What software to learn first

hey guys, so excited, just pulled the trigger on a pro model for our shop. Im excited by the ease of use showcased on the website and in forums. I have no experience with lasers and was wondering if people could chime in on what software I should start learning on? Im proficient in photoshop but never got around to illustrator… Sounds like sketch up is pretty easy to navigate as well? any input would be appreciated!


The other free 2D package is Inkscape. As a joke I wanted to say Robot Turtles. But didn’t.


I second Sketchup and Inkscape in terms of what people talk about on the forum and what I use, though no laser at this point. 123D Make is also discussed for disassembling a 3D model in slices. It’s free. If you have access to Illustrator that’s good. Lots of plug ins. Important for vector work.


MS excel… Oh wait that is only me. Inkscape and Sketchup are indeed the big two. Free, solid online communities and tutorials, relatively easy to pick up basics. Also from what I can see, it can output useable files. AI also seems to be popular. Gimp seems to be out, because it’s bitmap and not vector.

Openscad has been mentioned a bit, but it’s not the easiest thing. Well it’s sort of easy, sort of. AutoCAD and solidworks should work, but there seems to be some sort of prejudice against DXFs. Not sure of any details.

It seems that in terms of software, as best as can be told atm, free software is perfectly good for this machine.

Yup, Inkscape, a good “open source” program and improving all the time. I’ve just bought a CNC router to “learn” 3D while waiting for my GlowForge and after much playing around with different packages have opted to teach myself Fusion360. The program has way more features than I’ll ever need but,by learning as much as I need, and maybe a bit more, I should be able to translate that knowledge to other packages such as Sketchup.

You can export from AutoCAD (and I believe Solidworks) as a PDF, so you’re great to use those.
Agreed, if you have to pick one package pick a vector program like Illustrator or Inkscape, and if you’re going to pick two add a CAD package like Sketchup and Fusion360.


@rpegg, maybe @dan should throw in a copy of Robot Turtles to anyone who upgrades to the pro! slightly more seriously, thanks for the advice glowforge community, reading some of these posts and comments took me from on the fence to going for it.

I’m still uncertain where laser cutting will lead me so am not speaking from experience, but it seems to me that good answers to your question will depend at least a little on what you intend to make with your Glowforge. I’m guessing that artistic stuff, like engravings and line art will need something like Illustrator ($$$) or Inkscape (free) and mechanical objects with assemblies of laser cut parts will benefit more from CAD software like SolidWorks ($$$), Sketchup (free), Fusion 360 (free or $), Onshape (free or $$) or others. The benefit of 3D CAD software is that you can use that to more easily design inter-related parts that need to fit together. If you want to build kinetic sculptures, the more advanced features of the better CAD programs will let you simulate the motion of the linked parts. Search here for orerry or kinetic sculpture to see examples.

I use GeoMagic Design (previously known as Alibre) or Onshape for CAD and both of them can export files (typically 2D drawings of a 3D part) as a DXF file which GF should be able to use for cutting.

For 2D line art, I have Microsoft Visio and recently downloaded Inkscape. Both of those can export or save DXF or SVG files. Apparently, SVG is also a good file format for the Glowforge.

If you are proficient in photoshop, and have access to illustrator, then start with that and follow some tutorials on youtube to get you going. lot of similarities between IL and PS.


I just thought I’d pop in to mention that US and Canadian military veterans can get SolidWorks Student Edition for $20.



I personally have been using DCAD, which is a free 2D Cad program, that natively saves to .DXF formats. Compared to other CAD programs, this one has one of the lowest system requirements.

I’ve really liked the SketchUp and Inkscape combination to get started. If you’re new to 3D modeling they are a very easy starting point. I have some tutorials on SketchUp on my youtube channel:


Once you have learned all the basics, then you might want to invest some time in a more complicated but more powerful program. I’m currently evaluating a couple to see what they can do. I’m now looking at openSCAD and Rhino (with GrassHopper or Python scripting).

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Just a caution for Sketchup (which I adore and use daily): SU doesn’t create true curves, only facets. (example: circles are really polygons)
Those facets can be tiny if you create them correctly, but nonetheless, an important distinction if you’re making anything with tight tolerances or requires a fluid line.
Illustrator, Inkscape and Autocad will make true curves.


I just downloaded Fusion360 (for mac, free with the enthusiast/startup license) and went through the first set of tutorials… remarkably easy to get my head around. 3D software has come a long, long way since the last time I messed with it… which would have been 3DStudioMax in 2001. iMac did pretty darn well, which surprised me, although rendering kicked the fans onto high (first time I’ve heard them).

@jbv, Don’t forget to try Rhino. It’s known to be the best. And NURBS are a cool way to model. I never liked the way 3DSmax worked, so I feel your pain.

What about CorelDraw? Any ideas on that?

@rlreseck, I do almost all of my 2D design/vector work in CorelDraw and plan to use it with the GlowForge. I have asked Dan about direct support for CorelDraw and he said that was in the idea hopper. I prefer CorelDraw to Illustrator for a number of reasons but mostly because it’s what I know best. I have used it since the late 1990s. For a while in the early 2000s, I worked with Illustrator but eventually drifted back to Corel. I use it for graphic design and for some of my CNC router work. I just had a garage/office/studio built and created the floor plans, section views, and trim details in CorelDraw. It is relatively easy to learn the basics but it does require some effort through experimentation or watching training videos to learn all the advanced features.

Thanks for the reply, John. I’m the same way. I’ve used Corel since version 3 and I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon. I did documentation for some of PPG’s paint division years back and used it for the illustration. I’ve never tried illustrator although I probably should. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see, right? Thanks again.

Even if there is not direct support between CorelDraw and the Glowforge, CorelDraw does export in formats that the GF will accept. That’s how I work with my vinyl printer/cutter - exporting from CorelDraw as EPS directly into the RIP software.

This is in response to the Solidworks Software

Make sure you check the system requirements carefully including the graphics card. Software only uses graphics cards that are designed for CAD systems and not for general use or gaming. Otherwise it is a great deal for vets.