Featured image of CNC Router Software – Find the Tool for You

CNC Router Software – Find the Tool for You

Brian Obudho
Sep 5, 2019

CNC control software is the last thing standing between you and your machined part. Explore this brief guide to the best CNC router software available right now.

Table of Contents

CNC Router Software The Glamorless, Crucial Component

Image of: The Glamorless, Crucial Component
Acorn USB machine control device. (Source: Centroid CNC Technical Support / YouTube)

If you want your CNC router to run on your computer, there are three parts to your toolchain: computer-aided design software (CAD), computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) software, and a machine controller package.

The part in question will be drawn or designed in CAD software (like AutoCAD), the CAM program will then convert the CAD drawing into G-code, and finally, the G-code will determine the actual movements of the router as it makes the part.

If you happen to be using a commercial CNC machine, the controller will be built into the machine, and you only have to directly transfer the G-code. In the meantime, such is not always the case with hobby CNC machines, which have an external controller. This external controller could be, for example, a personal computer connected to the CNC router.

In this article, we focus on this standalone CNC control software, which is used to create tool paths for CNC machines – determining its movement – by sending real-time commands. Typically, the CNC control tool runs on an off-the-shelf PC that is normally interfaced to the machine.

CNC control software essentially turns your computer into a machine controller, but picking the best software can be a tricky affair because there are several things to consider:

  • What type of CNC router are you using?
  • How much are you willing to spend?
  • Are you a hobbyist or an industrial user?
  • What hardware are you using?

These are some of the most critical questions you need to ask yourself because no one wants a buggy and non-intuitive software.

Thankfully, we’ve navigated the choppy waters of CNC router control software to bring you five tools that are sure to impress. They’ve been picked based on their popularity, reliability, and ease of access. Under each tool, you will find the main features that make it unique.


CNC Router Software Mach3

Image of: 1. Mach3
Mach3 CNC controller software. (Source: themakersguide.com)

Cost: $175

Operating system: Windows

Mach3 is super rich in features and provides value to hobbyists needing a CNC control package. It is arguably the most intuitive CNC control software out there that is customizable and can be used for many applications with several hardware types.

In addition to its main features, other aspects worthy of note include its touchscreen, video display of the machine, manual pulse generation, full-screen eligibility, multiple relay control, and spindle control.

ArtSoft has been continuously improving the Mach series with the latest version being the Mach4.

Main Features:

  • Very versatile functions
  • Allows direct import of HPGL, JPG, BMP, and DXF files through LazyCam
  • Visual G-code display
  • Customizable interface
  • Customizable macros and M-codes using VBscript

CNC Router Software Mach4

Image of: 2. Mach4
Mach4 CNC controller. (Source: themakersguide.com)

Cost: $200 (Hobby); $1,400 (Industrial)

Operating system: Windows

Mach4 is the newest edition in the Mach series, written from the ground up to be flexible, expandable, and super responsive. It’s the best pick when you need industrial style methods and controls, with a modular architecture that allows for faster development to expand its feature set.

The modular design allows features to be added or subtracted without affecting the system operation. The result is a customized software package, making it more adaptable to different machines, applications, and uses.

Main Features:

  • Ability to control or track CNC equipment remotely
  • Ability to change display, indicators, and buttons quickly
  • Improved screen layout and customizable screen modification tool
  • Linking information between other computer applications
  • Ability to pan, rotate, view, and scale the tool path quickly
  • More accurate tool path compensation
  • Core responsible for all motion control calculations (improved backlash control, up to 100x faster machine action response from a button click, and a higher quality manual pulse generator)
  • Multi-axis work shifts and head shifts

Mach4 Industrial is for the manufacturing environment, where every second counts, while the Mach4 Hobby is for those interested in using CNC machines for personal use.


CNC Router Software LinuxCNC

Image of: 3. LinuxCNC
LinuxCNC user interface. (Source: BrendaEM / YouTube)

Cost: Free

Operating System: Linux

Without a doubt, LinuxCNC is a worthy opponent to the Mach series. It’s a popular choice among most CNC hobbyists mainly because it’s free and completely open-source.

