My experiences so far with software as a noob


I figured it was worth putting down some notes on my experience so far with software as I struggled to find the right fit for quite a while. I’m cutting 2d ply with pockets, curves. Nothing too exciting. Short story is I’ve landed on onshape and EstlCam.

I played with shapr3d. Really easy to learn. Feels modern. Once I got into the CNC I realised I needed a dxf file. To export you need the paid version £1000 per year or something similar so this was dead in the water.

Next I worked with fusion 360. The learning curve for CAD was a bit worse but not too bad. I wanted to use ESDLCAM for CAM as I’m completed noob so figured that would give me the best support. Fusion does support export DXF. I had mixed success with this. Curves especially didn’t work. I think I have seen a post somewhere about resolving this but gave up at this point.

I got frustrated so started using Inkscape. This can export DXF. This is just a drawing tool so works but has huge limitations. I used it with spreadsheets to calculate where to put points. After a bit of learning curve I produced and successfully cut my first piece. My problem was I’m creating a unit which requires quite a few parts that all line up. I could do this with Inkscape but it would be very error prone due to not being able to visualise the pieces together.

Next came onshape. This was a similar feel to shapr3d. Learning curve was good. I really like the separation between parts and assembly’s. I’ve modelled my unit and have started to print out the parts. I’m really impressed with it. My concern is it being cloud based. I’ve put such an about of work in losing my designer would be tough. For now I’m going to stick with this.

3d printed parts I’m using fusion 360 still. I will revisit 360 and get the feeling if I can go all in and do CAD and CAM it will start to show its real value.

EstlCam despite it looking clunky it seems really pretty straight forward now. The only thing keeping me sticking to this long term is the risk of human error and getting depths / cuts incorrect. I’m hoping fusion automates a lot of this.

Last point is pricing. I have no issue with paying for software but the price of full versions for a hobbyist are insane. I get if you’re using the tools professionally the price could be reasonable. But for me it just makes full versions impossible to justify. I’m surprised they’ve not found a middle ground to get some cash out of the me. It’s nice that there are free versions but I’m fearful that the functionality will be slowly stripped from these version.


They seem to have decided at some point that boeing, lockheed martin, ford, etc are their actual customers. And engineers who don’t work for one of those companies need to be indoctrinated in their toolchain so they buy the mega license when they get there.

Give students a free or cheap license, then ford can pay $10k/year when that engineer asks. They can even give them a “discount” at $6k, since they have so mamy licenses :roll_eyes:

So I was pretty surprised when fusion nerfed the free license. Most similar situations give those student or hobby licenses the full package, hoping they get hooked enough to pay for everything when the money starts coming in.

It probably works for them. But it mean if ford asks for something, it is top priority. I had a friend working for a pbx telecom company and home depot accounted for something like 40% of their sales. They had no growth opportunities, so they just focused on making it the best for HD. Everyone else just got the scraps.

Autodesk doesn’t owe me anything. But I don’t owe them any love either. It is frustrating. But there are a lot of unpopular alternatives.

FreeCAD is one. It is open source and works on a donation model. They seem to be getting better rapidly.

Librecad is something else you might enjoy compared to inkscape. It can at least do one dxf drawing at a time. It is more like autocad 2d from the 90s.

There are a lot more. Tinkercad, sketchup, openscad, and probably 10 more I haven’t heard about.

I personally still use onshape. The browser based is an advantage ATM. My wife signed in and designed something over the weekend. She would not have been happy if I had her install fusion to make a couple of circles. Onshape was 2 mins from thought to first sketch. I do worry they will nerf it. But they seem to get the “gateway drug” business model better than fusion. A sales person did call me one time and he was super nice. He told me they would never get rid of the hobby license. But also, he would say that. He was even nice once I made it clear that I had no intention of paying for it.


I disliked LibreCAD a lot. Autodesk is pretty friendly towards schools and universities, they give you the license to all their products for free for 100 users. So I can’t really complain and settled on AutoCAD. :stuck_out_tongue:

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Thanks for more options to look into :smiley:

FreeCAD I’ll definitely give a go. openscad is on the list. I come from a software and maths background so it is looking interesting. I just had to limit how many things I’l trying to pick up at once.

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I can see myself landing there eventually. Once you are doing the full workflow in one tool I imagine it is very nice. My only negative so far has been issues with dxf export, performance(it pauses periodically) and minor one it just feels a bit old(UI, UX etc).

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I still use EstlCam for the Cam part though. :slight_smile:

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I use Fusion 360 frequently. I use it for 3D printing, CNC routing, and even as a design tool for laser projects. When restrictions were placed on the free version, there was a lot of the-sky-is-falling sentiment on the net. After the dust settled, for me, only a couple of restrictions had any impact on my projects: the removal of rapids, and the limit of 10 editable documents at a time.

The no-rapids limitation only impacts a minority of my routing projects, and the MPCNC postprocessor has the ability to put many of those rapids back in. So, the impact is minor. In addition, if exporting DXF to Estlcam, it becomes a non-issue.

The limit of 10 editable documents is a bit more of a pain, but the mechanism is flexible. For example, it does not stop me from opening a read-only file and exporting an STL, and switching between editable and read-only can be done on the fly.

