Looking for opinions on next options for software

Hoping to solicit some opinions on what software to jump to next. I got my Shapeoko about 6 months ago and I feel like I am rapidly outgrowing the Free Carbide Create and need to step up to something more powerful. What I cannot decide is do I just make the leap to Fusion 360 or stick with something specifically designed for CNC like VCarve?

I know Fusion is more powerful and can be used for lots of other things like woodworking plans, 3d printing, and a million other things so in my mind its where I think I should go but, I am wondering if it really is as good for use on the CNC as something specifically built with that in mind. Will I be spending a lot of time creating something in fusion that is a button press in VCarve? Is the fact that VCarve is really specifically for CNC mean its better at that one job or is Fusion just as well flushed out?

Thanks for any thoughts anyone might have. As of right now all I really know how to use is Carbide Create and Lightburn (and Visio) if that makes any difference.

Sorry, my opinions on hardware / software has been CENSORED! :smiley:

What sort of work do you wish to do?

How do you wish to approach it?

One way to extend Carbide Create is to use other programs as a front-end to make files for it:




Fusion 360 and Vectric Vcarve are two very different programs — the former is for 3D mechanical modeling, while the latter is a 2D drawing program which has the ability to make 2.5D toolpaths (much like Carbide Create), Vectric’s Aspire adds 3D modeling (as does Carbide Create Pro).

I use BlockSCAD/OpenSCAD a lot, and have been looking into RapCAD, but I’m lazy and inclined towards programmatic approaches.

Many folks use Inkscape or Serif’s Affinity Designer as a front-end for Carbide Create — my suggestion would be to start w/ one of those and see if it addresses the lacunae.

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As stated above there’s lots of programs I am using carbide create pro which has some limitations that you have to work around. But you can get your feet wet with a year subscription for Around 120 bucks

It’s a little more pricey but I am going to try Vetrics vcarve pro next

If you’re looking for more technical drawing fusion 360.

Just my thoughts have fun

@wboweiii My inputs on this: I use Vectric VCarve Pro and really like it. I also use the free version of Fusion 360 where I want the true 3D composition, and more progressive tool path options (such as Adaptive clearing). As I also have a rotary axis on my 3XL, I do at some point need to look at buying the base licence version of Fusion 360 to get rotary CAM capability… VCarve can do rotary, but there are a few limitations - I’ve managed to work around them to date, but I suspect F360 will be stronger. Vectric Aspire is too rich for my hobby interests, so doesn’t really get a look in.
It will all come down to what you want to do, and what sort of designer’s mind you have. For simple stuff, easy learning curve you might find CC/CC-Pro enough. In my experience you will quickly find its limitations and want the step up to Vectric, Fusion or similar if nothing else for the smarter drawing tools and tools library etc. Cost amongst all these options is not very different.
There are other options, OpenSCAD, CarveCo and others, but I suspect the learning curve is even higher. There is MeshCAM too, but it is out of the same stable as Carbide Create and doesn’t work the way I do.
I’m not rubbishing anything in what I say. It really will come down to your preferences… but you imply that early simplicity has given way to your now more advanced wants. My experience too.


I (still) use CC for moderately-challenging 2D cuts and CC Pro for 3D relief carving, Vectric VCarve Desktop for complex/long vcarve jobs, and Fusion for everything else especially when I need very advanced toolpath control

CC is unbeatable in terms of “time from idea to finished piece” for simple shapes/templates in e.g. wood. Fire up CC, draw the shape, click-click-click to create toolpaths with default feeds and speeds from the library, don’t tune anything, export and run the code, done.

Vectric VCarve really shines on complex v-carve jobs (well…it’s in the name, there is a reason for that), the second feature I use VCarve specifically for is its native handling of two-sided machining (very handy button to flip back and forth from front to bottom to have a fighting chance to not mess up the alignement/mirroring when doing the flip side :slight_smile: )

Fusion360 is a love-hate thing for me . Absolutely love the advanced features, and the very fluid modelling capabilities (ONCE you have spent a few tens of hours learning it…be ready for a STEEP learning curve). Absolutely hate the commercial model (free hobbyist license but at random times they release a new version to make your non-paying-hobbyist life harder and lead you to buy the paid version…which is only fair but still annoying). The other reason I’m still using Fusion360 a lot is that besides CNC I do a lot of 3D printing, and it’s fantastic to have a single modelling tool for objects that you can then either print OR mill (for 3D printing there’s a button that sends it automatically to your slicer, for CNC well it generates the Gcode)


I use CC for many projects. It’s simple and Quick.
I also have Vectric Desktop.

The only issue I have with Vectric Desktop is the size limitations of 24 x 24.
However, VD has a very nice Tiling tool. Simple to use.

If the project is within the size of my SOXL then I do all my design work in VD and export an SVG to CC.
16x31 approximately.

If the project is larger say 20 x 45 then I will tile it.

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Thanks for all the quick replies… I knew there was no simple answer to this one. I think it am going to sit through some basic Fusion for dummies type videos and see how I feel about it. Will also check out some of the other tools people have mentioned.

Does seem like from this thread and all the others floating around that Vectric is the right tool if I do decide not to go the Fusion route.

What are you planning on making?

