CorelDRAW is economical, easy to use, and there are lots of tutorials on how to use this software for laser processing. Adobe Illustrator is also a great layout program with gobs of features that work well for laser processing. Which is best for laser engraving? My answer to this question is, whatever you feel more comfortable with. If you can create engraving layouts in one program faster than the other, then go for that one.
One major bonus to using CorelDRAW is there is a lot of knowledge on how to use it for laser processing on YouTube, in forums, and on the internet in general. Having this knowledge base is helpful when you are in a jam and need to do a more advanced graphic design such as fitting text to the inside of a circle. While learning how to use the Fit Text to Path tool may not be overly difficult for most laser operators, it is the finer points of kerning, spacing, and design that take so much time. Creating and aligning text to objects is not really an advanced design technique, but it is seldom used, and being able to search for a quick answer may be a lifesaver if you are under a time crunch.
There are two suggestions I always make to customers using both CorelDRAW and Illustrator. One suggestion is to always have the most current version of the software. During the life of the software version, manufacturers have updates or service packs. Often these service packs fix small or large bugs, and features that previously created wonky results now work perfectly after the installation of a service pack. Keeping your version updated and current is critical and should be done at least every six months to stay current.
Next, make time to learn the software. One simple way to make the time is to just schedule an hour a week to constructively make mistakes using it. Block off and schedule the time to learn how to do tasks like creating laser cutting vectors using the Weld or Combine features. Find ideas on software features to practice by subscribing to a YouTube page, industry forum, or webinars. Need more ideas on software features to learn? Try the Help or Tutorial features that are built into the software. The software has so many features, but just knowing the feature exists is not enough; a laser operator needs to be proficient at using them in real-life situations. Make time to learn the software and the paybacks will come back tenfold in time.
-Mike Fruciano, Coherent