CNC controllers cannot interpret the designs you make on CAD software, these designs need to be converted into G-codes or NC codes that most CNC controllers understand.
A CAM software for CNC converts your design files into file types that controller software can understand.
G-Codes are detailed instructions that help accomplish different manufacturing processes, such as carving, cutting, drilling, engraving, and milling.
If you are a hobbyist or beginner in CNC machining or one who intermittently uses CNC routers, you might be looking for an easy CAM solution for your CNC machining.
EstlCAM is a beginner-friendly CAM software developed by Christian Knüll. This software has a lot of useful features and is relatively easy to use.
This software lets you import 2D (like .dxf, .svg, .png, or .jpg) and 3D (like .STL) design files, generate toolpath, and create G-Codes to control the CNC machine.
Its intuitive CAM and CNC control options simplify the complexities that can frustrate someone new to CNC routers or CNC Machines.
EstlCAM Software Review
In this article, I walk you through various important parameters like pricing, user interface, features, compatibility, and customer support of EstlCAM software.
1. User Interface
EstlCAM software is available in English and German language. Additionally, it also has a multilingual user interface.
You can choose among several language options in the initial setup, like French, Korean, Spanish, Russian, and many more.
It has a minimalistic design with clear-to-read and understandable buttons. The user interface is simple and you can navigate it with ease.
It works completely offline and requires an internet connection only for installation and registration.
2. Features of EstlCAM
EstlCAM software lets you make holes, engravings, or carvings on workpieces. It has many features that are not sophisticated and can be learned with a few practice sessions.
In addition to 1D, 2D, and 3D EstlCAM projects, this software lets you import a variety of formats, like 2D drawings (.DFX, .PLT, .SVG, and .HPGL), 3D models (.STL), and Bitmap pictures (.PNG, .JPEG, and .GIF) into EstlCAM workspace.
Once you import the file, the software lets you position, scale, and rotate the design file on the workplace. You can also adjust various machining parameters via the EstlCAM properties window.
Let's say you have imported a JPEG file for carving. Initially, you need to select a tool for carving. Once you choose the desired cutting tool, the new toolpath will automatically use the preferred cutting tool.
EstlCAM automatically inserts tool change command into the G-code file which makes using multiple tools easier with an automatic tool changer.
If you import CNC program files, like G-Code or NC, EstlCAM launches a CNC controller window to control the CNC machine.
Even the trial software allows you to import G-code of any size without restrictions making it a really useful tool for hobbyists.
Successful completion of a CNC project requires selecting the correct cutting tool. If your project requires V-carving, you will need chamfer bits, or for grooving and pocketing, you will need thick end mills.
Hence, it is essential to choose the right tool for CNC machining. EstlCAM has a tool list that let you choose/add cutting tool. The tool list has various columns to define the parameters of the cutting tool.
You will find the tool list panel on the upper right side of the software window. The tool list lets you edit the existing tool parameters, like diameter, depth per pass, plunge, feed rate, and RPM, before toolpath simulation.
With the right tool selected EstlCAM helps you generate the best toolpath for the tool you intend to use.
EstlCAM provides toolpath options to part, hole, engrave, V-carve, drill, and text that you can select from the toolbar on the left side of the software window.
The first step is to determine the toolpath and define the contour. Once you import the design file, EstlCAM automatically recognizes the shape and defines the path. It works best with detailed and flawless drawings.
If the drawing has gaps, dead ends, or overlaps, it shows toolpath error.
To overcome this, you can use the manual shape detection option to define a custom toolpath. This option lets you connect the missing points in the path to modify the contour.
Using a manual shape detection portion, you can create a new contour from scratch.
For each toolpath, you have options that need to be adjusted to make parts. For instance, you can define a uniform depth for the toolpath or input a value in the Toolpath depth parameter.
I have made a list for you that briefly describes the parameters:
- Start level: Air cutting may waste your precious machining time. To avoid air cutting, this parameter lets you define the starting position of toolpath to cut the material in the first pass.
