Whether you’re a beginner or want to avoid unnecessary expenses, the best free CNC router software saves you money on your CNC work. Moreover, with many robust solutions, you don’t need to lose out on too much quality by choosing free software.
To help you find the best free CNC routing software for you, we review the top options, covering everything you need to know to make a decision.
Best Free CNC Router Software- Full Round-Up
- Easel: Best Free 3D CNC Software for X-Carve CNC Routers & Easiest for Beginners
- Inkscape: Best Free CNC Router Software for 2D Designs & Sign Making
- FreeCAD: Advanced Open-Source CAD/CAM CNC Router Software
- Carbide Create: Best Free CNC Engraving Software for Shapeoko
- Fusion 360: Professional-grade CNC Router Software That’s Free for Hobbyists
- Universal G-Code Sender: Best G-Code Software for CNC Routers
- LinuxCNC: Best CNC Router Control Software for Linux
What Software Do I Need To Run a CNC Router?
There are three types of software you need for CNC router work:
- CAD software – computer-aided design software is the first type of software you need to use to create your designs.
- CAM software – you then need computer-aided manufacturing software to convert your design into g-code and generate a toolpath for your router to follow. Many CNC router free software provide both CAD and CAM functionality.
- Control software – finally, you need a CNC router control software to send the g code to your machine to perform the desired operations.
On top of those, while it’s not necessarily essential, many hobbyists also use free CNC simulation software to test out their designs before doing the real thing.
So, what is the best software for CNC router machines? We’ll now review the best free CNC CAD software, CAM software, simulation, and controller programs so that you can control the entire process from design to routing at no unnecessary expense.
Best Free CNC Router Software
Best Free CAD/CAM Software for CNC Routers
Easel – Best Free 3D CNC Software for X-Carve CNC Routers & Easiest for Beginners
Optimized for X-Carve but compatible with other popular CNC routers
All-in-one support for CAD, CAM, and control
Highly intuitive and beginner-friendly
Design library with fonts
Supports SVG import and g-code import
Recommended cut settings & automatic toolpath animation
Some advanced features limited to paid version
Many software used in CNC router work are not affiliated with any router brands, but some are. Easel falls into the latter category, being made by Inventables, which also manufactures the X-Carve range that ranks among the most popular CNC routers.
So while Easel works very effectively with many different CNC routers from other brands, such as Bobs CNC and FoxAlien, it also has the advantage of being optimized explicitly for X-Carve CNC routers.
Easel is a highly intuitive all-in-one free engraving software for CNC router machines that supports CAD, CAM, and CNC control.
It boasts a variety of high-quality and intuitive drawing tools, including fonts, templates, and image tracing. In addition, you can preview your designs in HD and 3D, and then autogenerate toolpaths in either 2D or 3D.
Easel’s toolpaths are optimized for maximum efficiency and accuracy, and it has recommended cut settings to help you avoid mistakes. Once ready, you can then use the software to control your machine. Easel also supports g-code import, so you can design in another program and use Easel simply as a control software.
As well as the free version, there’s also Easel Pro, which starts from $24 per month. This has several more advanced features, including multiple machine profiles, V-carving, large material tiling, and toolpath ramping.
Inkscape – Best Free CNC Router Software for 2D Designs & Sign Making
Wide range of high-quality drawing tools
Excellent for 2D design and sign making
Completely free and open source
Community forums and gallery with downloadable projects
Detailed learning resources
Available on Mac, Windows & Linux
Plug-in required to generate g-code
Inkscape is a very CAD software that’s one of the most popular options for designing with vector graphics. Vector graphics are generally preferable over raster graphics when working on 2D designs, which makes Inkscape one of the best free CNC router sign-making software.
This program boasts some of the most varied, flexible, and high-quality drawing tools of any free CNC router design software. For example, you can use the pencil tool for freehand drawing and simple paths, the pen tool for creating straight lines and Bezier curves, and the calligraphy tool for freehand drawing with filled paths.
It also offers shape tools for quickly creating rectangles, ellipses, polygons, stars, and spirals and a text tool (another great benefit for sign-making). In addition, there’s a selection of more advanced CAD tools, including node editing and Boolean operations.
On top of its high-quality design tools, Inkscape can create g-code (via a plug-in) to send to your CNC router, removing the need to use a separate CAM software and simplifying the process for beginners.
Inkscape is open-source software with a buzzing community where you can engage with other users through forums. In addition, there’s a gallery of user designs, many of which are available for free download, as well as a variety of helpful learning resources and tutorials.
