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From Image to CNC – 11 CNC Project Ideas

11 Image-to-CNC Project Ideas

Maybe you’ve spent the summer scrolling through Pinterest and collecting a whole folder full of projects you want to attempt, knick-knacks you want to make and business ventures you want to start. Perhaps you’re a business owner or creative that would like to take your work one step forward. We live in a maker society and the Internet is chock full of inspiration. So, we picked out 11 DIY ideas to get you started on CNC.

We’ve rounded up simple projects that involve taking a regular image such as a JPEG or a scan of your sketch and converting it into a vector CAD file that can be fed into computer-controlled CNC machines. In our opinion, this is the easiest way to start. Off we go then! From branding materials for your little business to accessories to refresh your home, the projects ahead are perfect for beginners dipping their toes into CAD and CNC. In our opinion, this is the easiest way to start. Off we go then! 

In the world of traditional art, artists start out by choosing a technique and a medium. In the world of CAD, you have a whole array of computer-controlled machines and materials that you can employ for your DIY project. Here are a few examples:

CNC machines
CNC stands for computer numerical control. It’s an umbrella term for machines that are controlled by the computer; the term covers small machines for hobbyists and large industrial cutters, as well as machines that handle woods, plastic or aluminium. You feed in vector files that contain instructions for how the tool should move. The instructions are provided in Cartesian coordinates format (e.g. two steps forward starting from point (0,0)). A few examples of CNC machines:

  • Vinyl cutters: these machines use a sharp blade to cut out shapes on adhesive vinyl.
  • Laser etching: this is the process of burning a design onto a piece of material using lasers.
  • CNC mills: milling is a machining process that removes material from a piece by feeding a tool in certain direction and angle.
  • Embroidery machines: a sewing machine that moves its needle following pre-programmed digital embroidery pattern

Here at Scan2CAD, we’ve even put together a rundown of the best CNC kits for beginners, meaning that you’ll be able to find the perfect machine to complete the project of your choice.

There are hundreds of materials that you can cut and engrave; these are available in different finishes (frosted, mirrored, clear, laminated), colors (fluorescent, glittery) and thicknesses

  • Acrylic sheets
  • Plastics and foams
  • Vinyl
  • Wood and MDF boards
  • Paper and card
  • Metals
  • Glass
  • Fabric and leather
  • Rubber

1. Laptop decals

All you need is a vinyl cutting machine and some basic computer skills. The vinyl cutter works very much like a printer would, except that it uses a small knife to create the picture. Once the design is cut, you can just peel away the parts that you don’t want, remove the transfer film and stick your decal. And you don’t need to stop at pimping your PC—you can use the same technique to customize your car!

CNC Ideas- Vinyl Sticker Laptop Decal

Image Source: Amazon

2. Stencils

Stencils are used in a wide variety of projects: painting, graffiti art, sandblasting, sign making, airbrushing, silkscreen printing.

3. Laser cut jewellery

Do you know how Tatty Devine, the popular laser-cut jewellery company started out? Founders Harriet Vine and Rosie Wolfenden discovered sign makers selling little acrylic shapes in New York. Once back in London, they found a model maker with a laser cutter machine to help them transform these acrylic blocks into jewellery! Today, they’ve received MBEs for their contribution to fashion! For all you know, your entire designing career is ahead of you.

Laser cut acrylic jewelry with Tatty Devine

Image source: Tatty Devine

4. Wooden plaques

A few months back, we wrote a quick tutorial on how to make a laser-etched wooden plaque using Scan2CAD.

Laser etched plaque example Scan2CAD

You could recreate this in just few short steps!

5. Signages

You could make signs for shops, exhibitions, point of sale, props… you name it. Having signages laser cut or engraved also adds a professional finish to your business. By avoiding the traditional printing route, you’ll definitely stand out from the crowd and showcase your creative prowess. In the picture below, designers Alphabetical Studio engraved their artwork onto melamine veneered MDF to expose the wood underneath.

Laser engraved wooden signage at Design Museum

Image source:

6. Branding and marketing material

The main reason why people go down the DIY route is because of the ability to customize. This is especially important when you’re showcasing your personal brand. You could bring your entire brand strategy to life with custom made packaging, promotional signage, point of sale display and so on; all marked with your company logo. Here’s an Instructable to make your own laser-cut cardboard packaging.

