To perform laser engraving or cutting, you need software for making the designs (CAD), converting the design to code (CAM), and interfacing with the laser machine (control).
Some software programs let you do all these operations within themselves, while you need to use two or more software in combination in other cases.
Choosing the right software is equally important as choosing a laser cutter or engraver for your project.
Certain software programs are specially crafted for working with lasers while others are general-purpose software that has laser as one of their applications.
In this article, I list the best software choices available for laser cutting and engraving in 2023.
Each software is categorized based on its purpose (CAD, CAM, control).
What's in this article?
- Best All-in-One software for laser cutting or engraving
- Best CAD software for laser engraving or cutting
- Best CAM software for laser engravers or cutters
- Best Control software for laser engravers or cutters
- Factors in CAD that can make a difference in Laser Cutting or engraving
- Frequently asked questions
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Best All-in-One Software for Laser Engraving or Cutting
LightBurn- Best Overall Laser Software
|OS||Windows, Mac, Linux|
Quick summary of LightBurn software
LightBurn is a good laser cutting software. It's especially good at working with lines which are largely used for laser cutting projects.
It can design, convert the design to code, and control laser cutters or engravers with the generated program code.
You can create new vector shapes using the offsetting, welding, and node editing features in LightBurn. So technically, it is CAD compatible.
The designs you can create are limited, and it does not have all of the CAD features.
It is a widely used laser engraving software for controlling laser machines because of its versatility and ability to run on Windows, Mac, and Linux OS.
Though a paid software, it is pretty affordable, and you can even try it free for 30 days.
It requires the internet for activation, authentication, and updates. Other than that, it can be used offline.
LightBurn lets you import and use vector graphic formats like SVG, DXF, JPG, PNG, and PLT. Then, it creates program code from the imported image files, making LightBurn CAM compatible.
When controlling the laser machine, you can adjust cut settings like speed, power, cut order, dithering mode, passes, anti-aliasing, and many more.
It supports a rotary axis and has a USB camera positioning feature that lets you virtually position a design on the workpiece.
LightBurn has a large and active community forum in which you can participate. The forum also has extensive documentation.
Best CAD software for Laser cutting or engraving
When choosing a designing software for laser cutting or engraving applications, you have to look into some crucial factors like image type (raster or vector), cutting path, overlapping, path thickness, and more.
|Internet||Occasionally (for activation and cloud sync)|
Quick Summary of Adobe Illustrator Software
Adobe Illustrator is the industry standard for creating 2D designs and is widely used for graphic designs.
It has a simple user interface with many tools embedded in it. For laser cutting or engraving applications, you will primarily use tools like pen, line, shape, stroke, fill, layer, etc.
You can set parameters like resolution, orientation, DPI, color mode, name, and more when opening a new project. You also have the flexibility of going back and changing all this in the document setup option.
It can export files in standard vector formats like AI, EPS, PDF, and SVG.
Illustrator is compatible with Windows, iPad, and Mac OS. However, for Windows and Mac, it requires a minimum of 8 GB of RAM and 1024 x 768 pixels of display resolution, and for iPad, a minimum RAM of 4GB is needed.
It is available in different languages and only requires the internet to activate or sync the files to the Adobe Cloud platform.
The extensive community support it has is a significant advantage. In addition, there are many video and documentation guides available online that you can refer to and learn the software's workflow.
A dedicated help tab is available within the software, too. Most roadblocks in learning illustrator can be solved by just doing a google search as it has been used widely for a long time.
You can contact Adobe through email, phone, or their website. They have an active response rate.
Illustrator is a paid software available in monthly and yearly subscription options. They also provide a 30-day trial period.
You can purchase a license directly from Amazon or their website.
Can export files in standard vector formats like AI, EPS, PDF, and SVG.
Supports Windows and Mac OS.
Quick Summary of DraftSight Professional software
DraftSight Professional is a product from Dassault Systems. It is a 2D CAD software available in professional, premium, enterprise, and 3DEXPERIENCE versions.
The professional version is powerful enough for designing files for laser cutting or engraving applications.
It can view, create, edit and convert designs in DWG, DXF, and DGN files. In addition, the image tracer, draw compare, layer manager, power trim, and auto dimension tools will be a great benefit.
DraftSight requires a 64-bit Windows or Mac OS with a minimum of 2GB RAM. A system with 4GB and above RAM will be an optimal choice.
With DraftSight, you can export your designs in vector formats like DXF, PDF, and SVG.
For a tear-free display of its user interface, you will need to use a minimum display resolution of 1280 x 768 pixels.
