Creative Design Software for CNC

Dec 10


Ivan Irons

Ivan Irons

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Here is some information on some creative design software for CNC>


There are two main ones in my mind.  Adobe Illustrator and Corel Draw.  People will tell you one is the best.  I will tell you both are good.  My advice is to try them both and see which one you feel comfortable with. 

I naturally gravitate to Adobe Illustrator.  It is only because I use other Adobe Products and like to keep all this stuff in the same family.  I do that for common look and feel as I switch back and forth.

It seems to me more people use Corel Draw for plasma.  This is just an observation and I don’t have any facts to back it up.  The reason I think this happened is that a few of the early adoptors of CNC Plasma started with Corel and then recommended it.  Both software packages work great and they have many of the same features.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Free Software for this type of work.  Have you ever heard the saying,Creative Design Software for CNC Articles “you get what you pay for.”  If you are old enough, you know this is a true statement.  I would suggest you download a few of these and play around with them.  It can’t hurt and it will probably make you feel better when you actually buy Adobe Illustrator or Corel Draw.

What is your Vector, Victor?You are about to learn something very important.  There are two main types of images in the world, Vector and Raster?  What is the difference you ask?  I know you know, but you never put a name to it.

A raster image is made up of pixels of color.  When you expand or scale a raster image to make it larger, the image pixelates and turns very grainy.  You can now see each pixel in a larger form then it was intended.  If you have never done this, go to the web, download an image, then expand it.  You will get the drift.  Web Raster Images almost always pixelate because they are saved at very low resolutions so the Web Page loads faster.

A vector image is made up of lines and control points.  Think of a company’s “Logo.”  These lines are drawn using math.  Now think back to your Geometry class and all those graphs you made.  Circles, ellipses and parabolas were the norm.  That is what a vector line in a Design Software consists of.  When you “Scale” the vector image, it maintains its integrity.  Why?  The math can adjust as the image is scaled.  The image is perfectly clear whether it is on a postage stamp or on the side of a barn.

Vector control points help you out quite a bit as well.  You get to reshape the image quickly and easily.  For example, say you are making a wooden sign for a friend on your CNC Wood Router.  And, you want to make one letter in a line of text a little larger than the rest.  You really want to make it pop out as the first letter in the line.  With control points it is easy.  You just select that letter and “Scale” it to a larger size.  Done.

Vectors are what we want to use in CNC.  Think about it.  Maybe you want to resize a part or that cowboy on a horse.  With vectors, it is simple.

Vector Images:Are described with mathDo not loose resolution when scaledAre generally made up with linesAre CNC friendly

Raster Images:Consist of Pixels of colorPixelate when enlargedAre Not CNC friendly

Raster to Vector SoftwareI won’t say a lot about this right now because it is beyond the basics of CNC.  But, there are programs out there that convert Raster Images to Vector Images.  Some are better, some are worse.  You would want to do this if you wanted to take a photo of something, like a person’s face, and then convert it into vector lines.  At that point, you could edit the lines up and route the face into wood or cut it out of steel.

File Types You Will Deal WithThere is something about CNC and converting files back and forth.  You will have to export and import multiple file types.  Most programs handle this so you shouldn’t worry.  What you will have to worry about is getting these converted over with the right extension so the next software package can read it.

Every CNC setup is different and you should take notes about your set up. Keep a log of the different file types and what works with your setup.  This will become apparent soon enough.

Examples of Different File - Adobe Illustrator Artwork (AI) is a proprietary file format developed by Adobe Systems for representing single-page vector-based drawings in either the EPS or PDF formats. The .ai filename extension is used by Adobe Illustrator.

.eps - Encapsulated PostScript, or EPS, is a DSC-conforming PostScript document with additional restrictions intended to make EPS files usable as a graphics file format.

.hpgl - HPGL, sometimes hyphenated as HP-GL, is the primary printer control language used by Hewlett-Packard plotters. The name is a set of initials for Hewlett-Packard Graphics Language. It later became a standard for almost all plotters.

.dxf - AutoCAD DXF (Drawing Interchange Format, or Drawing Exchange Format) is a CAD data file format, developed by Autodesk as their solution for enabling data between AutoCAD and other programs.

.dwg – DWG ("drawing") is a format used for storing two and three dimensional design data and BIM metadata, it is the internal format for the AutoCAD Computer Aided Design package.

.3dm - The main file format of Rhino3D is called 3dm. It is very useful especially for the exchange of NURBS geometry because it is released as an Open Source Toolkit called openNURBS, which is provided by the developers of Rhino3D.

What do I really need to know?First, stay away from raster images.  Next, stick with vector images.  When you stay with vector images, virtually everything can get converted somehow and some way into the file format you want it in.  Why, you ask?  It is being described by math, not bits of color.