Esp32 are variations of GRBL that have been developed for 32 bit boards unlike GRBL which works only with 8 bit boards.

GRBL is highly used in budget CNC machines (like desktop CNCs) and in DIY CNC builds by hobbyists. Primarily due to the popularity of Arduino.

Almost all 3018 CNCs available on the market use GRBL plus UGS combination as the controller software.

Well known CNC brands that use GRBL based controllers include Carbide 3D, BobsCNC, Openbuilds and Spark Concepts.

There's a large community of people who contribute to GRBL and that helps in the constant development of the software.

Best G-code/Toolpath Simulation Software

These software programs are used for simulating the G-code you obtain from CAM software. It helps you predict the problems you might face when you do actual machining using G-code.

1. NC Viewer

NC Viewer window
NC Viewer
CADCAMControlSimulationPaid/Free
NC ViewerNoNoNoYesFree

Quick Summary of NC Viewer

NC Viewer is a G-code simulator that doesn’t require any installation. You can visit their website and input the G-code your CAM software generated.

NC Viewer is a web-based software. Hence it can run on any OS platform, and hence is a good choice when you need a quick check on your G-code. You can even use it on your smartphone.

It supports 5-axis simulations and has support for a wide range of file types. NC Viewer can also simulate turning operations on lathes.

NC Viewer will provide you a simulated view of the path the tool will take as per your G-code.

However, you cannot set the boundaries of your machine’s work area or the machine’s size, and hence collision of the tool with the boundaries cannot be predicted.

2. G-Wizard Editor

G-Wizard Editor window
G-Wizard Editor
CADCAMControlSimulationPaid/Free
G-Wizard EditorNoNoNoYesPaid

Quick Summary of G-Wizard Editor

G-Wizard Editor is a paid G-code simulator and editor from CNCCookbook that is capable and reliable.

It is a lightweight software, meaning you don’t require a high-powered computer. But, a computer with good graphics performance will make things quicker for you.

It can be downloaded and installed on Windows or MacOS computers and requires a connection to the internet every four weeks.

You can simulate the G-code from your CAM software. G-Wizard Editor will point out the G-code errors and tell you how the G-code can be improved.

It has an extensive library of CNC machines and tools, which makes it suitable for hobby use as well as industrial use.

The conversational CNC wizard provided lets you create G-code for simple parts without the need for CAD/CAM software.

This is a premium software used by leading manufacturers across the globe, and hence you can trust its reliability.

You can purchase the software from their official website for a price of around $300 for the lifetime license.

CNCCookbook provides a good amount of training material and troubleshooting guides on their website. Moreover, you can reach the helpdesk and guides right inside the software.

3. CNC Simulator Pro

cnc simulator window
CNC Simulator Pro
CADCAMControlSimulationPaid/Free
CNC Simulator ProNoNoNoYesPaid

Quick Summary of CNC Simulator Pro

Contrary to its name, CNC Simulator Pro provides CAD/CAM capabilities besides running simulations of your G-code.

It supports a wide range of machines, tools, and controllers. But requires an internet connection to use.

You can run it on any computer running Windows 7 and above, and it has an average user interface.

The official website provides tutorials, examples and videos to help you learn and use the software. In addition, they also have an official YouTube channel which can be helpful.

The software has a free version with limited capabilities that requires you to visit their website for license renewal every month. 

The premium version of the software can be purchased from their website for roughly $100 a year.

Factors to consider while choosing a Software for your CNC Application

1. Capabilities and Features

It is important to know your application with the software. For example, if you want complex designs, you will require a dedicated design software.

If you intend to do basic milling operations, a 2D CAD will be sufficient, whereas if you plan on doing 3D relief carving on wood, you would require 3D design software such as Solidworks or AutoCAD.

Most CAM software clearly list the features which are supported in them. E.g. for metal milling, adaptive milling is a great feature to have in the CAM software.

A controller or simulation software has a fixed number of axes that it can control, so choose a software that can accommodate all the axes of your CNC machine.

2. Learning Curve

Operating any machinery or software requires certain skills, and therefore, it is necessary to consider the skills required to use the software.

If you intend to use a professional software like AutoCAD, you need to understand the basic design principles and spend some time learning the software.

On the other hand, software like Easel provides you with a simple design interface where you have access to pre-designed shapes that you can combine to create your designs.

But then again, it all depends on the level of perfection and detail you want to achieve.

3. Cost

Open-source software like LinuxCNC and Inkscape are free to use. You should consider the functions required to create the product and check whether free software can provide them.

Paid software provides better official customer support and has a variety of specialized functions, and can be easy to use owing to innovative features. 

It is easy to overpay for software with several bells and whistles, but if they were to serve no real purpose for you, the expenditure would be a waste.

4. Subscription v/s Perpetual License

Licensing is to be considered carefully. Do you want to pay a certain amount every year or do you want to pay a one time flat fee.

Although, even software with perpetual license might charge you for version upgrades like the Vectric VCarve Pro.

5. Cloud based v/s Non-cloud based

If you work in your garage or at a place where it's difficult to get a good WiFi signal, then the performance of a cloud based software will be questionable.

In such a case, you should opt for a software which does not require an active internet connection to work.

6. Active Community

You'll most likely run into issues at least occasionally when using CNC related software. This is because there's a lot of variation in the application requirement of each person.

An active online community can help you with troubleshooting and queries. An alternative to this is to have the vendor's customer support answer your queries.

If your chosen software doesn't have an active community, then it should at least have excellent tech support from the vendor.

Multipurpose or Dedicated CNC Software?

Multipurpose software are best suited for small production runs with simple designs.

The sole purpose of dedicated software is to improve the quality and ease of production of complex parts.

If you need intricate designs and perfect control over your production runs, you may choose dedicated software for each purpose as they provide you with better quality at each step.

If you are a hobbyist or DIY enthusiast, an all-in-one CNC software would be easy to use and learn.

About John

Hey I'm John. I talk about CNC's and Power Tools at Mellowpine. I'm a CNC hobbyist who has been making CNC's and writing about CNC's for a while. I currently also work as a consultant for business owners and hobbyists setting up their own CNC's. If you have any questions related to CNC, I'd be happy to answer them. Reach me at john@mellowpine.com

DIY Profile
John

Hey I'm John. I talk about CNC's and Power Tools at Mellowpine. I'm a CNC hobbyist who has been making CNC's and writing about CNC's for a while. I currently also work as a consultant for business owners and hobbyists setting up their own CNC's. If you have any questions related to CNC, I'd be happy to answer them. Reach me at john@mellowpine.com

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