A Computer Numerical Control (CNC) software enables to create programs to run a machine tool. Each part of the machine requires its own CNC program. The primary CNC programming language is G-Code. Alternate to G-Code, there are Heidenhain and Mazak also in use.
G- Code is programmed in such a way that it controls the movement of a machine by adjusting the position of x, y, and z-axis. It is capable of controlling the speed of rotation and rate of the movement.
In CNC machining, the commonly used file formats are STEP and IGES. These formats can be used across platforms.
From design to manufacturing stage, a CNC machine uses three different kinds of softwares namely, CAD, CAM and CNC controller software. You first need a design in a vector file, unless you already have G-Code. This design is converted to G-Code using CAM program.
G- Code is used to communicate with the CNC machines and enables the machine to move in the desired pattern.
Since we know that a lot of our readers are newbies who are looking for the woodworking tools and recommendations.
We have curated the article from our own experience and research which will enable you to find the software for CNC machine but also multiple different options which are both paid and free.
Table of Contents
Step 1: Create a vector file (DXF) using a Computer-Aided Design (CAD) software.
To get started with the design stage, you require a vector file(A vector file has coordinates for the tools to move in different axis). You can create designs and vectors using CAD software where CAD stands for Computer Aided Design.
The most common vector file format is DXF. This is the file extension for a graphic image and enables data interoperability between CAD and other programs. You can open DXF files in Mac and Windows OS.
Top free Drawing Exchange Format (DXF) file sites are
In this site new designs are released every week. Each design are 100% cut-ready for any CNC purposes.
2. Love SVG
This offers free SVG and DXF designs. There are more than 600 designs available on this site for download. The zip folder of the designs can be downloaded in PNG, SVG, DXF and EPS formats.
This site provides pre-made designs. Not all the designs on this site are free. Some are paid for the use.
4. Sign Torch
This offers many DXF design collections. You can download in CMX, DXF, EPS, SVG, and AI formats.
This site is for DXF clipart files. You can download and share as many DXF files as you can.
You can create a wide range of designs in CAD software. Alternatively, you can use Scan2CAD to accurately convert raster design to vector and vector to a different vector.
This software uses object recognition technology to convert some parts of the image into CAD designs. It also uses optical character recognition to convert the text into images into vector formats.
This step applies to the systems with no G-Code. There are many CAD software available in the market. You need to carefully choose appropriate software matching your requirement.
CAD software that support CNC Machining
Rhino3d is mainly used to create and edit surfaces, meshes, curves, and solids. Freeform 3D modelling tools are also available in this software. This is a commercial computer graphics and CAD software.
AutoCAD is the most popular CAD software for 2D and 3D drawings. This software is widely used in civil, mechanical and architectural fields. There are about 31 versions released over 34 years. This is released as a desktop app running on microcomputers.
Solidworks is a 3D modeling software. This is a parametric modeler. It can generate 2D drawings along with modeling. This is the first significant 3D modeler released. It can be used for advanced 3D modeling and auto-generated 2D drawings. There are about 27 versions released so far. This software is widely used across various industries such as construction, aerospace, product design and many more.
4. Fusion 360
This is cloud-based software that combines mechanical as well as industrial designs. This is mainly used to design furniture. This has the most powerful modeling tools from basic sketching to fully customized model.
Sketchlist3D is furniture design software that enables you to simplify the time consuming, massive and repetitive design tasks. This software can easily manipulate 3D objects on the screen. It is fast, easy and very flexible to use
Fusion 360 followed by SolidWorks are the most popular CAD software packages. The Fusion 360 has a utility software tool available along with the package which enables you to do everything in one place. It can run on Windows, Mac OS and in browsers.
This is a next-generation tool with multiple capabilities such as create designs, manage data, collaborate, run the simulation, and validate designs and many more.The next popular CAD software, SolidWorks runs on Microsoft Windows and it is very productive 3D software. It has integrated analytical and design automation tools.
It helps to simulate the physical behaviours that suit all types of designs. It is one of the most widely used CAD software.
Free CAD software
NanoCAD is low-cost CAD software for dwg files, 2D and 3D cad designs. This can create a new design and work on the existing designs to enhance its features. Some of the major features of this software are optimization, drawing preview file system, anti-aliasing, improved file control, contextual menu and more.
2. Wings 3D
Wings 3D is an easy and most powerful advanced subdivision modeler. It is commonly referred to as Wings. The main use of Wings 3D is for low to mid-range polygon models
DraftSight is an excellent provider for 2D and 3D CAD solutions for architects, engineers and construction services. It also caters to the requirements of professional CAD users and designers.
