Software workflow that doesn't cost an arm and a leg?

Hey folks! I’m new to all of this but have great aspirations! I just got my Shapeoko 5 pro 4x4 with the VFD Spindle. While there is quite a bit that I can do with just CC and CM, we all know it’s limited. I would really like to be able to make guitars and basses with this machine.
I’m looking for a decent software workflow for doing this. Hopefully that doesn’t cost me as much in software as the machine itself! Any suggestions or advice would be great! Especially anyone also making instruments! my thanks in advance!

Search on the Vectric forum for “guitar”. There’s one particular guy from South America somewhere that makes some amazing guitars.

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What sort of work do you wish to do?

How do you wish to approach it?

Alibre Atom3D is probably the best value in terms of supported 3D CAD CAM.

For free there’s EstlCAM and an old version of CamBam.

Opensource options include FreeCAD, Blender w/ CADsketcher and BlenderCAM, Kiri:Moto, and Temujin, &c.


I’d go with Fusion360, There’s ton’s of videos on Youtube for instruction, and this channel in particular that focuses on guitars.
Currently 545 bucks a year, and they offer a 30 day free trial.

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I would second the recommendation of exploring Fusion 360.

As soon as you start getting into multiple jobs on the same object Fusion’s ability to define the stock zero point anywhere that you want, the incredible simulation cabilities including being able to model your fixturing and warn you of: any collisions between the tool and the fixtures, any time the tool rapids into your stock, any time the shaft of the tool rub the stock (because you’re cutting too deep), etc has saved me tons of mistakes.

The cost isn’t very high for what you get. There is a free version available (the hobbist edition) that you can use to try it out. The big limitations are that the hobbist version will not generate rapid moves and it will not combine multiple operations into a single job. There are supposed to be add-ins / scripts that hack around these limitations, but I personally find that I am getting the value I pay for (and then some) and therefore pay the subscription price.

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For less than the price of a cup of coffee a day,

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I am actually going to go against the grain on Fusion 360. I am not a big fan of their pricing and the changes they have made over the years. The licence is kind of restrictive… they have a hobby licence but… Once you make more than $1k a year you need a commercial license. That comes out to either $70/m, $575/y, $1635/3y. And those prices are subject to change. That puts the small business person in a weird price point. And then the is the cloud aspect of it…

Now options I have explored…

I Love carbide create for super simple things. I purchased the year pro license and love some things it does. I love the simplicity it provides but may not continue buying going on.

MOI3D, moment of inspiration, is a super cool cad program that focused a little less on being a CAD tool but on being an artist tool and this has it’s pros and cons. This is a solid cad option and you could easily draw simple to complex designs there. The price point is good… now… enter CAM. You are not going to want to import your generated STL into carbide create for tooling… I feel that it’s to clumsy and lacking features at this point… that might change with time but for now you need something like MeshCAM. Wonderful tool for a reasonable price.

Rhino3D this is an amazing tool with a price tag… I have used rhino off and on for a few decades… I love that it’s fully featured but as I said it’s going to cost a bit. We bought a licence for 6 when my wife was in school. I love grasshopper because it allows you to script out your parts and then change them on the fly. I am using the version 7 trial right now and subD is freaking amazing…

I am a software developer ;). And I love SAS/cloud products since that is an easy way to make money and get people hooked into a solution/workflow. As a consumer I hate SAS/Cloud… I would rather invest money once and have the option to use the software for years to come :). I am not scared to spend money but I want to focus that money in the right places. This reduces the chances of changing the workflow a while back.

End of the day… You need to go download some software and try it out. Find what works for you.


I 2nd Alibre Atom with MeshCAM.
It’s quite a powerful combo for CAD/CAM.

I have enjoyed learning to use it - though the learning curve definitely requires time & effort to figure out. My current hobby project has been an iteration of boomerangs trying to find the design that works well - really neat being able to make a shape that’s mostly curves & adjusting it bit by bit, machining it out & then comparing how it flies vs the previous iteration.
MeshCAM has the ability to set areas of the stock as No-Goes or limit the area you want it to generate toolpaths for. Recent version added a simplified 2-Sided machining work flow project setup. And MeshCAM can use complex router bits - such as taper ball mills - love those bits.
The best thing I like about the combo is that I don’t need a subscription or cloud account. My license is perpetual. If I want to upgrade to the latest version due to features I feel I would like to be able to use, then I can pay the maintenance fee for a year.
It’s really well worth looking at to assess for your design & machining needs.


