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How To Convert An Image For CNC

How to Convert Image for CNC

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!

Download Scan2CAD Free Trial

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! Even raster text can be converted to vector text.

Animation converting an image to CNC with Scan2CAD

In this animation we convert an anchor image to a vector outline for CNC using Scan2CAD

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! 

3. Convert

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 logo to create a vector outline which is suitable for CNC.

View video transcript

Hey everybody, Luke from Scan2CAD here. So, with this video, I’ll be showing you how we can use Scan2CAD to convert your images to a CNC format. The CNC format may be DXF or G-code, and what we want is a nice, clean, cuttable vector profile of our images, which would be suitable for your CNC machine. So we have as an example, this Ford logo, and this is a JPEG image. But it could be a PNG, a BMP, just any raster image format supported in Scan2CAD, and we need to convert this automatically to vector and save out as DXF or G-code, or whatever your CNC machine supports. So the process in Scan2CAD is really two steps. First, to clean the image to make it suitable for conversion, and then to convert.

So we’ll jump first into the clean image window. So this is a multi-color image and we need to reduce the colors, so we’ll use the threshold tool. Let’s just go with the default, it’s fine. I also may choose to smooth the image by clicking this button that just smooths the lines out. As this is a JPEG image and that’s heavily compressed image format, it creates kind of image distortion. So by using the smooth, we can smooth out the lines. So we now have an image which is looking much more suitable for conversion, and we can go ahead and convert. To do that, we’ll go to the convert raster image dialogue, which is this button. Let’s drag it into view. And when we’re converting images for CNC purposes, we chose the Outline option in Scan2CAD. We can just go with the defaults. You can see we have a sharp and smooth slider here, just choosing the kind of definition that you want of the original image. Bezier curves would be suitable for this image, and choose the type of vectors that you want to create. You see, we have the default here in vector lines and arcs. So let’s just hit Run. Have a look at the results. We can compare that to the raster image just by switching. So what you can do here is play around with the settings until you’re happy with them, and when you are happy, we’ll click Okay to save the results of the canvas. So we’re now viewing the converted image. Again, we can compare that to the original raster image. We can view them both together.

I can highlight the vectors by clicking the Highlight Vectors icon up here, just so you can see the accuracy. You can see that Scan2CAD has perfectly followed the original image, and we have vector profiles that represent the image. Now, it’s important to highlight here that Scan2CAD has done some calculations to represent the image as accurately as possible, whilst using as few vector nodes as possible. Now that sounds quite complex, but what it means is that this is optimized for CNC purposes. So with these curve shapes here, if I click on them, you can see we have a vector arc rather than thousands and small vector lines, which some software may create. And it’s using as few vectors as possible, meaning it will have as few paths for your CNC cutter to follow, making it the most suitable for cutting. And it also means that if you were to scale up this image or scale it down, it won’t become jagged. You won’t have sort of jagged curved shapes.

Alright. So talking of scaling, we can input scaling by going to the Measure and Scale tool here. And what we’ll do is, let’s say I know I want this logo to be 20 cm in width. So I may enable orthogonal snap, which means it will snap it to the horizontal line and we’ll just click and draw it across. And you can see that Scan2CAD has measured that distance, and apparently it’s 2202 pixels long. We’re gonna calibrate that and say that that equals 20 cm, just as an example. Click Apply, and now the whole drawing has the correct measurements. We can go ahead now and save this file out by going to File and Save As Vector. And from here, you’ll see that you can choose the format you want. For example, DXF, DWG, or G-code, or which may be suitable for your CNC machine. So, with that said, that’s the end of this tutorial. I hope it helps. Feel free to give Scan2CAD a try yourself with a free trial, and drop us any questions if you have them.

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. 

