Laser cutters can cut, slice, and engrave materials varying from acrylic and wood, to steel and aluminum. It’s a technique that’s used across a wide range of industries, from engineering to aerospace — as well as by hobbyists at home.
The technique has several benefits, including unmatched accuracy and consistency, leaving little room for human error. It’s much more efficient than methods such as etching, and it can also be used to achieve more complex designs.
Laser engraving isn’t controlled manually — it relies on laser cutting software that instructs the laser where to move using a CNC (computer numerical control) programming language, such as g-code. You’ll also need software to create and edit your designs prior to the engraving process, but how do you know which laser cutting and engraving software is right for you?
In this guide, we reveal the best laser engraving software and the best laser cutter software for 2022. We’ve included both free and paid solutions to suit different budgets, and we’ve reviewed the key aspects of each software so that you can easily pick the one that best suits your needs.
See also: our buyer’s guide of the best laser cutters and engravers.
In a rush? Here’s a quick view of our top laser cutter software
Best Free Laser Engraver & Cutter Software
- Price: Free
- Best for: Free laser cutter software for Windows
LaserGRBL is a very popular, open-source laser engraver software for Windows that’s completely free to download and use.
Unlike some other software, LaserGRBL is specifically designed for hobbyists, so it doesn’t have the steep learning curve that comes with more professional programs. It’s a simple yet effective tool that’s user-friendly, so it’s perfect for beginners.
LaserGRBL has some really useful features, such as the jogging feature that allows you to manually position the laser head with two sliders to control the size and speed of steps. There’s also the override function, which allows you to speed up or slow down the effective engraving speed and laser power in real-time during the engraving process.
Another notable feature is the raster image import function. With this, you can load any kind of image, including photos, clip art, pencil drawings, and icons into LaserGRBL and turn it into g-code without any additional software.
Raster images are a different type of graphics to the vectors used in most online laser engraving software. Vectors can be scaled up and down without losing quality so they’re used for cutting materials and engraving thin lines, whereas raster graphics are made up of small pixels and are used for cutting and engraving larger areas. This means the GRBL laser cutter software can be used for a wide variety of laser cutting projects.
This laser engraver software is compatible with GRBL v9.0 and GRBL v1.1. It’s capable of loading and sending g-code to Arduino, and you can also engrave images, pictures, and logos with the internal conversion tool.
- Price: Free
- Best for: Free laser engraving software for Mac
Inkscape is a popular open source vector graphic design and editing software. While it’s not a specialist laser cutting software, you can still use it for engraving, as shown in the video below.
This free laser engraver software offers all the standard drawing and shape tools and offers a range of object manipulation tools, such as transformations, z-order operations and alignment and distribution commands. It also offers node editing features, allowing you to precisely modify designs and easily troubleshoot problems with vectors.
One of the best things about Inkscape is that it uses SVG (scalable vector graphics) as its native format. As the SVG graphics formatting markup language is royalty-free, you can use its commands to create your designs without any expense.
Unlike LaserGRBL, the Inkscape free software for laser engraving is available on all major desktop platforms including Mac, Windows, and Linux.
Another advantage of Inkscape is that there’s a very active user community surrounding the laser engraver software. There are forums, mailing lists, and even a chat room, and you can also contribute to the community if you have development skills.
- Price: Free
- Best for: Those wanting a laser cutter software with great flexibilty
SolveSpace isn’t the most user-friendly laser cutting software — it has a fairly minimalist interface and a pretty steep learning curve, but if you put the time in to master it, you’ll find it has an array of functions that make it a really useful tool.
This software has a wide variety of applications, including exporting 2D vector art to a laser cutter machine with g-code toolpaths. It has several impressive features that make it suitable for this.
For example, there are a wide range of drawing tools as well as parametric and associative assembly. You can link parts and drag them with six degrees of freedom, link surfaces and merge them with Boolean operations, and you can also link lines and curves for 2D work and solid operations, so it’s a very flexible design tool.
Another bonus is that SolveSpace is one of the best laser cutting software if you have limited storage space as it’s less than 10 MB and is very fast to download. You can also directly export your design into SVG from the CNC laser cutter software.
- Price: Free
- Best for: Budgeting, comes with a free cost estimator.
The fourth iteration of this software, LaserWeb 4 is a free program that’s used for controlling your laser cutter based on your design.
One feature that makes this laser engraver software particularly useful is that you can import multiple files in different formats into a single project, so it’s very flexible and great for collaboration.
Another benefit that isn’t seen with some other software is its job cost estimator tool, so it’s very helpful for budgeting – something that’s particularly important for beginners and hobbyists.
LaserWeb can be used to control your engraver via both vector and raster files, so it’s ideal for engraving both small and large projects. There are also many settings you can use to customize different aspects of your engraving, including the pass depth, cut-rate, smoothing, diameter and more.
Finally, the LaserWeb community is filled with tips, modifications, and additions to the code, so you can choose free extras and customize the laser cutting machine software as you please.
Best Paid Laser Cutter & Engraver Software
- Price: $30 for g-code license, $59 for DSP license
- Best for: Laser cutting software for Mac
Whereas laser cutter software like LaserGRBL are restricted to Windows, LightBurn can be used on Windows, Mac, and Linux, so it’s available to everyone. This is another well-known later engraver software that can be used for layout, editing, and controlling your laser cutter.
