X-Carve vs Shapeoko [2020]: Which CNC Machine is the Best?

By | February 24, 2020
X-Carve vs Shapeoko

If you’re looking at CNC – computer numerical control machine – you’ve probably come across the X-Carve and the Shapeoko kit.

Both work in a similar way, and they’re both designed to be used at home by smaller businesses or by hobbyists. Coming in at under $2,000, they’re a good choice for those wanting to dip their toes into CNC machining.

The question is – which one should you pick? In our X-Carve vs Shapeoko comparison, we’ll be looking at them both in detail. Let’s start with the main differences between them.

The Main Differences Between X-Carve vs Shapeoko

The main differences between X-Carve vs Shapeoko are:

  • X-Carve can be customized if you’re an experienced CNC user with a variety of add-ons, whereas the Shapeoko comes as one unit with no add-ons
  • X-Carve comes with a dust collector, whereas Shapeoko is a lot cheaper
  • X-Carve is a cloud-based software, whereas Shapeoko is a software that can be installed onto your PC or Mac
  • X-Carve software has some features locked behind a paid plan, whereas Shapeko’s free software contains all the features upfront
  • X-Carve takes a long time to install, whereas Shapeoko comes part-installed

X-Carve 3D Printer

X Carve

Created by the company Inventables, the X-Carve aims its marketing directly at small business owners, advertising how they have helped to transform the lives and businesses of its users, thanks to its relatively low price, ease of use, and free software.

What does it have to offer, particularly vs laser cutting and laser engraving (laser tech in general)? Let’s look at the tech specs to see how it measures up.

X-Carve Specifications

Work Area

  • 1000mm rails
  • X-axis: 750mm
  • Y-axis: 750mm
  • Z-axis: 65mm

Machine Footprint

  • 1000mm rails
  • X-axis: 1250mm
  • Y-axis: 1000mm
  • Z-axis: 350mm

Accuracy

A correctly tuned and calibrated (rack and pinion) machine should get to a resolution of  ~0.075mm to 0.13mm.

Electronics

  • X-Controller with Grbl installed
  • Input Voltage: 115VAC or 230VAC

Spindle

  • Model: DeWalt 611
  • Amps: 7.0 Amps
  • Horsepower: 1-1/4HP
  • No load speed: 16,000 – 27,000rpm

Rapid Rate – Recommended Defaults:

  • X-axis: 8000mm/min
  • Y-axis: 8000mm/min
  • Z-axis: 500mm/min

The Main Features of the X-Carve

x carve 3d printer

The most striking feature of the X-Carve is that it is designed firmly with small business owners in mind. From the free web app, Easel, to the huge online ‘Projects’ area to give their users inspiration, it’s designed to make it easy to quickly create new products to sell.

Easel Pro offers even more features for business owners, and the open-source nature of the project allows you to customize your machine even further.

In terms of design, it looks pretty simple, with black aluminum rails and a simple cutting area. It comes in three different sizes: 500mm, 750mm, and 1000mm.

Installation

Installing any CNC machine can be tricky, which is why Inventables has a detailed step-by-step instruction guide on their website. This includes plenty of pictures so you can see how each stage of the process works.

It comes with everything you need to install, except for a 5mm hex driver bit.

It’s a fairly lengthy procedure depending on how experienced you are when it comes to installing machines like this, and you need to allow time for calibrating the machine. Some users reported it took them a few hours from start-to-finish, others took ten or more hours.

The Easel app is browser-based, and you can get to it via Inventable’s website – so no lengthy installation process there.

The Hardware

The X-Carve had a major upgrade in 2017, fixing a lot of issues that people had with the previous model. You have two choices – you can choose their ‘Fully Loaded’ kit, which has everything you need straight out of the box, or you can choose to customize your machine by buying the parts separately.

The CNC router kit – a DeWalt 611 – is very powerful, and it works well in this setup. Reviewers praise the DeWalt router compared to the kind used in previous versions of the X-Carve.

The waste board is designed specifically for the X-Carve and has pre-drilled and counterbored holes to attach the clamps.

One of the most complained about issues with the old X-Carve is the lack of dust collection. Inventables have created a dust collection kit and it comes in the ‘Fully Loaded’ kit. It works using a dust shoe which attaches to the X-axis carriage and comes with a universal hose to fit any vacuum cleaner for easy removal.

One notable feature the X-Controller: the 3D carving motion controller kit. This controls the machine’s movement by powering stepper motors. It’s 3-4 times more powerful than entry-level controllers and has a handy pause/start button if you need to temporarily halt your work.

The Sideboard, a small MDF board, secures the X-Controller to the X-Carve and helps to organise the wires properly (another major complaint that people had about the previous model).

Speed and Performance

The X-Carve works pretty quickly, which is great if you need to produce a lot of the same product in a hurry. As it’s aimed at small business owners, who may need to create large quantities of a product quickly, this works well.