What are the ideal image characteristics for conversion to vector for CNC?
  • High resolution. You’ll want to be able to zoom into the image without any heavy pixelation. However, you don’t necessarily need your image to be scanned in HD either. The rule of thumb is that each line should be five pixels thick for ideal conversion.
  • Does not contain shadows. Shadows prevent us from seeing the details of the design work, which can lead to problems when the image is being cut. 
  • An image file that uses lossless compression, such as PNG, BMP or TIFF. You should avoid JPEGs and GIFs, as some image details are compromised in exchange for small file size. For more information, check out our 33 supported file types, or learn how to convert BMP to DXF.
  • “Clean” images without speckles, blurry sections and overlapping elements.
  • As few colors as possible. For example, you should convert grayscale images into black and white before conversion.
  • Contains just the right amount of detail. If there’s more detail than you need, erase it or increase threshold and contrast of the image.

Read this article to learn about choosing the right image for raster-to-vector conversion.

Laser Cut Bowtie -- From sketch to CNC

Fellow maker, Marcel doodled a bowtie in his notebook and converted it into actual accessory! Notice that he used a felt-tip pen so that the software can detect clear, clean outlines. Source:

What are the biggest challenges in converting an image for CNC?
Choosing a good image is one issue. Ensuring that the vector output is optimized for CNC output is another. After all, the CNC machine is physically moving along each vector line you draw. If you instruct it to go back and forth in the same area too many times, you’ll run the risk of damaging your material. After converting your image, you’ll want to check for the following:

  • The vector uses single line cut paths to represent key features of the main silhouette. You can join multiple separate lines or polylines using Scan2CAD’s Snap tool.
  • Remove as many intersections and node counts as you can, without sacrificing image quality. 
  • Ensure all lines are connected perfectly, so that you get one coherent cut path. Pay particular attention to this near corners and curves.
  • No overlapping vectors. 
  • Any design work that you do not want to cut is deleted. 
Reduce the number of colors - PNG to DWG conversion

Example: The image on the left is much more suitable for conversion

How does the CNC machine I use affect the design requirements?
Good question! Different CNC machines have different cut depths and widths, feeds and speeds, material removal rates, surface finishes and so on. First of all, the spacing between your cut paths should be comparable to the diameter of the tool. The corners also depend on the size of your mill – smaller tools produce sharper corners.

For example, a plasma cutting system requires significantly larger cut paths than a more precise laser-cutting system. For plasma cutting systems and some routing systems, you would use open, single-line cut paths. In comparison, you would only use closed or looped cut paths with a laser and waterjet cutting system. The same logic applies if you’re cutting out a small-sized design. You have to sacrifice some detail and use single cut paths if you’re making small products; the converse is true if you’re making larger-sized items.

Open vs closed cut path for CNC

Closed cut paths can only be used with more precise CNC cutting machines. Source:

To learn more about CAD and milling strategies, check out this guide to Mastering CAD and CAM for CNC Machining by Michael Zalewski.

What are the common mistakes you see people make?
  • Poor image selection. 
  • Relying on software to automatically create a cut-ready DXF file and hence, not cleaning up the DXF file. 
  • Using the wrong software to create DXF files. 
  • Not understanding the limitations of the CNC cutting system and not understanding how that affects your design. 
  • Not familiarizing themselves with the cut width of tooling on CNC cutting system. 

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.


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69 Responses to How To Convert An Image For CNC

  1. Ernie Sep 27, 2014 at 7:31 PM #

    Will this work on windows 8.1?

    • Luke Kennedy Sep 29, 2014 at 1:11 PM #

      Yes, absolutely Ernie!

      Scan2CAD v8 is supported on all Windows versions.

      I’ve emailed you confirming this 🙂

      • Dan Nov 1, 2014 at 7:56 PM #

        I am looking to be able to take a picture and convert it to an STL file or a step. Doess this software do that?

        • Luke Kennedy Nov 2, 2014 at 12:03 PM #

          Hey Dan!

          We don’t support .STL files. Can I ask what application you’re using for .STL? You can probably use .DXF on the same application.

          Please contact us via – we’ll be happy to help 🙂

      • mizanur rahman Oct 1, 2017 at 2:54 PM #

        hello sir how r u ? sir i m doing design some time people say ur design is ok.and another people say ur design is not ok this is one problem ??? another problem is that i design but i do not know how can cut design sheet in cnc 2d machine /how can setup design in cnc machine ????please consult me ? now i m in dangerous trouble please give me any suolation.hope fully ans will give??/

        • jay Oct 2, 2017 at 3:17 AM #

          Hi Mizanur, what type of file are you trying to convert?

