What is a CNC?

The term “CNC” is a generic term which can be used to describe many types of device, this would include plotters, vinyl cutters, 3D printers, milling machines and others. CNC stands for Computer Numerically Controlled and basically means that the physical movements of the machine are controlled by instructions, such as co-ordinate positions that are generated using a computer.

The term “CNC Machine” is typically used to refer to a device which uses a rotating cutting tool which moves in 3 or more axes (X, Y and Z) to cut-out or carve parts in different types of materials. The information on these pages will focus on what are typically referred to as “CNC Routers” although it would be applicable to most CNC milling and engraving machines too.

The image to the right shows a typical CNC setup with labels for some of the key components and also an indicator showing the 3 axis of movement (X, Y and Z) and their directions in relation to this particular machine. This is just one example and it should be noted there are many other types, sizes, ratios and configurations of CNC too.

CNC Machine


What can I make with a CNC?

CNC’s are incredibly versatile and allow you to cut a variety of different types of product and materials. The exact abilities of a machine will vary with size, rigidity and power. Typically most CNC Routers can cut soft and hard wood, plastics, other composites and non-ferrous metals.

CNC users range from hobbyists who build their own machines through to large companies with industrial equipment costing hundreds of thousands of dollars. With the right software a CNC can make a huge selection of things, for example Vectric customers use them to make the following:

Signage, custom furniture, plaques, trophies, chocolate & cookie molds, awards, folk-art, toys, wall-hangings, plates & bowls, lithophanes, memorials, cabinets, doors, boxes, clocks, religious carvings, panel goods, architectural millwork & moldings, picture frames, mantels, archways, prototypes, remote control vehicle parts, face plates, heirloom gifts, military awards, education projects, movie & theatre props, coasters, chests, bottle totes, pool cues, rustic carvings and many other applications.

How does Vectric software fit into the process?

Although a CNC Router is an amazing piece of technology it will not do anything unless it receives instructions. Vectric software is designed to create the instructions (toolpaths) to tell the CNC how to move to create different types of parts. The specific Vectric program you use and the method for achieving this will depend on the starting point for a project (idea, drawing, scan, photo etc.) and exactly what it is you are trying to make (simple cut out shape, etched image, 3D carving etc.)

As you work through the links in this section you’ll get a more detailed description of the CNC process and how Vectric fits in. You can also read more about the specifics of each program and applications they can be used for on this page: LEARN ABOUT VECTRIC SOFTWARE

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