PixelCNC: Fast/Easy CAM for Signs, Art, Engravings and More!
A downloadable tool for Windows
( Check out the basic relief carving tutorial on YouTube to get an idea of what using PixelCNC is like and follow PixelCNC's development and more on Twitter @BITPHORIA. For the gritty details check out the developer log too! )
What is PixelCNC ?
...an alternative to everyday CAM software that only does run-of-the-mill CNC work. PixelCNC is on the scene and growing in popularity as the premiere CAM software for sign-making, engraving, artistry, DIYers, makers, and hobbyists alike. Welcome to the quick-and-easy program that offers a growing library of carving and milling operation types capable of generating both your tried-and-true conventional cut paths as well as all-new novelty cuts that give you the ability to create projects with a huge variety of unique stylizations. A "canvas" system enables users to generate, edit, and import "layers" as images, vectors, models, and text for compositing together into the vision you want to be able to toolpath off of. Relief carvings, V-carvings, halftones, PixelCNC does it all, and then some.
CAM Innovation: Utilizing original and unique algorithms conceived by a veteran innovator and programmer, PixelCNC transcends the antiquated strategies and conventional manufacturing techniques fundamental to all CAM software. Toolpaths are generated from a project "canvas" - the virtual workspace within which users position, scale, rotate, and edit their existing images, vectors and model geometry, or create them from scratch by hand. Trace imported media into editable vector-paths from which a variety of different geometry and shapes can be generated to be composited into a project's design. A variety of toolpath types can be generated on a mid-range PC or laptop within seconds and G-code can then be exported for virtually any CNC controller via the built-in post-processor system. If you find yourself in need of a 'post' for your specific CNC controller the simple post-processor format makes it a snap to modify an existing one to produce the G-code expected by your controller - or you can just request that we make one for you. Let us know what CNC controller you're using and we'll be able to produce a working post for you in no time. (Contact us at: email@example.com)
CNC Simulation: A powerful built-in simulation system provides users with a preview of the cuts that they can expect that their generated toolpaths will result in. No more 'cutting blind' the way that some toolpath-generation programs expect users to. At best these programs will only display a render of generated cut-paths. With PixelCNC users have access to a live preview of their carving operations' simulated effect on a workpiece, long before hitting cycle start, saving time and money on scrapped material stock.
At the end of the day: 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 DIY'ers who use a CNC mill or router to fabricate artistic works for fun and/or profit. Gone are the days of fumbling around with complicated obtuse software engineered by those with experience exclusive to manufacturing alone. PixelCNC is built from the ground up by artists - with professional precision CNC fabrication experience - to be intuitive and easy to use for artists, without all the unnecessary complexity of professional CNC fabrication that's inherent to other CAM software (even some of those that bill themselves as "art" CAM software).
Instead of toolpaths serving only to remove material from where it shouldn't be, PixelCNC's philosophy is to exploit the very nature of CNC milling/routing itself to provide visually stimulating and interesting textures and patterns to works which would otherwise be practically impossible with conventional CAM software ...along with your usual V-carving and relief-work too...
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 (to name a few) 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 price - and more operations are always being invented and implemented all the time while under the alpha phase of development. PixelCNC customers receive these new toolpaths and all future features/enhancements that become become available free of charge through the automatic update system.
For what PixelCNC can do its price can't be beat. There do exist a few different CAM solutions which have similar capabilities, and plain run-of-the-mill cut-paths, but most of the time these programs have too many options and features that hardly anyone ever uses - which you pay for regardless. Conversely, they have only the basic features and want you to pay a subscription fee whether you use the software or not. PixelCNC is offered to users for just a one-time payment roughly equal to the cost of a month's subscription to the popular professional CAM programs. You get to keep PixelCNC for life while receiving new features and capabilities as they're introduced - at no extra cost.
Why PixelCNC? As a CNC hobbyist that runs an online craft shop with my wife by day and who writes code by night, I have grown weary of the usual tools and workflows for creating interesting works on our CNC router. Existing CAM solutions are either too slow, boring, complicated, tedious, expensive, 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 other software - free or otherwise. PixelCNC is everything that I want from CAM software.
A downloadable free trial version of PixelCNC is available for user evaluation. It imposes a 30-minute time-limit per use session, restricts exported G-code to 8000 tool motions per carving operation, and the saving of project files and exported canvas heightmaps and models are disabled. The free trial is otherwise equipped with the same capabilities and functions 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 for themselves. If you experience any issues with PixelCNC - error messages, bugs, crashes, compatibility issues, etc.. please let us know by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or via the message board which is linked at the bottom of this page. Our number one goal is user satisfaction, so if there's anything you're having issues with please don't be afraid to let us know about it.
At least one older version of PixelCNC is kept online in the event that something has become broken with a latest version for any users. PixelCNC is alpha software that is still being developed with new features and functionality being released every few months and which has not been rigorously tested yet - that's where you come in! PixelCNC users are always at the cutting edge of its development. If the most recent version results in problems that make it unusable it is recommended that you try the provided earlier version and let us know of the situation by email (email@example.com) or via the messageboard (linked at the bottom of this page).
Operations and Toolpaths
Vanilla run-of-the-mill toolpaths originate from industrial fabrication and its no-nonsense methodologies and strategies. They're a product of manufacturing ingenuity rather than that of artistic creation and expression. While PixelCNC's ever-growing library of carving operations does happen to feature your conventional "toolpaths-of-industry" it also features totally new and original toolpaths which will set any project apart from those created using other CAM software. My philosophy has always been that machining "tool marks" are a thing of beauty unto themselves to be exploited by true artists and visionaries, and your industrial-fabrication-centric toolpaths can only get you so far in that regard - forcing artists to sand and polish away something they wouldn't have to if they had more control over the generation of the cutpaths themselves.