      • Gary hirsh Jul 1, 2019 at 7:23 PM # you teach lesson cnc?

        • Luke Jul 1, 2019 at 7:47 PM #

          What specifically do you need to learn?

  2. Stephan Nov 30, 2014 at 10:36 PM #

    Hi can someone help me. I have a small cnc router at home and want to change my pdf pic to a dxf or similar format so i can machine it. I operate it with galaad and program on edgecam but want to explore. Please email me to [email address redacted]

    • Luke Kennedy Dec 1, 2014 at 11:36 AM #

      Hi Stephan,

      We’ll be happy to help. I’m sending you an email now.

  3. Lee Jan 15, 2015 at 8:12 PM #

    I’m trying to do the same as stephan i wanna be able to make my TIF to dxf format for my plasma cutter. Could you help me?

  4. sharan Mar 18, 2015 at 9:36 AM #

    hi !!
    need help to know- is there a software to convert jpeg into portrait for cnc cutting, that is i want to convert a jpeg of human face into a cutout which i want to illuminate with from behind – 2D wall art cut out of face.

    • jay Mar 18, 2015 at 1:55 PM #

      Hello Sharan, Scan2CAD can do this! Get the free trial at

  5. Mike May 28, 2015 at 5:32 PM #

    i would just like to know the cost of this software and can I use it to design with and put things into dxf so I can cut them out?

    • jay May 28, 2015 at 5:39 PM #

      Hi Mike, you can use Scan2CAD to convert images to DXF. You can see the prices at We also have a 14-day free trial!

  6. Josh Sep 24, 2015 at 6:20 AM #

    Just wondering if I could take a photo of a file than convert it to DXF and CNC? We dont have a scanner that is one meter wide and we need to make a file that around 1m by 2.4m. Thanks Mate.

    • Luke Kennedy Sep 24, 2015 at 10:18 PM #

      Hey Josh!
      Yes, absolutely. You can do with with Scan2CAD. You don’t need to use a scanner with Scan2CAD. You can simply open the image in the application.

      I recommend trying the free trial.

      If you have any questions. You can contact us. We’re always here to help.

  7. Hasan Nov 23, 2016 at 6:14 AM #

    I have CNC machine I need to convert jpeg file in to .art file is it possible

  8. Ratilal Dec 24, 2016 at 3:32 AM #

    What is price of this software

  9. Dan Jan 18, 2017 at 9:47 PM #

    Hello, does the software work with .STP (step) files?

  10. Gary Jan 23, 2017 at 4:04 AM #

    The laser engraver / cutter i just got uses .nc files. Will Scan2CAD produce them for me from image files such as bmp and jpg?

  11. John Coones Feb 12, 2017 at 7:35 PM #

    I’ve looked all over here but I cannot see any place that tells me what the cost of this software is. No sense downloading the trial version if the full version cost is too prohibitive.

    What is the price?


  12. John Evans Mar 12, 2017 at 4:46 PM #


    i have an image of a carved board i want to replicate using CNC … i have someone who will convert the image to a 2d line vector … do i then convert this 2d line vector file to create a file suitable for 3d CNC carving or is there another way such as get someone to scan the image using as 3d scanner and save as a greyscale and then load onto a programme such as yours or Artcam ?

  13. Robert Oswald Mar 22, 2017 at 5:45 PM #

    what is the licience fee

    • Luke Kennedy Mar 22, 2017 at 6:12 PM #

      Hey Robert, you can see pricing options here

  14. Steven Clifton Apr 12, 2017 at 6:26 PM #

    is this compatible with CNC Plasma and Nesting Software?

    • jay Apr 13, 2017 at 5:59 AM #

      Hi Steven, yes, Scan2CAD works with CNC software. We have a lot of customers who use Scan2CAD for CNC purposes.

