Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Best Free CAD Software for Laser Cutting & 3D modelling 2020

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we first talk about the criteria that are important for us when it comes to a CAD software and then talk about some of the software solutions we are using and their advantages and challenges of using CAD software . At the end we will talk about what software we use for 3D printing & laser cutting.

CAD software for Laser cutting

Now let’s get started and look at the software that we are using and solutions that we are using less or not at all.


INKSCAPE : Best Free CAD Software for Laser cutting 2020

For 2d work we create nearly all projects in the free and open source software Inkscape. It is similar to Illustrator so you can draw simple shapes but also get very artistic and design organic shapes – such as the patterns for the living cell table design. Besides templates Inkscape can also produce shapes for a a laser-cutter or a CNC machine and it even includes a simple CAM solution that can create G-code. Inkscape is our go-to, five start rated solution for everything in two dimensions. The only disadvantage of Inkscape is that is not parametric and not able to easily produce measured drawings.

If measured 2d-drawings and parametric design are important for you you might want to look at LibreCAD. It’s a great open source 2d CAD program. However, when a project requires a parametric 2d shape you can create it also in a 3d CAD program. Therefore, we use LibreCAD very seldomly and excluded it from the list.


BLENDER - Best Free CAD Software for Laser cutting 2020

The next software on our list is Blender. Blender is a super powerful 3D modelling and animation open source software. You can create entire short films in Blender and we use Blender to edit our videos. Blender is a perfect solution if you want to sculpt a model or if you want to modify a file before 3D printing it. While it is excellent for creative modelling Blender is not parametric and while you can use it out of the box for traditional CAD work it is a bit cumbersome. It also doesn’t offer technical drawings but what you can do is to import your models from another CAD software and create a photorealistic rendering in Blender. While there are a few CAM addons for Blender none of them seems to be actively developed and maintained.


FreeCAD - Best Free CAD Software for Laser cutting 2020

have a look at FreeCAD. As Blender and Inkscape, FreeCAD is open source software. That means you can download and modify the source code of the software. Even if the website closes down you will always be able to use the software and adopt it to your needs. FreeCAD is still under heavy development but it comes with a fully parametric design system and is able to create G-code as well as technical drawings. It is not that great for multipart assemblies but looking at the prototype fora new assembly system this could change quickly. It might be more difficult to get used tothe software but for us the benefit of using an open source solution easily outweighs the more difficult learning curve.


OpenScad - Best Free CAD Software for Laser cutting 2020

The last tool on the list is a bit of a niche solution. With OpenScad you create your model with a simple programming language. The software is too complicated for multipart assemblies, doesn’t allow sculpting and it’s difficult to create a technical drawing. We mainly use it to create models that need complex parameters like these Voronoi vent covers and to create parametric models for Thing verse.

important criteria of using cad software when 3d modelling  

  • Is the software a 2d or a 3d system?

The first any maybe most important difference between CAD systems is if you are looking for a 2d model that could serve as a template to transfer to your material or that would enable you to create shapes for a laser cutter or a vinyl plotter – so everything where we have no thickness but only 2 dimensions. If 2 dimensions are not enough you are looking for a system that can model things in three dimensions so you can plan a woodworking projector create a shape for 3D printing.

  • Does the software support the design of single parts in a good way?

If you work with a 3D program some are better designing a single part. For CNC work or 3dprinting you will most of the time be focused on an individual part and have less of a focus on the connection between a lot of individual pieces.

  • Does the software support the design of multipart assemblies in a good way?

In woodworking most of the time you will work with projects that have a lot of parts. This table is a multi-part object as it consists of 4 legs and a tabletop. Overall, it contains several objects that are positioned relative to one another. We will see that some CAD systems are better or worse in the assembly of several parts.

  • Does the software offer parametric designs? commen image is use

An important question is if your software is able to create a parametric design. If you design a table in a non-parametric software and decrease the size of the table top you have to manually adjust the table legs. In a parametric software the position of the legs will automatically be adjusted as they reference the edge of the table rather than an absolute length.

  • Does the software support artistic sculpting? Image same or require diffrent

In the examples so far, we looked at shapes that are square and based on precisely measured objects. You want to have a look at a different kind of software if you plan to get creative and work with organic, sculpted shapes.

  • Does it output CAM? No require

After creating a model, we want to do something with it. If you designed something for the CNC you want to create G-code that the CNC can execute to cut out the shape you designed. This is called CAM. Some software solutions have a CAM integrated – others don’t.

  • Does it support drawings and cutlists?

For traditional furniture it is important to have a good drawing and ideally a cutlistthat helps you to cut everything to the right dimension.

  • Is the software free?

All the software I talk about in this Article don’t cost you any money. There is however an important difference. Some of the solutions are free to use as long as the vendor of the software thinks it’s more beneficial to hook a lot of new users to its solution rather than getting money from those that are already using it. This could however change every day. Other solutions are open source software where you do not only get a CAD system but also the source code – so to say the assembly instructions for the software and you will always be able to use it.

CAD software for Laser cutting

When we draw something, we usually use Inkscape. It’s easy to draw for example the shape of this Klingon push stick design. We also use Inkscape to send designs directly to the vinyl cutter. For the laser cutter we create SVG files as this tool holder in Inkscape and send the SVG files with K40Whisperer to the laser. When a lot of parts have to fit on a single sheet, we use the open source software to arrange the parts in a space saving way. When the measurements for a 2d design are complex as for this coin sorter we create the drawings in FreeCAD and export the DXF to K40Whisperer. When a 3D printed design such as this router jig needs to be configured with a lot of parameters, we create it in OpenScad to make it easier for people to configure their own version on Thing verse. When a 3d printing project doesn’t need to be configured online we use FreeCAD. There honestly wasn’t a project on our list that FreeCAD would not be able to handle when it comes to the design of 3D prints. For creating or modifying STLs from Thing inversion other sources Blender is the most convenient tool. It is easy to cut away part of the model, merge several models together or modify the mesh.

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