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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!

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 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. 

What are the ideal image characteristics for conversion to vector for CNC?
What are the biggest challenges in converting an image for CNC?
How does the CNC machine I use affect the design requirements?
What are the common mistakes you see people make?

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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31 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
      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
          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?

  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
      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
      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

  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.

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