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The Best Design Software for Laser Engraving and Laser Cutting

Laser engraving and laser cutting software

The Best Design Software for Laser Engraving and Laser Cutting

Many people ask us “what is the best design software for laser cutting?”


Just like many questions we’re asked, there are a number of variables. Even so, the answer is highly dependent on job requirements and personal preference. Budget, experience, and hardware also have a big influence.

Vector vs Raster

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

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

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


Design Software for Laser Engraving and Laser Cutting

Many laser machines come with Lasercut software (or similar), which is essentially a communication platform allowing a design to be sent to the machine. It is not intended for design, other than simple shapes and text. Here’s an overview of some of the most popular design programs used for laser cutting.


Adobe Photoshop

Photoshop is the most well-known of these programs. It’s that 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 a raster graphics program frequently used for image retouching and processing for laser engraving.

Adobe Photoshop Logo


  • Excellent for retouching images
  • Free 7-day trial available
  • Although it’s raster based, you can export files to be converted in a vector based software when necessary
  • Official tutorials online



  • Monthly subscription (around £20)
  • Fairly high RAM usage


Adobe Illustrator

Illustrator is the industry standard in vector graphics. 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 Finances Online review.

If you use Photoshop, InDesign, Premiere Pro or any other Adobe software you can save by subscribing to an Adobe CC package.

Adobe Illustrator Logo


  • Extensive range of features
  • Can link to Adobe CC
  • Image tracing feature
  • Free 7-day trial
  • Official tutorials online



  • Monthly subscription (around £20)
  • Can take some getting used to for beginners



CorelDRAW is a powerful vector-based software available for Windows and macOS. It is extremely popular throughout the laser industry, and is one of Illustrators 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


  • Large number of features
  • Similar to Illustrator
  • Image tracing feature
  • Offers free 15-day trial – no card required
  • Official tutorials online



  • Some macOs users report slightly ‘laggy’ response
  • Expensive (around £40 monthly, £300 annually, or £500+ outright)



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 an example of what your design is likely to look like on various materials, from anodized aluminium to painted acrylic and woods. Although not 100%, it gives you a very good indication of how your engraving will look.

PhotoGrav Logo


  • Easy to use
  • Job simulation
  • Telephone support
  • Can be used along with Color Clipart from CorelDraw



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



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 keep money in your pocket.



  • Completely free
  • Multi-platform
  • Has a good number of features



  • Interface is very cluttered
  • Little support available



Lightburn is rapidly becoming one of the most popular programs for laser cutting and engraving,  and for good reason. Not only does it have some clever features that can be used for editing, 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’s great for both vector and raster work, and is incredibly easy to use.

It is worth noting, Lightburn video tutorials are ridiculously easy to follow, enabling you to effectively use the program very quickly.

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


  • User-friendly
  • Relatively cheap
  • Free 1-month trial
  • Works with most Ruida, Trocen, TopWisdom and GCode based controllers
  • Image tracing features
  • Excellent video tutorials



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



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

Inkscape Logo


  • Completely free
  • Works well on weaker computers
  • Tutorials are easy to find



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


Choosing software can be daunting, especially as 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 trial 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 is, particularly premium software such as Adobe and Corel. That being said, we highly recommend trying out Lightburn. It’s a great all-rounder, costs significantly less, and is fast and easy to use. For those who aim to engrave top quality images, PhotoGrav is the way to go.


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