Before you buy: New CAD/CAM from Lightburn

The guys over at Lightburn are coming out with their new app, MillMage within the next few months and it looks like they’re trying to bring the ease of use of Lightburn for lasers to CNC Routing.

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No details on price nor specific release date other than Q1 2024 target. The software is multi-platform like Lightburn, so it’ll run on MacOS, Windows and Linux.

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It’s an interesting market to get into at this point in time with so many players in the game. I wonder what market they’re going after other than ‘people who own lasers and want to get into CNC’. The home game market is so saturated with options. Fusion covering actual industrial adjacent machining, Vectric / Carveco covering the small scale sign business & hobby market, and carbide create / easel covering the newbies I just don’t see where the Lightburn team would fit in.

It would be great if they had an option as relatively powerful yet affordable as Lightburn is to the laser market. CAM software pricing has gotten pretty out of hand with everyone pursuing SAAS or high priced no upgrade lifetime options.

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There are only 2 apps that I consider viable for the work that many people do with a CNC router. VCarve and Carveco.

Fusion is a 3D manufacturing CAD/CAM solution beyond most. It also lacks most of the features that people needing the previous 2 apps mentioned need/want. IMO, it’s also a very cumbersome tool. I’m using other 3D CAD apps right now, but none of them have CAM - Shapr3D, Plasticity and Moi3D.

The above 3 are each quite expensive for hobby or even side-hustle use for some people.

Easel is like MS-Paint and should likely be skipped. Carbide Create comes in at a much more attractive price than the other apps, and is much more capable than Easel, but it’s still pretty basic and they’re always going to focus on the best experience for their own machines.

If you take a look at the demo they happen to mention VCarve, so they’ve already positioned it as a target. Neither VCarve nor Carveco have or are likely to have MacOS nor Linux native versions. MacOS is a huge market, especially when it comes to designers.

We’ll see how it turns out. It’s likely that with a 1.0 release it can’t possibly be everything to everyone, but what they’ve shown is a very good start.

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For me, Fusion is the bare minimum. If I’m already in the program doing my 3D work, why would I go out of my way to export all that work into a secondary, expensive program which gives more limited machining options.

I do agree that if someone is mostly using downloaded vectors and making simple catch all trays and signs, you definitely don’t need a Fusion level program for that, but there’s so many other programs out there that already cover that. Everyone has their personal preference, and while yours might be the VCarve / Carveco level, I feel like Carbide Create and Easel are just as valid a solution for the majority of hobby CNC users. That’s why I feel like jumping into that market is fairly saturated.

What I didn’t consider is people not using Windows. That’s a really great point. While I don’t know what software works on what OS, there must be a certain number of people left out in the cold not able to use their personal preference just because of the computer they own.

At the end of the day competition is always a great thing and I’m super excited to see what comes out of this.

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I find Fusion’s UI lacking. It’s also over $500 US per year (there’s a sale on right now though).

The user experience with the other CAD apps I mentioned, is very different and more aligned with the way some people are already used to doing 3D. Shapr3D is almost good enough that I’ve considered buying an iPad Pro and Apple Pencil to use with it and nothing else. It’s just missing a few (really basic) functions I consider show-stoppers for the way I illustrate and design (for mechanical).

The current drawbacks to those apps is they’re not fully (or at all) parametric and they don’t have CAM. But if I use Fusion, then I’m also violating their license agreement when I sell something. OnShape is also a contender, but that one’s $1500 per year.

If I’m doing 3D, then I’m going to use a 3D app, not the 2.5D relief stuff in VCarve and Carveco. But there’s no denying that for 2D based designs it’s a lot faster to use them for CAM after having done illustration in something like Illustrator or Affinity Designer - or god-forbid, Correl Draw. They also have decent illustration tools where someone who isn’t already familiar with vector illustration can do what they need.

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I do all of my 3D design in Blender and import to vcarve for making 3d toolpaths.

I’m a hobbyist who has only tinkered with VCarve and Fusion. I’ve also spent enough time with Blender to design a couple of models turned into carvings. It seems to me that VCarve, Fusion and Carveco have a learning curve too great and a price point too high for many of us who don’t plan to earn a living from CNC products. I also think that the concept of modeling with 3D meshes and extrusion is overkill for the vast majority of CNC work. Let’s face it - CNC machines are physically incapable of carving many objects that our 3D software can design. Carbide Create Pro, which is where I currently spend most of my time, is considerably easier to learn and less costly. CC Pro likely won’t meet the needs of many industrial users, but I’m impressed with what it can do. More importantly, I applaud CC Pro for creating a unique approach to greater-than-2D modeling that is more consistent with the limitations of repositionable spinning vertical bits. I’m speaking of the Model tab which could use refinement and lacks some features; but this approach does point out that there might be room for new thinking. Who knows, maybe a new CNC design program will be so good that the seller will slap on a slicer backend and also sell it to the (much larger) 3D printer community?

I absolutely love Carbide Create. I’ve used it before and have nothing but good things to say about it. Though I’ve never had an opportunity to try the Pro version. Carveco is also a fantastic program. Since I got a year free with the machine I had the chance to try it out and compare it to VCarve and it’s got all the stuff the majority of users will want. I’ve never tried Easel but I see a lot of YouTubers diving into the CNC world for the first time using it and it seems very welcoming.

The hobby scene really has a a great selection of CAM programs to choose from and we’re super fortunate to potentially have another one coming.

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