Getting things for free makes for a great day, whether it is a cup of Joe or software -- except when it comes to quality that is. Nobody wants to gulp down stale coffee or use software with dubious functionality, no matter what the cost. The same can be said for the myriad of free CNC milling software on the Internet today, which typically doesn't cater to those who have just begun to learn the basics for CAD-based design.
Inventables is looking to change that notion by bringing simplicity along with quality back into the world of free design software with their recent release of Easel, a browser-based design and fabrication platform.
CNC projects are typically done using CAD-based software such as SolidWorks or Autodesk to design objects, which is then exported over to a CAM-based setup that translates the data into code that instructs the mill on how to cut the material. In some cases, it takes a while for users to master those programs to be able to design intricate projects like professionals, which can (and often is) stressful to say the least.
Easel on the other hand, was created with beginners in mind. It acts as sort of a gateway app that takes novices from project inception to actual milling in roughly five minutes.
Inventables CEO Zach Kaplan recently unveiled the software at this year's SXSW (South by Southwest) trade show in Austin, Texas. Users design their projects in 2D either by free hand, uploaded vector file, or from a template of shapes offered by the software itself, which is transitioned into 3D in real time. The software notes the areas of the material that will be cut away as the project progresses, giving users a better picture of what the final outcome will be once the object is cut. Once the project is complete, users can instruct Easel to control their CNC machines using their design parameters to mill their creations, without the need for any go-between software.
Users are also able to design with myriad materials in mind, including wood, plastics, and soft metals (titanium users are out of luck), as Easel does all the heavy calculations for each specified material. The design template of the software looks rather simplistic to use. However, looks can be deceiving, since underneath that template is the automated CAM portion of the application, which is essentially invisible.
Actually, the software was designed to accompany the Inventables Shapeoko 2 mill, but can be used in conjunction with almost any CNC machine currently on the market (although not through a USB connection). To get their designs off the ground, users need only enter a few parameters to get their projects created, including material type and thickness, cut depth and bit size, everything else is automated.