LinuxCNC uses a Linux kernel with real-time extensions (RTLinux or RTAI) and has the capability of controlling up to nine axes or joints of a machine. The software can also handle peripheral machine elements like tool-change procedures, cooling, and tool length measurement.

Main Features:

  • Full source code available under the terms of the GNU GPLv2
  • Easy to configure
  • Multiple preconfigured GUI templates
  • Simple installation
  • Very active user community
  • Compatible with several popular machine control hardware interfaces
  • Supports cutter compensation, rigid tapping, and other advanced control features

CNC Router Software PlanetCNC

Image of: 4. PlanetCNC
Migrating to planet CNC TNG controller from USB CNC controller. (Source: SpindleTV / YouTube)

Cost: Free (with controllers that have a valid license)

Operating system: Windows 7, 8, 8.1, 10, Linux, Raspberry Pi

PlanetCNC is designed with flexibility in mind, especially for the coordinated movement of servo or stepper motors. The tool is user-friendly and will allow newbies to employ advanced functions with ease.

PlanetCNC has useful G-code manipulation (edited, scaled, mirrored, rotated, shifted, copy-pasted, bookmarked) and transformation functions. Its configuration options allow users maximum integration, flexibility, and customization, and the simulation features are designed for fast verification of NC programs.

Main Features:

  • Fully-configurable tool change procedure
  • Supports simulation, spindle synchronization, measuring, probing, and canned cycles
  • Standard RS274/NGC G-code with extensions to achieve full LinuxCNC G-code compatibility
  • Supports user-defined M-codes
  • Can additionally import Gerber, PLT/HPGL, DXF, NC Drill files

CNC Router Software Universal G-Code Sender

Image of: 5. Universal G-Code Sender
UGS – Universal G-code Sender. (Source: 3dmaker.systems)

Cost: Free

Operating system: Linux, Windows, OS X, Raspberry Pi

Universal G-code Sender (UGS) is free and available on GitHub, and this has made it a favorite pick by many CNC hobbyists. UGS comes with configurable G-code optimization that allows a user to remove whitespace, convert arcs, remove comments, and more.

UGS is a Java-based software that enables you to run CNC controllers like TinyG and GRBL with the assistance of a PC. The advantage of Java is that it makes it possible for UGS to run on other platforms like Linux, OS X, and Raspberry Pi.

UGS is what you want when you’re looking for an efficient and simplistic utility to help you control TinyG and GRBL CNC machines accurately.

Main Features:

  • Configurable G-code optimization
  • 3D G-code visualizer that has color-coded line segments and real-time tool position feedback
  • Executable all-in-one JAR files, requiring zero installation
  • Runs on multiple operating systems
  • A simplistic user interface that makes your workflow straightforward. The main window will display all the necessary information about the connection and the state of the machine
  • More than 3,000 lines of unit test code plus another 1,000 lines of documentation

CNC Router Software TurboCNC

Image of: 6. TurboCNC
The TurboCNC interface. (Source: bbs.homeshopmachinist.net)

Cost: $60

Operating system: DOS

TurboCNC, by Dak Engineering, runs under DOS. And for only a small fee of only $60, you get access to the source code and free support – that’s right: fully-functional shareware. This robust CNC interpreter is compatible with machines with up to eight axes of motion and has a configurable I/O for reversible speed control spindles.

Main Features:

  • Canonical RS-274D G-code
  • Built-in code editor
  • Fully configurable step/direction
  • Unlimited file sizes
  • Eight axes simultaneous motion with backlash compensation
  • Fully parametric programming with subroutines, variables, and expressions
  • Helical, circular, and linear interpolation using IJ or R notation
  • Multi-axis threading capability
  • 60 tool offsets

Feature image source: fuse33.com

License: The text of "CNC Router Software – Find the Tool for You" by All3DP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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