CAD/CAM Question

Hi everyone - I realize there are already threads on CAD/CAM but still felt that I should start this one as I have a specific question. Basically, I need to find a combination of CAD/CAM and CNC machine interface controller that works best for me. I have already purchased Mach 3 and so would like to use it. I also elected not to go with the arduino through inventables as I already have a TB6560 control board. As for the CAD/CAM end of things, I my objective is to use a program that is both free, and very commonly used. Therefore, I’m thinking of learning AutoCAD 2015 (as there are many great tutorials online), and then using a CAM software for generating a tool path. With all of that having been said, here are the questions that I have:

(1) Does AutoCad (the free version) generate G-Code?

(2) Assuming AutoCad does generate g-code, which CAM program would I have to use this with to create a tool path?

(3) Will all of this work with Mach 3?

(4) This next question may sound silly, but I am still new to all of this so please forgive me in advance. But basically, I wanted to confirm my understanding of order of operation. My understanding is that a design is made on AutoCad, then a G-code is provided, and then a tool path is created. Is this correct? Or is the g-code provided after the tool path is created?

(5) A little off topic, but how do I get easel to generate a g-code so I can input it into Mach 3?

(6) Again, a little off topic, but I noticed that easel has pre-determined dimensions for each type of material. If I change the dimensions (for example: increase the preset dimension of aluminum material to 1", will easel automatically adjust for the speed of cut etc…?

Thank you in advance.

I think I can help with a couple of your questions. AutoCAD doesn’t generate g-code. Also I’m not aware of a free version of AutoCAD, it’s usually one of the most expensive options out there.

Your CAM software is what is going to generate your g-code/tool paths (basically one in the same). If you look at Easel, you would create/import you geometry and then select the types of machine operations you would like on each shape i.e. Outline or Fill. Once that’s all set g-code is created and can be sent to you machine using a g-code sender (universal g-code sender or Mach 3).

Now I’m not too versed in Mach 3, but I think it can generate g-code from imported geometry, you might want to look into that.

As for your question about Easel an per-determined dimension, you feeds and speed are not dependent on the size of your material but the type of material. All the settings in Easel are conservative values and can be adjusted for your specific cutting requirement. There is whole books on feeds and speeds, so some research may be required.

Hopefully I helped a little bit! Good luck!

P.S. you can grab the g-code from Easel, I believe it is in an advanced menu somewhere.

Hi Rusty,
Thank you kindly for your helpful information. I should have mentioned that I am a student and that AutoDesk offers AutoCad 360 for students for free as a download. My apologies for not clarifying this earlier. However, that won’t do me any good if it doesn’t generate G-Code. Your question regarding imported geometry into Mach 3 and the generation of G-code is a good one. I will contact Mach support to find out if their software does allow this. As for CAM software, would you happen to know of any free ones aside from Easel that are easy to use?

Many thanks

You will need to use Fusion 360 as your CAD/CAM solution if you want to stay in the Autodesk world.

Fusion 360 will do solid model CAD and also generate gcode (tool path)

@AllenMassey , Thank you so much for your input. A couple of questions regarding your proposed approach.
(1) Does Fusion 360 cost anything?
(2) Is Fusion 360 cad and cam, or just cam?
(3) If I do use Fusion 360, is it possible to still use Easel on the side? I don’t have the arduino from inventables, but my understanding is that as long as I get the g-code from easel, I can still use it elsewhere… is this correct?

Thank you again!

  1. Fusion 360 is free for hobbyist and students (such a deal!)
  2. CAD and CAM (commercial quality)
  3. You can use Easel, but Easel is designed to generate gcode that is compatible with GRBL if you are using a different controller GRBL gcode may not be very useful.

@AllenMassey - Thank you so much!! :slight_smile: If the GRBL gcode won’t work with my controller… hopefully I can find an alternative. I was playing around with Easel the other night and one feature that I really liked about it is that you can upload an image (for example: a company logo), and it can get right to work cutting out that particular design. I really don’t want to miss out on that. I don’t mind spending the extra $120 for Arduino… but I don’t want to limit myself to either Arduino or my TB6560… I want to be able to use both Easel and Fusion 360 so I can get the best of both worlds… but am not sure how to approach this problem.