There are only two features behind the pay wall that I lust after. The first is a tool that will automatically clean up meshes when converting between a triangular mesh like in an STL file and a quad mesh used for modeling in Fusion 360. I can make the conversion, but I must do any cleanup/simplification I desire by hand. The second is an automatic layout tool for taking a 3D model composed of pieces and laying them out for cutting from sheet goods. For my use, I consider both features bells and whistles, not something that is missing from my day-to-day experience.

I think I have seen a post somewhere about resolving this but gave up at this point.

I’m not sure what issue you are seeing. I export DXF files from Fusion 360 frequently for laser work, and I’ve not seen any issues. I’m importing them into Lightburn.


I’m not sure what issue you are seeing. I export DXF files from Fusion 360 frequently for laser work, and I’ve not seen any issues. I’m importing them into Lightburn.

I was drawing curved line using the spline tool. Sometimes it would import into Estlcam as it should. Sometimes it would be a straight line. I imported the dxf into another program and it was also straight in that, so it was definitely fusion. I’m sure it was my fault somehow but at the time I wanted to test the cnc so gave up with fusion for a bit.

After my current project I’m planning to try again in fusion with a bit more patients!

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You should just be able to click on the sketch in question and export DXF. I do not use too many splines but I have not seen an issue.

If you are trying to combine several sketches make a new one and project them all into a new one and export that as dxf. This is a basic feature and I have never had an issue here. Next time you run into an issue share your model and we can look at at.


Will do, cheers.

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I came from a SketchUp-expert background, into Fusion 360, and found it very frustrating because of the massively different paradigm. However, I’ve gradually forced myself to learn how to use Fusion 360 better. The more proficient I become with Fusion 360, the more two thoughts are reinforced in my mind: 1, how it really shines at the things it’s good at, and 2, that it is not necessarily the best choice for every project. The better I get with it, the more sense I have on which 3D modeling jobs would be better in Fusion 360 and which would be better done in SketchUp. All that said, for all my plasma cutting work, I’m using Fusion either for the whole project or at least the sheet-metal-flanging-and-CAM-output phases. Ever since I finally found the right plasma post processor for LinuxCNC for Fusion, and grasped a workable flow, I’ve been real pleased with it.


@DougJoseph - Would you be willing to articulate, in a broad way, what types of project you’d prefer each of the tools for? I know I’d find that helpful.

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To talk about my developing sense of “intuition” on which jobs I choose Fusion 360 over SketchUp is a teensy bit complex, but I’ll try.

“Solid tools”

(using one solid body to add-to/subtract-from another solid body )

SketchUp Fusion 360
Solid tools in free version? No* Yes
*limited workaround via
“intersect with…” options.
Also occasional instances of the
workaround not drawing all needed
lines, requiring manual inspection
& finishing.
Solid tools work flawlessly? No (8/10)* Yes (10/10)
*Pro version has solid tools,
but hindered, in particular, by
SU’s “detail too small” problem.
*all workarounds helped via the
"make design 10x/100x larger & create
1x sized copy of components" trick.

“Parameterized (parametrically driven)”

SketchUp Fusion 360
Parameterized functions provided? No Yes
Parameterized functions work flawlessly? - No (7/10 to 10/10)
Success is greatly dependent
on degree of complexity.
See notes below on
“Retroactive changes…”

Retroactive changes re-cascade through history?

SketchUp Fusion 360
Retroactive changes re-cascade history? No Yes
Retroactive changes work flawlessly? - No (7/10 to 10/10)
depending on complexity…
The problems arising from changes
can “break” existing work done later.
This can be frustrating and hard to
track down, if at all. It’s great when
it works. Frustrating when it doesn’t.

The above bit of laid down ground work will hopefully help with the following.

For Fusion 360, and its re-cascade issues, there seems to be a way to ingeniously devise how to go about setting up a job and the order of the steps in order to minimize the chances of failure to cascade retroactive changes, and it also seems it may be impossible to prevent the issues depending on complexity of job. It’s a great feature, absolutely, but it has its limitations. There seems to be a “window” of complexity, outside of which in either direction, the feature is either overkill (unneeded) or unusable (destroys the work product).

Thus for more simple projects, where my great expertise in SketchUp means I could get it done much faster there, and for more complex projects that nevertheless don’t need or require parameters or stand to gain by attempting retroactive re-cascading, and I could get it done faster in SketchUp, means I personally still sometimes resort to use of SketchUp. By contrast, when a job is such that parameters are the “bees knees” or where the degree of complexity is such that retroactive changes are not likely to cause breakage, and/or the need of Fusion’s excellent solid tools will be of benefit, I concede to fight with use of Fusion, despite the fact that its requirement of a “sketch” first for EVERY. SINGLE. THING. and the accompanying challenges of always getting those sketches located and oriented where desired can be very frustrating to someone with my SketchUp background.

The more I watch “pro’s” like James Clough demonstrating their use of Fusion, the more impressed I am, but the more I use it myself the more aware I become of its limitations and the weaknesses of its approach.

Bottom line: the two approaches (SketchUp’s “mesh” based ease of use, with the accompanying limitations thereof, and Fusion’s astounding potential with its “parameterized” approach, with the accompanying limitations thereof) both have pros and cons, and the more I use them, the more aware I am of those and the better I can decide which tool to choose.


I’ve heard SketchUp described as a “surface modelling tool.” May explain that program’s focus on meshes rather than solids.