CAD and CAM Software

Okay, time to look at options for CAD (Computer Aided Design) and CAM (Computer Aided Manufacturing) systems for operation of my various CNC projects.

Here are the prospects:

Google Sketchup

Seems to be a Windows and Mac CAD program. I was able to run this on a Linux Ubuntu using WINE as follows.

-Moved the file to /home/darcy/.wine/drive_c (I’m not sure if this was necessary)
-Right click the file. Change the properties so that it’s executable.
-Rich click the file. Open with Wine.

Sketchup was unable to initialize OpenGL! Please make sure you installed the correct drivers for your graphics card. Error: ChoosePixelFormat failed

After it installed, I ran the program by going to Wine in the menu/Wine programs. I got the error “Sketchup was unable to initialize OpenGL! Please make sure you installed the correct drivers for your graphics card. Error: ChoosePixelFormat failed”

I needed the following registry change:

Open  wine menu, open  C drive (/home/user/.Wine)
Open  Windows Folder
Find Regedit.exe and run it with Wine
Navigate to: HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Google\SketchUp6\GLConf ig\Display
There are three entries – Look at the bottom one, name ‘HW_OK”
Double click it and change the data from a 0 to a 1
Run Sketchup

2D Cutting: PhlatScripts plug-in can make g-code for simple work. You can download the plug-in at You can install it by unzipping it into the Sketchup folder found in the “Program Files” folder. It seems to work in Linux under WINE as well.

3D Cutting: I’ve been using MeshCAM from ( which I am quite happy with. It probably work for 2D Cutting too. You need to export the Sketchup file to an STL file using a plug-in such as STL Exporter.

Paul Mumbi has a RepRap and has been using an open source STL Exporter Sketchup plugin (once added to the plugin directory, it shows up in the Sketchup tools menu. From there he uses Skeinforge STL to g-code converter. This should work for additive as well as subtractive work. I have not been able to get the Skeinforge to run yet. I sent a note to Paul to see if he can tell me what he did.

Michal Zalewski mentioned FreeMill from MecSoft as a CAM solution. This looks very nice. After installing it, I noticed that it can import files of type (.vmp .sla/.stl .3dm .wrl .raw .vmp .sla/.stl .3dm .wrl .raw). So theoretically this is a good solution for 3d cutting. So it can work with Sketchup using the STL Exporter. I have tried it. It seems to work. You need to open it as administrator for it to work (right click, open as admin). I was able to get through making one part. There are a few problems to work out.

There is also the Phlat 3D at their site.

G-code viewing: There is a Sketchup plugin for viewing the g-code (GPlot1.2).  Simple place these files in the plugin directory. It will appear in the plugin menu and will show the last g-code you generated.

I’ve also been using NCPlot to preview any g-code files. The evaluation period expired and I’ve not had a chance to evaluate it so I’ll discontinue the use of this and look for something else.


Guy of OttawaRoboics and ArtEngine showed me this. It seems great for simple objects and generates g-code. It seems to work great. The catch is that it’s a Windows only program. The evaluation will eventually expire but the software is reasonably priced. I’ve used it a bit. It look okay for simple stuff. It’s a little slow going on the data entry and is not really friendly.

MeshCAM Michal Zalewski brought this to my attention. It is affordable software with a free trial of one month. More info here:

I have been talking to Robert Grzesek of MeshCAM and he is very helpful. This has been working out very well.


For converting between formats.


Tom Burns also suggested this for 2D. Turns out I’m already using this for my model airplaneproject. I like Inkscape so it will be interesting to see how easy it is to use it to create artwork with my CNC machines.


Micheal Grant of OttawaRobotics and ModLab has been talking this up and has acquired some evaluation licenses for our community. Apparently this is the all-and-end-all of of CAD. Micheal is going to lead a workshop on how to use this and I will attend this. He says many of the concepts are transferable to other software. He has given a walkthrough of the software for the community as well. Challenge: Once the evaluation expires, the software is profoundly expensive.


CAD/CNC: ( ( This was suggested of Andrew Plum of ModLab/ArtEngine. I checked my ubuntu repositories and there’s nothing there. I went to the heeks site and found a link to Ubuntu packages but the link doesn’t work. I sent a note to Dan Heeks asking about it. We’ll see what comes forward.

Dan got back to me quickly and mention they’re not up too much on Linux yet. We’ll see what happens on this one.

He said that you need to compile it in linux on your own. I’ll look at that if nothing else works well.


I took a stroll through my ubuntu program repository and found this. Will take a look at it.

I loaded it it up. Got some lovely error messages. The Chinese error was a nice touch as well. The program came up. I clicked help and got an error. Hmmmm, might be a lot of work to figure out.


Tom Burns of ORE suggested this. I found it in my ubuntu repository and am installing it.

Loads up like a charm. Looks very sexy. I need to spend time figuring this one out.


Tom suggested this for circuit board design.

Rhino 3d was suggested to my by Michal Zalewski who wrote this amazing article:

Alibre CAD

Also recommended by Michal Zalewski. He said it’s less expensive than Rhino.

Some interesting points I’ve heard:

“… in general, there are substantial differences between general 3D modeling programs and CAD tools, so I wouldn’t be getting my hopes up when it comes to conveniently using Blender or Sketchup”. —Michal Zalewski

“Solidworks and SolidEdge get my vote. These 2 really are miles beyond anything else in 3d CAD. You can use AutoCAD, etc. fairly effectively for 2d stuff assuming you don’t want to moch up your assemblies (or don’t want to do that easily?).

That said you absolutely need to have someone show you the basics with Solidworks. Learning it on your own is very painful (I learned this way but it took substantially longer to learn then people I’ve taught since then).

Cool things in solidworks (these should all be in solidedge as well):
2d and 3d parametric design and driving dimensions. Believe it or not having designs that scale nicely are not built into the majority of CAD software outside Solidworks, SolidEdge and Inventor (I struggled hard with AutoCAD on this before switching to Solidworks).
assemblies allow you to visualize your finished product better. You can also test clearances using this. On my deltabot I assemble every part to it’s connecting parts before printing so that I can check it’s range of motion, etc… very handy.
Parametric assemblies and blocks allow you to scale features across multiple parts without having to edit each individually.
Really it’s about automation. Things you can spend hours on in other CAD software are done automatically in Solidworks and that’s why I use it, because it allows you to generalize a design and then edit the parameters you actually care about until it’s perfect.” — Rob

I would second the tag. AutoCad has always been very
aggressively focused on a 2D “electronic drafting table” paradigm,
which is workable in the construction/architectural industry, but
really kind of broken in a lot fundamental ways. There were
prototypes done in the 60s at MIT and other places that remain more
progressive than autoCAD.

Solidwork is a neat package, but, as Rob said, kind of heavy-duty to
learn on your own. In my opinion, a nice in-between package is Rhino
— it’s a surface, rather than a solid modeler, and not really
parametric in any strong way, but, as I always describe it: “it’s like
autoCAD, but in 3D and without the suck.”

Very gentle learning curve, powerful suite of commands, very intuitive
and user-friendly.

I’ve worked with autoCAD everyday for years, and it still feels like a
struggle. Every now and then I open Rhino and can just breathe a sigh
of relief. — Liav