- Machining order: If you are working on complex projects with multiple parts that need to be cut from a single stock, you can order the cuts manually or let EstlCAM choose the most optimal cutting sequence for you.
- Holding tab: Holding tabs are useful while machining thin workpieces because they help to hold the workpiece and remove it easily. This parameter lets you adjust the length and height of the holding tab by interrupting the toolpath to add a 2D contour toolpath between the workpiece and surrounding material.
- Finishing: This field lets you define the type of tool for finishing and the amount of material thickness to be removed for a good surface finish.
- Pocketing: You can choose between linear or parallel strategies for pocket milling. If you have a workpiece made of soft material, I recommend linear pocket milling. You can also define toolpath angle for linear pocket milling.
- Chamfer: You can select the desired tool and set the chamfer width in EstlCAM for V-carving.
In addition, EstlCAM provides in-built functions for holding tab, starting position of the cutting tool to plunge into the material, lead-in for dovetail, and T-slot milling.
Additionally, functions like overcut to machine inside corners, pocketing, and island for pocketing but leaving objects within standing in pockets are provided by the 2D toolpath list in EstlCAM.
EstlCAM lets you define toolpaths for milling 3D models. Once you import a .stl file, you can position and align the model using scaling, rotation, and mirroring tools.
If you choose block machining, you need to define a few parameters to machine curved surfaces. The following are the parameters that must be considered:
- Roughing: Roughing is the first process in 3D milling that involves removing the excess material around the workpiece using a larger cutting tool. The field of EstlCAM lets you define cutting tool type. I suggest you should start with an 80% stepover and 0.01" allowance for roughing passes.
- Finishing: After roughing, the finishing pass improves the surface finish of the workpieces. You can start with 15% or less stepover to achieve good surface finishing. Usually, finishing does not require allowance, but for two finishing passes, I recommend using a small allowance for the first pass.
- Stock settings: This field lets you define the dimensions of the stock and holding tab.
- Computing Precision: This parameter regulates how much dimensional precision EstlCAM will achieve in the milling process. You can set it to around 0.007" or lower because it will require less memory and provide you good precision in a short machining time.
If you choose free machining, you need to set a few more parameters manually in addition to the roughing, finishing, stock setting, and computing precision. I have listed the functions that need to be regulated during free machining:
- Set workpiece zero: This function lets you set the origin point on workpieces. Usually, it is defined at the lower left corner of the workpiece. If the origin point is not defined properly, it may lead to the wastage of the workpiece or crash the gantries of the CNC machine.
- Mask workpiece: This function lets you select areas of the model that should not be cut. You will need .dfx files, which act as masks to protect the areas from CNC machining.
- Extract outline: This function extracts the 3D model outline that allows the CNC machine to do 2D milling. Hence, this process cuts down the extra processing and machining time taken by CNC machines.
Once you have defined all the toolpath setting, EstlCAM previews the toolpath and display the estimated machining time, later, EstlCAM exports your CNC program as G-Code that controls the milling operation in CNC machines.
3. EstlCAM CNC controller compatibility and features
You can connect and configure EstlCAM for 27 different CNC controller software, such as LinuxCNC, Easel, UCCNC, PlanetCNC, and Carbide Motion, industry-grade CNC software, like Mach 3 and Mach 4, and popular CNC controller firmware, like Marlin and GRBL.
Once you select the CNC controller from the preset list, EstlCAM automatically loads the matching rules for the CNC program (G-code) to follow.
EstlCAM CNC controller window lets you adjust the parameters of the spindle, homing sensor, touch plate, and tool length sensor.
You can use a keyboard or Xbox One gamepad for jogging the spindle.
A gamepad is a more convenient option than a keyboard because you can easily reach the gamepad's buttons to control the motion of CNC machines.
PWM Spindle control is another important feature supported by EstlCAM.
EstlCAM also lets you connect the jog shuttle to control the feed and position on all three axes in the CNC machine.
