As a maker, we are constantly looking for new ways to realize our ideas and, as makers, we spend a lot of time sat behind the screen of a computer researching parts, materials, creating designs, slicing 3D prints or creating G-Code. Over the last 5-15 years I have used a ton of different software and have a suite that I find pretty useful, and I am sure you will too.
All the software below is either FOSS (Free Open-Source Software) or has a decent free version that is actually useable.
DISCLAIMER: We, NIVY Watch are in no way associated or sponsored by any of the below technology.
Ok, so lets start off big! Fusion 360 is for me one of the must-have tools of any maker. Now, there are people who do not like F360 and I understand the reasons why — It isn’t open-source, it is quite complicated for a beginner and Autodesk want money for it — well, sort of.
Autodesk is a big company, and we cannot predict the future but what I can say is Fusion 360 is one of the most comprehensive and accessible modelling systems available to the Maker.
Here is a very interesting read about why Fusion 360 is being created. Basically, its goal is to be a complete product development system, and it already fulfills that vision very well.
Autodesk offers free licenses for personal use and start-ups with revenue less than $100k annually. The license has to be renewed annually, but I have had mine 4 years now and have had no issues.
Learning any 3D CAD tool is very time-consuming, so I do advise you to do your own research on a tool you like but, no matter where I look, Fusion is the one for me!
Fritzing (or/and Tinkercad)
I used to use Tinkercad for this, and although Tinkercad is a great tool Tinkercad, I have found Fritzing to be better for actually drawing circuits.
Tinkercad is great for simulations. So if you want to test out a circuit, and you don’t have the time or parts, then you can do it on Tinkercad. It is limited and doesn’t have anywhere near the amount of parts available in Fritzing.
Fritzing has a huge community, so even if you buy a not so used MicroController, then the chances are someone has already created it for Fritzing. It is easy to import parts and draw out breadboards, schematics, PCB’s and code. It is also OpenSource which means it will probably be around for a while and is always free.
Both are great, and I suggest checking them both out for any electrical projects.
So, this one is a bit of an odd one out. Inkscape is an Open-Source Vector Graphics Editor. Its main purpose it to create logos, artwork, and vector based graphics. I use it for a range of things including logo design, app mock-ups & art boards. It is a great place to dump a load of images, text, colors, shapes. etc and it is saved in SVG format, so you can view it on multiple devices (sometimes).
It is comparable to Adobe Illustrator with Adobe Illustrator being slightly more feature rich but costs money. Inkscape is FOSS (Free Open-Source Software).
This one is a bit like InkScape but mainly for mocking up applications and websites. I use it for exactly that, and it excels in its field. The simplicity of use and the fact it’s free of charge are 2 reasons to give it a go. It is a must-have for anyone designing a new website or application.
Visual Studio Code
Not a programmer, not to worry. VSC (Visual Studio Code), is an IDE for programmers provided for free from Microsoft but it does so much more. I use it to write these blog posts in MarkDown, program microcontrollers and work on HTML. It has a truck load of extensions for almost any purpose and is easy to use.
QCad is a simple, FOSS 2D cad program. It is simple to use, easy on the eyes and lightweight. I have used it for many years just to quickly get a 2D drawing into some useable form. You can export into DXF and then import the sketches straight into Fusion 360.
ESTLCam is an easy-to-use, lightweight CAM for CNC Routers. I discovered this tool about 5 years ago and bought a license immediately. The developer is quick to respond if you need help, and it is the perfect CAM for anyone getting started. Within a few minutes you will generate your own tool paths and be up and running.
Things get messy as a maker. Projects all over the place, family, work, and life in general all need to be organized somehow.
I use ToDoist to make a list of all my projects in a KanBan style chart. I record their progress and create a load of to-do lists. I might never get around to them but when I do, I know exactly what I want to do next. You can also create a load of projects, so you can divide up family, work.etc. into separate categories and ToDoist is truly cross-platform. It works on all my devices with Native applications.
ToDoist — Referral Link, 2 months free for us both.
So, here are some of my favorite apps, these are the ones I install first whenever I destroy my computer. This is by no means a definitive list and everyone has their own specialty, but hopefully there are a couple of new ones here that help out any new or experience maker.