I learned this after running my bit into an aluminum alignment peg :slight_smile: it’s not that the machine and but can’t handle aluminum ;). Just can’t do it at the feeds and speeds I was running. Very handy feature!

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Here is another similar thread you might want to take a look at that I posted last month. A few more options here that are not already listed. Looking for a little direction in software to make use of time off this week

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Comparing the base version of Alibre with the Pro version there seem to be a lot of useful features missing such as direct modeling, booleans and advanced 3D and sketching tools.

They done articulate what “advanced” means so hard to know what is in the base package. Based on your experience you have been happy though?

Price wise there doesn’t seem to be any reason to buy “workshop” vs the pieces individually. Wondering if buying individually gives greater flexibility later if you decide to get the upgraded MeshCAM package.

What you are looking for is a Unicorn. A mythical beast that does not exist. You get what you pay for. There are a lot of Fusion 360 users here on the forum. It is not intuitive to use for but if you are a trained engineer it might be easier. You can definitely learn Fusion 360 but it is a steep learning curve. The Vetric software is expensive but is designed to be used by woodworkers and not necessarily engineers. The Desktop version can be used for up to 24" x 24" and you have to go up to the Pro version to get the full capability of a SO5 4X4. The good thing about Vetric is if you by the desktop and want to upgrade to the Pro you only pay the difference and do not have to start over. You can go all the way up to Aspire which has fantastic features that most hobbyists do not need. There is Carveco which I have not heard much about here on the forum. It was designed for hobbyists but as all software it has a learning curve.

There are some free CAD programs but you get what you pay for.

The bottom line is I would continue to use Carbide Create until you out grow it. Then you can pick one of the commercial versions. Vetric would be a front runner if I were to move from CC. They have a robust community forum and is designed for wood carving.

The cloud based programs is all the industry wants to go to for a couple of reasons. It ties you to them and they can control your versioning and licensing. If you have good internet access that is all fine but they also want you to store your files with them… Most of them have an option to store locally but they make you hunt for it.

There is no free lunch. Even CC costs by buying a C3D machine. 3rd Party users can use v6 but v7 and above will have more advanced features leaving v6 users behind. C3D is not abandoning the v6 users but because there is no free lunch the v6 users will eventually fade away.

Making guitars is done by a lot of folks here on the forum with CC. So unless you have a business case to buy something else why not continue to cut them out with CC and CM. Both are supported and the forum is already ready to help.

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I had considered getting the Pro version of Alibre when I bought into it along with MeshCAM as a bundle during Black Friday or some such promo sale special, but decided for my needs it wasn’t worth the extra cost.
Before buying it, I used a trial version of Atom for a month to design a prototype object to learn it a bit & see if I liked the design workflow it’s based around. The Atom version certainly doesn’t have the full feature set of Pro, but you can still do a whole lot with it.
And what’s the point of extra features if you don’t use them? Sometimes having everything is more of a hindrance than a help. So far I’ve been pretty content with the Atom version & what it allows me to do now that I’ve learned how to go about using it.
Ultimately how well it works for you all depends on what you’re trying to design, your workflow/mindflow & how much you expect the software to do for you vs how much effort you have to make to get it to do what you want.

So all I can really say is that it’s worth checking out.
They’ve got options to trial the software or get a monthly subscription to use it for a short term. That’s what I did with CarveCo… And I quickly realized that I could not use it - just did not work with my mindflow.

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Good info.

And both Alibre and MeshCAM offer to upgrade to the higher levels by only paying the difference in cost similar to Vectric.

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+1 for fusion 360 paid licence. Its not perfect but in my opinion its the best feature set/price ratio.

From my very limited experience of Fusion 360 it seems to be the way to go - if you want to build a helicopter or suspension bridge! I just need to design things to cut on my cnc. I looked at Carveco, it seemed great but I didn’t want to pay monthly. I went with Vectric V-carve pro and haven’t looked back. A one off payment and should I wish to upgrade to Aspire in the future, I just pay the difference.

There are a lot of options out there, it depends on what you want to make.


I don’t see why you can’t make a guitar with PixelCNC!

On the CAM side of things, CamBam is not too expensive, it can import geometry from anything that can generate dxf or stl files.

Can these create c2d files or cut files? Sorry if im not asking the right question.

CAM software would create G-code to send to the machine (cut files).

Some CAD or 2D drawing software will create DXF or SVG files which can be imported into Carbide Create for CAM.

The big questions are:

  • What sort of work do you wish to do?
  • How do you wish to approach it?
  • What is your budget?
  • Do you find the rental payment system for software acceptable?