If you are doing 2D designs you can look at inkscape (it also can convert bit maps to vectors) for design and makercam for tool path.

@AllenMassey That’s awesome! I will definitely take a look. Thank you so much!! :slight_smile:

No Problem! Free AutoCAD would be great, I use it at work everyday which is nice, but having it at home would be awesome. Finding other programs is always a pain since I’ve been using AutoCAD for the last 12 years, but you got to move with the times!!

As for other CAM software it really depends on what you want to do. If you want full 3D carving I think your best route would be Fusion 360(free for hobbyists) like @AllenMassey mentioned (I think), or MeshCAM but, that’s not free. It seems to be a lot easier to find free 2.5D CAM software out there for one example looks too be a good one and there are a lot of tutorials out there for it.

Fusion360 is a free to use Cad/Cam application. It generates Toolpath for any cam program, including mach compatible controllers and about another 200. If you’re willing to learn and/or teach, I think that is the best solution. When saying that, you have to know, Fusion keeps all your drawings in the cloud drive for public sharing. Autocad can generates toolpath, (more finer detail toolpath) it’s more complicated. Using same engine Fusion does if you download all 360 together. I do have several Autocad toolpath, having problem with changing Z safe distance then I quit. All part of AutoCad360 program. Learning curve you have to deal with.

Getting from idea to finished part takes the following steps.
A paper sketch of your idea helps
Next take that sketch and turn it into a 2D drawing or a 3D model depending on what the idea is.
This requires a CAD program that will do 2D drawings or a CAD program that will do 3D models. Most CAD programs that do 3D models will also output 2D drawings.
Next we take the 2D drawing or the 3D model and load it into a CAM program. Some CAM programs will only work with 2D drawings and others will work with both 2D drawings and 3D models.
Now CAM programs generally DO NOT generate all the tool paths you will need automatically. You have to decide what machining operations you want to make and tell the program what part of the drawing or model to apply that operation to.
Once you have all the machining operation tool paths programmed you have to tell the CAM program what machine you have and use the Post Processor for that machine.
Then you tell the CAM program to post the Gcode. This is where the CAM program takes all the operations and turns them into Gcode that your machine control software understands.
The next and final step is to take that Gcode and load it into your machines control software. At this point is a good idea to run the program as an air cut. This is where you runt the program with out a tool in the spindle and just watch to see that it does what you expect it to do.
Next it is a good idea to load a cheap piece of material in the machine and run the program on that material. Don’t use your best piece of walnut for your first cuts. If all goes will then and only then load your good material and run the program.

Hope this helps


If you get invented from auto desk
You can get hsm pro for inventer… it’s their cam solution… I use it all the Time a D it works great… I also have Autocad 360 but I don’t use it as much as I use at inventer pro… I feel like I have much more options in everything I do

@DavidSohlstrom - David, thank you so much for the detailed run down of how things work and the extra tips. I’m sure you’ve just saved me some $ as I honestly wouldn’t have thought about running the router without the bit as a test run. Really appreciate your assistance. Thanks again :smile:

@SergioPagoada , Thank you kindly Sergio :smile:

Please help!
(1) Fusion360
(2) MashCam
(3) Universal G-Code sender
Is that all I need to design and carve with the X-Carve??? are there any extra software requirements??

If you are really good with F360 you would not need Meshcam.
UGS (or another gcode sender) is required if you use anything other than Easel.

If you want to do any sign making or engraving I would recommend you look at Vcarve or F-Engrave.

Hi am not really good with F360 so I take that to mean I need MeshCam, just for interest sake: do you mean that I can go this route F360 -> G-Code Sender-> X-Carve

F360 has a pretty steep learning curve compared to programs like Vcarve.

MeshCam is only needed if you have an STL or DXF file that you want to generate a toolpath (gcode) for. It does not have any design ability.

In my opinion for on about $100 more you can get a full featured CAD/CAM program like Vcarve Desktop that will do everything Meshcan does plus allow you to design your 2.5D parts also. Vcarve can also generate rastor toolpaths for STL files like Meshcam.

But to answer your question, yes F360 can generate gcode that is compatable with the X-Carve and UGS can send that gcode to the X-Carve

Ok, thanks I will look into the V-Carve option