CNC is at the heart of today’s burgeoning maker movement. Using simple tools like CNC routers, milling machines and laser cutters, you could produce anything from laptop decals to wooden signs. In fact, you could start your own CNC project from your very own home. You don’t even have to learn how to code or design on CAD software! All you need is some clever image conversion software like Scan2CAD that will do all of the heavy-lifting for you. It will automatically convert your sketch or any image into a CNC-ready vector design!
Well, how does image conversion work?
CNC machines work with vector file formats, such as DXF. Instead of drawing an image from scratch on CAD software, conversion software like Scan2CAD traces an image using intelligent vectorization algorithms. Then, it translates it into a language that can be read by any CNC software, i.e. a set of mathematical instructions known as vectors. These numbers are graphic coordinates that control the movement of your CNC cutter. For example, the CNC machine would carve a straight line by moving its cutter five units left, starting from point A. This image tracing technique can be applied onto any raster file type including BMP, PNG, TIFF, JPEG, GIF, PDF and so on. You could scan a sketch or an old technical drawing… the opportunities are endless!
How do I convert my image for CNC?
1. Load your raster file in Scan2CAD
Launch Scan2CAD and click: ‘File’ > ‘Raster’ > ‘Load’. Choose your file and click OK.
2. Select ‘CNC Profile’ image type
Click ‘Type’ and choose ‘CNC Profile’. This ensures that Scan2CAD will convert your image in the most optimal way – in single line cut paths instead of multiple polylines and no Bezier curves. Scan2CAD comes with a set of pre-programmed practices and vectorization settings, but for more information you can check out our vectorization settings tips!
Click the ‘All’ button if you want to convert text, lines and shapes; or just ‘Vector’ if you only want to convert lines and shapes. The conversion process will then take mere seconds.
4. Save file in CNC-compatible format
Click ‘File’ > ‘Vector’ > ‘Save as’. Now, you can save your new vector file in any format you please. The most widely compatible file format is the DXF file format. If in doubt, always choose DXF because every CAD/CAM/CNC software will support this open-sourced file format. Scan2CAD also allows you to save your vector into G-code formats such as NC, CNC and TAP.
That’s it. You’re all done! Now, you can now import the newly-created vector file in any CAM/CNC software and use it with any machine of your choice—here’s a rundown of our favourite beginners CNC kits. Here’s a video demonstrating the entire process on Scan2CAD too. Luke converted an image of a Minion to create a laser-etched plaque
Are there any conversion tips that I should know about?
The conversion process only takes 30 seconds and about ten clicks of your mouse. However, the quality of your output vector file depends on the quality of your image. Garbage in, garbage out. You have to choose the right image to begin with. Then, there’s a small amount of pre- and post-processing work you should do to obtain the best conversion possible, check out our top 10 raster effects for a better idea.
After conversion, your DXF file is only, at best, 95% cut ready. Once you load it onto the CAM program, you’ll have to assign cut paths, order the cut paths and select offsets for the cut paths. These settings vary depending on the type of CNC machine you’re using, speeds, amperage, pressures, etc.
We spoke recently to Jason Henry, owner of Cascade Metal Designs LLC, who divulged his expert tips on image conversion for CNC.
With a few clicks and some advice from experts, anyone can convert an image into a CNC project. For inspiration, check out our recent round-up of 11 cool image-to-CNC project ideas. Don’t forget to download Scan2CAD’s free trial too. Equipped with intelligent vectorization algorithms as well as a full raster and vector image editing suite, it’s got all the tools you need for your CNC project.