  15. yakoub Nov 9, 2017 at 5:03 PM #

    how i can download the program

    • Luke Kennedy Nov 9, 2017 at 5:09 PM #

      Hi Yakoub, you can download our free trial from here

  16. Gagan Dec 2, 2017 at 6:21 AM #

    Dear sir I am new at cnc machine.want to craft 2*2 ft square wooden board.please refer me best cnc machine in india.and your coverter for this.i feel happy if you guide me over this issue.thankyou

    • jay Dec 2, 2017 at 8:00 AM #

      Hi Gagan, while I do not have any specific recommendation for a CNC machine, our program, Scan2CAD, is a conversion program for raster images to vector format. Many of our customers use Scan2CAD for CNC purposes. Have you downloaded our free trial yet?

  17. Doug Berrow Jun 19, 2018 at 2:12 AM #

    My problem is; all my files are bitmaps, jpegs, pings etc. saved in BMP format for cutting on my cnc. I used to use, still do, Paint for all my editing and saving to F-engrave for G-code cutting. I just purchased cut2d because it does most anything I should need except remove the background it was saved in. However, all my images I have saved to cut have a square white border behind the image or text that covers up the first one so that I can’t do anything with them. Can Scan2cad take out the white background to allow me to edit these vectors, images for G-code.

    • Jay Jun 19, 2018 at 3:14 AM #

      Hi Doug, yes you can fully edit the image in Scan2CAD including removing the background elements.

      You probably won’t need to use another application like Paint. And you also won’t need to use F-Engrave for the conversion to G-code since Scan2CAD can directly convert your raster image to a g-code format.

      Make sure you download the free trial and give it a try.

      If you need help with a specific image, feel free to contact us and we’ll be happy to help.

  18. N Ramakrishna Jul 2, 2018 at 6:57 AM #

    Dear Jay,

    I am looking for a way to process off -cuts and remnant plate on a CNC plasma cutter. These off cuts can be of various sizes and shapes which remain even after nesting of large parts from Bigger plates. I want to use a cctv camera to take pictures of these remnant plates placed haphazardly on the cutting table. The software then should be able to convert the image into dxf/nc files, nest small parts already pre -programmed and available in the library and should be able to direct the torch to the right position and start cutting. I hope you understood my requirement. Please advise.

    • Luke Kennedy Jul 2, 2018 at 10:36 AM #

      There’s a lot to your question. Not a single solution.

      You’ve described:

      – Image to vector g-code conversion for which you will need a solution like Scan2CAD.
      Nesting in CNC for which there are multiple solutions.
      – And finally, CNC cutting. I assume you already have the setup for that.

      Tip: For the image to vector conversion; you’ll need to ensure you have a suitable image capture environment. You can’t take low quality images and hope for accurate vector conversions.

      Good luck

  19. Robert Daniel Jul 26, 2018 at 8:17 PM #

    how can I lern how do get cut file on my cnc

    • luke Jul 27, 2018 at 9:49 PM #

      Please explain further what specifically you’re trying to learn

  20. jithin Sep 3, 2018 at 3:19 AM #

    how to make a picture with shades on it. inkscape only support lines?

  21. Tim Harris Sep 16, 2018 at 11:33 PM #

    I need some help. I have a cnc router and want to design and make wooden signs. Please let me know if you have a solution for my problem I would greatly appreciate it.

  22. Max Lambert Dec 28, 2018 at 1:18 PM #

    Hi, how much does this program cost after the two week period? Is it an outright purchase with future updates or a weekly/monthly/annual subscription?
    Thank you

  23. Vignesh Jan 14, 2019 at 5:46 AM #

    Hair sir I’m have an Cnc wood carving machine with two routers my customers want designs like which we cannot have we want to convert a JPEG image to work on Cnc wood machine can It’s possible

    • luke Jan 14, 2019 at 2:28 PM #

      Great – sounds like Scan2CAD is the perfect solution for you then!