LightBurn has some really useful features that make it popular among laser cutters. For starters, it’s a versatile software that allows you to easily import artwork in a variety of common graphic and image formats. It also supports most Ruida, Trocen, TopWisdom, and g-code controllers, with more to be added soon.
The CNC laser engraver software allows you to arrange and edit vector shapes with the editor, and you can even create new shapes with the help of powerful features. These include offsetting, boolean operations, welding, and node editing.
You can also adjust the power, speed, cut order, brightness & contrast, number of passes, and more while you engrave.
LightBurn is an all-in-one laser engraving software, as it allows you to send your designs directly to your cutter, eliminating the need to use additional programs.
LightBurn comes with a 30-day free trial you can use to try out the software. Another benefit of using LightBurn is the active support forum where you can get help with any issues and discuss topics with other users. There is also a news section on the LightBurn website that provides updates on developments and bug fixes.
- Price: From $27.81 per month
- Best for: Creating laser cutter designs
Adobe Illustrator isn’t a specialized laser cutter software, but it’s the gold standard when it comes to graphic design software and can be used to generate g-code from an SVG file that you can use with your laser engraver.
While there’s a bit of a learning curve for beginners, it has just about everything you could ask for when it comes to working with vector graphics and it works with AI, PDF, DXF, DWG, SVG, and EPS file formats.
One of the main benefits of using Illustrator for laser cutting is the Artboards feature. This allows you to lay out your designs on the screen to see how they’ll fit onto your material sheets. You can set up as many Artboards as you need in a single view, so you can simplify the overall process and easily keep the final product in mind as you design.
Another advantage is that this laser engraving software is adapted to different techniques such as vector cutting, vector engraving, and raster engraving, so it’s a very versatile program.
Finally, this laser engraver software can also be used on iPad, meaning you can easily draw using an iPad pencil. The iPad version also has an expansive topography toolkit. So, if you’re looking for laser cutter control software that’s ideal for vector work and offers professional-grade precision and efficiency, you can’t go wrong with Illustrator.
- Price: From $499 per year
- Best for: Laser engraving software for professionals
The most expensive software on our list, DraftSight, is a professional-grade CAD and laser cutting software developed by Dassault Systemes.
DraftSight is the ideal software for perfecting the design that you want to send to your laser cutter. For example, among its many features is the image trace function, which turns images like JPEGs or PNGs into curves, angles, and vector lines.
This makes it much faster and easier to cut an already existing pattern without going back to the drawing board. It also has 2D constraints so that you can control your drawing parametrically by specifying the geometric and dimensional properties of your designs.
Another feature worth mentioning is DraftSight’s hairline option that allows you to control line width within the print options. This is set for the exact size of a single pass of a laser, so it’s ideal for laser cutting and allows you to avoid less precise cuts caused by the rasterization of wider lines.
There are several purchase options for DraftSight — the price we’ve listed is for the Premium Version, which is more expensive than the Standard and Professional versions but is the best for laser engraving. Overall, this 2D design software for laser cutters is our recommended pick for professionals.
Design Software vs. Control Software
We’ve mentioned how laser cutters and engravers use software guidance to program where and how the laser needs to cut, and use other software to develop and create your designs. But what sets these two types of laser software apart?
Laser Cutting Software: The Control Part
Laser cutting software and laser engraving software are what instruct your machine. It translates your design into code for your laser cutter, so it knows exactly where to cut and engrave.
This process is arguably more abstract with engraving since it’s no longer just about cutting, but rather creating gradient, shading, and other complex characteristics.
Many machines will come with their own software, like FSL Muse Core’s RetinaEngrave, or be compatible with popular programs such as LightBurn which supports design as well. Software that comes with the machine is typically beginner-friendly, a great option for new hobbyists, but more advanced users will prefer the professional capabilities of outsourced options.
Laser Cutting Software: The Design Part
Simply put this is where you will create your designs.
Now designing images for your laser cutter and engraver is quite simple compared to other CNC machines, only requiring an outlined 2D image. The catch is, it needs to be in vector files.
You either have raster images or vector graphics. Raster images use pixels, so think of the photos we take on our phones, cameras, and other devices. When zoomed in, you’ll see the image “pixelated” resembling a bunch of color-filled squares.
Vectors, or scalable vector graphics (SVG), on the other hand, use mathematical formulas to create the desired image. Using dots as anchors and lines to connect them, the results are seamless outlines that are resolution-independent and offer you precise details when it comes to engraving.
Along with SVG, other vector formats include PDF, EPS, DWG, and DXF.
Now, technically you can laser engrave using raster images, but the results aren’t nearly as fine as with vector graphics. However, many software offer an import function that allows you to import raster images and translate them into vector files.
Laser Engraving and Cutter Software FAQ’s
Other articles on laser cutting and engraving:
- The best laser cutters and engravers
- Best budget laser engravers
- Best wood laser cutters and engravers
- Best acrylic laser cutters and engravers
- Top ideas for laser cutter projects
- Best websites for laser cut files
- Best CO2 laser cutters
- Best fiber laser engravers
- K40 laser cutters
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