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7 Best Software For Laser Engraving & Laser Cutting

Laser engraving and laser cutting software

7 Best Software For Laser Engraving & Laser Cutting

Many people ask our sales team, “What is the best software for laser engraving machines and laser cutters?”

Just like many questions we’re asked, there are always a number of variables.

Even so, the answer is highly-dependent on job requirements and personal preference. Budget, experience, laser power and hardware also have a big influence.

Here we take a look at some of the best laser engraver software, that also works with CO2 laser cutters, covering both free and paid options, whilst taking into account their pros, cons, and costs.

Vector Files Vs. Raster Files

An side by side comparison of a vector shape vs pixel rastor layer

Throughout this page, the terms ‘vector’ and ‘raster’ are used a few times. These are two different types of graphics that can be used for laser applications.

Vector files or graphics use precise paths made from lines between two or more points. They can be scaled up or down without losing quality. They are best used for intricate design when cutting through materials as well as engraving very thin lines (scoring).

Some examples of vector file formats include (but aren’t limited to):

  • SVG
  • EPS
  • PDF
  • AI

Raster graphics are made up of small pixels e.g. digital photos. This means they lose quality when scaled up. Therefore, high resolutions must be used for effective results. Raster is preferred for engraving larger areas e.g. filled letters, shapes, and images.

Some examples of raster graphic file formats are:

  • JPEG
  • PNG
  • GIF
  • WEBP

Raster graphics are also referred to as bitmap images. For more information check out Graphic Files Explained.

Popular File Types Explained

Logos of popular laser engraving vector file formats

When using laser engravers and cutters, choosing the right file type is crucial for precision and efficiency.

The most commonly used file types are:

  • SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics): Ideal for intricate designs due to its vector format, which maintains clarity when scaled. However, SVG files can be complex to edit if not initially created with precision.
  • DXF (Drawing Exchange Format): Favored for its compatibility with CAD applications, making it suitable for technical projects. DXF files can be less user-friendly for beginners due to their detailed and technical nature.
  • Vector PDF File (Portable Document Format): PDFs are versatile and widely accepted by most software, ensuring ease of use. The downside is that they can vary in quality and may require conversion into a more cutter-friendly format.

Each file type offers unique advantages and challenges, affecting the workflow and final product quality in laser engraving and cutting projects.

We would personally recommend using .DXF if you can overcome the learning curve that comes with it.

Best Design Software for Laser Engraving and Laser Cutting

All of our laser machines come with RD Works software (older models were previously Lasercut), which is essentially a communication platform allowing a design to be sent to the laser cutter.

It is less intended for design, other than simple shapes and text, and simply serves as a bridge between various design software options out there and the machine itself.

For a small upgrade fee, we can supply our laser engravers or cutters with the highly respected LightBurn software with your purchase (see below for more info about LightBurn).

Here’s an overview of some of the most popular design programs used for both laser cutters and laser engraving machines.

Our #1 Pick – LightBurn (Paid – Free Trial Available)

An example of LightBurn software with a complex laser engraving pattern of an owl shown

LightBurn is rapidly becoming one of the most popular laser engraver software choices. It’s suitable for both laser cutting and engraving, and for good reason.

Not only does it have some clever features that can be used for editing vector shapes, arranging, image tracing and creating on a blank canvas, LightBurn also acts as the communication platform to the laser machine itself.

This means that some users might not need to use a more expensive full design package depending on their requirements.

It works with a range of file types and is great for both vector and raster work, allows for custom grids and it is also incredibly easy to use, making it an excellent choice even for beginners.

It is worth noting, LightBurn video tutorials are straightforward to follow, enabling you to effectively use the program very quickly compared to others.

It’s compatible with Windows, macOS and Linux and comes with 12-months of updates.

You can pick up the DSP license key from HPC Laser for £120.00 +VAT. You are also entitled to technical support from our expert team.

Alternatively, it can be purchased directly from LightBurn (without support from HPC).

Lightburn Laser CO2 Laser Design

Pros

  • User-friendly design software with an intuitive interface
  • Relatively cheap one-off cost (meaning no subscription fees!)
  • Works with all major operating systems
  • Free 1-month trial
  • Works with most Ruida, Trocen, TopWisdom and GCode-based controllers giving you complete control
  • Image tracing features
  • Excellent video tutorials

Cons

  • Not compatible with Leetro controllers – although you can design with Lightburn, export as .dxf and transfer to the machine via Lasercut

Adobe Illustrator (Paid – Free Trial Available)

A screenshot of Adobe Illustrator with a vector design ready for engraving

Illustrator is the industry standard in vector graphics with some extremely advanced features.

It’s an extremely popular and versatile piece of software. It can be quite overwhelming for a graphics beginner but, it has just about everything you could ever need for working with vector graphics.

Without listing every feature, you can trace images, design business cards, create topography and even design a website, all in this one program.

