How to Make a Woodcut From... a Photo of a Woodcut Using Your CNC Mill




My dad was just visiting, and he asked me if I could use my new CNC router to make a woodcut.  That got me to thinking... sure, why not?  

He sent me a photo of a woodcut hanging in my sister's house, and in a few hours I was able to make this woodcut!  Very neat. 

Unfortunately, this instructable uses the incredibly awesome, and extremely non-free Vectric Aspire software. 

Stuff you'll need:
  • a CNC mill/router
  • a 90 degree V router bit
  • a photo
  • a hunk of MDF or other flat wood
  • a buddy with Vectric Aspire or something similar.  Somebody let me know if there is some free software that will do this!

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Step 1: Crop Your Photo and Invert

Open your original photo, crop it, and reverse black & white.  I re sized it to 500 pixels wide.  This helps reduce the size of the traced image.

Step 2: Import Into Aspire

Open a new document in Aspire, set the document size to the size you like.

Then, import the photo.

Step 3: Fit Vectors to Bitmap

This is pretty simple -- just click the Fit vectors to bitmap button.  Choose 'Black and White', and slide the slider around until it looks good.  When happy, click 'Fit Vectors'.

I like to delete the original bitmap so I can see the vectors more clearly.

Step 4: Create Your Toolpath

Choose Toolpaths->Create V-Carve/Engraving toolpath.

Select a V shaped bit, select all your vectors, and 'calculate'.  

Then you can do a 3-D preview.

That's pretty much it!  Export your g-code and carve.

Like I said, Vectric is pretty awesome.

Step 5: Make the Print

So, I sent this to my dad, who actually made some prints.  Here are the results!

Looks like it worked quite nicely :-)

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    7 Discussions


    7 years ago on Introduction

    "a buddy with Vectric Aspire or something similar. Somebody let me know if there is some free software that will do this!"

    Try Autotrace. I've posted a similar project in with links to the software.

    1 reply

    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    Vector (the genere' NOT the company of same name) software is a good place to start. "Inkscape" is one, and "Blender" is able to output 3D files as well. I once used Blender ages ago to create a point cloud file for a 3D file but alas, I have no CNC of any type.


    7 years ago on Introduction

    This is very cool, my only concern would be the fact that you are taking it from someone else wood cut. My degree is in art and this would deeply devalue someones work. Printmaking is a fantastic media because you can make art for the masses, but any printmaker worth their salt numbers their prints, after so many runs of those prints the block or plate is Xed out so it can no longer be used. Part of the art is pulling a good print. Prints are cheaper, still hand made art, but because they can be "mass" produced they are cheaper than say an oil painting. In history plates have been found and re-ran of artists, but this is known. Basically my concern is clearly for the original artist. I do not at all think you are trying to defraud an artist, but worry others might.

    It breaks copyright laws and is plagiarism basically is what I'm saying. I do not at all think this was your intent, but I want to make sure other users know that and do not start knockin' out artwork illegally. My hope is your sister or father was the original woodcuts artist.

    That said, it appears to me that you could use this method from your own drawing, to create a very nicely made block to print from, that I'm 100% cool with. :)

    So after this long winded post, I will also add, this is a very nice 'able great detailed instructions and would love to know if you think it would work off say a pen and ink drawing to then be converted to create a block. It would save some time and sore hands!!

    4 replies

    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    Heh, I definitely gave that some thought before posting. You'll not that I didn't post the g-code to re-create the image for that very reason. With my dad's woodcuts, I'll probably post the g-code for anybody that wants to try.

    On the other hand, I don't think this technique devalues anybody's work any more than a good photo copy/photo-etch could. I think you could make a really good copy using a photo chemical etch process, much better than I could make on my router. That's been around for years. Anyway, my point is that there are lots of ways to make copies of art that art thieves have been using for years -- I highly doubt that this adds anything to their arsenal. Smart people have been figuring out ways to knock off art for a looong time.

    As far as plagiarism goes, it's only plagiarism if you try to pass the work off as your own or somehow misrepresent the work. I don't plan to do that. As for copyright infringement, yes, that's a bit of a concern. From *my* use of *this* print, I think it falls into the 'Fair Use' category: It's not for profit, it's for educational use. But, granted, it may not clearly be in the clear there.

    As with all technology, it can be used for good or for evil :-) I don't plan to use it for evil, but I certainly can't control what others do.


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    I've had art law, it wouldn't fall under fair use. :) I also have a lawyer in the family, lol. :) It's a weird and sticky slope and granted sometimes as an artist if you are ripped off or your rights ignored, it's actually better for you to do nothing because your name gets out there more, it all just sort of depends on what the action in. Very fine lines (art pun totally intended)

    I did not at all think you were trying to rip off an artist, I simply wanted it noted that a practice like this could be considered ripping off an artist and off an artist is mortal and ethically wrong not mention to illegal. :)

    We can never control what someone does with our 'able. (I mean I have one on making a flaming arrow...I went back and forth on even posting that for a long long time). Just making sure everyone has the info to make informed choice is important. ;-)

    The devalue of the work actually comes in because this is a print. It is different than a photo copy recreating a plate is different. Now, that said, I'm not so convinced the original print was wood, it looks more like a lino cut. Even then, because of the wood choice it could be mistaken for the original. A photo etching can not recreate the same blacks as an original etching. This is simply because of the technique used with intaglio printmaking.

    I agree with you and god and evil in regards to technology...and art being ripped off for years.

    Like I said, I in no way shape or form felt you were trying to defraud anyone. I just want to put a blurp up for anyone who reads the 'able. A moral police kinda thought comment. I actually think your technique could be used by artist., to get the start of a wood cut going using their drawing. I did a 18 X18 wood block print and trust me I wondered what on earth I was thinking very shortly! Even in pine that is a task, oi!

    Have you seen the results yet of the print? I am very curious to see how the end result comes out. (final line crispness, if the fine lines show up, yadda yadda yadda) Does your dad make prints? I have some tips for him on inking and such if he does not, other wise even a very good plate can turn out awful. Many consider pulling a print as much as an art form as creating the plate. Paper choice (at least you do not need to wet paper for a wood cut) comes into play as well. Speedball ink is pretty decent and not that expensive and I would not be surprised if a craft store wouldn't have it in a kit so you had the brayer and baren. If not he could use a wooden spoon, but patience is key there.

    Take care and do know I know you are on the right side of the force :)


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    Yep, I've seen the results. My dad makes prints, and he sent me some photos. I'll post a pt. 2 shortly with photos of the results. They're pretty impressive. He's super excited by the possibilities this opens up. Sketch->print really quickly, and opens up possibilities for merging various art forms. Maybe interesting, maybe junk. I guess that's how art goes, eh? If you don't create junk at least once in a while, you're probably not innovating.

    It feels like cheating to me -- you're supposed to have blistered fingers and all, right? Is it the end result, or the process or both?


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    It depends on if you are doing an wood engraving or a wood cut. Size of the plate would make a difference as well. I can tell you that it could take several hours to cut even a small plate, and that doesn't count the time pulling artist proofs to see how things are going. :) Lino's are much easier to cut and they even make a very soft block now that cuts like butter. Lino's and the easy cut stuff do not last as long as a printing block, wood is the way to go for a lasting print. I'm super interested in seeing how it turned out. I could see it used as a starting point for a printmaker, then hand tooling the rest. I'm a process loving artist, so I like the blood sweat and tears involved....yes it's true I'm a sicko. LOL