Laser cutting is a finicky business. Though slicing materials through the use of a concentrated beam of light may sounds simple, guiding the laser in a controlled manner requires serious software guidance.
For laser cutting projects, you need to work with vector files. These define lines, points, curves, and shapes for the laser cutter to follow. The right laser cutting software makes all the difference between wrestling your idea from your machine and working with it to create something harmonious.
That’s where this list of laser cutting software comes in. We’ve chosen six of our favorite tools that help with design, machine communication, or both.
LaserWeb is a free, open-source laser cutting tool in its fourth iteration. Its GitHub page describes it as an application for generating code from laser cutting-compatible files for lasers and CNC mills. Basically, LaserWeb translates your vector file to your laser cutter.
To help with this vital step in the process, LaserWeb controls your laser cutter based on your design file. It’s an especially useful software tool because its newest versions let you import multiple files, including ones that use different formats, into a single project. That makes it great for collaboration. Plus, it’s got a job cost estimator based on your project, which is a handy feature for laser cutting software, whether you’re an amateur trying to make your hobby budget work or a professional needing accurate invoices.
LaserWeb’s community is full of users with modifications, tips, and additions to the open-source code. This means you can pick and choose niche extras that wouldn’t be available with other laser cutting software.
If SolidWorks is your BFF for 3D modeling, check out Dassault Systèmes’ laser cutting 2D software DraftSight. It’s got all the same attention to detail but turned towards 2D drafting of vector drawings, which is exactly what you need to cut with lasers.
DraftSight is a design software that’s best at helping you perfect the image you want to upload to your laser cutter. Its newest iteration contains the image trace function, which turns a BMP, JPEG, or PNG image into vector lines, curves, and angles, making it that much easier for you to cut a pattern that already exists without having to go back to the drawing board.
DraftSight 2019 also contains a “hairline” option for line width within the print options of your design. This is especially useful for laser cutters because it’s set for the exact size of a single pass of the laser. Wider lines are rasterized by the laser printer, which means they’re composed of a series of pixel-like laser burns. That makes for a less-precise cut and blurrier lines around the final project’s edges. DraftSight 2019 lets you avoid that like a boss.
Inkscape is pitched as a free, open-source alternative to Adobe Illustrator. That’s great enough as it is, but Inkscape is also constantly evolving and improving as a laser cutting software.
Its real claim to fame for a laser cutting software is that uses scalable vector graphics as its native format. SVG is a royalty-free graphics formatting markup language, which means you can harness the use of its commands to create your designs without having to pay anyone. It’s a great boost for those who are just starting out with laser cutting software and the process in general.
You can also use Inkscape across OS platforms. It works with equal ease for Windows, Mac, and Linux users, so whatever your preference, you’re covered.
If you’re looking to maximize your materials, ProNest is the best laser cutting software for you.
In laser cutting, nesting means fitting your design pieces together as close as possible on the sheet of material you are going to cut. This helps you minimize waste, cost, and the time it takes to reset your laser cutter for another sheet.
ProNest makes this easy with several key features as a laser cutting software. First, you have your choice of manually nesting your design, or letting ProNest do it automatically as you work. ProNet makes automatic adjustments as you tweak your design, and it gives you detailed reports so you can adjust your future processes as you see fit.
It also supports other cutting processes like plasma, oxyfuel, and waterjet, so if you’re looking to expand beyond laser cutting but want to keep the same productivity, ProNest works.
Adobe Illustrator is the gold standard against which all other design software is measured.
One feature that makes Adobe Illustrator shine as a laser cutting software is its Artboards setup. This is where you lay out your designs on one screen to see how they’ll fit onto your sheets of material. Illustrator lets you set up as many Artboards as you need within one view, so you can keep the big picture in mind while you’re setting up your design.
Adobe Illustrator’s universal use among graphic artists and designers also gives you an advantage when you use it for laser cutting software. If you’ve never dealt with laser cutting design before but know your way around Illustrator, all you need to learn is a couple best practices and standards to adjust your design for optimum laser cutting. You’ll have a new skill to brag about in no time.
Coming from a line of specialized drafting programs, TurboCAD is loaded with features that make laser cutting easy. It’s designed to mimic AutoCAD, but it’s not just a cheaper clone.
TurboCAD’s Overkill tool removes overlapping arcs and lines within a design, which cleans up a vector drawing for laser cutting. It also takes out redundancies and keeps track of what you changed with its event viewer.
You can take advantage of TurboCAD’s PDF Insert/Underlay tool, as well. If you’ve got a design you’d like to copy, save it as a vector PDF file and trace over it within a new TurboCAD project. You don’t even have to worry about keeping your mouse hand steady – the midpoints and endpoints of lines will immediately snap to match the PDF.
(Lead image source: All PC World)
License: The text of "2020 Best Laser Cutting Software (Some Are Free)" by All3DP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.