PixelCNC: The Handy Image CAM Solution
A downloadable tool for Windows
What is PixelCNC ?
PixelCNC is a one-of-a-kind utility for fast and easy generation of 3-axis CNC milling toolpaths directly from image input. A user simply loads an image, telling PixelCNC how big they want it to be in machine-space and where the machine origin is relative to it, defines one or more cutting tools, and builds their list of machining operations! Users can then directly export their project's operations to Mach3 compatible G-code. Toolpaths are generated on-the-fly with the creation of each CNC operation and are visible in the 3D rendered view. Toolpath generation is fast - utilizing completely novel algorithmic techniques for transforming the input image, tool definitions, and variety of operations into 3-axis CNC toolpaths. A built-in simulation system that's under construction allows users to quickly preview an approximation of what a CNC will produce when running the G-code from their operations so that users don't have to cut "blind".
PixelCNC is fast, intuitive, and features a concise user interface that's designed to minimize complexity and maximize productivity. It's specifically designed to be the perfect CAM utility for creative and artistic hobby Do-It-Yourself'ers who use a desktop CNC mill or router to fabricate their own creative works of art.
Is that it?
PixelCNC is not just a simple-yet-powerful program for generating CNC toolpaths but one that also offers the capability of generating novel and unique toolpath types that have never before been seen. The purpose of these unique CNC operations is to allow users to create toolpaths which are capable of lending an original and interesting stylization to a user's work. Rather than toolpaths serving merely to remove material from where it shouldn't be toolpaths can be exploited to provide interesting textures and patterns to a work that would otherwise be practically impossible using existing CAM workflows.
As a DIY hobby CNC enthusiast that runs an online crafting shop with my wife by day, and writes codes by night, I have grown weary of the usual tools and workflows for creating interesting works on my CNC machine. Existing CAM solution are either too slow, boring, complicated and tedious - or some combination thereof. I need a tool that makes creating toolpaths and generating G-code as quick and painless as possible - without all the fuss of professionally-geared CAM packages, or the shoddy performance and limited capabilities of existing indie software, free or otherwise.
For what PixelCNC can do I haven't been able to find a price it doesn't beat. There already exists CAM solutions which have comparable features and capabilities, and many more. Most of these programs have too many options and features, incurring a larger learning curve than I'm comfortable spending time with. I offer PixelCNC for a one-time payment roughly equal to the cost of a month's subscription to one of these popular CAM programs.
But I already have a usable workflow!
I had a software toolchain and workflow that I was happy with. PixelCNC has my old workflow beat by a long shot when it comes to getting an image design onto a piece of material. I had a workflow that went: GIMP, Blender, CAM program. This usually meant a 30 minute process minimum. In many cases I could spend an hour or two tweaking parameters at any point in the workflow, usually GIMP or Blender and then I'd have to reiterate through the rest of the workflow to get to usable G-code. I mean, it worked, but working with PixelCNC I can get from image to G-code in a minute flat, if need be.
Maybe you found something that does what you need and were able to pay for it in full and own it outright? To that all I can say is that it can't generate unique and interesting toolpaths, because CAM software is deigned almost exclusively to produce toolpaths whose merit is their function, not their form. PixelCNC's novel one-of-a-kind stylized toolpath operations, such as the chevron and labyrinth, are that which could be artistically integrated and incorporated into the design and aesthetic of your own creative works. With existing conventional CAM software the toolpath serves purely as a mere means-to-an-end; the toolpath is strictly meant to remove the material that's not supposed to be there, PixelCNC's unique stylized toolpaths are alone worth its humble price, and I'm just getting started when it comes to inventing new and interesting toolpaths that lend themselves to adding an artistic flair to what would otherwise be a literal run-of-the-mill piece of artwork.
A free trial version of PixelCNC which imposes an input image pixel-area of 65k pixels (i.e. 256x256, 512x128, etc) and does not allow loading/saving of project files is available for download. The free trial is offered with full features and capability of the paid version. Users can download it and test out PixelCNC's functionality and toolpath generation for themselves before they decide if PixelCNC is what they're looking for and could use the ability to work with larger images. The image-size limitations of the free trial entail an implicit constraint on project size, however. Technically it will allow any size project, but the quality suffers when stretching smaller images over too large a workpiece. ~5"x5" is pretty much the absolute max project size one can get away with, depending on the image itself and what shapes/forms it is meant to convey.