A few users had issues with belt slippage, which can, if not quickly spotted, ruin a project you’re working on. Inventables also sell a belt sleeve to combat this problem, but it’s a shame this doesn’t come included in the box.

In terms of accuracy, a correctly tuned and calibrated machine should get to a resolution of  ~0.075mm to 0.13mm. However, some users report that this isn’t the case for them. To get the maximum accuracy, you have to make sure everything is calibrated exactly right, which includes adjusting belt tension (which, as we mentioned, has been an issue for some people), adjusting the V-Wheels, and making sure any modifications you’ve made to the machine aren’t impacting the accuracy. It may take a few attempts at alignment to get the accuracy just right.

The dust collection system has made a huge difference to most users, with many praising how effective it is. This makes a difference if you’re using it for hours at a time.

Software

Easel is the intuitive software of choice for X-Carve. It’s a web-based app: this in itself can put some people off, as you are always at the mercy of Inventable’s servers. Some people prefer to have CNC software you can install onto your computer for this reason.

However, you can try it out for free before you commit to buying the machine, which is great. With the free version, you can start to create items straight away. It comes with a tutorial to walk you through the basic features, and straight away you can see a preview of what you’ve made:

The Pro version costs $19.99 per month, and gives you access to V-Carving (carving with a v-shaped bit), a customizable font library (sometimes referred to as Vectric Vcarve Desktop), and raster toolpaths. These are similar to the GCODE files generated by slicing programs like Simplify3D and Slic3r. 

If you’re a beginner, you probably won’t need them, but small businesses may need access to these tools. You can also check out Vcarve Pro here.

Although the online-only nature of the software might put some people off, the good part is the community that Inventables has built. There are hundreds of user-uploaded project ideas on their website, and a busy forum to keep in touch with other users.

Upgrades and Extras

x carve 3D

The great thing about the X-Carve is that it is customizable, so if you’re more of a pro when it comes to desktop CNC machines, you’ll be able to tinker with it to your heart’s content. There are 42 carving and router bits to choose from in a variety of shapes and sizes.

You can also buy materials directly from Inventables, including:

  • Acrylic
  • Circuit board blanks
  • Corian
  • Machinable wax and foam
  • Metal
  • Plastic
  • Stamping materials
  • Wood and MDF

X-Carve Pricing

The X-Carve Fully Loaded Kit comes in at $1,999.

Pros and Cons of X-Carve

Here’s the basic good and bad points you need to know:

Pros

  • Customizable – great if you’re an experienced user
  • Software is pretty straightforward to learn (approachable learning curve)
  • 2017 update has fixed a lot of issues that users had previously
  • The machine works well and at a good speed
  • The online community of users is a nice bonus
  • Desktop footprint

Cons

  • Belt slippage may be an issue
  • It can take a lot of adjusting to get to maximum accuracy
  • App is only accessible online

Shapeoko 3D Printer

shapeoko

The Shapeoko, by Carbide 3D, advertises itself as ‘The Best CNC Router for Your Shop’. It comes in three sizes. Let’s take a look at the specifications for the Shapeoko 3:

Shapeoko Specifications

Cutting Area

  • 16” (X-axis)
  • 16” (Y-axis)
  • 3” (Z-axis)

Footprint

  • 28.4” (X-axis)
  • 23.9” (Y-axis)
  • 16.6” (Z-axis)

Accuracy

If calibrated correctly, accuracy can be 0.005”

Electronics

Input Voltage: 24v

Spindle

  • Model: Carbide Compact Router
  • Speed: 12,000-30,000 RPM

The Main Features of Shapeoko

One of the main selling points of the Shapeoko is that it comes ready to go out of the box – with no need to buy extras to make the machine work more smoothly. You can, however, buy an expansion Shakeoko kit at any time to upgrade from the Shapeoko 3 to the XL or XXL. 

Installation

The great thing about each Shapeoko model is that they come partially assembled – it takes about two hours to assemble the rest together for complete assembly. This gives it a bit of an advantage over the X-Carve, which can be a lengthy process. However, some reviewers say the instructions aren’t completely clear, which is a shame.

Shapeoko uses Carbide Create, which is very simple to download and install.

The Hardware

Shapeoko comes with the Carbide Compact Router. It has a 12-foot power cord, which works well with the Shapeoko 3, XL, and XXL. The RPM range is 12,000 – 13,000RPM, making it pretty powerful. It’s almost identical to the Makita 1-1/4inch router, which Carbide previously used with their Shapeoko machines before replacing it with their own version.

The cutting area varies in size depending on the model you choose. The XXL version, for example, comes in at 32” (X-axis) x 33” (Y-axis) x 3” (Z-axis) – this is pretty huge, allowing you to work on some big projects.

There is no dust collection mechanism included in the box (dust boot), which is a bit of a let-down, as it’s so vital to using a CNC machine safely. Most people recommend the DeWalt DW660 Dust Shoe as a simple method for dust collection.

