There are a ton of different programs out there for setting up a file for cnc use. Our go-to would be Autocad for cnc (2d). Autocad allows you to easily export in a convinient dxf file for 2d (3 axis) cnc machining. We recommend exporting a dwg drawing first in a 1:1 scale where possible so you can see what everything is going to look like before-hand.
Sending the file to your cnc person/ if you have your own cnc software will allow you to get an estimate on the time it will take to cnc cut your cnc autocad dxf file. Typically most software programs can run the virtual path and calculate just how long your job will take on certain materials. If we’re talking a 3 axis machine here, then the time should be somewhat short.
Autocad has some neat features that you may want to take advantage of. What you can do is keep all your ‘cnc cut’ related files on one specific layer, while other parts of your drawing can be on other layers like the dimensions and notes. That way you can easily turn off the other layers and export your file for your next cnc project.
One downside to Autocad back in the day is the lack of an integrated nesting program. Now there is a great solution called TruNest. This extra add-on integrates directly with Autocad so you can easily nest all your parts in the most efficient way without having to do this manually or export to a program like Rhino. You can set all your nesting parameters and the program will give you a report. This is great as the nesting process used to be a lot harder. You can always export if you wish and do some final touch ups before sending the TruNest final dxf files for cnc.
With more advanced 3d cnc routing or machining work with 5 axis cnc routers, you can use AutoCAD 3d or Inventor, but we also recommend programs like Solidworks for creating 3d items that you can export as an iges, igs or step file for sending off to a cnc or rapid prototyping center. The difference between Step and Iges files have often been the topic of hot debate as to which one you should export as. Honestly, it comes down to your cnc or rapid prototyping center that you are working with. You’ll always want to reopen in a different program where possible to double check the export of your 3d file for quality.
Most programs have the standard export file extensions so you should be able to get away with an Autocad substitute if thats not the way you want to go. Even with Adobe Illustrator you can do an export, however nothing really has the power for 2d like Autocad does.
Which program do you use when you do cnc work and why do you think it works well?