Internet access is required for downloading and activation. For activation, your PC needs to have a network interface card.
DraftSight Professional has a simple user interface, making it easy for you to navigate and use different tools.
Additionally, Dassault Systems has provided well-formulated resources for you to refer to and learn.
They are active on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and LinkedIn. Also, good community participation is there on the members' community page.
|OS||Windows, Mac, and Linux|
Quick Summary of Inkscape Software
Inkscape is free-to-use open-source software that is primarily used to create vector drawings.
Its native image format is SVG and can also work on PDF, JPG, GIF, and PNG. In addition, you can install different file extensions by using its add-on plugin feature.
Inkscape has a simple user interface with lots of tools. Their website also has a learn section to refer to and understand its workflow.
It does not require internet for its regular operation, but you will need network access for updates.
There are many video tutorials on YouTube to help you sail through its design workflow.
Inkscape can be installed on Windows, Mac, and Linux OS systems with a minimum of 2GB RAM.
Being free software, it has a large user base. A large part of the community is active on the forum hosted by Inkscape.
Solid Edge 2D Drafting
|Parameter||Solid Edge 2D|
Quick Summary of Solid Edge 2D Drafting software
Solid Edge 2D Drafting is a free-to-use software from Siemens. It also has other paid versions available, but the 2D drafting version is enough for designing shapes needed for laser cutting or engraving applications.
It has all the standard toolsets needed for designing 2D shapes and can work effortlessly on DWG files.
Solid Edge has inbuilt transition wizards for AutoCAD and other 2D software. It will help you to easily adjust to its workflow when shifting from such software.
Solid Edge 2D Drafting requires a system running on Windows 10 Enterprise or Professional (64-bit only) version 1809 or later.
For an effective operation of Solid Works, you need to have 16GB of RAM and 1920 x 1080 pixels of screen resolution. It is memory intensive.
You need the internet only for downloading the software. Since it is free, you do not need to authenticate, but you can access the community forum if you do so.
Siemens has a collection of resources available on their website and tutorials on YouTube to learn the software.
Solid Edge community participation is there on Facebook and the Siemens community website.
|Internet||Occasionally (for authentication and installation)|
Quick Summary of CorelDRAW software
CorelDRAW is a decades-old continuously developing software from Corel Corporation.
It mainly focuses on vector graphics editing and can be matched with Adobe Illustrator.
Its Graphics Suite version is a flexible option and has more additional features than the Essential and Standard versions.
You can try the software for 15 days. After that, you will have to purchase a yearly or one-time license to use it.
It supports an extensive list of file formats, including AI, PSD, PDF, SVG, DWG, DXF, EPS, and many more.
CorelDRAW's website houses an invaluable collection of resources that can help you learn and master the software.
It can run on Windows and Mac operating systems and requires a minimum of 4GB RAM.
For a clutter-free user interface, you need to use a minimum screen resolution of 1280 x 720 pixels.
The software requires an internet connection for installation and authentication. Other than that, it can be run offline.
You can choose and purchase digital (Windows/Mac) or boxed (only Windows) versions of CorelDRAW from Amazon.
Remember, if you choose the box version, the PC should have a DVD drive.
Supports file formats like AI, PSD, PDF, SVG, DWG, DXF, EPS, and many more.
Works on Windows and Mac OS computers.
Quick Summary of TurboCAD Designer software
TurboCAD is a design software operated by IMSI Design. It is a powerful tool used by many because of its affordability.
The Designer version of the TurboCAD software is a good choice for making the 2D designs needed for laser cutting or engraving applications.
It exports vector files in DXF, DWG, DWF, and PDF format, which many laser control software accept.
TurboCAD is also compatible with other file types such as JPG, BMP, ASM, PNG, and more.
Its user interface (UI) is pretty neat. The interactive startup screen guides the users through the software. Also, the UI can be customized.
TurboCAD Designer can run on Windows 7/8/10 (32-bit/64-bit) and Mac OS (32-bit/64-bit).
It requires a minimum of 4GB of RAM and a screen resolution of 1280 x 720 pixels.
You need internet access for the initial authentication and updates. Other than that, you can use it offline.
For the first 6-months, you will get technical help directly from IMSI Design, LLC. You can contact them by phone, email, or through their website.
You can purchase the license key through their website or Amazon.
Supports vector formats like DXF, DWG, DWF, and PDF format.
Works with Windows computers.
Supports vector formats like DXF, DWG, DWF, and PDF format.
Works with Mac OS computers.
