Best 3d Modeling software for SO3 && 3D printing

I’m just starting to tinker with my SO3 XXL, and have read any number of good posts here which look at the best 3D modeling packages to upgrade to from CC and CM.

I haven’t dug too far into them, and want to avoid having to learn multiple packages. I would very much like to hear from anyone who does both CnC on the SO3 as well as 3D printing and whether there is a decent modeling front end for both - I’m happy to learn a slicer program too, and could probably deal with another piece of software to drive the CnC, but after 25 years in the tech industry and learning more software packages and languages than anyone should have to, I really want to give my brain an easier time with this particular learning curve.

Ohhh, and I also have a JTech laser too, which I want to use for cutting inlays more than I expect to use it for lithography or engraving… although if anyone can comment on that part too, I’d be stoked!

I’m loving my SO3 experience so far, and just want to get on and put it to use! Thanks in advance for any info :slight_smile:

  • I run Windows 10
  • I have a shapeoko 3 XXL
  • JTech 4.2MW
  • no 3D printer currently, but considering Ender 3 Pro / Ender 5, or Prusa, Teva, or similar
  • working offline a plus as my next workspace may not have internet
  • I’m guessing a more engineering-oriented solution is going to be more useful to me as I’m more likely to be making parts and components than free sculpting the next modern art marvel
  • I’m less keen to get started with a free trial as my free time to play with this is sporadic and I could easily slip outside the
  • I’d like to go with one of the more common options for the likely high-availability of free training videos and tutorials

Candidates so far:

Vcarve family +Penalty free upgrade path +works offline
Fusion 360 ++suitable for both CnC and printing -cloudbased
OnShape: ++Free to hobbyists -cloud based

Any others people think are as well suited to both 3DP and CnC? Thx!

For mechanical engineering the usual suspects are:

  • Designspark Mechanical — my understanding is that this is a re-branded commercial applications which is used to sell electronics components
  • Solvespace — this is a free/opensource application which I think is quite promising
  • OpenSCAD — free/opensource programmatic modeling — if you’re able to do basic scripting and programming this can be quite useful

For a commercial program, one which you haven’t mentioned / considered which I think would be worthwhile, even though it has a focus on free-form modeling is Moment of Inspiration — it was designed for use with a graphics tablet, and that may help quite a bit with using it.

One further consideration here is whether or no the application you select supports a 3D mouse — if it does, getting one should be a priority — my son found using one made Solidworks far more approachable. If you’re a U.S. or Canadian veteran or interested in experimental aircraft you can get it on an annual license basis quite inexpensively (if the educational license works for your needs).

Slicers for 3D printing are quite mature now and for the most part work well, it’s just a matter of calibrating the printer to match — wrote up a fair bit on them at:

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I have a SO3 XXL, and a 3D printer, I use both Vectric Aspire and Fusion 360 and this is my take on it:

Vectric Aspire/Vcarve - in my opinion the best software for routers if you’re making signs, doing nested work like furniture, sheetwork or multiples of something. Also really good for making ‘quick’ jobs easy, has a lot of great tracing tools so you can turn pictures or photos into geometry, Very easy to get great results Vcarving, and creates very efficient toolpaths in my experience. Would not offer you any useful functionality for 3d printing at all.

Fusion360 - less focused on sign making and V-carving, though is is possible. more of a full-featured CAD/CAM suite, steeper learning curve than Vcarve, free if you’re making under $100k, I use it for both router and 3d printer jobs. Great for more ‘mechanical’ or practical jobs, rather than artistic. I believe you can 3D print straight from it but I export STL’s and use simplify3d with great results.

If I were you: download and learn Fusion360, it’s free and incredibly powerful. Download the demo of Vcarve and spend some time with it before buying, it really comes down to the jobs you plan to do. I find I will change software depending on the type of job, each has its strengths.


Hi Will, thanks for taking the time to reply!

