(Second Update: read below for original review)I am no longer a shop teacher teaching Aspire, but I bought the software outright as soon as I left. I have the newest version of Aspire 9 and I didn’t even have equipment to use it on when I bought it. It is the so important to all I make, that it is was my first purchase. Since then, I have bought a laser cutting machine and just received a 6040 CNC router in the mail, but the router isn’t all set up yet. I use Aspire for the laser. I know it is overkill as I am only running vectors, but Aspire is so good at designing vector work for CNC, that it is still the perfect software. I have found some vector work I like doing in Illustrator better, but in general, Aspire is my go-to laser cutter design software. I like the nesting, offsets, alignment tools etc. I am using Illustrator now for vector tab work. I like making some laser parts cut out but not completely so the parts have to pop out later. Illustrator has a wonderful dot/dash tool that can add little vector tabs. I, once, did it manually in Aspire by cutting vectors spacing and so on, but that took time. Illustrator solved that. The new update allows for 2 sided machining. I have already used that tool and it wasn’t the quickest learning curve, but it works. I redesigned my wood flute in Fusion and brought it into the 2 sided machining and once I learned how to make it work, I was pretty impressed.
(original review)We have been using Vectric software for four years now. We are lucky enough to use their flagship software Aspire. Aspire has become the cornerstone of our program as we use it to operate 7 different machines in the class. It has limitations, but they are beyond our equipment.
We use the software as intended on our 4 CNC routers. We use the software as a vector designer for our CNC plasma and desktop cutting plotter. On those machines we export the .dxf files for post processing on machine specific software. We have converted photos and designs into .stl files for our 3D printer.
The ease of post-processing for our CNC routers was the biggest reason for choosing Aspire. We have grown to use Aspire as a powerful vector tool. We have prepared some vectors in Aspire and exported to Solidworks because Aspire was easier.
There isn’t a day that goes by in our program that doesn’t have dozens of students using Aspire. It is one of the most important tools in our program.
Update 3/20/2107: It’s been a couple years since I posted this and a lot of people are reading this review which is not what I originally had planned, so I thought I would put a little more thought into my review.
I believe that we have now successfully carved between 5000-6000 files. I have no idea how that ranks up to any professionals or hobbyists, but I imagine it’s in the middle somewhere. I feel that way about most of what we do. We probably make a fair bit more than average hobbyist, but measurably less than professionals.
We are finding some things that I would love altered, but overall it’s still the strongest piece of my program. We are still using Aspire 4.5, but 8.5 hasn’t added enough changes to make the jump yet. This isn’t a knock on 8.5, but rather a compliment to the strength of 4.5.
Here is what I can say for certain. I can get 30 new high school students to use this software and successfully carve their own design in about 2 hours. From introduction to final work coming out of the CNC machine in 2 hours is a solid testament to the small learning curve to the introduction of the software. Now that being said, I have students that have used and done well with all parts of the software and after 4 years they are still working on learning the details of what is possible. It is a solid piece of software for the beginner and also for the advanced designer or artist or small scale shop. I have only a few minor limitations that I have run into.
I still use Solidworks. It allows for more detailed planning of both parts and assemblies. I know that Vectric is not trying to replace Solidworks, but with a few modifications, I imagine that we could stop using Solidworks altogether when planning advanced or more detailed CNC parts.
Here are the changes I would make:
1st. Allow use of 3D mice from companies like 3Dconnexion. I reached out to them and they said it was about a 2-4 day process once Vectric contacts them and decides on this.
2nd. 3D modeling tab next to the modeling tab. In this tab, you could work with the material similar to a Solidworks model with extrusions, lofts, extruded cuts, etc. Once you are done modeling, you could cut the part in different ways to find acceptable machining sections for 2 sided or 4 sided or even more planned CNC parts. Right now, you can only view from 1 side of the material and generally there are more sides than that. I get that 99% of all the work used only needs that one side and I am not suggesting that this is a huge problem. It brings in Solidworks parts pretty well, but final carves and cuts have to be imagined and not actually seen in the preview.
3rd. More measuring tools. Like a smart dimensioning tool. If you click on the side vector of a square the dimension pops up and you can change that dimension by clicking on that dimension. This would also allow for smart dimensioning distances, which is one of the most valuable tools in Solidworks that isn’t replicated yet in Aspire. I like being able to see all of my dimensions in one place and know that if I change them, the vectors snap to my dimensional changes. This would also allow for dimensions and spaces to be mathematically created by formulas. Also, I like adding permanent relations in Solidworks. The alignment tool works really well in Aspire, but this could be taken to another level by adding permanent alignment relations. Grouping has allowed for some of this, but not enough to be as helpful as Solidworks. I mostly use Grouping to keep me from screwing something up. Permanent Relations would allow alterations while keeping certain values fixed.
4th. There are a couple gadgets I could image as very helpful, but that seems like an extremely complex system. I have no solution for that, but there is room for real growth in that department.
5th. Vector layers at specific depths of material. Imagine a square on layer 1 at a height of .75 inches and a Circle directly below on another layer of 0.5 inches. Then you could model between them. In Solidworks, this is lofting, but could be done in the modeling tab with stunning results.
Things we use very often: Trace Bitmap, align objects, transform objects, offsets, linear and circular arrays, node editing, trim vectors, join open vectors, Draw curve, text, Create component from bitmap, modeling, 2 rail sweep, smoothing tool, drafts to models Toolpaths: Pocket, Profile, V-Carve, rough and finish, texture.
Final Thoughts “so far”: If you are into wood and CNC there is nothing more you need than this software. I can get as artsy as I want, but also I can get as technical as I want. It is extremely user friendly, powerful and also the user forum has strong users always willing to help.
You can get ideas and help on the vectric forum.
These pictures are a couple of screenshots of how we prepared one of our skateboards.