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The most common cutter control programs

In this page I will try to deal with some cutter control programs commonly used in the hobby field.

To say that the program "X" is better than "Y" or that "Z" is the most functional is very difficult to say.

There are too many factors that need to be taken into consideration; first of all the ability of those who use it to know how to use it in all its functions.


To make any part with a CNC milling machine, we basically need two types of programs:

  • The first is the one that manages all the movements of the cutter: it is practically the one that controls the rotation of the stepper motors, as well as the limit switches, the switching on and off of the cutter power tool and ... so on, and we will talk about this here  It is the actual control program of the cutter, it communicates with the electronic control driver through the output of the parallel port (sometimes also with the serial or USB port).  Some control programs are: Mach3, LinuxCNC, DeskNC, KCam4 and many others.

  • The second type of program we need is the one that allows us to transform the design of the part to be machined into a file that the cutter control program (the one I described above) will then use in order to control it.  Usually this type of program is generically called CAM.  There are also many of these programs, see: ArtCam, Mastercam, Profili2, Gibbs Cam and many others.

I remember that all these software programs can be of a professional type, ie aimed at those who use them for work and on "real" numerical control work centers (CNC), and they certainly have high costs (from a thousand euros upwards), they require a lot commitment to be able to use them at their best and often a training course in their use is required.

They have many features and often the program is customized according to the type of processing to be performed (typically mechanical or artistic processing).

The cutter control programs for a more hobby and amateur use, have a much lower cost (about 100 euros or even free), are not very complex and can be learned to use alone or thanks to small user manuals attached to them .

They are made by people who are certainly capable and of good will, they also have these continuous updates and are suitable for use in a very wide spectrum of applications.

I often read in the forums that the "Tizio" cutter control program is much better than "Caio" because the cutter is faster.

Speed is not the most important thing to consider, also because this could be influenced by the type of computer you use (processor, RAM memory, working frequency), by the type of operating system installed on it (W98, WXP, Linux), the type of stepper motors installed in the cutter and the power supply voltage they work with as well as dozens of other reasons.

The high speed is often of no use to you, especially if you have to machine hard materials with small diameter cutters!

It is like buying a Ferrari car to use in cities with heavy traffic: you have paid dearly for it, you will certainly not go fast and perhaps you do not even know how to drive it.

You might as well have bought a nice and small subcompact, easy to use and that moves well in traffic (stupid comparison, but I think it gave you the idea of what I wanted you to understand).

The considerations I put for each program are obviously personal and are deduced from the type of use for which I use the programs.


It is perhaps one of the most popular parallel port programs in the world.
It is an excellent program, I recommend using it on desktop computers with at least 3 Ghz frequency and 1 G of RAM, 32-bit WXP operating system.
The configuration of the pins / signal and the input / output signals is quite simple, if you do not have the parallel port in your computer and you need to put an additional one, the difficulty will be to find its address to enter in the configuration.
At first glance the program is complex, it has many windows and displays of various controls, but then with use it becomes easy.
You can download and try the program in all its features, in demo mode there is only the limit of 500 program lines.
The cost of the license is not very high.


If you have  computer problems, in the sense that it is a laptop without parallel port, the operating system is 64-bit (see Windows 7 or 10), I recommend using this USB-LPT converter, specific for Mach3, you can find it  here.


LinuxCNC (formerly Emc2)

If you want a free program and if you don't like working with Windows, LinuxCNC is for you, but beyond that I must say it's a great parallel port program.
The configuration, in the new versions, has been very simplified, and in any case on YouTube and on the web you will find many tutorials.

Work on Ubuntu version 8.04 and also 10.04, the computer doesn't need much power.
The thing that many don't like about LinuxCNC is that there aren't many CAD and CAM programs on that operating system, so you have to use two computers, one for LinuxCNC and one for CAD / CAD, or you have to dual boot (Ubuntu - XP).
Another solution is to use the CAM program
  MeshCAM  (on Ubuntu system)



Unfortunately, the Kellyware site has been closed for some time now and the program has not been updated anymore. Kcam was still an excellent and functional program, it works with W98, W2000, WXP 32 bit
Use the parallel port to connect to the cutter control driver.
It has a nice, simple and functional user interface. 
NB: remember to use the “System Timing” command to calibrate the communication with the parallel port output according to the set axis speed.
Import files: G-code, DXF, Gerber, Excellon and HPGL.
It has a small on-line help that allows you to learn how it works.