Laser cut cardboard gift box

Image source: Instructables

7. Business cards

The guys at North Street Labs milled their company logo and URL onto thin acrylic sheets. Then, they added a space for a button cell battery and a RGB LED, which illuminates the card from the side. All for only $1.50 a piece! Watch this video to see how it’s made.

CNC Business card by Northstreetlabs

Image source:

8. Wooden coaster

Why settle for a commercial coaster off the shelf when you can make your own? All you need is a pattern and some beginner-level CNC know-how. It’s the perfect project to get started with CNC machining too. To learn more, check out this easy step-to-step guide by Makezine to create your very own carved wooden coaster.

Braided wooden coaster -- CAD ideas

Image source:

9. Burning pictures onto wood or metal

Want a special way to preserve a memory? Try burning pictures onto wood or metal. You get an artistic effect by converting your raster image into thin vector strokes or blocks of vector fill. You can also replicate this project on metal materials such as anodized or lacquered metal, where the laser will engrave away the top coating to reveal the metal finish below. Here’s a complete Instructable guide to get you started.

Laser etched wood picture

Image source:

10. Sculptures

Artist, David Mayne starts his creative process with a sketch. He then scans his sketch and refines it using Photoshop, before using Scan2CAD to convert his drawing into the required vector file for laser cutting. Read our interview with David Mayne to learn more about his work.

David Mayne CNC Artwork

David’s piece Singletrack draws on his love of mountain biking

11. Laser cut fabric

High-end designers are jostling to adopt new technologies into their pieces, and laser cutting is one of the most popular. You could cut intricate lace designs, engrave leather and let your imagination run wild.

Textile laser cutting with Crystal McFarlane

Image source:

Ideas are great, but how do I get my project manufactured/fabricated?
All of these projects are possible even if you don’t have the equipment sitting around in your garage. All you have to do is Google “laser etching services near me (or whichever technology you would like to adopt) and you’ll be presented with plenty of options and price points to choose from. These are highly trained experts offering their machines and services so that you can fabricate any idea you can think of. Most of these services will provide specific instructions on what formats to provide your design files in, any design limitations and so on. Some service providers only take orders in large volumes whereas others are willing to do one-off productions or prototypes.

All of these projects require you to produce your design in a vector image format. A vector image is a set of mathematical instructions that dictates how an image is rendered. These instructions are fed into the CNC machines, which will control the laser beam or cutter. You can create vector images from scratch in CAD drawing software like Adobe Illustrator.

Alternatively, you can also convert regular JPEG and PNG images into vectors using raster-to-vector conversion software like Scan2CAD. Try out all of our features for free with our 14-day unlimited trial.

If you’ve had your fill of CNC projects, you could always check out Scan2CAD’s top 20 3D CAD models (part 1)!

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8 Responses to From Image to CNC – 11 CNC Project Ideas

  1. dushyant malviya Dec 4, 2017 at 1:39 AM #


    i make design in autocad now i have some problem i have a engraving drawing can i change it or made in autocad as vector images.

    • jay Dec 4, 2017 at 2:33 AM #

      Hello! We have this tuition video that shows you how to convert raster images to vector format: Hope you find this useful!

      • dushyant malviya Dec 4, 2017 at 10:46 AM #

        sir i have a picture file of .png in various color.i do not know how to convert it in vector in scan2 cad.please help me.i want to make it in 3d in autocad so first of all i want a vector image of this

        • Luke Kennedy Dec 4, 2017 at 12:26 PM #

          Hey Dushyant,

          You can certainly use Scan2CAD to convert your color .png to vector for AutoCAD. Free free to contact the support team!

  2. gonecruising67 Jul 25, 2019 at 4:47 AM #

    Hello Luke,

    Just curious…can a panoramic high quality picture be converted into a dxf file. I want to separate the picture into 3 separate fence panels.

    Mike Vanderhoek
    BC Canada

    • Jay Jul 25, 2019 at 8:44 AM #

      Vector conversion works best for architectural plans, site layouts, engineering or mechanical drawings, company logos, etc.

      Are you able to send us the image you are trying to convert? We may be able to take a look and give you suggestions on the conversion process. You may send it to [email protected]

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