Speed and Performance

Depending on the type of material used, users say that Shapeoko gives a pretty smooth, accurate finish to projects, but you can sometimes notice drill marks on acrylic projects. However, projects made from wood gave a professional result.

Like the X-Carve, some people had issues with accuracy. It takes a lot of tinkering to get the accuracy just right, with users having to pay a lot of attention to the belts in order to improve accuracy.

Again, the lack of dust collection included is a shame, but most users have found a way to work around this, and the DeWalt dust shoe works quite well.

Software

Carbide Create has an advantage over the X-Carve’s Easel for two reasons. Firstly, it’s not cloud-based. This means it will work regardless of whether X-Carve decide to continue to provide it.

Secondly, it offers tons of features for free – including V-carving (which you have to pay for with Easel). These include:

  • Create basic shapes
  • Create splines
  • Text (using any font from your computer)
  • Pockets and contours
  • V-Carving
  • Engraving
  • Tool library
  • Speed estimation

You can see a preview of your work at any time, too.

Upgrades and Extras

shapeoko set

The Shapeoko has everything you need in the box (minus a dust collector), but Carbide does offer a range of bit cutters in different shapes and sizes on their website. They also sell materials directly, including:

  • Synthetic wood
  • Metal
  • PCB
  • Plastic
  • Synthetic

Shapeoko Pricing

The pricing for Shapeoko is as follows:

Pros and Cons of Shapeoko

Here are the best and worst parts of the machine:

Pros

  • Comes pre-assembled
  • The software is great and has everything you need for free
  • Performance is good with especially smooth results when using wood
  • The Shapeoko 3 comes in at a very good price if you need a compact machine
  • Desktop footprint

Cons

  • No dust collection system provided
  • Takes some adjusting to get the accuracy just right

X-Carve vs Shapeoko – Which is Best?

Let’s break it down bit by bit:

Hardware

Hardware-wise, they’re closely comparable – both have a great spindle that works well, and both have a generous cutting area (depending on the size of Shapeoko you choose). We’ll give the edge here to the X-Carve, as the cable tidy area works well, and the X-Controller is a great feature.

Performance

When it comes to performance, both have their issues. One major drawback for the Shapeoko is the lack of dust collection – if you don’t keep on top of dust collection, it can damage your machine (and, more importantly, your lungs). However, this can be easily fixed by buying a DeWalt dust collector. The X-Carve has some real issues with belt slippage, however. This can be improved using their belt sleeve, but it’s not completely alleviated, with some users having issues with it. For this reason, we’re giving this one to Shapeoko.

Pricing

This is a bit more difficult to call, as the Shapeoko comes in three different sizes. The great thing about the Shapeoko is that the cheapest option – the Shapeoko 3 – is compact, meaning you can fit it into a smaller workshop, and it has a great price point of $1,170. While the X-Carve has a lot of extras in the box, if you’re on a tight budget, the Shapeoko 3 can allow you to give CNC machining a shot at a good price, which is why it wins this category.

Software

Again, we’re going to have to give this one to Shapeoko. Carbide Creations is totally free, has a ton of great features, and isn’t cloud-based, which gives it the edge over X-Carve’s Easel software.

Beginner-Friendliness

We’re adding this category at the end because we feel it needs extra consideration. X-Carve is a little more beginner-friendly than Shapeoko. Everything from the design and layout of the website, to the installation instructions, to the busy forums, to the user-uploaded Projects gallery, is aimed to inspire and inform users. For that reason, we’re going to say that the X-Carve feels a little more beginner-friendly.

FAQ’s About X-Carve vs Shapeoko

What can I make with the X-Carve Printer?

Since this printer works with different types of materials like wood, plastics, acrylic and you can use it to create anything you want, including toys, tools, accessories, furniture, and a lot more.

Which software does the Shapeoko use?

The Shapeoko 3D Printer uses a Carbide Motion software that is compatible with Windows and Mac OS X. The CAD system will design your product and the CAM system will manufacture it.

Conclusion: Which is the Winner?

Shapeoko won three out of five of the above categories, which makes its overall winner today. However, which one you pick will depend on certain things: how much experience you have, which features matter more to you, and so on. We’d sum it up this way our:

Most Budget FriendlyShapeoko is most suitable for those on a tight budget, who want to give CNC-machining a go without spending nearly $2,000 on a machine. Check out MatterHackers for the latest prices here.

More User FriendlyX-Carve is better for those who need a little extra support, either from Inventables or from other X-Carve users. If you want a user-friendly experience with connectivity with others, it could be a good choice for you. Check out MatterHackers for the latest promos here.

Both machines are interesting and packed with great features – so if you want to get a new hobby, either would be a great choice!

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Author: Jodie Chiffey

Jodie is a cross-functional 3D designer and blogger. She has special interests in open source 3D printing for R&D and has spent a lot of time at different projects across the globe to learn more about 3D printing. Most of what she has learned is from hands-on experience.

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