Sometime early last year I'd finally won my wife over with the idea of making and selling various CNC milled/routed items on our Etsy store - where we've been selling crafts and prints for years. She's developed her own process for creating designs which I would then run through my process to produce a final product on my tabletop CNC.
However, this process was somewhat cumbersome and tedious, involving meshing the image using Blender (which could take a while when applying a decimate operation to get the polycount down to something workable) and then fiddling around in a conventional CAM program to actually generate toolpaths. The whole process was a very tweaking-intensive operation, requiring constant refinement and adjustment, which consumed more time than I thought should've been necessary. Isn't there a way I can just get from an image to G-code?
To improve the process I (apparently) wrote a program, 'TGA2STL' (https://github.com/DEF7/TGA2STL), early 2016, before I had convinced my lady of the profitable nature of the CNC - which was mostly sitting idle while I worked on my game engine Bitphoria. I had completely forgotten about TGA2STL until I stumbled across it in my projects folder a few months ago. I was surprised at both my thoroughness when developing it, and total forgetfulness at the fact I had created it at all. At any rate, it became a part of my new process for converting my wife's designs into finished products. But I was still left at the mercy of whatever toolpath generation software I had at my disposal: however tedious or uninspired they may be. I knew I could do better!
A project my father had always encouraged me to work on was a CAD/CAM package to undercut the professional packages that cost thousands of dollars, and that 90% of job shops only use 10% of the functionality from. My dad's big idea was for me to write a CAD/CAM program that only featured that 10% of functionality for all those shops, and sell it to them for the low price of $500. It was a project that always interested me from an algorithmic engineering standpoint, though it was never enough for me to drop existing projects to work on it.
Now, my father's original idea was a professional CAD/CAM program that could be used for precision machining and as awesome as that sounds I don't have a professional CNC, and I've also ventured into CNC on my own from more of a creative/hobby/artistry angle. I don't really have a personal use for a professional CAD/CAM program that I'd be making myself - aside from selling it for money. In spite of these sorts of projects being a bit of an arcane art form that I *could* spend years on, easily, I'd rather not. This is especially the case considering how many subscription pro-level CAM packages that exist nowadays, it would ultimately exist as just a mental masturbation project of sorts. Alternatively, I do have a use for a program that can take my wife's designs and turn them into G-code on the fly. In other words, I do have a use for a sort of hybrid project that merges my dad's idea for a bare-minimum CAM program and the workflow my wife and I would prefer to use, in terms of our CNC endeavors.
I've been working on PixelCNC since the end of last summer, and it's finally released. You can check it out at http://deftware.itch.io/PixelCNC/ It's available as an early-access program, selling for $55.00, but there's a free trial version that can do all the same stuff, except for load images with > 65k pixels and load/save project files. Hopefully that's enough to get people hooked on it without giving it away for free.
|PixelCNC generating a 'horizontal milling' operation.|