It is a very particular program that needs a special electronic card with which it communicates and which in turn is connected to the cutter control driver.
This electronic board called "controller" contains inside all the components as if it were a small computer.
The purpose of this card is to relieve the computer, where the program is installed, from the task of data transfer to the driver.
In this way there is a much smoother and faster cutter movement control, communication takes place via serial port.
I bought and tried this type of system, it works very well.
The software is divided into three parts: cutter control, CAM with the creation of tool paths and a section dedicated to checking these paths.
The product is American, find info at the following link



It was the first USB card I tried, it was still the CPU3 version.

Now it has different models and for all needs (and pockets), they are well made cards that give excellent performance.

It is a Dutch product and I think its creator is capable and prepared, he is always constantly updating his products.

All the features can be found on his site:  EdingCNC



Another good card for USB port, also in this case more versions are available, there is also the KIT version, easy to assemble, obviously the license must be purchased.
Also for this card its creator is constantly updating both the hardware and the program.
I have used and use the MK1 version, the cost is quite low.
All the features on the site:  Planet CNC



It is the new version of the well-known Mach3 program, from what I have read, it has all been rewritten, it can still work on parallel port (but it is not recommended), but it should definitely be used with special interfaces (motion control) that connect with USB port . Mach4 is sold in different versions starting from the hobbyist to end up for industrial use, obviously the prices change as well as the type of license, which is now specific for a single computer.
Considering the cost of the license and the cost of the add-on card (motion control), it is likely that many will stay on Mach3.
All the features on the site:  Mach4


Theremino CNC

Last but not least ....

Theremino  it was a surprise.

I took the first module more out of curiosity than anything else, when I connected it to the driver that controls the cutter and configured it, I was struck by its functionality.

The Theremino module has special features, it is not a  brother / rival of Arduino or Raspberry, it is a very different philosophy and this  link  find all the explanations, in our case Theremino must be combined with the ThereminoCNC program, useless  rewrite all the features of this program, to this one  link find everything.


Summarizing the features of Theremino, I can tell you that this module connects via USB port to the computer (Windows 7, 8 and 10 32 or 64 bit operating system), and then, with a simple connection to an LPT connector, you can connect directly to the electronic driver which is designed to work with the parallel port of the computer, see photo on the left.

Moral: you can use a driver that works with the parallel port by connecting it to the computer with the USB port, but you have to use the specific program Theremino CNC (very simple and functional program), very important thing is that you only spent about 10 euros for the module ( I recommend that you buy it directly on their site  Thereminostore ), so you are no longer bound to the desktop computer with parallel port and 32-bit operating system (I'm talking about if you use the Mach3 program).

All the features of the Theremino CNC program can be found on the site, as well as the description of the best operational features of Theremino compared to Mach3 on parallel port, if you want to use this system, I recommend you create the toolpaths without the G02 and G03 commands, because , from tests done, sometimes they can give problems on some computers, rest assured, you can "live" without these commands.
The creators of Theremino and the developers of Theremino CNC are really good, considering the simplicity / cost of the module and that the program is completely free and constantly updated.

Attention, if you are working with your beloved program, see Mach3 or LinuxCNC, on parallel port, continue with this, but you know that if in the future you need to change computer or operating system (so no parallel port), there may be other solutions , see precisely Theremino


But many other cards are available, the ones that I have indicated are the ones that I have been able to try in person and that therefore I can give my opinion.
If you go to the Italian furum you will find several discussions and comparisons of performances between these and other cards, most of the opinions are "logical and coherent", sometimes there are "parochialism" and unfortunately also for taking part of "resellers".
Little tip: stay away from the Chinese clones of these cards, they don't work, and if they work ... not for long.

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