PixelCNC Milling Operations:
Using the image shown above being edited in GIMP as input the following images illustrate the sort of toolpaths and simulated cuts users can expect from PixelCNC (cut step-overs exaggerated for clarity):
- Parallel: A tried-and-true operation, parallel contouring allows a depthmap image to easily be machined out of material in successive linear cuts. PixelCNC allows for parallel toolpaths to be at any orientation, with either conventional, climb, or mixed cutting.
- Chevron: Similar to the parallel operation the chevron operation allows for an interesting zig-zag pattern. Using the same parameters as the parallel path, with the addition of chevron width and height, you can achieve a wide range of chevron pattern types. Leave your step spacing at a larger value and let those toolpaths show through to achieve an interesting chevron pattern overlay on your final workpiece!
- Spiral: This is another contouring-style operation akin to the parallel and chevron except that the resulting toolpath, you guessed it, spirals outward. The origin of the spiral is fixed at the center of the workpiece, but the conventional/climb milling parameter applies just the same as with the parallel/chevron operations.
- Labyrinth: The last of the four contouring operations, the labyrinth operation generates a maze-like toolpath. Parameters to control randomness, axial symmetry, and rotational symmetry allow the user to produce a variety of interesting and novel toolpaths that give a fractal-esque appearance to their works.
- Stipple: Not all artistic endeavors with the CNC should be limited to cutting out 3D art. The stipple operation generates an operation that can be used with ball-nose or v-bit cutters to depict a grayscale image, either by cutting holes meant to be dark on a white background, or vice-versa. Parameters allow adjustment of how the brightness of the image at each stipple affects its sizing and displacement through a simple particle advection simulation.
- Medial-Axis Carve: Also known as 'v-carving' or 'b-carving' (depending on the cutter used) this operation allows images of black/white designs and patterns to be used in the generation of a toolpath that follows the medial axis of detected shapes and forms in the image, varying the depth of cut along the way in order to cut out the exact shapes themselves. This machining operation is great for creating varied 3D and depth from simpler image input which lacks interesting depth features.
- Horizontal: Just as with conventional machining sometimes you just need to quickly remove a lot of material. The horizontal milling operation serves well as a roughing pass for jobs with significant depth and a resulting abundance of material to move. The horizontal milling operation is also great for achieving an interesting terraced effect from depthmap input images.
- Outline: Any gray level in the input image can be chosen to delineate the boundary separating dark/light areas. This outline boundary can also be offset inward/outward to produce the final resulting toolpath, for which a final desired depth the tool should cut to along the outline toolpath.
( More CNC operations are planned for implementation! See 'Early Access' below. )
PixelCNC in its current state is a highly useful piece of software that I am excited to release into the wild for those who could stand to benefit from incorporating and utilizing it in their workflow. A lot of hard work has gone into developing PixelCNC to make it as powerful and intuitive as possible. That being said, PixelCNC is still under active development. There remains a sizable list of items on the development todo list - things to add and change and improve upon, and new features that will make PixelCNC that much more powerful and versatile. You can follow PixelCNC development on my Twitter: @BITPHORIA
While PixelCNC is still under development customers will receive updates which include bugfixes, interface improvements, and optimizations that minimize memory usage and maximize computation speed. Customers will also be granted the newest features and capabilities as they are implemented: new operation types and toolpaths and an improved simulation engine along with all the little interface adjustments that further simplify and smooth user workflow. As new operations are implemented and released the overall utility of PixelCNC as a whole increases accordingly. Proportional price increases will reflect this increase in the value of PixelCNC as a tool for working with images on CNC machines. The only way for customers to get in on the latest and greatest features that will be available in the future without paying full price is to buy your copy now while PixelCNC still has it's early-access price tag.
In order to download this tool you must purchase it at or above the minimum price of $49.99 USD. You will get access to the following files:
- v1.18a - Horizontal finishing, optimized meshing, antialiased thresholding...22 days ago
- v1.15a causing issues for some...37 days ago
- v1.15a - Horizontal operation reliability improvement, SVG support, image downsc...40 days ago
- v1.14a - Parallel toolpath bugfix, image auto-contrast, CAM/mesh quality improve...61 days ago
- v1.13a - Meshing tweaks, numpad entry, operation name fix, etc.69 days ago
- PixelCNC v1.12a - curing memory allocation woes76 days ago
- PixelCNC v1.11a - Improved image meshing, invert image, ...78 days ago
- PixelCNC v1.10a release: metric project option, outline operation toolpaths, and...86 days ago