FreeCAD – Advanced Open-Source CAD/CAM CNC Router Software
Potent 2D and 3D CAD tool
Highly precise parametric modeling
Generate g-code and toolpaths
Completely free and open source
Large community and lots of learning resources
Steep learning curve
FreeCAD has a steeper learning curve than the likes of Easel, but it’s one of the highest-quality free CNC router programs for both CAD and CAM.
It’s perhaps best known as a parametric modeler for complex 3D projects, but you can just as well use it for simple 2D and 3D designs for CNC router work. This means it’s suitable for experienced CAD users and beginners (after learning the ropes).
One of the best things about FreeCAD is its precision. It’s parametric, meaning you change the size and shape of your designs by changing numerical values, with everything measured in real-world units. Its tools include a geometry-restrained 2D sketcher, which you can use to create entirely 2D designs or use as accurate building blocks for 3D ones.
You can perform simulations and finite element analysis, and using the Path Workbench feature, you can generate toolpaths for CNC routers and other types of CNC machines.
Due to FreeCAD’s advanced features, we rank it as the best quality free CNC 3D router software for professionals and industrial work.
Carbide Create – Best Free CNC Engraving Software for Shapeoko
Good variety of drawing and text tools
Trace over background images
Simulate designs in 3D
Runs locally without WiFi
Optimized for Shapeoko and other Carbide machines
Some features are restricted to the paid version
Carbide’s control software can only be used with its own brand routers
Like Easel, Carbide Create is manufactured by a leading CNC router brand – Carbide, which produces one of the best hobbyist CNC routers in the Shapeoko 4.
This free CNC wood router software is one of the most accessible software for CNC router machines, and offers a variety of simple and advanced drawing tools. For example, you can quickly create basic shapes like squares, circles, and polygons, use bezier spline tools for organic curves, and add text vectors from any font on your computer.
You can also load background images for accurate tracing, use alignment tools for increased precision, and form complex shapes with Booleans too. Carbide Create even allows you to simulate your designs in 3D and convert them to g-code when you’re ready to move on to manufacturing.
Another benefit of Carbide is that, unlike many software, it runs locally on your computer and doesn’t require an internet connection.
Like with Easel, there’s an optional Pro version of Carbide Create that requires payment, starting from $120 per year. It offers a range of more advanced features, including creating 3D components from 2D vectors, applying textures, and 3D rough machining and finishing machining.
Carbide Create is only capable of CAD and CAM. While Carbide has control software, Carbide Motion is only compatible with its brand machines (the Shapeoko and Nomad).
Fusion 360 – Professional-grade CNC Router Software That’s Free for Hobbyists
Extremely well-designed and intuitive
Very powerful 2D and 3D design tools
Automation features to improve efficiency
Powerful integrated CAM functions
Excellent data management
Parametric and organic modeling
Free version can only be used for non-commercial use
Fusion 360 is different to open-source free CNC programs like FreeCAD and Inkscape as it’s a professional software that Autodesk has made free for non-commercial use for three years.
This is arguably the highest quality free software for CAD and CAM work on CNC routers. It offers a variety of powerful 2D and 3D CAD tools, with automation tools for designing and fabricating more efficiently. In addition, unlike FreeCAD, it provides organic modeling alongside parametric modeling.
It can be used to generate g-code and boasts some great integrated CAM features, including high-efficiency roughing, tool orientation, and adaptive clearing. Fusion 360 supports CAM for 2, 3, 4, and 5-axis CNC machines.
With excellent data management features and cloud-based collaboration tools, Fusion 360 is one of the most flexible free CAM software for CNC router machines.
Bear in mind that some features are limited to paid versions of Fusion 360 (starting from $49 per month). These include CAD tools like rendering and CAM tools like simulation and automatic tool changing.
Best Free CNC Router Control Software
Universal G-Code Sender – Best G-Code Software for CNC Routers (Free & Open Source) for Mac & Windows
Available on Windows, Mac, and Linux
Compatible with popular control boards
Color-coded g-code visualizer
Open source and used by most hobbyists
Universal G-Code Sender (UGS) is one of the most popular free g-code software for CNC router machines.
This program is used for interfacing with some of the top control boards, including GRBL, TinyG, and g2core, and is the most popular choice for Arduino-based boards.
It also supports gamepads and joystick controllers, so you can choose according to your preference – you might find these controllers more intuitive to use.
Available on Mac, Windows, Linux, and Raspberry Pi, this free CNC software boasts a 3D g-code visualizer with color-coded line segments for increased clarity. It also offers real-time tool position feedback to help you stay in control of every step during the routing process.
Another benefit of UGS is that it provides duration estimates to help plan your work. Throw in overrides and toggles, jogging, pint state reporting, customizable keybindings, and many other features. UGS is among the most flexible and high-quality CNC router control software around.
