Best/Most versatile software options

I’m new to the shop and am excited to get elbow deep into all the things! I like building and repairing however my CAD skills are from way back in high school, and I never got into image/vector manipulation.

I’m looking for the best-fit solution for software such that I can ideally design in one suite and export to the CNC routers, Tormach, and the small and large lasers, with as little effort as possible. From what I’ve gathered, it seems like designing in something like FreeCAD and exporting as SVG’s would be a good approach. The benefit of that from my perspective would be that I could spend time and take a class learning one design software in depth, then convert it to whatever each tool natively prefers.

Does anyone have any recommendations? Are there better software suites that aren’t going to break the bank? Do I just need to learn a bunch of different software?

Thanks so much for the help!

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I’m going to let others answer your question, but wanted to say welcome!

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You best most free option would be Fusion 360. It’s actually really good and becoming some sort of an industry standard.

The best least free is SolidWorks. It is the industry standard.

Additionally, for the Tormach/Other CNC stuffs, you’ll be generating GCode, which comes from your CAM tooling. Fusion 360 does both CAD and CAM. So does SolidWorks, but again it’s expensive.

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Take a look at this thread for some answers on the CNC side.

My general recommendation is Fusion 360 for a powerful and general 3D modeling/CNC software. We have paid Fusion licenses on our community computers in Textiles and on the CNC computer.

However, it would be a pain to use on the lasers. Vector based software is going to be your best bet there. Adobe Illustrator, Inkscape, Corel Draw, etc. I don’t have any strong opinions there since I don’t do much with vectors, but we do have all three installed on our computers.


Fusion is doable for laser cutting, you can save any sketch in a fusion file as a DXF which go straight to lightburn. So the workflow to laser cut any face of your 3D model is start sketch on face > project outer and inner curves > export sketch as dxf. In SOLIDWORKS this is even easier, you can save any face in the model as a DXF without even needing a sketch.

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Fusion 360. You can make drawings to build an entire house or manufacture a spaceship with it.

You can do a lot of it without paying a dime either.

It has a steep learning curve but once you grasp the fundamentals you also learn new stuff that unlocks things exponentially

I spent a while on sketchup which is good for what the name implies, quick sketches. But when you start really want to dig into iterative design on a concept sketchup becomes silly and cumbersome and that’s where fusion shines


Fusion is gonna give you the most longevity and capability

If you’re just looking to make 2d tool paths with vectors, illustrator is your friend. You can export svgs from fusion however only with a paid version, and you can do so a hell of a lot faster in illustrator

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I was posing a similar question a few months ago. I really wanted a one stop shop for software, rather than multiple separate programs. Matt has already pointed you to that thread. There is a larger learning curve with Fusion, but in the end you can then directly export into all the other different applications if you need to for some reason. I just spent the time learning Fusion, and I’ve been pretty happy so far with projects since I can design it, then break the different parts of that design out with either directly generating the Gcode for the CnC or by exporting a DXF for Lightburn (the only other app I have to use).