PixelCNC: Fast and Easy CAM for Images!
A downloadable tool for Windows
What is PixelCNC ?
PixelCNC is a one-of-a-kind utility for fast and easy generation of a variety of 3-axis CNC milling toolpaths directly from 2D image input. No more messing around elaborate and tedious freeware toolchains or software that's either too expensive or too cumbersome. Load a variety of image types including SVG vector images and even import 3D models as depthmap images too! PixelCNC features a growing library of operations capable of generating conventional and interesting unique toolpaths that have never been seen before!
CAM Innovation: By utilizing novel algorithms for transforming images and machining operation parameters into CNC toolpaths, PixelCNC ushers in a new era in CNC artistry that transcends the antiquated strategies of conventional manufacturing techniques. PixelCNC is faster than any other image-based CAM software out there: toolpaths are generated within seconds on a mid-range PC or laptop and G-code can be exported for just about any CNC controller via the new post-processor system. If you need a PixelCNC post for your CNC controller you can easily make one yourself within minutes or request that we make one for you!
Invaluable Simulation: A powerful built-in simulation system provides users with an accurate preview of what their generated toolpaths will approximately result in once run on their CNC - before letting the chips fly - eliminating any scrapping of material due to simple errors and mistakes that we all make from time to time when specifying operation parameters. No more dealing with 'cutting blind' the way many programs assume users will just go along with, having only a 3D render of the toolpath itself. With PixelCNC you can see what your operations' toolpaths are going to do to a workpiece long before you ever hit cycle start, and be able to adjust your operation parameters accordingly.
In Summary: 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 for fun and profit.
Is that it?
Not only is PixelCNC a simple and powerful program for generating CNC toolpaths but it is also one that offers the capability of generating toolpaths that simply cannot be found anywhere else. The purpose of these unique operations is to lend an interesting and totally original stylization to a workpiece that can't be had anywhere else. Instead of toolpaths serving merely as a means-to-an-end, only removing material from where it shouldn't be, PixelCNC's philosophy is to exploit the very nature of CNC itself so as to provide visually stimulating textures and patterns to works which would otherwise be practically impossible with conventional CAM software.
Why PixelCNC? As a CNC hobbyist that runs an online crafting shop with my wife by day, and writes code by night, I have grown weary of the usual tools and workflows for creating interesting works on my CNC machine. Existing CAM solutions are either too slow, boring, complicated/tedious - or some combination thereof. I needed a tool that makes creating toolpaths and generating G-code as quick and painless as possible - without all the fuss of professional CAM packages or the shoddy performance and limited capabilities of indie software, free or otherwise. PixelCNC not only makes creating toolpaths easy, it makes it fun!
For what PixelCNC can do I haven't found a price it doesn't beat. There do exist a few different CAM solutions which have some form of PixelCNC's capabilities, but most of these programs have too many options and features. This invariably entails a larger learning curve (and price tag) than I'm comfortable with. Most of these features and capabilities just get in the way of creating what I want to create. PixelCNC is offered to users for just a one-time payment roughly equal to the cost of a month's subscription to one of the popular professional CAM programs, and then users have it for life!
But I already have a usable workflow! I had a software toolchain and workflow that I was happy with, for a while, considering the alternatives available. PixelCNC, however, has my old workflow beat by a long shot when it comes to getting an image design into a piece of material. Working with PixelCNC it's easy to get from an image or model to G-code in a minute flat, if need be. Now with the new 3D model import functionality users can transition at their own pace from a 3D model based workflow to one where they whip up what they need in their favorite image editing program and CAM off that. It's much faster and much more flexible than unwieldy 3D modeling and CAD workflows.
My old 'conventional' CAM workflow was also limited to relief/emboss works. To do anything else (V-carving, profiling, etc) I had to resort to low-quality free software that was slow, provided limited options for toolpath generation, and there was no way to see what the final result would be like unless I went ahead and risked scrapping material by cutting blind. There was no simulation system built into the basic bare-bones minimal software that's available. Just the savings in scrapped material alone would've covered the cost of PixelCNC a dozen times over by now.
Maybe you've already found something that does what you need and were able to pay for it in full to own it outright. CAM software is designed 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, labyrinth, and conformal operations are that which could be artistically integrated and incorporated into the design and aesthetic of your own CNC creations. PixelCNC's unique stylized toolpaths are alone worth its humble price, and more operations are always being invented and implemented all the time. Existing PixelCNC customers get these new toolpaths and all future features/enhancements that become implemented over time at no extra cost.
A downloadable free trial version of PixelCNC is available for user evaluation. It imposes a 10-minute time-limit per session and restricts exported G-code to 4000 tool motions per operation. The loading and saving of project files is disabled as well, otherwise the free trial is equipped with the same capabilities of the full version.
Example images are available for users to download along with the free trial to test-drive PixelCNC's functionality and compatibility with their system before investing in a copy of the full version. If anyone experiences any issues with PixelCNC - error messages, bugs, crashes, compatibility issues, etc.. please let us know via the message board at the bottom of this page! Our number one goal is user satisfaction, period.
At least one older version of PixelCNC is kept online in the event that something has become broken for some users with the latest version. PixelCNC is alpha software that is still being developed - with new features and functionality being released every few weeks that has not been fully tested. Users are always riding at the forefront on the cutting edge of PixelCNC's development. If the most recent version has problems users should try the next most recent version, and let us know of the situation via the messageboard.
