Make those CNC carved graphics look even better

By René Giroux

Posted on Friday, September 23rd, 2022

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Some people are always on the lookout for ways to improve their products, productivity and image. I like to think of myself as in that category. Some years ago I decided to do all that I could to make sure my signs didn’t have that “machine look.”

Most, if not all of my work, is 3-D signs. Our signs are created in EnRoute4 Pro and cut on my AXYZ 4008 CNC router. This technology, new tools and equipment allow us to create and produce interesting 3-D projects, precisely, rapidly and consistently.

But software and machines are not perfect. They leave behind shapes, marks and details that normally should not be there. In most cases, though, all you need to do is make a few minor adjustments, which require only a small investment in time, to get a better finished product.

I’ve put together a few examples of how I do it. It is up to you to decide if those extra steps are worth it, but for me, the answer is clearly yes.

René Giroux’s shop, Enseignes Perfexion, was in Gatineau, Quebec, Canada.

This appeared in the May/June 2011 issue of SignCraft.

You can also go one step beyond this by re-facing the whole surface of the letters. This is done by removing thin layers with a slightly curved gouge. The bulk of the work being already done, it’s just a matter of working with the existing shape and giving a hand-done look whether the prismatic effect is carved in or out.

These examples illustrate how a little handwork can add to the appeal of the lettering. Some are samples I have here in shop; some are actual jobs. But in every case, an effort was made to remove the visible traces of machine fabrication.

If you’re using 3-D software to create prismatic letters on a sign with large 3-D lettering, this problem can be corrected directly on the file. It will mean a small investment in time in front of the screen, but no chisel work in the shop. Each letter that would normally create one of those ridges because of an intersection of lines will have to be broken apart as I did on the Station sign. Three of these signs were required at the time, so it made the extra design time on the computer worthwhile. The screen shots show some of the steps that I used to rebuild the text from separate pieces.

It is something that you will get good—and quick—at after a little while, and it will be worth it if you have to do multiple faces. There are several 3-D software packages out there and most will do similar things. I’ll show how I do this in EnRoute-4 in a few short steps. The simplest example is a capital “F” as shown here:

See the difference between what a design program would normally give you, and the same letter “rebuilt” from broken shapes? Of course you will not want to use the software to rework all the letters in a sign, but with a big title with few letters (like most signs) you’ll appreciate the difference. The smaller text can be done by hand.