QCAD is a software application is used for 2D design and drafting. It is supported by Linux, Unix, Microsoft Windows, and Mac OS platforms. The GUI is based on the Qt Framework. This software is released on General Public Licence.
5. Draft IT
Draft IT is a 2D CAD software suitable for all users catering to the office and home requirements. You can create, print and save your drawings.
6. Sketch Up
Sketch Up is a 3D modeling computer program used for a wide range of applications such as architectural, mechanical engineering, landscape, civil engineering, film and video game designs. It is a simple software yet robust to use. It is available as a web-based application. This is also one of the woodworking software and is often used by woodworkers who are looking for a free furniture design software.
OnShape software system is available and delivered over the Internet via a Service model. It uses cloud computing extensively. Each upgrade of this software is released directly to the web interface. It allows the users to collaborate on a single shared design.
FreeCAD is a general-purpose parametric 3D CAD modeler. It is a building information modeling software that supports a finite element method. This software can use Python programming language. This is mainly intended for mechanical engineering use.
TinkerCAD is an online 3D modeling program that runs in a web browser. This has a simple interface and ease of use. This is a popular software for creating models for 3D printing and constructive solid geometry
These free CAD software are much simpler and easier to use. It not only provides 2D drawing but also helps to create 3D models.
If you do not want to create a design by yourself, you can try ready to cut DXF designs as an alternate option. These are easily available in the market. The top free DXF websites are My DXF, Scan2CAD, Vector Ink, Ponoko, SignTorch, Free DXF, etc.
The main limitation of this freeware is its finite source collections.
The Scan2CAD has more to add compared to other options on the list. This is a great source for CAD, CAM, and CNC. It can give you ready-made CNC designs. Scan2CAD gives you flexible licensing and 24/7 support.
It provides many options in CNC Export functions such as Z settings, Scale settings, Arc and circle rotation, and G-Code Bezier options.
Bonus: GrabCAD has an interesting feature called Workbench that allows user to collaborate on a CAD design with others. It is a platform where people from all walks of designing like woodworkers, architects and professional designers can work together and download a ton of different CAD files. Acquired by Stsratasys, they now have two products: GrabCAD Workbench and GrabCAD Print
Step 2: Convert the vector file to G-Code using Computer-Aided Manufacturing (CAM) software.
From CAD program, the vector file is converted to G -Code. This is the language used in CNC machining. This process is done with the help of CAM software which stands for Computer-Aided Manufacturing. CAM software can generate G- Code from a CAD design or an image. This software uses the models and assemblies created in CAD software to generate toolpaths that drive machine tools to turn designs into physical parts.
It can eradicate the gap between design and manufacturing by the appropriate realization of drawings, designs, and models and provide the anticipated output. Eventually, this expands the scope of production and manufacturing.Some CAM programs can directly edit the CAD file and generate corresponding G-Codes using CAD Editing Programs. There are G-Code editing programs that can be used to convert G Code to Conversation CNC or to simulate the G -Code itself.G-Code is one of the most popular and widely used programming languages. A G-Code is used to instruct and control automated tools. This also provides the direction in which the machine should move.
It directs the machine on the speed and depth of the movement. There are many types of G -Code files, the most popular G-code file types are .CNC,.NC and.TAP.For simple requirements such as circles and lines, you can easily create G-Code manually. But it is even easier to produce the same with the help of CAM software. In the latest CNC Machining system, the 2D drawings are no longer required for manufactures a machine. The current machining systems can directly interpret the part geometry from 3D CAD files. Let’s have a look at the CAM softwares. Once a CAD model is imported into CAM, the software starts making the model for machining.
Paid CAM softwares
MeshCAM works on every 3D CAD program. The supported file formats are STL and DXF. This is the fastest software to generate code.
MasterCAM for Solidworks is the most popular CAM program. It supports any CAD file formats and provides 3D live wireframe modeling. This software is the oldest and the first one to introduce the use of mechanist and engineers, you can use it for 5 axis machining. MasterCAM for solidworks is one of the first software that integrated a CAD program with CAM software and so if you are looking for a CAD CAM software, go for MasterCAM.
Free CAM Softwares
FreeMILL is a milling module for mills and routers. It allows full simulation of the part models. There is no time limit, code limit or trial limit for this software. It helps to create toolpaths.