Laser engravers can also be run using EstlCAM. It has a feature that lets you choose and set the power level of your laser.
Estlcam is easy to use, even for inexperienced users. Its fast turnaround time is advantageous for kick-starting your project quickly.
Even if you don't have prior experience using CAM software, you can perform tasks such as tiling, flipping, moving, and rotating in a few easy steps.
When your mouse pointer rests over any control button or parameter, EstlCAM displays a description box.
This display box shows a summary and tips related to control/parameters. It is pretty helpful, especially if you are a beginner in CNC machining.
If you are an experienced user, you can benefit from its quick turnaround time to create small projects or make small changes to an existing project.
5. Learning Curve
EstlCAM is simple-to-understand CAM software. This software has a substantially short learning curve that lets newbies learn the basics of CAM operations in easy steps.
You may not need to spend much time learning this software. With a few days of tinkering, you can learn EstlCAM for CAM operations.
Additionally, the developer of EstlCAM, Christian Knüll, has his own YouTube channel that offers good resources to learn this software.
6. Operating system
You can use EstlCAM software on computers running Windows OS. The software setup is available in both 32-bit and 64-bit versions, which you can download from their website.
Note that depending upon your OS version, you may also need to install a driver for the chosen CNC controller hardware for its optimum performance.
The creator of EstlCAM, Christian Knull has a personal YouTube channel where he uploads tutorials and videos useful for EstlCAM users.
7. Supported CNC machines
EstlCAM can do CAM operation and control up to 3-axis movement of CNC routers, CNC mills, and 3D printers equipped with a CNC controller supported by EstlCAM.
However, it does not support turning operations and you cannot use it for creating G-code files for your CNC lathe.
If your CNC machine controller has Arduino UNO clones, EstlCAM may not work with them.
EstlCAM supports a maximum USB/serial bootloader speed of 0.5kb at 500000 bps that works only with genuine Arduino boards.
There are a lot of users who go the route of a CNC shield and Arduino combination while using EstlCAM.
The most popular stepper driver used with EstlCAM is the TB6560 stepper driver from Toshiba.
EstlCAM is highly popular among users of Mostly Printed CNC or MPCNC.
8. Community support
EstlCAM is an affordable software, and you always get support from the person who developed it. However, this software does not have a dedicated online forum.
The Mostly Printed CNC (MPCNC) category under the V1 engineering forum is a popular and active community of EstlCAM users to help you with CAM software-related issues and troubleshooting.
EstlCAM provides you with an unlimited trial period to give it a try that's completely free. However, as time passes, the free trial will take longer and longer to write files.
You can purchase its single license which is inexpensive and costs you around $60.
Apart from that, EstlCAM also provides an option to upgrade your software from version 9 to version 11 for around $30.
You will find several paid and free CNC software out there, and even though there is a paid version for EstlCAM, it is fairly inexpensive.
EstlCAM is an intuitive CAM software with the capability to control CNC machines. This software is really straightforward and easy to learn.
Its simplicity makes it the first choice of most beginners and hobbyists in research and prototyping.
Because of its neatly organized core functions, the CAM operation in EstlCAM is an easy process that generates G-code for CNC machining. However, opening and saving created files can take a little longer compared to others.
I like the features of the EstlCAM CNC machine controller, especially its Xbox gamepad support to jog the cutting tool.
It cannot work with lathes and some of the instructions in the installer are in German but you'll figure it out.
Overall it is a neatly packaged low-cost solution for CNC CAM operations that is exceptionally beginner friendly.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Does EstlCAM offer a refund period?
No, they do not have a refund window. If you want to know whether this software is the best choice, you can use the free trial period that has all the features of the paid version.
Is EstlCAM11 still a beta version?
Yes. Christian Knüll has successfully done a few things with it in the meantime, but the program has not yet been fully tested.
Does EstlCAM require an internet connection?
No, but it will require an internet connection to download and set it up and also for registration. You can also get an offline registration key upon request.