When I say engineering oriented approach, I’m VASTLY over-rating my knowledge and experience, but it was more of a comment about it being for making things with specific dimensions so Stuart’s descriptor of “mechanical” works well. The 3D mouse sounds interesting, and I will bear in mind for a little further down the road.

Thanks for the links to your slicer research, I will definitely give that a look once I start 3D printing!

Hi Stuart - thanks for also taking the time to reply.

Your adivce about different tools for different jobs sounds about right. I think I will follow your advice and start with Fusion 360 as I think I’m likely to find that useful for 3D printing further down the line. Once I have an idea as to the ‘scope of the sandbox’, I will then have a better handle on what I do and don’t need to be able to do and will then get a better idea as to how Vcarve may help me.

I do both 3D printing as well as CNC. My take is that they are VERY similar, yet COMPLETELY different. I had done a fair amount of 3D printing before moving to CNC (I did a lot of 3D printing on a more industrial level at work before they were cheap and everyone had one in their living room). Really the only place they’re the same is dealing with an axis system X/Y/Z. Work holding is a whole “hobby” of its own in CNC, which doesn’t really exist in 3D printing (unless you count painters tape and hairspray as work holding). I use two (almost) totally different software packages for each. For CNC I use Vectric VCarve Desktop, sometimes Carbide Create, and less times I import STL files from my CAD software (I use Catia because that’s what I use at work). For 3D printing I use Catia pretty much 99% of the time or downloaded STL files from the web. For a slicer I use Simplify3D, which in my opinion is the best slicer around (We use that at my work as well on our large format 3D printer). I have tried Fusion360 and found it slow, unintuitive and bloated, but I seem to be in the minority since many folks really like it. I love the comparison between a Swiss Army knife and a machete, one does a whole bunch of stuff “ok” and one does just one thing REALLY well. I tend to take that approach in my making of things, I want the machete every time. The great news is that if you can get your head around 3D printing (or CNC), learning the other isn’t a tough leap, just different. It’s like driving a car versus riding a motorcycle.


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I agree that Catia is better software for 3d printing, modelling and designing. - I use solidworks 2019 with HSMworks Ultimate

I also agree that Vcarve desktop/Pro is better software for the shapeoko (better than anything else in my opinion) - I use Aspire 9.5

I think Fusion 360 is a good lead into the ‘real’ cad/cam software, it taught me a lot and made the transition to solidworks quite painless.

My thought was that most people who buy a $2000 CNC router and a $1000 3d printer don’t have the money, or don’t want to spend $10,000 on software that realistically will get them the same result.

Fusion is a little cumbersome and has some quirks, but you only know that because you’re used to industrial standard software… F360 is free and there are a lot of tutorials out there to get people up and running.

As i mentioned above, F360 and Vcarve would make an excellent pairing on a Shapeoko 3 and 3d printer, and I use simplify3d too, the difference in results was astounding

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Yep, sorry, I wasn’t suggesting anyone go out and purchase a seat of Catia as a hobbyist, money better spent on a car. I wouldn’t use it if I didn’t use it at work and get formal training every few years…but there’s no denying it’s pretty awesome, haha!!! I didn’t give F360 much of a chance in all honesty, but I didn’t really need to. On my XXL I mainly do flat work and V carving, I use VCarve for that, it’s my machete. Catia wouldn’t be well suited for that though, at least not the modules I use, VCarve is just silly simple and fast for those sorts of things, but worthless for 3D printing.


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Haha I priced catia after reading your post… It’s not cheap! I had a play with it around 2017, and thought it was quite good, but as you said, only an option if you have access to it.

