Quick: What’s the Best Free CSoftware out there? What’s the minimum cnc software a beginner needs?
We can help! Here’s your guide to the best free CNC software that’s out there. Some of it is ours, some is from 3rd parties.
Table of Contents
- Is “Free” the Right Choice
- CNCCookbook Free CNC Software
- More Free CNC Software
- Almost Free CNC Software
- Free CNC Software FAQ
What Software Do Beginners Need?
Here’s the lowdown for anyone who is a CNC Beginner. There are many kinds of software for cnc, but the minimum software you will need includes:
- CNC Control Software. This is the software that actually runs your CNC Machine. If you bought a machine assembled or as a kit, it may very well come with CNC Controller software. If not, the CNC Controller software we list below is excellent, especially for CNC Routers.
- CAD Software. CAD Software is what you’ll use to create drawings or 3D models of the parts you want to make. Plenty of good choices down below.
- CAM Programs. After creating a drawing or 3D Model, the next step in the CNC workflow is to use the CAD software file to generate g-code using CAM Software. BTW, if you want to learn more about g codes, check out our free course.
- Feeds and Speeds Calculator: CNC’ers tell us that Feeds and Speeds is one of the hardest parts of CNC to learn. We can make it simple using our G-Wizard Feeds and Speeds Calculator and cut out a big piece of your learning curve.
The Control Software is self-explanatory, but the other three programs are what’s needed to produce the g-code files that control your CNC Machine’s motions. For more on how these various packages work, check our CNC Router Software article. It’s a good introduction.
Is “Free” The Right Choice?
This may seem an odd way to get started, but I need to ask the question in all seriousness. You may have heard the expression, “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.”
You’ll be spending more hours in front of your CAD and CAM Software than you will in front of your CNC Machine, so choose it carefully.
Sometimes free is totally awesome and there are no strings attached. Other times free makes us choose vastly inferior solutions. We spend so much time fighting with the free software that in the end, had we spent just a little bit on paid software, we might have come out a lot better. And sometimes free has sneaky hidden costs.
Remember these packages take time to learn. Your time investment learning the software is lost if you make a bad choice and wind up switching packages.
For those reasons, we include a section of “Almost Free” software that we think might be better than the free software. At least check out these packages so you’ll know for yourself.
Keep all that in mind as you check out our choices for the best Free CNC Software you can find. And keep in mind risk versus return. CNC Hobbyists aren’t risking a lot except their time. Small business users are risking their income and perhaps even their business if they make a wrong choice.
CNCCookbook Free CNC Software
We always provide a free trial for our software. In addition, when we’re introducing new products, we release them for free while in Beta test and don’t charge until we finish the software. Typically you use it for many months if not a year or two when that happens. We don’t believe in shipping software until it is great. In addition to all that, some of our software is filled with a ton of free features even if you never subscribe.
So check out our free stuff!
Do you want to be a better CNC’er in 37 Seconds?
Get Better Tool Life, Surface Finish, and Material Removal Rates Fast.
It’s that easy. You can install and get results now.
We do a terrible job advertising it, but most of G-Wizard Calculator is free. Seriously. You sign up for the free trial, and when that ends, even if you don’t purchase, most of the tabs will go right on working for you. There’s a giant treasure trove of useful calculators, utilities, and reference information there including:
- Fancy scientific calculator with automatic unit conversions and much more.
- The ultimate productivity hack for busy people–the same ToDo list with Pomodoro timer system I use myself to get all this crazy stuff done for CNCCookbook.
- Geometry and Trig Calculators for Right Triangles, Oblique Triangles, Bolt Circles, Dovetails, Tapers, Chamfers, Drilling, Chords, True Position, Points, Turner’s Cubes
- Fits and Tolerances for ISO 286, ANSI B4.2, and DIN 7172
- Thread Database with all the dimensions, tapping drills, and more
- Drill Chart
- Fastener Database with dimensions for Socket Head and Flat Head Cap Screws
- Weights and Volumes for standard metal structural shapes as well as standard lumber sizes. It even handles exotic materials like Tungsten.