New and original operations and toolpath-generation algorithms for producing unique textures, patterns, and novel interpretations of a project canvas are being added all the time to PixelCNC, making it the ultimate CAM software for the truly creative hobbyist who wishes to set their work apart from those of street-side sign-makers at fairs - and the thousands who've saturated the likes of online markets such as Etsy and Ebay - whom all rely on CAM software to generate their toolpaths that that will never be able to do the things that PixelCNC enables users to do.
Using the image shown above the following images illustrate the toolpaths that can be generated with PixelCNC's current set of operations. (Note: images depict both generated toolpaths and CNC simulation views blended from lower-left to the upper-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 cut-paths angled at any orientation - with either conventional, climb, or mixed cutting directions.
- 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 can be centered anywhere within the dimensions of the project. Spiral direction is controlled via the cut direction parameter.
- 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 a toolpath that can be used with ball-nose or v-bit cutters to depict a grayscale image, either by pecking stipples meant to be black on a white background, or white stipples on a black background. Parameters allow for the adjustment of the sizing and displacement of stipples as a product of the light and dark areas of a project image by employing a simple particle advection simulation.
- Medial-Axis Carve: Also known as 'V-carving' or 'B-carving' (depending on the cutter used) this operation allows black/white designs and patterns to be used in the generation of a toolpath that follows the medial axis of the depicted shapes and forms in the image - varying the depth of cuts along the medial-axis to modulate their width in order to cut out the original forms and 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.
- Profiling: 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. Allows for tabs and cutting outer-most pocket or island contours.
- 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.
( Note: A new dithering-based stipple operation, vector-paths cutting operation, and tessellated shape carving operation have since been added to PixelCNC that aren't shown here. )
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: new operation types and toolpath generation modes, simulation system improvements and enhancements, and more - free of charge!
PixelCNC has been under development since 2017 and remains under active development. There are plenty of items left on the development roadmap which are being worked on - including functionality to add, change, and improve as well as new features to make PixelCNC more powerful, versatile, and easier to use. Maintaining an online presence that includes this store page and fielding tech support questions is a project unto itself, which does take away from PixelCNC's actual development. However, even while still technically incomplete, PixelCNC is already a valuable tool of significant utility that is worth making publicly available to CNC hobbyists and pros alike. In the meantime inquisitive minds can follow PixelCNC's development via the developer log posts on this page and over on Twitter too at: @BITPHORIA
New capabilities and features that are added to PixelCNC - increasing its value and utility as a tool - are accompanied by incremental price increases. Buy your copy now while PixelCNC still has it's early-access price-tag and you'll be receiving these new features at no extra cost as they are introduced with each new update!
- 3.0Ghz quad-core CPU (64-bit)
- 4 Gigabytes RAM
- OpenGL v3.3+ capable graphics processor
- Windows 7/8.1/10 (64-bit)
- 1.5Ghz dual-core CPU
- 2 Gigabytes RAM
- OpenGL v2.1 capable graphics processor
- Windows 7 (32-bit)
PixelCNC has been tested to run on 64-bit versions of Windows 7, 8.1, and 10, without issue. PixelCNC should be run on Windows 7 or newer. PixelCNC will technically work on Windows XP (Service Pack 2) but it relies on OpenGL 2.1 compliant graphics hardware, and a lot of graphics hardware from the days of GL2.1 does not adhere to the specification - claiming to support 2.1 while missing features and functionality that the vendors assumed nobody would miss because software wouldn't normally employ that functionality at the time. The implies that just about any computer built in the last decade should be capable of running PixelCNC. If you have any problems please report your experience by sending an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org or by posting on the messageboard found at the bottom of this page and we'll do what we can to get you up and running!
64-Bit and 32-Bit Versions?
The 32-bit version of PixelCNC is offered as a fallback version for users limited to a 32-bit version of Windows. The 64-bit version is recommended for all other users as PixelCNC's algorithms can be rather memory-intensive and 32-bit software has limited access to system memory due to the addressing range limitations inherent to a 32-bit CPU. This can result in using up the allotted memory that's made available to PixelCNC by the operating system when working with complex projects that have numerous cut paths. This is usually about a gigabyte of memory regardless of how much physical memory there is installed in the system. The 64-bit version of PixelCNC is not limited in the amount of system memory that it can utilize, and will not exhibit memory allocation errors when working with complicated projects.
What is TGA2STL?
TGA2STL is a free command-line utility for converting raw uncompressed TGA/Targa image files directly into optimized 3D STL meshes that have had extraneous triangles/vertices removed to improve speed and performance working with them.
The triangle subdivision threshold can be specified via the command-line, or a simple batch file that you can drag-drop your TGA heightmaps onto and have TGA2STL spit out a usable binary STL mesh file. 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 $220 USD. You will get access to the following files:
- v1.53a - Hotfix: Trace To Paths Crash ErrorAug 19, 2021
- v1.52a - Canvas/Simulation Color Curves, Optimized Stroke Paths + Shapes From Pa...Aug 18, 2021
- v1.51a - Hotfixes: Offset Limiting Max Depth, Adding Path Sweep Profiles, etc.Aug 03, 2021
- Fixed Auto-Update Crash on Startup - 20% Off Sale!Jul 29, 2021
- v1.50a - Smooth/Smudge Brushes, Model-Layer Scaling, Remove Layer Bottom, Metric...Jul 29, 2021
- v1.49a - Duplicate Layer fixMay 11, 2021
- v1.48a - Miscellaneous fixesMay 10, 2021
- v1.46a - Faster more precise contouring, dithered stipple improvements, text-lay...May 04, 2021