Operations and Toolpaths
Vanilla run-of-the-mill toolpaths originate from industrial fabrication and its methodologies, they are a product of manufacturing instead of artistic creation. PixelCNC's ever-growing library of operations features your conventional toolpaths-of-industry as well as totally new and original toolpaths which will set any project apart from those created using conventional manufacturing-oriented CAM software. Machining tool marks are a thing of beauty unto themselves, and your industrial fabrication centric toolpaths can only get you so far! New operations and toolpath generation algorithms for producing unique textures, patterns, and even novel interpretations of a project's input image/model are being added all the time!
Using the image shown above as input for a project the following images illustrate the toolpaths that can be generated with PixelCNC's operations. (Note: images depict toolpath and simulation views blended from left-to-right)
- 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 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 a CNC should be limited to cutting out reliefs. 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 stipples 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 to modulate its width 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 which the tool should cut to along at a given cut depth until a final max depth is achieved.
- Conformal: This is effectively the same as the parallel operation with the addition of the input image being used to apply a perturbation to the cut paths. The image's gradients nudge the toolpath perpendicularly to give a contour-following appearance. The perturbation can be smoothed so that cuts traverse the geometry in a more gradual sloping way.
- Pocketing: This is a cross between the Outline carving and Horizontal milling operations. A threshold value is set to indicate the delineation between light and dark areas of the image that should be used as the pocket contours along with an offset value for tool radius compensation or just making pockets larger/smaller than the threshold boundary. Pockets are cut to the specified 'max depth', irrespective of the project's actual 3D contours, in 'cut depth' increments. This is useful for clearing flats around relief carvings or other effects.
While PixelCNC is still under development existing customers receive updates which include bug-fixes, interface improvements, and optimizations. As a show of appreciation for customers' support they are also granted all of the newest features and capabilities as they are implemented over time: new operation types and toolpath generation modes, simulation system improvements and enhancements, and more - free of charge!
Thousands of hours of unpaid work have gone into developing PixelCNC to make it as powerful and useful as possible. However, as PixelCNC is currently still under active development there are plenty of items left on the development todo list that are being worked on full-time: plans and ideas to add, change, and improve upon including new features that will make PixelCNC more powerful, versatile, and easier to use. In spite of PixelCNC's unfinished state it is valuable nonetheless as a software tool which I am excited to release - for fellow CNC hobbists and pros alike to utilize in their work. Inquisitive minds can follow PixelCNC development via Twitter: @BITPHORIA
As new capabilities and features are added to PixelCNC its increased utility as a tool is accompanied with incremental increases in price. Buy your copy now while PixelCNC still has it's early-access price-tag!
- 1.5Ghz dual-core CPU
- 2 Gigabytes RAM
- OpenGL v2.1 capable graphics processor
- Windows XP SP2
- 3.0Ghz quad-core CPU (64-bit)
- 4 Gigabytes RAM
- OpenGL v3.0 capable graphics processor
- Windows 7 64-bit
PixelCNC has been tested to run on 64-bit versions of Windows 7, 8.1, and 10, without issue. It is recommended that PixelCNC be run on Windows 7 or newer. There isn't necessarily anything it utilizes that isn't offered by Windows XP but it does rely on OpenGL 2.1 for minimum hardware rendering - implying that a GPU that's no older than about 12 years is required to be able to run it, which means that any XP machine built that's older than ~2005 will complain about not being able to find certain OpenGL functions upon startup. However, there are many rendering optimizations and GPU-based computations that rely on having at least OpenGL 3.0 support, but most OpenGL 2.1 compliant hardware will have the features PixelCNC relies on most heavily for leveraging the GPU to perform calculations. Any computer sold in the last decade should be capable of running PixelCNC properly.
32-Bit vs 64-Bit Versions?
The 32-bit version of PixelCNC is offered as a fallback version for users who have older or limited system hardware running a 32-bit version of Windows. The 64-bit version is recommended for all other users as PixelCNC's toolpathing algorithms are memory-intensive and complex projects can result in using up the allotted memory made available to PixelCNC when running the 32-bit version - which is usually around a gigabyte of memory regardless of how much memory is actually installed in the system. The 64-bit version will not suffer from out-of-memory issues with larger or more complex projects.
What is TGA2STL?
TGA2STL is a free command-line utility for converting raw TGA/Targa image files into STL/Sterolithography 3D meshes. This was a utility I wrote to circumvent using Blender to create meshes that did not have redundant triangles - because Blender was slow! This was the precursor to PixelCNC.
TGA2STL is also on GitHub, as free open-source software. Check it out! https://github.com/DEF7/TGA2STL
In order to download this tool you must purchase it at or above the minimum price of $70 USD. You will get access to the following files:
- v1.30a - 3D Model Import, Pocketing Operation, Improved SVG Import ...15 days ago
- Automatic Updates and 32/64 Bit Builds38 days ago
- v1.29a - Fixed Older Graphics/OpenGL Support, Much Improved Horizontal Toolpaths38 days ago
- Fixing Horizontal Milling Toolpaths...56 days ago
- v1.27a - Fixed Medial-Carve Bug, New Logo/Icon... and new Trailer!60 days ago
- v1.26a - Conformal Toolpath, Fixed Labyrinth, Fixed Metric Stipple Bias, etc..84 days ago
- Labyrinths somewhat broked! D:87 days ago
- v1.25a - G-code Post-Processor Support!88 days ago