- Thermal Expansi0n Calculator
- Electrical Ohms Law Calculator
- Resistor Color Codes
- CNC Servo and Stepper Motor Sizing Calculators
- G- and M-Code Quick Reference
- Hardness Quick Reference with Rockwell (A, B, C, D, 15H, 30H, 45N), Brinell (Std, Hultgren, Tungsten), Vickers, and Shore scales
- Rigidity Calculator to help figure your tool rigidity
- Chatter Calculator to figure the right spindle speed to stop chatter
- Geometric, Dimensioning, and Tolerancing Quick Reference
Phew! I can hardly keep up with all of it myself. I know there a lifetime subscribers who are still delighted at the new things they discover. And we just keep adding more all the time!
I thought I’d make a quick video showing how it all works:
All of this will save you time digging through machinery’s handbook or trying to Google for it. It’s all stuff that I use constantly and you will love having it at your fingertips. So what are you waiting for–give the G-Wizard free Trial a try:
Something else to know is that G-Wizard Calculator has special features not just for CNC Mills and CNC Lathes, but also for CNC Routers. If you have a CNC Router, you’ll love the following:
- Support for hundreds of wood species and plastics. These are the materials most CNC Routers cut the most often, and many other Feeds and Speeds Calculators don’t cover them at all.
- Tool Deflection and Machine Rigidity Calculations take into account the special needs of CNC Routers.
- Our exclusive Vacuum Pop-Off Calculator will limit cutting forces on small parts so they stay down on your vacuum table.
- And much more…
BTW, you have the choice of buying the software outright (lifetime subscription) or subscribing. Now I hear all the time from hobbyists who don’t think they can afford G-Wizard. First thing is that one year is cheap–not much more than a single cutter costs. But okay, let’s suppose you still think that’s too expensive. The thing is, at the end of that 1 year,Feeds and Speeds keep right on working too.
What’s the catch?
The catch is that once the subscription expires, there’s a spindle power limit equal to 2 horsepower for each year you subscribe. This is perfect for a hobbyist. A small CNC Router may not be able to use more than a 2 horsepower cut–tiny machines just aren’t rigid enough. That means a lifetime of Feeds and Speeds, limited to 2 HP, for just the cost of 1 year of subscription. It’s perfect for the hobbyist trying to save.
It gets better too. The 3 year subscription has a 5 Horsepower limit when the subscription expires. Now come on, hobbyists. 5 HP for life? If you have a bigger machine than that you don’t need free.
And, if you ever get a more powerful machine, just re-subscribe to unlock the limit. No muss, no fuss.
I want a FREE Feeds and Speeds Calculator
OK, I hear you. At least try the G-Wizard free trial because you’ll get top drawer feeds and speeds free for 30-days. When that’s done, if you’re still looking for free, we’ve got your back:
Free G-Code Editor? Free G-Code Simulator? Free Conversational CNC?
Everybody who tries G-Wizard Editor loves it because it’s the first G-Code software whose focus is on simplifying g-code, and it’s also the first to build in Conversational CNC. With conversational CNC, you can work without using CAD. Just answer a few simple questions and GW Editor will write the g-code for you. It’s for all those jobs you were thinking would be faster on a manual machine, and it’s a totally free additional module you get with G-Wizard Editor.
As far as simplifying g-code, GW Editor is the shizzle for that too. It tells you what each line of g-code does in Simple English in a little hint window. Seriously! Tons of schools are using it because it works to help students understand g codes faster. Take the free 30-day trial and see for yourself.
Free DXF Files
Download our free DXF files and be cutting cool patterns on your CNC Laser, Router, Waterjet, or other machine before you know it. Artwork is a pain to draw yourself, so start out with something that’s already done and save time.
More Free CNC Software
Best Free CAD Software
CAD Software (Computer Aided Design) is used to create drawings or 3D models of the parts you’ll be making. There is CAD Software for CNC and CAD Software for other purposes like architecture. You want the CAD Software for drawing a CNC design. Avoid the temptation to choose drawing programs like Adobe Illustrator or Inkscape. You want a CAD program, not a drawing program.
In addition to finding the package that has a user interface that is the most intuitive to you, there are some other things to be on the lookout for:
- File Types: You want a program that can handle dxf files and stl files. DXF is a 2D file format that’s great for cutting outlines. CNC Routers and Plasma Cutters will thrive on it. STL is a 3D file type. There are more modern file formats–those two are pretty generic. But they’re what you’ll see most often in this class of software.
