Derby Makers

The heart of Derby's Maker community

Software for Makers

One question that often comes up when people are looking at the machines is ‘What software do I use with this?’ I hope this gives a quick introduction. We’ll stick to free software where possible.

By machine type

2D Machines

Laser Cutter

Inkscape is usually the first one to try. It’s what we usually use for output to the cutter, and is a fair general purpose tool. If you’re after accurate dimensions you may want to try one of the 2D or 3D CAD packages though.

Vinyl Cutter

Inkscape is probably the best bet. If you use Linux you can use the InkCut extension to send your work directly to the cutter.

CNC Router

This is usually a two stage process, one to design the parts you want to make, and a second to convert that into the instructions for the router. The second stage at the Silk Mill will almost certainly be with vCarve, a commercial package available on some of the PCs there. There is a trial version which you could use to practice with, but its output can’t be used with the licensed version so you would need to redo any work on the licensed one.

The first stage has many options – anything that can produce a good DXF file for vCarve to read should work. I’d suggest LibreCAD as a good place to start, but any of the 2D CAD packages and most of the 3D CAD packages should be able to do it. Inkscape is an option too, but there are sometimes problems in scaling and in joining points when importing into vCarve.

3D Printer

This is a two stage process, one to model the shape and another to send it to the printer. Stage two is easy; if you’re starting out at the Silk Mill you will be using the Ultimaker to print, and their Cura package to send it to the printer.

For making your model it may depend on whether you are doing things for engineering or artistic reasons, although most people start with Sketchup. The 3D CAD packages or Blender may suit you better though.

By software type

Vector graphics

You can write extensions and macros in Python, or download and install existing ones. Examples include InkCut for vinyl cutting, and BoxMaker for tabbed boxes.

Raster graphics



Similar to vector graphics, but with better tools for dimensional accuracy and mechanical design. Also look at the 3D packages below, as most of them can also do 2D work.



A parametric 3D CAD package that can also be used for 2D. It can be extended with Python, and use parts made with OpenSCAD. It has some interesting modules for special purposes like architecture, robot simulation, rendering, boat hull analysis. FEM and Assembly modules are preliminary, but interesting developments.
HeeksCAD / HeeksCNC
The CNC output hasn’t been tried with the Silk Mill’s CNC Router.
A package with a long history, originating from the Ballistics Research Laboratory.
A CAD package for programmers – you write code and compile it to a solid model.

Solid Modelling

This may be a good place to start if you have no previous 3D experience. At various times it has been free, a free trial, or a paid for package. It mostly uses graphical input, though it can take typed commands where dimensional accuracy is needed. It also has a variety of extensions available.
This is primarily a 3D animation package, but you can use its models for printing.


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