LinuxCNC – Best CNC Router Control Software for Linux
Optimized for Linux
Highly precise and reliable
Runs on real-time kernel
Active user community with regular updates
Explicitly optimized for Linux computers, LinuxCNC is a powerful, open-source CNC router control software.
This is one of the oldest and most trusted options for sending g-code to a CNC router and operating it. It’s very precise, reliable, and configurable, and many users prefer it over the expensive Mach3 due to features like the fact it runs on a real-time kernel and can achieve higher step rates.
It sends pulses to your router via parallel ports (faster than USBs), although it’s also possible to use ethernet cables and even Raspberry Pis.
Unlike UGS, LinuxCNC has a simulation mode that you can use for practice runs of your g-code to ensure everything’s perfect before using your router.
This free 3018 CNC router software has an active user community and real-time chat. As it’s open source, people with coding skills can apply to contribute to the development of the software or develop their own features using the source code.
Buying Guide – Things to consider when choosing free CNC router software
Operating System & Router Compatibility
Luckily, whether you’re looking for free CNC router software for Mac or Windows, most of the programs (except LinuxCNC) we’ve featured are compatible with both – and Linux. However, this is only the case for some software, so if you use a different program, check this beforehand.
If you’re using Mac, remember that many CNC router software still need to be updated to run natively on M1 and M2 chips. You can still run them using Rosetta 2, but you may need to tinker with your settings to achieve optimal performance.
It’s also important to check that your control software is compatible with your CNC router hardware. For example, Carbide Motion is only compatible with the brand’s own CNC machines.
Type of Software
As we discussed earlier, you need software that can perform several functions for CNC router work – design, CAM, and control. Some of the best free 3D software for CNC routers can perform all functions, while others can do just one, so it’s essential to understand a program’s capability.
For example, if you’re a beginner, you can simplify things by using an all-in-one solution like Easel.
However, you may prefer the different design tools in programs like FreeCAD and Inkscape. These also support CAM, but you’ll then need to choose a different controller software for sending g-code to your router.
Ease of Use
If you’re a beginner to CNC router work, you should look for free 3018 CNC software that’s easier to learn. For example, beginner-friendly solutions like Easel are quicker to get to grips with than more complex CAD/CAM programs like FreeCAD and Fusion 360.
We recommend looking for software with a straightforward and user-friendly interface that’s easy to navigate and offers strong support with a vast community of users and learning resources.
Completely free or just partly?
Some CNC router software, like Inkscape and FreeCAD, are open source and, therefore, completely free to use with no time limit!
Some, like Easel and Carbide Create, offer unlimited free versions – and paid versions with the most advanced features.
There are also the likes of Fusion 360, which is free to use, but only if you’re not selling your CNC router projects or making above a certain amount of money from your work. So, it’s important to check this beforehand to know exactly what’s what.
If you’re interested in paid software but are concerned about signing up for expensive subscriptions, there are many other 30-day free trials that you can use to try the software out with no commitment.
Finally, when deciding what software for CNC routers to use, it’s also worth checking out what other hobbyists have to say about different software.
By looking on review sites and community forums, you’ll be able to find detailed opinions on other users’ experiences using a particular software with different types of CNC routers, materials, and settings.
We’ve given our opinions on each, but feel free to do more extensive reading to understand better which software best suits you!
Is CNC router software hard To learn?
While all CNC software has some learning curve, several easy-to-use CNC router software are very beginner-friendly. These include the likes of Easel Pro and Carbide Create, which are made specifically for beginners and hobbyists.
Is there a big difference between free and paid CNC router software?
You can use free hobbyist CNC router software to design and execute many different projects at no expense whatsoever. However, it’s key to know that some advanced functions are typically reserved for paid programs.
For example, software like Easel, Carbide Create, and Fusion 360 reserve features like toolpath ramping, 3D rough machining, and simulation to their paid versions.
Luckily, these all offer free trials that you can use to test the software out before committing to any payments.
What CNC software is free?
Easel, Carbide Create, FreeCAD, Inkscape, and GRBL Control are all popular free software for CNC router machines.
What is the easiest CNC software to use?
Easel is one of the best free CNC router software downloads for beginners, as it’s a very user-friendly, all-in-one solution for CAD, CAM, and CNC control.
Is FreeMill really free?
Yes, FreeMill is entirely free to use for an unlimited time.
Is Ultimate CNC free?
Ultimate CNC has a free version and a Pro version. The free version is enough for basic CNC work, but some more advanced features are limited to the paid version.
Can FreeCAD be used for CNC?
Yes, FreeCAD is an excellent option for creating designs and generating g-code that you can then send to your CNC router.