The vectric software is definitely the machete, easy to learn, and easy to get quality, efficient results with. It’s my go-to software, I run it on the machine that drives my Shapeoko, so easy to just knock up a 5 minute design that you know will work

I actually rate fusion 360 very highly, it’s aimed at the hobbiest with its free option, but it offers full 3d CAD, CAM, simulation, animation, rendering, drawings… It’s a pretty good package considering its free, and it’s constantly being updated. The cam package is effectively hsmworks and very powerful. I do prefer solidworks/hsmworks but as with catia that’s out of the price range of the average Shapeoko owner

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You know what would be fantastic is if the Simplify3D folks put out a CAM package to work with STLs and such geared towards CNC. It seems like I’ve read somewhere that it was considered at one time, but could be rumor? We even use it at work on our large format machine and the guys in the shop love it, it just works, features are being added all the time, and it’s only $150. I have also used Matter Control, I even have one of the first Matter Control tablets, and it’s good…but Simplify3D is the machete for sure. You can just let it run, or tweak each tiny drizzle of filament that leaves the extruder. If someone wants a good slicer and they don’t mind paying a few $$$’s then I always recommend S3D.


Hi Dan

Thanks for outlining your experience. I’ve now watched a few Fusion 360 videos, and it seems pretty intuitive to me, so I’m thinking there may not be too much of a learning curve to it as I initially thought. It might end up being a good yardstick - once I have an idea as to how to do things with that, then I will be able to see for myself what I find more/less intuitive and quicker/easier.

The fact that Vectric’s software comes up so frequently means that I imagine I will probably end up there - especially for the ability to trace vector and possibly bitmap graphics templates.

As Stuart mentions below, given that I’m not going to be making any money off this, I don’t see a benefit to paying for software currently, unless it’s essential, or saves me a shed-load of time. Once I start playing with 3D printing, I will reassess.

Thanks again for taking the time to reply to a repetitive question asked by yet another newbie! :smiley:

The problem is, CNC CAM is a much more difficult problem than 3D printing (not to trivialize 3D printing or Simplify 3D, which by most accounts is a very nice software package, worth the price premium over the free options).

You could argue that MeshCAM is what you’re describing — it’s certainly at this time the easiest way to take an STL and make a 3D G-Code file.

thanks everyone for all of this (I can only tag two usernames as a new forum member :roll_eyes:)

I will definitely take a look at S3D as well as MeshCAM, but I’m going to start with F360 and get myself an understanding of the landscape, and see what I actually need it to do for me, and then work out where to go from there. Actualy creating a few models first might not be a bad idea before I nail my proverbial colors to the CAD/CAM mast :slight_smile:


Sounds like you’re not rushing into an expensive decision :+1:

Your best friend here will be Youtube, searching for “Fusion360 Tutorial” will get you started, but a few good guys to follow are Lars Christensen and NYC CNC they have tutorials ranging from opening the software from the first time, to advanced surfacing and CAM.

I’m keen to try Meshcam, I have heard good things about it. though between Solidworks, Fusion360, Carbide Create, Simplify3D, Sketchup and Inkscape I think I have enough to focus on :stuck_out_tongue:

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@stutaylo Yes!!! Lars’ multi-part intro to F3D for absolute beginners was what I watched - great to pick up basics like keyboard shortcuts (I started with DOS 3.3 when IBM was THE hardware powerhouse!) and also an idea of how to build up a model!

As for having enough on your plate… yes, I know exactly what you mean. I think I will probably do F3D and Inkscape first so that I can get the laser and basic CnC going, and then investigate MeshCAM once I have a better handle on things. I will probably S3D and anything else until later in the year.

I’m about to set up the JTECH laser and am hoping I don’t burn a hole in the table during testing :joy: Still, nothing ventured, nothing gained

Yeah I quite like the way Lars does his videos. I use HSMworks which is quite similar to Fusion

I have a few upgrades I want to do in the next few months and a laser is one of them, please share your experiences in the forum!

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:flushed: Errrr, okay, I will let you know what I turn up. Progress might be a little slow, though it’ll probably be a pretty basic view of how to do some basic ply cutting of inlays for box tops. Hopefully some time early in March

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