Beyond the software, I’d suggest having some “stuff” to cut and engrave. Pick a couple of projects (Google “scrollsaw patterns”) and you’ll find a lot of stuff that you can use in whatever software you choose - then get some 1/8" and 1/4" wood and acrylic. Those are the simplest things to start with, won’t stink up the house much (like leather can) and cheap enough that you don’t break the bank just learning.
Go with plywood instead of full-thickness stock. It’s cheaper and for some things better (like living hinges). Birch Plywood in 3 or 6mm (closest metric measurements to 1/8 & 1/4") is good. Woodcraft stores and Amazon carry it. Lots of other places too but those two are pretty convenient. You can get a box of BB Ply that’s 12" square which will fit nicely and let you play.
For acrylic make sure it says it’s “cast” acrylic. You’ll get more consistent results as the stock is more precisely sized and you’ll get very nice polished edges when cutting. It engraves & cuts very well. Again, this is available on Amazon and other places on the web as well as possibly local plastics outlets.
What kind of software are you familiar with? Have you done some image processing with Photoshop or something? MSPaint work? Do you understand the difference between a bitmap and a vector image? Can you use a scanner to put an image on your computer and then turn that image into something you can manipulate? Do you know of anyone who has some type of CNC machine, either vinyl cutter or CNC router? A little more info about what you are comfortable with might help us point some things out. Here is a good topic that explores how to start up in laser design and fabrication.
I will suggest Fusion 360 as it seems pretty simple to learn, use, and is free for individuals, makers, and I think really tiny businesses. Check it out. I could be wrong. It wouldn’t be the first time. I also grabbed 123Make but haven’t gotten to playing around with it. I also have Paint Shop Pro…I think the last one before it went to a monthly subscription.
Baltic Birch ply I’ve gotten from Amazon & Woodcraft have been very reliable with almost no knots or patches and apparently consistent gluing (no voids or glue pockets). Amazon has convenient 12x12" squares and Woodcraft has various sizes all the way up to 60" full sheets.
Amazon has also been very consistent with cast acrylic. Also in 12x12" square pieces and a variety of colors. It’s got factory labels as cast acrylic (and so noted in the product description) and cuts like cast so I assume it’s really cast acrylic.
Glad it’s worked for you! If it has a manufacturers’ label on it, you should be good. Just be sure you buy from the same supplier each time - a given amazon listing may come from different suppliers, and we did not have good experience with their baltic birch the one time we bought it from them.
If you have a local safety glass provider they should be able to provide samples for you to pick from and no shipping! We use a company called justice glass supply for all our safety glass and clear acrylic we need. Not sure if they would offer colors or not.
I honestly don’t know if it’s cast or acrylic we get either, I would have to call and see. We use it for covers on DC motors to make it easier on maintenance people to inspect comm and brushes without having to remove cover. So as long as it’s clear lol