Open Source / Free modeling software suggestions?

I figured we should talk about the best tools for use in generating SVGs to send to the glowforges when they arrive.

Recently I joined the thingiverse and tried out a hand full of modeling software including Sketchup and some other freebie desktop CADs.

So far I’ve really liked Tinkercad, though the SVGs need a little cleanup. they’ve got some interesting issues with weird internal geometry, especially after you’ve done a bunch of boolean subtractions (pardon my old Rhino terminology). The software is pretty simple, but is web based, has a clean and pretty usable UI, and it’s made for modeling for 3D printing & laser cutting.

Next up, I’m looking forward to trying out 123D Design and 123D Make from Autodesk, but I have yet to sit down with them. What are others’ prefered setups for modeling and SVG generation?

If I could have my rathers, I’d like a parameterized CAD with an easy to use UI. Does anyone have any other suggestions?


All good suggestions, when working on something basic or 2d Inkscape is a good choice free and small download. For 3d there is also (google) sketchup as a simple free/cheap option.

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I plan on using Inkscape and Sketchup. Both are free, easy to use, and have some great tutorials to help you learn them.

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Ooh, I like the idea of using Inkscape, my old version of Illustrator has been having troubles on my new computer.

So far, having tried Sketchup, I feel like it is hard to specify the exact dimensions that I want, but perhaps I just need more experience with setting dimensions on things. I expect that I’m going to make a lot of joints with interlocking edges, requiring precision on measurements wrt. thickness of the stock.

Inkscape is a native SVG editor but kind of a pain to use. 123D Make is the awesome. Pepakura Designer is also really fun for unfolding 3D models.

At the office, we use:

  • Adobe Illustrator
  • Inkscape
  • Fusion360
  • 123D Make
  • Sketchup

Also played with Tinkercad and Pepakura, both look neat.

You gave me an idea… I will drop a few emails around and see if I can get some of the nonfree software folks to give discounts to Glowforge owners.



How did you make plans for your leather bag for your iPad? Any specific software you used for that, since it’s more complicated I think? I’m really interested in doing something like that :smile:

Would be cool if you could give some pointers so I don’t screw up and end up with a fanny pack when making my own design :stuck_out_tongue:

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I’ve been learning my way around inkscape, but am also looking at both Onshape and Fusion 360. Onshape is cloud based and “free” in the sense that you can mark up to 10 designs as private and everything else is public unless you pay a monthly fee. I stopped exploring Sketchup because I’m an exact dimensions kinda guy and it seemed a relative dimensions kinda tool. Maybe that’s just what happens when you learned drafting with a t-square, two triangles, a compass and some vellum.


@dan, that would be huge & awesome!

Quick question about Illustrator. Is there a plugin that works with-in AI that will allow it to talk ‘directly’ (client > cloud > GF) to the GF family devices? Or do you have to export from AI then import into the GF app?

If there is a plug-in, Is there a demo of it running somewhere? And will that plugin interfere with other plugins like what’s used for the silhouette cutters?

@karaelena - I’m pretty sure that you would work in AI then save it as a SVG or DXF, upload it to the Glowforge app then send it to the Glowforge. I think that may be the workflow for all of the apps in some way.

Although I do know work there so I don’t really know.

@briski - I would love to know how he did this too!

@briski: the leather bag story is so good I’m going to make it its own post.
@caribis: you can be precise in sketchup but it takes some keyboard shortcuts and fussing. You’re right it’s not optimized for that.
@koos42: thank you!
@karaelena: Yes. And you’ll get to see it shortly. was in town yesterday and they dropped in to shoot some video…


EPIC!. This means my current workflow will not change. So, So cool.

Will there be a plugin similar to the AI one for use with CorelDraw? I think I saw that somewhere but now I can’t find what I saw. Thanks!

@johnwills: added to the wishlist.

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For the Glowforge violin I’m attempting, I needed something a little more than inkscape for visualizing and a little better than Sketchup for parametric parts. I’ve now been trying Onshape as an alternative. The free version lets you have up to 10 private documents and I’ve found I can keep all interlocking parts in 1 document and keep them separated while still visualizing each relationship on each part. the version history on parts is nice as well since you can roll back edits to any point in history. it’s browser based so I can log in from tablet/pc also.

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Antimony is a pretty rad graph-based CAD solution. The approach should feel familiar to anyone who has used Rhino+Grasshopper or similar parametric design tools.

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I’ve heard great things about OpenSCAD if you’re a programmer.

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I’ll second @Joshua with the Onshape suggestion. As someone who used to model stuff in SolidWorks, I’ve found Onshape really easy to transition to–it’s a very different approach to CAD (given that it’s cloud/browser based and all) but it seems like a great idea for a lot of use cases. I guess the only trick will be in figuring out a workflow for using the Glowforge to produce parts designed in Onshape… My current thought involves using the technical drawing environment (Onshape’s version of like DWG Editor) to spit out DXFs of the individual parts? Depends on how DXF support works out with the Glowforge, though.


I’m really excited about Onshape, as I works on my Mac (unlike SolidWorks) and has all the assembly and constraint functionality SketchUp (my current CAD platform of choice) lacks.

I’ve played around a bit with Onshape recently, and I have to say I’m extremely impressed. It’s a totally different way to design parts than I’m used to, so the learning curve is a bit steep, but its worth the time investment.

I also like that it runs on iOS devices as well, so if I’m on location I can pull up a part and demo it.