Nest&Cut - Best Nesting Software for Laser
|Paid/Free||Paid (Full access)|
Free (with limitations)
Quick summary of Nest&Cut nesting software
Nest&Cut is a powerful web-based nesting software that you can use to rearrange parts in your design to reduce material consumption.
Since it runs on web browsers, you don't have to use any high-performance computer to run the program, as all the processing is happening on the server side.
But you will need the internet to access and work with the software.
It has both paid and free versions available. You can export design files into DXF or DWG file formats on the free version.
The paid version is CAM enabled and allows you to export the design in G-code file format, which most laser control software accepts.
If you observe the above image, you'll notice that the nested design requires less work material than the original design.
Also, since the cut lines of pieces overlap, it allows for faster cutting.
You can also manually edit the design on CAD software to achieve the same objective, but it takes more time.
Since Nest&Cut uses well-programmed algorithms to operate, it'll be much faster.
Some of the best CAD software used for CNC applications can be found here - Best CNC Software  for Hobbyists and Pros [Free and Paid].
Best CAM Only Software for Laser Engravers or Cutters
|Control||Yes(with OpenBuilds CONTROL)|
Quick Summary of OpenBuilds CAM
OpenBuilds CAM is open-source software, and anyone can freely use it.
It can sync with OpenBuilds CONTROL to send control commands directly to the laser cutter or engraver.
OpenBuilds CAM is a web-based software that can convert vector files like DXF, SVG, and Gerber into G-code that can be used with your CNC control software.
It also supports raster files like PNG, BMP, JPG, and more.
Since it is web-based software, it needs active internet access to import, process, and export files.
This also means it is OS-independent and can work on most computers having a browser.
All the processing is done on the server side. It is a massive benefit as you do not require a feature-rich computer for using OpenBuilds CONTROL.
It has an inbuilt text insert and parts library from which you can select and use some basic shapes in your project.
You can also simulate the toolpaths from its workspace window.
OpenBuilds CAM has a large maker community to get your queries answered.
Some of the best CAM software used for CNC applications can be found here - Best CNC Software  for Hobbyists and Pros [Free and Paid].
Best Control software for Laser Engravers or Cutters
|CAM||Yes (with OpenBuilds CAM)|
|OS||Windows, Mac, Linux|
Quick Summary of OpenBuilds CONTROL
OpenBuilds CONTROL is free, open-source software that can interface with your laser machine through a computer.
It interprets G-code files and instructs the GRBL-based controller on your laser cutter or engraver.
In the case of GRBL-based controllers, you can also use the G-code with any other GRBL control software.
OpenBuilds CONTROL is a light software that can run on Windows, Mac, and Linux operating systems.
It has a simple user interface with a slider and button-based controls. It is clutter-free and well-organized.
OpenBuilds CONTROL software lets you import, edit, and simulate standard G-code files.
With OpenBuilds CAM, you can perform CAM operations in sync with OpenBuilds CONTROL. For doing so, you need internet access. Other than that, you can work offline.
Once G-code is ready, OpenBuilds CAM sends that directly to the OpenBuilds CONTROL software to control the laser machine.
OpenBilds has the world's largest online maker community from which you can get help in a variety of topics ranging from project design to machine control.
Quick Summary of LaserGRBL software
LaserGRBL is a free, open-source, laser-focused GRBL controller software. It is compatible with laser machines running on GRBL v0.9 and GRBL v1.1 firmware.
It is a good choice for hobbyists and small businesses working on laser cutters or engravers. It does not need internet access for its operation and can work offline.
LaserGRBL is made to run on systems with Windows OS. However, some users have also managed to use it on Linux using Wine 5.0 and Wine Mono 4.9.4 programs with the Gdiplus Windows DLL file.
Its user interface is pretty simple and easy to understand. For example, it shows estimated job time, job preview, and real-time position of the laser head.
LaserGRBL has detailed alarm and error code decoding for GRBL. It helps in quick and easy troubleshooting.
It supports G-Code files in .nc and .gcode file formats and supports images in BMP, JPG, PNG, and GIF formats.
Since it takes in image files and converts them into codes for controlling the laser machines, LaserGRBL is CAM-compatible.
If the controller of your laser machine supports S command power modulation, you can use all features of the LaserGRBL control software.
It is used by many people working on the Windows platform and has good community backing.
|OS||Windows, Mac, and Linux|
Quick Summary of EzGraver software
EzGraver is free, open-source software that is freely available for anyone to use.
It supports systems running on Windows, Mac, and Linux OS. You need to install the required drivers for the software to work correctly.
EzGraver has a command-line interface and a graphical user interface. The command interface lets you handle control commands in text format.
It does not need internet access for authentication or operation and can work offline.
