How to Make CNC Patterns – A Beinner’s Guide To Getting Started
I got into making CNC Patterns a few years ago when I purchased a Carvewright machine. I was always a hobbyist type woodworker, and I walked into Sears one day and they were doing a demo on the Compucarve machine. I saw that and that was all she wrote – I had to have it. It was affordable, looked easy to use, and I could create a carving from a picture.
Well, as it turned out, the carving from the picture did not work out so well. The patterns had no depth, were not the correct depth in places and I had no idea how to “fix” or control the outcome. Plain and simple, the end result looked terrible. So the next thing I did was start asking the folks who were churning out nice stuff “how do you do it?”. I figured it was photo manipulation and I had a little experience with Photoshop so how hard can it be to make these nice patterns?
Most folks I asked were fairly tight lipped about the process. I was hmm it’s a secret. Ok, I know how to Google and I was bound and determined to figure it out. One guy, HT of CarveNow, pointed me in the right direction. He told me don’t waste your time with trying to manipulate a photograph because there is no depth information in pixels, learn 3D modeling.
Looking back I understand why most are tight lipped about the process. It’s not because it’s a secret but rather it’s a fairly complicated process and if a person has no base understanding, it’s like you are speaking Greek to them.
How Hard Are CNC Patterns To Make?
When I first started to learn how to create CNC patterns it seemed impossible. The first program I purchased was Zbrush and I couldn’t do a thing with it. The user interface looked crazy to me with a million different options. I kept bouncing from program to program looking for an easy solution. In reality, there is no easy solution. The road to leaning 3D is a long one and it comes with a steep learning curve. But for some, it is a fun process.
One of the reasons it is difficult to learn is the user interfaces of the programs do not correlate to any 2D graphics programs to which a lot of folks are familiar. Then to make it even more interesting, the 3D programs have different user interfaces and operate a little different than each other. There is a whole new vocabulary to learn, such as verts, faces, edges, topology etc. There are different types of molders like nurbs or polygons modelers. And the list goes on and on.
The bottom line, yes there is a learning curve however; if your committed and have the time to learn something new, it will happen. It just wont happen overnight or the first time you open the software. I find modeling to be a mix of artistic endeavor and mastering a program. Both take time and commitment to learn.
What Software To Use?
One of the most common questions is what software did you use to create that? And the next common question, what software should I start to learn? Just because a certain pattern or model was created with a specific software does not mean that is the one for you to learn. A certain pattern can be made a thousand different ways, using many different programs and the result will look the same.
It is not the software that makes the pattern but rather the person behind the software and how artistic they are and how well they know the program they are using to create the pattern. The price tag on software is immaterial from an artistic standpoint. Meaning the more you spend does not mean your patterns will be better due to cost of software, more features etc. 3D software can run from very cheap, as in free, to several thousands of dollars.
So which one do I start with? The answer can depend on quite a few things. What do you want to achieve? Do you want to make technically specific models or more organic models? What is your budget? By what do you want to achieve I mean do you only want to make CNC patterns? Do you want to render? Do you want to get into animation? In the beginning all I wanted was to learn to make CNC patterns but from there I got into retoplogizing scanned models, rendering and animations.
The big question is what program will you click with and feel sort of natural to you. My best advice here is to start playing with the different demos and watching the tutorials on the user interface for them. Also keep your budget in mind. If you have no intention of shelling out a few thousand on a program then don’t waste time playing with the demo of program in that price range.
Here is a list of some of the more popular programs with links:
This is not an exhaustive list nor a review, just a few of the more popular programs to get you started. One thing to remember, no one software will do it all. I find myself using multiple programs for different tasks. I will say this though, with Blender and Sculptris, there no CNC pattern you couldn’t make, and they are both free and open source programs. It all comes down to who is operating the program.
How To Learn
The are few different ways to learn how to model. One way is to learn by yourself with no outside help. Some people may find this method the best for themselves and they have complete control over how, when and what they learn. But this method will be and long and frustrating undertaking.
Another way to learn would be to take a course in person. The thing to watch for here is to make sure the course covers what you want to learn, which as a beginner can be hard to tell from the syllabus. The other thing to watch for is the course geared towards beginner with an artistic background or ones without. Lastly, how good is the teacher and what is their teaching style.
Another popular method is online course providers. In recent years many have popped up all over the net and cover most of the major software used in 3D. Two that spring to mind are Lynda and Digital Tutors. I have used both and still do but for different things. I find I learn better from a structured course type and Digital Tutors has been invaluable for my learning. They have beginner courses that break down the user interface all the way thru building projects. Digital Tutors is specialized in 3D, although more expensive than Lynda, and they have a lot of material to learn. There are several others out there, simply Google them.
One of the most popular ways to learn is online tutorials. There are a boatload of them out there on the net. Some are very good, some are terrible, but most are free and you can walk away with something you didn’t know prior. Most are short snippets on how to do a specific task or an overview on how to make something.
Check your local book store. At this point there is a lot of material written for some software’s. I own several books that I have read cover to cover and continue to use as a reference. Also check the news stand for 3D modeling magazines while there. 3D World has some nice tutorials and have a DVD included. Also look for DVD’s. There are ton of them for sale on the net.
Most 3D software companies also have a forum made up of other user’s. This is another invaluable resource. Most folks are friendly and have no problem answering questions related to the software you are both using.
Another great way to learn would be one on one tutoring. This is very rare but if your close to someone who does what you want to do why not ask them. There are some folks that do this online with Skype and net meetings for a fee.
The challenge with leaning to specifically model for CNC patterns gets a little bit harder due to that fact that the CNC community is relatively small compared to 3D in general. There is not a ton of stuff out there like how do I make a scroll pattern or how do I make this decorative frame. You will have to learn the fundamentals of 3d then apply them to 2.5D, which has it own set of nuances, but it is very similar and the knowledge you acquired from 3D will apply.
Where To Start
If you want to get into making your own CNC patterns the best way to start is find a program, after playing with demos, that you feel you will be able to learn and has enough information out there ( forums, books, DVD’s, courses etc) to learn from. From there master the interface. Learn how to move around the program and where to find certain features. The user interface will be one the biggest learning steps in 3D if your new to modeling.
Start building simple shapes. Don’t try to build that incredible relief of a portrait on day one. Start simple. It like the old saying you have to learn to crawl before you can walk and this is very true with 3D. It can be very frustrating at first if your very artistically inclined, from the program side, trying to make the software do what you can see in your mind.
Practice, practice, practice, and then practice some more. It will come over time but not overnight. And lastly, have fun with it. It’s very exciting to see something you sketched or dreamt up in your mind sitting on the screen in 3D, and then carving the pattern.