Break it down, Barney Style for me

So what CAD software should I use, I see that Easel and Carbide Create are not compatible with Merlin, is that a true statement?
I also have a GRBL Controller app on my Galaxy Cell but read in here somewhere that grbl and Merlin don’t play well together.
My LR will have the auto squaring and so I think Merlin can do that but not GRBL, so yeah, I’m confused on some of that stuff.

Grbl and marlin are both firmwares, so you pick one or the other. The biggest advantage to marlin, imo, is headless running with the lcd display. A far as i know, NO version of grbl has that ironed out (although I did see a port that tried).

I haven’t used either CC or easel, so I’ll take a pass on those. What you’re looking for is a CAM solution that can take your model or 2d design and build toolpaths for it, which ALSO has a post processor for your chosen firmware. Just about everything supports grbl, marlin has gotten a lot more support over the last couple years and may have caught up…I’m not sure.

As for autosquare, Marlin makes it easy, but a couple ports of grbl have it working well (enducross, maybe?)

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Thanks, I don’t know enough yet to worry about all this I guess, so If I leave Merlin for now, then what Design software is an easy starter program for nubies, and Free is always good too?

In terms of ease (my opinion) :

EstlCAM gets a lot of love around here. Seems easy to
get started, and you’ll have no problem getting help. Requires another program for modeling (onshape/tinkercad/etc) or 2d design (inkscape/qcad). I don’t use any of those, either, so I’m not sure if onshape/tinkercad also handles 2d design.

Fusion 360 is also somewhat popular, has appropriate post processors, and has cam integrated with cad, but they soured a lot of us with some restrictions earlier this year. Lots and LOTS of control, often criticized as too much. Easy to get lost in the settings trying to find or optimize things and not actually get the project done.

Freecad is also…free…and has integrated cad/cam with post processors (99% sure marlin is available, too), but the sketch tools are somewhat clunky and the naming hierarchy can lead to really odd outcomes when making edits to features earlier in the time line.

Definitely no need to go with complicated or complex software. Understanding the CAM, toolpath strategies, amd cnc operation is challenging enough, especially at first.

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Just to clarify, Easel does run on Marlin. It outputs very simple g-code that will run fine on both GRBL and Marlin. And I’ve seen a couple of posts in the forum where a script to post process the output is used to add features to Easel g-code. I don’t recommend Easel unless you are having great difficulties with EstlCAM or Fusion 360.


Take a look at the software workflow doc. Hopefully that will give you a good ground knowledge.


Not using any of those yet, just tying to get it straight in my head.
I don’t want to use easel because it looks like I would have to use my laptop in my shop because there is no export function that I see, I could be wrong.
I like the grbl controller app for my cell phone or it will work on a android tablet, but it is grbl and I’m not sure if that is even an option…because I am dense, lol

So the app on your phone is a control interface for GRBL. It will not work with a marlin machine (the standard that most v1 machines use).

Also I think your getting your software/workflow confused. Let me try to clarify,

You start with a CAD software to design a model (3D or 2D) these would be programs like autocad, solid works, fusion360, freecad or tinkercad.

Once you have a design (usually in the form of an .stl or .svg) you would run that through a cam program(like estlcam or fusion360 that has cam funtionality built in). The cam program takes a model and creates tool paths and creates gcode.

Gcode is the language that the machine uses, different machines use different kinds of gcode. The firmware you use determines the exact language of the gcode. (Marlin and grbl are like u.s. English and UK English, similar but different enough to confuse the machine * people) then the kind of machine and how the firmware is setup determins what gcodes are valid (like how you might use football terms that people who don’t watch football wouldn’t know).

Once you have your .gcode file you have to have a way to run that on your machine. Marlin machines can run “headless” watch means all you need is the machine and an lcd. But it also let’s you connect and run the gcode from applications on other devices (such as estlcam, repiterhost etc). Grbl does not have native screen support so you need another device to control and send the gcode to the machine. That is what the app on your phone does. There are also web based solutions that can be run from any browser. There are also stand alone screens that have integrated devices to control grbl machines.

If you want to know about what good software is out there I recommend doing a search here on the forum for whatever step you need software for (CAD, cam, interface) and you should get lots of options and lots of opinions.

Hope that helps,


You can export g-code from Easel, and it works fine (or at least it did when tested it awhile back). But even if it works, I would only recommend it if you struggle with other solutions. IMO, the only thing Easel has going for it is its simplicity.

I’ll add that you can also use software like Inkscape to create a 2d svg file if your only doing flat designs or engravings.


That link explains it pretty well.


More than helpful, Thanks, it clears thing up

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Not much point pursuing that goal anymore with the advent of cheap TFT displays, now, any and every board, running either Marlin or GRBL will operate headless from the included SD card.

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Sounds like I need to look at the newer grbls, then.

Not especially so Tony, because the overhead needed to process and stream the gcode to the controller is supplied by the display uP ANY controller board (with a serial port) running ANY firmware can run headless. In the days of the 16x2 or 16x4 displays all the overhead had to be run by the firmware in the controller


Hi, for CAD software it partly depends on what your machine is. Is it a CNC mill or a CNC laser (or even a CNC Lathe). I have all 3 (well, 2 but the CNC router doubles as a CNC Laser) plus a 3D Printer. So I do 3D CAD. I use Freecad (which as its name suggests is free). Another option is Fusion 360 (free for non commercial use). Both these can produce CAM files. Freecad only does Grbl as standard (but one can add a post processor to convert to Marlin or use Notepad+ and diy - it is not hard). I have mainly used Marlin as the firmware because of squaring and being able to run machines in stand alone mode. BUT grble now I believe handles squaring; and MKS for example produce a screen that works with grbl and can load gcode, I have used this on my lathe build as the mks grbl board plus Display was inexpensive. Grbl has a few advantages for a CNC so is worth using IMO. But Marlin also works well.

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You guys are all too helpful! How’s anyone going to learn to use the docs?? :grinning: :grinning:

I’m joking, it’s amazing how helpful people are on this forum. But still, people SHOULD use the docs :nerd_face:


The docs should never really have all the information. I think of them as the path through the forrest. We need to write down a few ways to go so people can take a nice stroll and see from A to B.

The forums are for people who find themselves off the trail.


So we are like forest rangers helping hikers that wandered too far off the trail. I like that, Ranger Ryan checking in.


For what its worth, I use Easel all the time. I output the gcode and do a find and replace like this:



replace with

$0 F3500 (adjust for your preferred travel speed)

This seems to work reliably for me with good results. Otherwise the travel speed is snail slow.

AIso, I always work in MM. Inches also results in really slow movement.