One major drawback is that EzGraver only works with NEJE laser machines, such as NEJE Master 2S Plus, and community participation is moderately active.
Their GitHub page has now been archived, and no software updates have been released since 2017.
If you are using laser cutters or engravers from NEJE for your project, EzGraver will be a good option.
Quick Summary of LaserWEB software
LaserWeb is open-source software that anyone can freely use.
As its name denotes, it is a web-based software that requires active internet access for its operation.
Since it can run on browsers, it is OS-independent and can run on most devices, and it even runs on Raspberry Pi.
It can also be used as an application. You can get the installation files for Windows, Mac, and Linux from their GitHub releases page.
Even if you install the application, all the processing happens through their server, so you need to be online meaning you only require minimal system requirements.
It allows you to connect to a camera and visually place and align the design on the stock using its Optical Mark Recognition (OMR) feature.
LaserWeb can generate a G-code file from DXF, SVG, BITMAP, JPG, or PNG files, which makes LaserWeb CAM compatible.
You can even export and save the G-code to use it on some other software.
The website of LaserWeb has lots of documentation for learning the software and has an active community in Maker Forums.
Some of the best control software used for CNC applications can be found here - Best CNC Software  for Hobbyists and Pros [Free and Paid].
Understanding Important Features of Laser Cutting/Engraving Software
Raster and Vector Files
Raster files are made of a collection of sampled pixel points. Once you zoom in on such files, you will see pixelated parts. The lower the file resolution, the easy it is to see.
They limit you by providing an image with limited resolution and large file size, but they have the advantage of being widely compatible.
Examples of raster files are PNG, JPEG, DPX, PSD, WebP, GIF, etc.
Vector files are scalable files (resolution-independent). Therefore, you will not see any quality loss when zooming in on such files.
They get realigned by mathematical calculations that connect different image points without losing their original shape.
Since vector images are made by connecting different points using curved or straight lines, they are a perfect choice when working with lasers as laser cutters or engravers can easily follow a curved or straight cut path.
Popular vector files are AI, EPS, SVG, EPS, EMF, DXF, DWG, SKP, and STEP.
Converting Raster to Vector
The best way to convert a raster image into a vector image is by tracing the raster image using a pen tool in your CAD software.
You can put the raster image on a locked background layer with reduced opacity and can trace the background image on a layer above it.
Different software has its way of doing it, and you can learn it visually from YouTube tutorials made by regular users of such software.
Fill and Path Thickness
For Laser Cutting
Since the laser beams have a thin fixed width, they are not suitable for designs with thick strokes.
If possible, when preparing artwork for laser cutting, work with vector files like SVG, PDF, AI, and DXF as they are widely compatible across many control software.
While designing the vector shapes or paths in the software for cutting, keep the fill option as "No Fill," change the stroke color to "RGB Red," and adjust the stroke thickness to somewhere around 0.001 pt.
These settings will help the control software quickly identify the cut path.
For Laser Engraving
When preparing artwork for laser engraving, bitmap (BMP) image files are the best option.
With BMP, the laser control software can identify pixel grids and work column by column, and the engraving quality will depend on the image resolution.
As you work with high-quality images, the time taken for the job also increases because of the increased pixel information.
You can also use vector files in engraving, but remember to turn off the stroke and fill the shape with RGB Black.
While performing multiple cutouts from a sheet, you can place designs closely to limit material wastage and get more cutouts.
The designs with overlapping shapes constitute a significant problem in laser cutting. Even though we cannot see the underlying path/shape, the control software sees it in layered vector file inputs.
It would be best to make it a single path without any overlappings. CAD programs like Adobe Illustrator have inbuilt shape builder tools that can do such operations effectively.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
What software do you need for laser cutting or engraving?
For laser cutting or engraving, you need CAD software to design the shape needed to be cut or engraved, CAM software to convert the design into commands that laser machines can understand, and control software to send the generated program code to the laser. Sometimes you do not need separate software for doing each operation. For example, software like LightBurn can do all three (CAD, CAM, and control) operations.
Do I need dedicated CAM software for laser cutting and engraving?
You do not need dedicated software for CAM operations in laser cutting or engraving. Most control software used with laser cutters or engravers can directly take image files from the design software.
In what format should I export a design for laser cutting or engraving?
You can export a design for laser cutting in popular vector file formats such as AI, EPS, SVG, EPS, EMF, DXF, DWG, SKP, and STEP. Since vector images are made by connecting different points using curved and straight lines, they are a perfect choice for working with lasers as laser cutters or engravers follow a curved or straight cut path.
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