The best free and paid programs for metal clipping software
Laser metal cutting machines, milling machines and other machines are not just the wonders of modern manufacturing. They are also widely used by amateurs and avid craftsmen. They can be used to cut wood, plastic and even acrylic. Although they are high-tech devices, many machines are relatively easy to learn and operate.
Computer numerically controlled (CNC) machines require a little more time before the machining process. In return, they are even easier to operate. Once the operation has been programmed, there is no need to manually perform each step; the machine runs automatically.
With CNC machines, all the work is at the front end – designing the part and developing the cuts that need to be made and then inputting (programming) those steps into the machine. This may seem like a lot of extra work, but the payoff comes in the form of increased accuracy and infinite repeatability. CNC programs can be run hundreds or thousands of times, producing the exact same part at each iteration.
Nevertheless, a program must be set up first. This is usually done in two steps: part design and machine programming.
Programming a machine tool usually requires knowledge of G-code, the machine language used in CNC programming. But designing the original part or developing a design is a bit different. For this step, the operator only needs to know a computer program capable of creating a scalable vector file (SVG).
A vector file is a way of processing and storing graphic information. It determines the size and orientation of a given drawing. Laser engravers take this file and use it to create a G-code program. There are many ways to create a vector file – here are some of the best and most popular.
In this list, we’ve focused on free programs that are readily available. However, we’ve also included a few paid options if you need something more robust.
LaserGRBL is available for PC and is simple and efficient and beginner friendly; the program intentionally keeps it simple to please amateurs and those just getting started with laser machine tool software. For people just starting to master the world of laser engravers LaserGRBL is a fantastic free laser tool and a great advantage of this program is that it is free. With it you can learn the basics of program control, file formats as well as the actual subtleties and nuances of different types of laser cutting. Unfortunately, the latest versions of LaserGRBL are not available for macOS.
A versatile open-source vector graphics software, Inkscape is more of a versatile tool used by graphic designers for a variety of tasks. It can easily generate vector files for laser cutters too, and its native output format is SVG, so there is no need to convert the final file. Inkscape is available for Mac, PC and Linux.
It may seem pointless at first, but Illustrator is packed with so many features that even SVG files for laser cutters are available on it. Although it’s not an official AutoCAD program, Adobe has been a top design software maker for years thanks to Photoshop, and that expertise is evident in features such as artboards that allow users to render their designs on a variety of materials. Illustrator isn’t free — there’s a monthly subscription — but for hobbyists who prefer to focus on design, AI provides all the tools they need.
The complete opposite of Adobe Illustrator, SolveSpace maintains a simple user interface. Because of the minimal data entry, you’ll have to learn a bit, but SolveSpace is still capable of meeting your laser-cutting design needs. It is also not without certain advantages: SolveSpace is very resource friendly and takes up less than 10 MB on your computer. You can run it on an old desktop or laptop with no problem, and it’s completely free. It also exports images directly to SVG.
LW4 is more or less laser cutter specific. Because of this, there is an active community of users who can help you learn the program. The program is packed with many features, including some that are not found in most other applications. LaserWeb4 boasts material and price calculators that allow users to not only design a new part, but also estimate how much it will cost to cut it. The combination of features and a supportive community makes LaserWeb4 a great choice for hobbyists or beginners who want to master the intricacies of laser cutting.
CorelDRAW is a popular vector graphics program that has all the standard features to bring your creations to life. It offers an intuitive interface with simple tools and thoughtful organization so you can easily see what you need to do. The latest version of the program supports PDF/X-4, which means that Coreldraw can save files in any format you need for printing or online use.
Pressure, angle, and shape make a big difference in a drawing. If you’re looking for the best computer software capable of creating custom illustrations from scratch with pressure sensitivity in seconds, check out CorelDRAW.
Another paid product, LightBurn justifies its monthly subscription with a number of useful features. There are standard design and layout features, as well as advanced operational tools. Users can specify the number of cutter passes, depth of cut, order of cut, etc. Operators can shorten the normal process by using LightBurn to communicate directly with the laser cutter control unit; programming becomes one step instead of two. While LightBurn does not work with all available controllers, it is compatible with most of them, and support is constantly expanding.
Completely professional design software – at an appropriately high price. Draft Sight is CAD software for professionals; its features include the ability to convert JPG files into projects, import multiple files into a single project, and render projects into a wide range of vector and raster image output files, including SVG, EPS, PNG, BMP, DWG and DXF. The image conversion feature is especially useful – professional designers can use it to recycle old projects from paper, creating new laser cutting programs for old projects.
The last program on our list is mainly focused on converting 3D projects into 2D cutting programs. While SolidWorks may not have all the capabilities of some of the other programs on the list, it can quickly convert 3D models into linear shapes. Use it to create architectural-type products and product designs – SolidWorks is free.
From these five free and four paid options, choose the software that’s right for your laser cutting machine. Like any CNC machine, it requires some training, but with the best laser engraving software on hand, you’ll soon learn the ins and outs of raster and vector graphics and create laser engravings.