  24. Kevin Kropelin Jan 19, 2019 at 2:18 AM #

    Hello, I am planning to building a cnc router for making yard art projects which are on a blackline print showing the outline of the pattern. I am looking for a product that can take this plan and provide a file to drive a cnc router to cut the profile. most of the material is plywood and is about 3/4 inch thick.I am not a computer guru and would just be able to cut out the profiles of different forms or shapes to make my work load easier than using a saw all the time Thanks

    • luke Jan 20, 2019 at 9:31 PM #

      Excellent, Scan2CAD can convert your images for CNC. I’d recommend giving the free trial a shot.

  25. Raul May 2, 2019 at 2:25 PM #

    I was using artread on artcam to read files from a laser (surfaces) and convert to image on Artcam and then on photoshop… now don’t have that modul… how to convert files cnc to images

    • Luke May 3, 2019 at 9:00 AM #

      To clarify – you wish to convert G-Code files to raster images?

      If so, that’s a very uncommon requirement.

      You could try posting your question to the community at CAD Answers

  26. Loren May 25, 2019 at 2:07 AM #

    I have large 4′ x 8′ paper patterns that have multiple pieces that overlap lines.

    Will your application be able to separate these pieces and keep the scale?

    I would like to take a picture (with my phone?), separate out the pieces as needed, and run them through a large, plywood full sheet CNC router (at the local high school).

    • Luke Jul 1, 2019 at 7:45 PM #

      Scan2CAD will certainly convert a design for CNC.

      But taking a photo with your phone is a bad idea. It won’t create an image suitable for conversion.

      I recommend scanning the paper patterns using a paper scanner.

  27. Johnny Feb 23, 2020 at 6:21 AM #

    Hi guys.

    I would like to convert a picture of a human face to a sort of 3d contour to be routed out in super wood. I suppose to get height you will need to generate a file in Grey scales and import that into the machine. Can your software do this. At the end I want a 3d wood figure of a face?

    • Luke Feb 25, 2020 at 9:19 PM #

      No, Scan2CAD will convert a 2D image (which is what a photograph or any other raster image is) and convert it to a CNC cuttable design. If you wish to create a 3D model you would need different software to design the 3D model.

  28. Ezequiel Apr 7, 2020 at 4:22 PM #

    I was given a file in dwg but I actually needed it in dxf to be able to cut in plasma cam. I use Corel Draw. Any help is greatly appreciated. I can email you the file if needed. Thanks

    • Luke Apr 7, 2020 at 6:36 PM #

      You can use Scan2CAD to convert DWG to DXF

  29. John Wright Sep 9, 2020 at 5:54 PM #

    I have a PDF of Spitfire aircraft and want to be able to cut out the individual parts ie wing ribs, formers etc on my cnc machine but don’t know how to start, can you advise please?

  30. Troy Tremblay Sep 11, 2020 at 10:45 AM #

    I ha e an opportunity to buy a Shapeoko XL with 80-90 programs for lakes. I am just wondering how much it costs to make one of these programs myself and how much time it takes, or can you simply buy any program for specific lakes?
    I am very new to the CNC wold.

    • Luke Sep 11, 2020 at 10:53 AM #

      Hi Troy, I don’t know what you mean by ‘programs for lakes’..?

      Do you mean a lake design that you could cut with your CNC machine?

      If so, the tutorial on this page teaches you how to convert an image into a CNC file. And you can see our large list of free DXF files.

  31. Kidus Sep 21, 2020 at 2:03 PM #

    Hello ! Is it possible to convert coloured images into vectors with this software ?

    • Luke Sep 21, 2020 at 4:14 PM #

      Yep! Images can be color or black & white. You’ll see an option to ‘include colors’ in the ‘Extra’ tab of the conversion settings.

  32. Rodrigo Basílio de assis Sep 28, 2020 at 5:52 PM #

    queria um app pra abrir projeto de eletrica

    Translation: “wanted an app to open electrical project”

    (Edited by admin)

    • Luke Sep 29, 2020 at 11:25 AM #

      I would assume that your electrical drawings are DXF/DWG so probably most CAD drafting software can open it.

      You can also ask the community for help at CAD Answers

  33. Joe Shone Feb 25, 2021 at 6:57 PM #

    Sorry, put my specs on and found the pricing button. Prices don’t look frightening.Just nearly finished mods on machine , ill have a look when it’s finished.

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