- Personal Use: A lot of the free packages are only free for personal use. They’re not suitable for businesses.
- CNC Routers need more artistic features as you’ll be making signs and other decorative items for the most part. Milling Machine users need more functions aimed at precision. That probably means more functions in general–think something like Fusion 360 instead of the simpler programs when choosing your best cnc software.
- A lot of free software is Cloud Based. There are pros and cons to it, but I wouldn’t shy away just because the software is cloud based.
Which one of these packages is your pick for the Best Free CAD Software out there? Click here if you want help choosing CAD Software.
|Carbide Create||CAD CAM||https://carbide3d.com/carbidecreate/|
|eCabinet: CAD for custom cabinet makers||CAD||http://www.ecabinetsystems.com/|
|Fusion 360||CAD + CAM||https://www.autodesk.com/products/fusion-360/students-teachers-educators|
|Solid Edge Free 2D Drafting||CAD||https://www.plm.automation.siemens.com/plmapp/education/solid-edge/en_us/free-software/free-2d-cad|
My favorites on that list are Carbide Create, because it is simple and clean, and Fusion 360, because it is powerful and cheap. Our CNC With Jaime video course for CNC Beginners will start out using Carbide Create.
Free CAM Software
CAM Software takes a CAD drawing from your CAD software and converts it to g-code files that your CNC machine can run. Free cam software won’t have as many kinds of tool paths or other advanced features as paid, but it should be enough to do most simpler jobs. In some cases, like Fusion 360, it can do quite sophisticated jobs too.
Note that some software does both the CAD and CAM functions. It’s typically called “CAD CAM Software”. It can be advantageous to combine the functions to create a more consistent user interface. The very simplest CAM programs only do 2D work. That’s fine for something like a plasma cutter and even for many cnc router jobs. But someday, you may want 3D tool path capabilities.
I need to burst another bubble here. Many beginners want to skip CAD altogether and convert images to g-code. Some CAM programs can do an image trace, but you’re going to find this is very restrictive and you’ll outgrow it in a hurry. Sorry, but you’re better off learning CAD from the get go.
Click here if you want help choosing CAM Software.
|Free Mill: 3D Milling from the makers of Visual Mill||CAM||http://www.mecsoft.com/freemill.shtml|
|Fusion 360||CAD + CAM||https://www.autodesk.com/products/fusion-360/students-teachers-educators|
|Carbide Create||CAD + CAM||https://carbide3d.com/carbidecreate/|
The best free CAM software programs are again Carbide Create and Fusion 360.
Free CNC Control Software
Control Software is what takes the g-code and converts it to control signals to operate the motors and other components of your CNC Machine. Think of it as the CNC Machine’s “Brain”.
There are only 3 good choices for free Control Software to use with your CNC Machine:
|GRBL||Free CNC Control Software. Can run on a Raspberry Pi.||https://github.com/gnea/grbl|
|LinuxCNC / EMC2||Free CNC Control Software||https://www.linuxcnc.org/|
|PlanetCNC Software||Software is free, but you have to buy their controller hardware, so is it really free?||https://planet-cnc.com/software/|
Try to avoid software that relies too heavily on parallel ports. Fewer and fewer PC’s are available with a parallel port these days.
Free Laser Cutter Software
Note: I’m not delving into this space yet. Laser Cutters are specialized beasts and I want to wait until I have more experience with them and their software before commenting.
Free 3D Printing Software
Note: I’m not delving into this space yet. It’s once again specialized.
Other Free CNC Software
|GCode Ripper||Wrap GCode for 4th Axis or do Engraving on Irregular Surfaces after Probing||See article link|
|Jedicut||CNC Foam Cutting||http://www.aeropassion.net/index-en.php|
|Ace Converter||DXF to G-Code||http://www.dakeng.com/ace.html|
|2linc Engraving Software: Light Version||Engraving Software||http://www.2linc.com/cnc_programming_software.htm|
|PCB-GCODE||G-Code for Eagle PCB||https://groups.yahoo.com/group/pcb-gcode/|
|Auto-trace||Image or bitmap to g-code||http://autotrace.sourceforge.net/|
|Image to G-Code||Image or bitmap to g-code||http://www.imagetogcode.com/|
|Scan2CNC||Image or bitmap to g-code||http://www.gravomaster.com/Tristan_Dean/scan2cnc.html|
Almost Free CNC Software
As I said way up above, you’ll spend more hours in front of your CAD and CAM Software than you will in front of your CNC machine. It might just be worth your time, considering how many hours you’ll spend, to investigate inexpensive CNC Software that may actually be much more productive than free software. It’s hard to underestimate how much having the right CAD and CAM software can improve your CNC satisfaction and success!