I will throw my thoughts into the ring. I will suggest VCarve Pro. F360 is free to a hobbyist, so no downside on getting it too. But like others have said, a bit of a learning curve, and it depends on what you are throwing at your CNC. If you need to create ‘models’ of objects, F360 is the go to; personally I use SolidWorks which I have available at work, and have F360 for home use.
But back to VCP: it is very intuitive, especially in a 2D environment. I do placards with text and holes, cutouts in plexi windows, and aluminum plates with cutouts and text. VCP works great for this. Easy to draw in, with great layering tools, a tool library which you can customize and save to reuse, and the ability to create templates for operations; I have a template for a certain text operation (tool, depths, speeds) which I can import, assign to geometry and spit out g-code, and the post processors are great. Worth an investment I suggest, so give it a shot.


I took the plunge into Fusion 360 and haven’t looked back. I can’t say enough nice things about the program. I’ve been able to create pretty much whatever I’ve thought of. The sketching option is very well done. Converting it into 3D is intuitive and fast. The program separates Design from Manufacturing.

There are great online resources to learn the software. It’s relatively approaching for someone new, but has tons of powerful features as you get better at the program.

There are also numerous tool libraries to import all your end mills.

I’ve done both highly technical and organic designs using Fusion.

Throw in my 2 cents though with inflation it may be my $2.

At any rate, while I know there are a lot of what I could call “high end” wants, I have something the just kind of bugs me every time I start a new project.

Having to put in the “stock thickness” in the setting everytime when I use the same stock a lot of time for my projects maybe a way to “carry over” setting from the previous runs? Even maybe setting up the “t” in the depth setting for the toolpaths as a default.

If that is not possible maybe a way to set up an icon or selection somewhere that can be an “established settings” that can be called into the new program at the start of design.

Hope this make some sense. Just seems kind of redundant every time I go into another job to set up the “standard settings” for my shop normal jobs.

That said…I really LOVE the “t” function in the toolpath settings. What a great option. THANKS

Create a .c2d file with the desired settings, save it w/ a suitable name in a “Template” folder, make it read-only — open it when you wish to work w/ those settings and then re-save it under a different name.


You guys NEVER fail to provide. Figured there was probably an existing way and this is great. Thanks

Aspire was easy for me, Fusion 360 hurts my brain. I don’t know if it is compatible though.

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If you think you’re going to get into 3D printing/3D modeling I would go with Fusion 360 right off the bat. It doesn’t make sense to me to learn another program, and then learn Fusion when Fusion can do what other apps can do and so much more.

As others have said Fusion 360 is something you will have to learn about. I’m comfortable with many different creative programs and most software I can jump in and at least do something basic. I was not able to do that with Fusion 360.

Once you understand what I would call the design philosophy of Fusion I find it incredibly easy to use to create simple and complex designs. But until you learn that philosophy the program is not intuitive at all.


A few quick comments:
I use Inscape for design of most intricate 2d carvings such as making signs, cutting simple parts, etc., then import the SVGs into CC. Don’t care for the design functionality of CC, as I feel the various sketch/design operations are cumbersome and are not very accurate when precision is in order. But, the program does work very well as a SVG-conversion-to-Gcode interface, and for very simple, low intricacy things, CC works quite well also. I think it is great that Carbide provides the program for free and offers something that allows most new users to conquer what is, for most guys and gals, a learning curve to start with when getting into CNC, but, as the OP observed, most people will gravitate toward something with more capabilities as experience grows…

I’ve never used V-carve, but it strikes me (based on my limited research) as a pretty expensive v-carving program with enough capability to satisfy the weekend “makers” that produce art-and-craft items for sale. I know they offer several purchase options, depending on one’s need for complicated design, and the user interface does seem pretty user friendly.

I use Fusion for all my intricate designs and especially for any 3d stuff, and do not regret the time investment that went into learning (and continuing to learn) the program. As others attest, adapting to the program is a learning curve for one moving from a 2d world to 3d, but it is a very accurate design and modeling tool with parametric design capability and, though CAM can sometimes pose its own challenges, the toolpath generation features offer infinite capability and I have never had any trouble using Fusion-produced nc files with Carbide Motion and my Shapeoko. If one is moving toward 3d productions, Fusion is becoming a go-to program for a lot of folks and there are enough similarities with some of the other CAD/CAM commercial programs that it made sense to take the time to learn the program. Further, there is an infinite knowledge base on the web for learning Fusion, so while it is a learning curve, one can almost always find some Youtube content that will get one over the hump of a problem or teach the various techniques, from simple to advanced, necessary to master the software. Finally, the hobby version is still free, so there’s not the shock of purchasing something that one never knows how much it will be used. Like others, I’m sometimes frustrated with some of the curve balls that Autodesk throws at the free-version users to push them toward a purchased edition, but given the cost of Fusion or a similar CAD/CAM package, I just suck it up and learn to live with the occasional hurdles.

One interesting option, though with a fairly difficult learning curve, is Tikz which involves coding and is part of the LaTeX ecosystem. There are plenty of ready-to-use examples on he web and as usual in this situation one starts by didding the provided code. A free subscription to the online LaTeX service Overleaf should be sufficient and easier than installing LaTeX on your computer.

Another coding platform is Processing; I have very little experience with this.

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TikZ is very cool (and has a graphical interface in TikZedt) — I used METAPOST via lualatex in:

Processing is very cool, but when I tried to make SVGs using it, I found precision lacking — there should be a post about it on the Processing forums/bug reports. Nodebox had similar issues.

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