There are several software steps in using a CNC router, CAD, CAM
and CNC. CAD is where you "draw" the part you want to
route on your CNC router. CAM takes the CAD information and creates
a series of instruction the CNC software can understand, and the
CNC software converts the CAM code into motion.
Some software packages can do 2 or even all 3 of the above operations.
For CAD I use a package called Profiler. Profiler is a CAD, CAM
and CNC package, it can be used to draw the part, ready the file
and process the file on the CNC machine. However Profiler is no
longer supported as far as I can tell, I've tried to contact the
software authors with no luck.
Another good CAD package, again free, is A9Cad from A9Tech. A9Cad
is a Autocad like program and the standard version is a free download.
A neat CAM program to appear recently is CamBam. CamBan is a basic
CAD CAM package, wth some very cool features. It can perform a range
of router CAM functions, like pocketing or engraving, and has a
few neat functions like BMP to NC. Currently its free, and I hightly
The first program I used to drive my CNC table was KCam from Kellyware.
KCam is a easy to use CNC program, for stepper motors using the
parallel port, or more recently with a special interface board,
the serial port. KCam reads in your NC code, or it can inport a
DXF or other file formats and convert these to NC itself. KCam is
under constant development and its getting better all the time.
The new serial interface board is called Max Stepper, and gives
a big improvement in stepper performance. To get started I recommend
KCam as a good MS Windows based CNC software package. Its free to
download and works for 1 month, after which it goes into demo mode
with restriction on the size of NC files you can run. To unlock
the software just visit the Kellyware site and purchase a registration.
Mach2. I've never used Mach2, but from the reviews I've seen its
the most popular Windows based CNC software on the market for the
Recently I've started to use EMC2. EMC2 is a linux based CNC software
package, and its lightning fast! EMC2 runs on Unbuntu, a very user
friendly version of Linux. To get going, you can download a CD image
( yep its a big download at over 600kb ), and use this to install
Ubuntu and EMC2 on a reasonably fast computer. It needs a bit of
ram, at least 500Mb, and a HD with 4Gb or more. The installation
is painless, Unbuntu is a good system, and once going it runs very
smooth. It even detected my memory key I use to transfer NC files,
like I said, painless. The CNC program EMC2 is run from a desktop
icon, but this isnt so user friendly compared to the Windows CNC
programs above. Setup involves editing text files, and EMC itself
is a very basic looking program with only basic functions on the
user interface. But that said, its very fast, smooth, and powerfull
once you start to learn about the inbuilt systems, like HAL and
Ladder Logic. EMC2 would be at home running your hobby cnc engraver,
or a full size industrial plasma cutter.