Here are some packages I recommend you evaluate because they offer more than most of the free software but they’re not that expensive:
MeshCam: The world’s easiest CAM Software
When beginners first hear about CAM Software, they assume it is almost completely automatic:
- Load a CAD model into it.
- Push a Button.
- Output g-code that’s ready to cut.
Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth for most CAM programs. You’ll spend hours showing it exactly how to machine your part, almost as if it doesn’t really understand much about machining.
I dubbed MeshCam the world’s easiest CAM Software after trying it the first time. It literally comes closest to that 3-step ideal beginners expect than any of the other CAM programs I’ve tried. Will it be the last CAM you ever need?
No, you will eventually outgrow it. But you can go very far indeed before doing so. If you just want to get making parts FAST, MeshCam will greatly accelerate your progress compared to something like Fusion 360.
More good news (and a full disclosure): I liked the software so much when I came across it that I begged GRZSoftware to let me resell it. So now you can buy directly from CNCCookbook:
Fusion 360, Paid Edition
Fusion 360 can be had for free, but if you plan to make money with it, you’ll eventually have to pay. It has a STEEP learning curve up front, but I want you to know it can carry you for the long haul because it’s CAD and CAM Programs are full-featured. I just want you to consider that it might be worth getting one of the cheaper paid subscriptions up front.
Having wiped out a lot of competition with their initial Free market entry, Autodesk are now engaged in ratcheting up pricing to make actual money for shareholders. It’s an old and somewhat nasty game competitors play, but it is here to stay.
The free version of F360 does some pretty annoying things, like not supporting tool changing and not running rapids for fast moves. These are artificial limitations that make your CNC work slower and more inconvenient. Even the cheapest paid version eliminates these speed blocks.
Rhino3D: My favorite CAD Software
Everyone is different when it comes to which CAD or CAM will be easiest and most intuitive for them. That’s why I encourage you to try 3, and try them seriously. They’re all very hard to learn so it takes time to try 3. But it will be worth it.
My favorite is Rhino3D. I found out through spending time with a lot of packages, that Rhino3D makes me more productive than the other packages. I can bang out CAD models much faster with it, even compared to much more expensive software like Solidworks. I’d encourage you to give it a try.
G-Wizard Calculator: “Lite” Versions
In addition to CAD and CAM, you are going to need help with Feeds and Speeds. CNC’ers tell us it is one of the HARDEST things to master:
I respectively recommend our G-Wizard Calculator to cover that base and make feeds and speeds easy. After all, you have so much to learn about CNC, why not knock out your hardest obstacle up front?
And here’s the best part–it’s CHEAP!
Get the 1 year version of G-Wizard. It costs little more than a nice end mill.
When the 1 year is over, G-Wizard will become G-Wizard Lite. The ONLY thing that changes is it will have a 2 Horsepower limit on calculations. Most hobbyist CNC Machines are less than that anyway! What a smokin’ deal.
Free CNC Software FAQ
What is CNC Software?
CNC Software is the Digital Tooling used to create programs for CNC Machines. There are many kinds, but CAD and CAM are the most common.
What is the minimum CNC Software for a Beginner?
A beginning CNC’er needs to learn to use CAD Software for creating designs, CAM Software to convert the designs to g-code, and Feeds and Speeds Software to determine the proper cutting feeds and speeds for their CAM software to use.
What is the most popular CAD Software for CNC?
Fusion 360 followed by Solidworks are the most popular CAD Software packages among CNC’ers according to CNCCookbook’s CAD Survey. Fusion 360 is free for non-business users and some small business users.
What is the most popular CAM Software?
Fusion 360 is the most popular CAM Software followed by Vectric/Aspire and Mastercam according to CNCCookbook’s CAM Survey. Fusion 360 is free for non-business users and some small business users.