Preferred CAD Software (2023 Fresh Takes - vs FreeCAD)

Hi Everyone,

I decided to make a new topic since the info I’m looking for has not been easy to find or compile. Can I get honest feedback on some CAD software and/or conversions to Gcode programs please? I’m on a shoestring budget atm, so free-to-use/hobbyist is the aim, bonus points for those that have good plans or payment options for low commercial use. I am currently playing around with FreeCAD, and would say I’m a proficient noob. Since it is open-source it obviously has its pros/cons. I thought I’d list things I liked about the program as well as the not-so-fun things, and some that I’m just not sure about. This way, others could reply with their experience, provide which programs may offer a better toolset for what I need, or maybe just enlighten me on how noob I really am at FreeCAD. I have created and manipulated multiple parts/projects, but have not yet had any experience in the G-Code / toolpath/ slicing side of things.

-The Good -

From not having any familiarity with CAD software previously, I was able to replicate simple parts after following some YT tutorials and extrapolate without needing much more instruction. If I’m still stuck, so far I’ve found easy answers to operations I haven’t yet mastered.

Adding Toolbenches is a nice feature. I was able to limp through assembling parts with A2plus, mostly because it made the most sense without any previous understanding. I’m sure there are other great add-ons I need to get.

Adding construction elements, like drill holes, mounts, axle points, etc., are easy to manipulate and resize, and snap-to-elements are pretty straight forward and user friendly 90% of the time. Having ways to guarantee symmetry and dimensions with a simple alteration of data entry/constraints.

Boolean Operations - seriously, would have saved me a lot of time in creative to know I could draw the silhouette of 3 axes, then only keep the common elements and in a flash have a fleshed out design.

  • The Not-So-Great -

Hierarchy-method of creating parts and vague error messages kept me in a solid loop of confusion for an amount of time I’d prefer not to disclose. It can be very simple to make an error that is hard to find. At least there’s an undo button…

Lack of click-and-play interface. It teases you with being able to select faces on objects and edit directly related to that piece, but as above, many opportunities to get a project error that stops you dead with little notice.

Many of the repositories have no readme or are supported. There is an attempt to keep the source of good add-ons in a fresh list, but even that was a coin flip for a valid working add-on.

No 3D free sculpting option that I can see. Everything must be based on a 2D design and then modified and manipulated through code to describe the 3rd axis projection. this makes it hard to fine tune adjust detail that is better shaped by the eye than by dimensions. Don’t get me wrong, learning revolution instead of pad has opened my eyes to plenty of easy creations.

  • The Not Sure -

Is Blender a better option for 3d modelling and sculpting?
Do these programs all reasonably transfer STL files that convert well into gcode?
Are some better for slicing into plywood-dimension cross-sections?
Programs I’ve looked into but am not ready to learn them all:
FreeCAD, Fusion360, Blender, from there I couldn’t pick out others from the crowd.

Also, how are these files for transferring from one to the other? Say I want to make a base for a model in FreeCAD, then add the more detailed modelling in another program, then convert it to gcode. So far I’ve been able to access other files but haven’t edited them in this fashion.

I’m not afraid to sit down and get to know it all, I’d rather save time and pick the program that can do it the best in the least confusing way. Thanks!


As a cad program, I really like Onshape, it’s browser base, so works on systems
that Fusion doesn’t.

You can use Kiri:moto for CAM to convert to gcode, but they purchased a CAM
software late last year and have been working to integrate it (lots of people
eagerly waiting to see it)

It’s parametric CAD similar to fusion, built by many former Solidworks

David Lang

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Not for CAM output - it is mesh based, rather than ‘solids’, so you often get some funky output when you get to the GCode

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I’ve used LibreCad a lot, but I needed to move into full 3D parametric so I’m shifting to OnShape.

Even here with my very dodgy internet it is totally usable.

Everything it does is stored on the web, but you can download it locally in various formats. The free version of it is restricted to public models only. But if you give the thing a relatively generic name no one will find it.

It has really good integrated training, some free, some paid for.

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I’ve had FreeCAD installed on my computer for a very long time now; I even re-installed it every time I got a new one… However to this day I still haven’t designed a single thing in it. I never understood how it works, but I really like the idea of a free / libre CAD suite. If someone has some good tutorials, I’d be interested.

OnShape is pretty good too, I mostly switched to it after the latest Fusion360 shenanigans. (altough it’s been a while since my last actual project)

I also use OpenSCAD a lot, but more for 3d printing stuff. It fits my programmer brain much better, but I don’t like how you’re basically always doing math… And some stuff is just impossible to do with it.

I recently tried Carbide Create to generate gcode from a DXF, and I’m really impressed with it. Seems to be particularly well-suited for 2.5D CNC cutting; much better than Fusion360 anyway.


I’m a convert to FreeCad. I used to prefer Fusion360 but we had a falling out. Fusion360 is powerful but way too often I needed to renew my free version and had to place a hold on what I was designing till the OK was given. FreeCad is powerful, and I also use it a lot for my 3D printing. It has a learning curve, like Fusion360, as any powerful program does, however lots of helpful videos. FreeCad keeps getting better and Fusion360 was getting worse; AND FreeCad works every time I want to use it! . Jon

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I too have had a version of freecad for years and only recently got a computer with enough horsepower to run it well, but have yet do anything productive with it because corel draw and estlecam are just good enough for now. I see Freecad is the next step in progressing in designs but I have not had time to dive in on it yet.

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First, I am entirely new to the CNC world, but I am giving Shaper Studio a try. It seems to be made for folks that need a minimalistic solution that was designed for the creator. No CAD experience required, and there is a free version. Works on an iPhone.

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