G-Simple is a simple CAN package is for 3-axis machining. It applies various filters for managing library tools, removes excess materials, drill adjustments and text engraving.
PyCAM generates toolpath for 3 axis machining. It supports STL, DXF or SVG files. This supports many toolpath strategies for 3D and 2D models. It runs on Linux
Scan2CAD converts raster designs to vector file format in a few seconds. The raster and vector editing suites can be used to create the optimal vector image for any CNC design. It supports 33 file types and comes with batch processing. Scan2CAD is one of the most popular CAM softwares.
Step 3: Use CNC software to process the G-Code to run the machine in the desired manner.
The G-Code from CAM software is processed by CNC software. The main task of CNC software is now to input G-Code and deliver the right electrical outputs to make the CNC router work. There are two types of CNC control software. One control software built into your machine and other is PC-based software.If you are using a CNC machine such as HAAS Vertical Machining, you would require a complete solution complete hardware and software solution that is built into the machine. In this, you can transfer G-code directly to the machine.
Top PC-based Controller Softwares
1. The Mach
1. The Mach
The Mach series works on most Windows PCs. The latest version is Mach4. This is customizable. This can control up to 6 axes of a Machine. This software is very inherent and customizable. Mach3 is one of the most well known and widely used CNC machine controllers.
LinuxCNC is completely open-source. This software runs on Linux. This can control up to 9 axis. This supports rigid tapping and cutter compensation. This helps in numerical control of machines.
TurboCNC can control up to 8 axes of motion, and it provides fully parametric programming. This is fully functional shareware.
Universal Gcode Sender is widely used software used to convert arcs to line segments. This is a fully-featured G-Code platform runs by JAVA. This has configurable G-Code optimization, duration estimates, support cross-platform, 3D G-Code visualizer and many more to add.
Other CNC control software includes:
Caliper2PC is a digital readout for milling machines, lathes, and other tooling machines. This is a very adaptable and user- friendly software
2. Baldor HPGL
Baldor HPGL offers a free HPGL plotter CNC with 2.5 axis of control.
CNCZeus is the advanced low-cost machine control software. Perfect for large professional machines. Its features include cutter composition, digitizing probe, optimized assembly language and more
CNC for Woodworking
Woodworking is the most widely used application of a CNC router since it offers a lot of benefits and flexibility when working with wood than with any other material. Newbies or hobby woodworkers often start work with single CNC routers to create DIY stuff and projects.
For such users, we have reviewed the woodworking software since there are a lot of things to consider when getting your first woodworking design software that will allow the functioning of tools and elements that you want.
3 woodworking software for your cnc router:
- Sketchup pro 2019
- Autocad Architectural Desktop
What is G-code and M-Code?
Both G-code and M-code carry different information. A G-Code (Geometry) is related to the placement of the hardware relative to the workpiece like cutting tasks and determining units. M-code (Miscellaneous) is about different functions and configurations like the On/off commands, speed, tool changes and coolant.
Is CNC Machining hard to learn?
A CNC machining is not hard to learn. Though if you new to CNC routers/machines then you can find it slightly difficult to get accustomed to the number of different functions in the NC machines. But once you get the hook of it, everything will be easy with time. It’s just like learning a new piece of art.
The major benefits of using CNC machines in each industry are:
- Better machining accuracy
- Enables to perform complex tasks easily
- Provides flexibility
- Maintenance cost is very less unless you do heavy tasks
- It retains its design and the labor is less.
- Reduces the time to perform a job drastically.
- They could run for the entire day.
- No possibility of human error and manual intervention.
By using a CNC machine software, you can take complete control of all the processes involved in the manufacturing and monitor end to end process. The production process of a CNC router reduces the number of steps required to make a part.
The entire fabrication process is automated and by choosing the right CNC software at each step, you improve the efficiency.
The same components can be reproduced and replicated as many times as required without compromising the quality. A single person can supervise multiple CNC routers with ease if he gets accustomed with the cnc software.
There is no need to make a prototype model. You can directly simulate the requirements in the software.
There are a few limitations associated with CNC. Based on the age and sophistication, CNC machines have limited capabilities in control and drive systems.
Most CNC control softwares only interpret straight line movements and circular arcs. In many cases, the arcs are restricted to the principal XYZ planes.
The demand for the CNC router with immense capabilities is still on the rise. Though it has many limitations, its advantages outnumber them. Hence, CNC is here to stay long and enhance its capabilities now and then.