I’m wondering which program tends to give better results for 3D toolpaths specifically. I played around a bit with Vectric Aspire, and while I can see it being useful for some things, I don’t think it’s ideal for fully 3D projects. I’ve played around with Fusion’s CAM features, but I’m a bit overwhelmed by all the options, and I don’t know how to see a preview of what the stock will look like at each step like you can with Aspire (I think it’s impossible with the free version but if someone knows otherwise, I’d love some guidance!). I haven’t touched MeshCAM yet, and I’m not sure it’s worth spending the time to learn. I’m sure it wouldn’t take me long, but I’m thinking my time would be better spent delving into Fusion.
Anyone have experiences with these programs they could share?
I have used Fusion (a bit) and Vectric VCarve Desktop, as well as Carbide Create (free, plus a year or so with the pro version).
Fusion–Free, but you have to work for it in more ways than one. First, finding the link the to free version and getting to the point of downloading it is a challenge. After that, you can’t just “figure it out” with Fusion 360. You will have to watch a video to learn how to pretty much everything, from creating a new project to making a simple shape. That said, I’ve been able to manage some reasonable minor designs… but if I am away from Fusion for more than a few weeks, I have to learn it all over again.
Vectric: More intuitive and also dedicated software package for hobbyist CNC. It has some neat tricks up its sleeve, but it does cost actual money. The good news here is that you can get on the Vectric train at a lower level and upgrade to more capable versions of VCarve by simply paying the difference, more or less.
Haven’t used Meshcam, others will weigh in.
Carbide Create, even the free version, can handle some mildly complex designs if you put your mind to it.
If you are not going to do the 3D modelling yourself, but just want to generate the 3D CAM toolpaths for a 3D model you have, the learning cost for Fusion360 is probably not worth it. Aspire is mainly aimed at folks who do a lot of 3D carving, so if you can spare the cost it’s an excellent option I suppose. From an STL model you can also use MeshCam or even Carbide Create Pro (with the use of some tools to convert from STL to grayscale heighmaps) to generate toolpaths.
There are no restrictions in the free version in this regard, you can simulate either an individual toolpath or any set of successive toolpaths, and you go forward/backward at any point of the simulation (=preview) to see what the piece will look like at that stage. Actually, I would argue that Fusion360 has the most advanced preview engine out there. Since it knows about the 3D model, the stock (and optionnally the fixtures), and the tools geometry, it renders in different colors the parts corresponding to the model, the remaining stock around it, and points of the toolpaths where there is a risk of collision of the tool. Very handy.
(F360 and former Meshcam user here) Ultimately it depends what ‘better’ 3D toolpaths means.
MeshCam is great for doing raster-like 3D operations and its strength is its simplicity.
F360 gives you the ability to control your destiny much more. Want to choose a specific type of toolpath to optimize surface finish? F360. Want to machine an extra 0.003” off one part of your model at CAM time but not others? F360. Want to guide your toolpath around some particularly high protrusion in your part that the spindle would hit? F360. Want to define your stock as a partially machined STL model so on multiple operations it doesn’t try to machine air for an hour? F360
If you are going to be doing alot of 3D models that are 3D and not necessarily 2.5D and want the ultimate control F360 is the path to take and worth the time investment. If the goal is to take simple 3D models and do the minimum amount of fussing about to CAM Meshcam is the way to go.
I will be doing the modelling myself, actually, either with Fusion or with Blender, depending on whether I’m doing a more geometric or more organic design. But the modelling side of things isn’t going to be an issue for me, it’s the CAM side that I’m new to.
Apparently I need to play around with it more to figure out how that works. It’s great to know that it’s possible, though. I don’t want to be machining a bunch of air all the time, and I definitely don’t want to be surprised by toolpath issues I could have seen on the computer. Thanks
Yeah, that’s what I figured. Thanks for confirming. I don’t mind fussing if it gets me the results I want.