What software do I start learning first? Or?

So a a couple of years ago I got a cheap used 3d printer. It was painful but I learned a ton. Mostly what I learned was I don’t know much about electronics or cad or any of that stuff. Then I run into the MPCNC. I had to have one! so I started building an AM8 to print the parts. But I became impatient so I purchased the MPCNC printed parts and built the frame and then it sat as life got in the way. But hey it’s cool, it’s time and I really want to get this working!. My boys want to see this working and they are super interested.

My goal is to do a lazer engraver cutter (We want to make some game boards). First I will do the pen thing and get the machine and software working. I plan on purchasing the electronics bundle in the next month or so but…

#1 What do I learn first?

#2 Which software should get/buy and start learning?

I’m confused on

#3 which ones I need, which ones work best together?

The 3d printing makes sense to me in that I have a cad that I import into a slicer program, that I then set my print parameters that I then send to the printer and then in time my “idea” comes out of the nozzle and ta-da! there it is.

I do understand that the cnc world is all g-code and Marlin (which I do not know how to do! (so does that mean I’m done for?) but there are conversion programs right? And I’m sure those will have to be manipulated like the slicer programs in order to get the carve or burn or drawing smooth and correct, right?

can you tell I’m a bit lost?

I’ve just downloaded Inkscape, I’ve played with Fusion (really terrible and slow at it!) I just want to do some flat stuff.

I have looked at Lightburn, VCarve stuff at open builds… Mach3?

#4 Will cnc plasma stuff work I see lots of info out there on that. Seems like it works well together…

#5 Where do I begin?


Thanks a bunch!

There are a few separate pieces.


Things like inkscape is great for art, or dimensioned art, signs, etc. It is a free and open source competitor to adobe illustrator. You can also find way to use the “trace bitmap” function to convert image files into svg.

CAD programs like onshape, openscad, or fusion 360 will work great for functional parts. You can design in 3D and export the dxf files. If you’re doing 3D carvings, you can export the stls too.

The CAM step is like a slicer, but not automated. It will bring in the design files (svg, dxf, stl) and let you choose toolpaths. This will tell the machine what order, depth, speed, etc. to use when cutting.

Estlcam is the easiest and costs $50 if you don’t want the nag box. Fusion 360 has built in CAM, but it isn’t intuitive. FreeCAD also works and is free and open source. I haven’t used it.

Then to run the program you either need a connected computer with repetier-host, cnc.js, or pronterface. You can copy the gcode fike to an SD card if you have an LCD. Or you can attach a pi with octoprint or cnc.js installed.

You can do the whole thing for free. There are a lot of dedicated people working on these tools and if you’d like to pay for them, you can. But it’s not necessary.


Thank You for the info brake down, that little bit helps me to understand the path the process takes.

Free is great of course, but is there any thoughts the pay to play systems working together better or being less buggy?

Or are the open source programs better due to the number of users “cleaning” and “improving” the system?

anyone use the free 2D CAD software? It looks “simple”


Thanks for all opinions and suggestions!

No. Not IMO. Expensive software has just as many bugs, if not more. Once you get a ton of engineers as users, open source kicks ass. These are good software projects. It’s not the shareware BS from the 90s.


I cut my vector teeth on Inkscape. It works very well for 2D work and is almost all you would need for making laser stuff. I have a 40 watt dedicated laser and it plays great with the svg vector files I make. Inkscape prepared me in some ways for CNC work because you can always turn the vectors into 2.5 D tool paths in a CAM program like Estlcam. With Inkscape. You can engrave the filled vectors or depending on your laser software export as a bitmap for the engraving part.

My first in depth use of a 3D design program was Sketchup. It worked very well for me to model my pizza oven when I was building it to get a sense of scale and dimensions. At the time I didn’t really have a need to turn the 3D models into reality and it really excels in making larger construction things.

I tried Fusion 360 several times and just couldn’t get past the hump. Part of it was the overhead of an installed program and me jumping between linux and windows machines and home and the office. So I tried Onshape and stuck with it to make some simple shelf brackets that I could cut with the laser. There is a slicer app called KiriMoto that takes the model and slices it into perfect SVGs for lasering.

Then I got a 3D printer and knew I would need to get serious about designing stuff if I wanted to progress beyond dinosaur heads and calibration cubes. I really have gotten efficient with OnShape. It seems a bit more 3D printer friendly in the workflow. I am at the point that I can design pretty much anything I need. the idea of having your files public is a drawback and the whole commercial use thing hampers me, but since I don’t sell stuff I make with it, I’m ok. I have used it to generate some tool paths for the MPCNC but it’s quite challenging to use KiriMoto for that. The CAM package for Onshape isn’t free like Fusion’s is.

So far Inkscape and EstlCAM work fine for me. I haven’t pushed it yet to more complicated parts like Ryan’s design for the sides of the LCD screen but I one of these days I’ll work up an STL on Onshape and see what I can do with it.

I like to think of these things as technological literacy. Reading is a fundamental skill that allows you to do so much. Learning the basics of mathematical operations allows you to do so much. Learning a 2D design program like Inkscape and a 3D design program like Fusion 360 are just fundamental tools to allow you to be technologically adept. You really need programs like these to take advantage of computer aided manufacturing, whether it is 3D printing or CNC work with any kind of tool on the head.

Best thing is there are so many good how tos out there, both in video and in script form to help you through it. Good luck and if you have any questions about Inkscape, I’ll assist.

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Logos by Nick on YouTube are a great place to learn inkscape. His videos aren’t cnc related but you can pick through them and get the basics of how to use Inkscape. I found it best to have Inkscspe open and pause the video to follow along in Inkscape.

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