CNC: A Guide to CNC Designing and Software


Whether you create wood signs or metal engravings, you can automate your creations with a CNC machine. Learning this machine and the software to run can take a little time, but Corel can help with tips to help you spur along bringing your idea to life. You can design in CorelDRAW, then use the file in .cdr or .svg format with the CNC software to create the finished product.

What is a CNC?

The term CNC refers to a computerized numerically controlled machine that lets the user control tools electrically through a computer with great precision. Essentially, you can purchase a CNC for your home hobby shop or small business that lets you fabricate designs that before the advent of these machines in the 1940s, you needed a manufacturing plant to make. The CNC machine features drills, lathes, and milling rotaries.

A CNC has two parts, the machine, and the CNC design software that programs the computer to run it. While you can design your part, engraving, or sign using CorelDRAW, to use the CNC to create it, you need a plugin, a bridging software that acts as a go-between. You can use a 3D printer to make parts, too, using an additive manufacturing technique, but this does not work for some items you can create with a CNC. You can set up a CNC to control a 3D printer and/or machining tools, but it won't work the other way around. You can use soft and hard materials with a CNC, including fibers and titanium.

How to choose software for CNC design

While shopping by price for the CNC design software might tempt you, resist temptation. You can find many free CNC software options, but some provide very limited functionality. Others have poor quality documentation. The software needs to come with at least the essential tutorials to teach you the program as well as having a dependable customer service program. Also, avoid the temptation to purchase industry-standard software since this requires a significant investment and may provide the most complex software.

This leads us to the need for a software that proves easy to use. It should come with documentation that includes simple tutorials that lead you step-by-step through each major process. You also need something that you can learn relatively quickly. It typically takes about six weeks to learn the software. Choose something that provides you the features you need to create the designs you want. A few potential programs include:

  • Desk CNC, a Windows-based program with an "easy" tutorial,
  • Easel, touted as the easiest to learn,
  • Linux CNC, a Linux-based program that can run on older computers,
  • gCode Generator, which provides a plugin for CorelDRAW to streamline use.

How to design for CNC

You can design in CorelDRAW just as you normally would. Create a vector design as usual, then set your paths and create your CNC program in the CNC software. If you use gCode Generator, you will have the fewest steps since it integrates directly using a plugin. When you save your file in CorelDRAW all of the path and settings information saves with it. This saves you time since you do not need to redo the settings when you open the vector drawing for a second part run. The path and settings from gCode become part of the CorelDRAW file. You start the program to run the machine, so it produces your CNC cutting design.

Conclusion

Getting started with a CNC machine might seem daunting at first, but you can easily design in CorelDRAW just as you usually do. You do need a CNC program to run the CNC machine. This software lets you create the program that instructs the machine how and where to cut whether you need to make an engraving, a woodcut, or form a machine part. Some of these software packages, such as gCode Generator provide a plugin to make use much easier. Choose your CNC program first. You need to learn to use the program before attempting a machine cut, so spend a few weeks learning it before purchasing your CNC machine. You cannot use the machine without the software, so it won't do you any good to buy it first anyway.


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