You can find deeper look at its features in this PCMag review.

If you use Photoshop, InDesign, Premiere Pro or any other Adobe software you can save money by subscribing to one of the various Adobe CC packages.

Adobe Illustrator Logo

Pros

  • Extensive range of features for working with vector graphics
  • Image tracing feature
  • Free 7-day trial
  • 100’000s of video tutorials available online

Cons

  • Monthly subscription (around £25)
  • Can take some getting used to for beginners

Adobe Photoshop (Paid – Free Trial Available)

An screenshot of Adobe Photoshop design software

Photoshop is the most well-known of these programs. It’s so widely used that “photoshopped” is now in the English dictionary.

This software has expanded massively since its release in 1990 and is now the industry standard of digital arts.

It’s primarily a raster graphics program frequently used for image retouching and processing for laser engraving.

Adobe Photoshop Logo

Pros

  • Excellent for retouching images
  • Free 7-day trial available
  • Although it’s raster-based, you can work with and export files that can be converted to vector-based software when necessary
  • 100’000s of video tutorials available online

Cons

  • More geared towards re-touching pixel-based images and graphic design than working with vectors efficiently
  • Monthly subscription (around £25)
  • Fairly high RAM usage

CorelDRAW (Paid – Free Trial Available)

A screenshot of Corel Draw software being used to create vector shapes of a tiger

CorelDRAW is a powerful vector-based software available for Windows and macOS.

It is extremely popular throughout the laser industry and is one of Adobe Illustrator’s biggest competitors.

Although quite expensive, there are various buying formats covering different packages, subscriptions and lump sum payments.

It has a large range of features and a highly customisable interface, you can even change to an Illustrator layout if you’re more familiar with that.

CorelDRAW Logo

Pros

  • Large number of features specific to working with vectors
  • Similar to Adobe Illustrator
  • Image tracing feature
  • Offers free 15-day trial – no card required
  • Thousands of video tutorials are available online

Cons

  • Some macOS users report a slightly ‘laggy’ response
  • Expensive (around £40 monthly, £300 annually, or £500+ one-off payment)

PhotoGrav (Paid)

A screenshot of Photograv engraving software in use

PhotoGrav is an image processing software predominantly used to process raster images so they can be laser engraved onto material whilst sacrificing minimal detail.

However, PhotoGrav is also compatible with vector graphics.

It’s incredibly easy to use, even with little or no graphics experience, this can save you a lot of time processing images in various other programs.

One huge perk of PhotoGrav is the simulation mode, providing you with an example of what your design is likely to look like on various materials, from anodized aluminium to painted acrylic and woods.

Although the render is not 100% accurate, it gives you a very good indication of how your engraving will look.

PhotoGrav Logo

Pros

  • Easy to use software for beginners
  • It’s standout feature is it’s job simulation mode with various materials
  • Telephone support
  • Can be used along with Color Clipart from CorelDraw

Cons

  • Pretty expensive as far as simple software goes – that being said, its function and ease of use are unparalleled
  • Not compatible with macOS

GIMP (Free Laser Design Software)

A screenshot showing the free GIMP graphic editing software

GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) is an open-source graphics editor compatible with Windows, macOS and Linux.

It’s a raster graphics program used for photo retouching, image composition and image authoring.

It’s free to download, so makes a good place to start for a beginner or simply to save money after purchasing your new laser cutter.

GIMP Logo

Pros

  • Completely free for life
  • Multi-platform support
  • Has a good number of features for free software

Cons

  • The interface is very cluttered compared to others
  • Little support available
  • Updated much less frequently than premium options

Inkscape (Free Laser Software)

A screenshot of Inkscape design software and a vector shape

Inkscape is an open-source vector graphics software.

It’s free, compatible with Windows, macOS and Linux, and only uses 82mb of storage, making it ideal for anyone who wants to dive into the world of graphics without forking out for new software and hardware to do so.

There are many great free plug-ins available that can be useful and save time, go to fixthephoto to check some of them out.

Inkscape Logo

Pros

  • Completely free for life
  • Works well on slower/older computers
  • Tutorials are easy to find

Cons

  • Can be slow when working with large files
  • Be sure to save your work very regularly – some users report it crashing quite often

Summing Up & Our Final Thoughts

Choosing software can be daunting, especially for a beginner.

Yet, each of these programs offers either a free trial, money-back guarantee or is completely free, giving you a great opportunity to try out as many as you like.

As a beginner, it certainly makes sense to try a couple of programs to see which you feel the most comfortable with. You can always try another program in the future.

If you are already used to one of these programs, you’re likely to stick with it, particularly premium software such as Adobe & Corel.

That being said, we highly recommend trying out Lightburn over all of the others. It’s a great all-rounder, costs significantly less, and is fast and easy to use.

And for those who aim to engrave top-quality images, PhotoGrav is the way to go.

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