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CNC Guide

A guide to using the Shopbot CNC machine in MAKE ll at Library 21c

Sides, Sheets, Layers, and Groups

VCarve offers a variety of ways of organizing projects in ways that make it easier to keep track of vectors and toolpaths, especially for projects that will use multiple boards. None of these options will impact the results of the final cuts, but will simplify the process of creating toolpaths.

Options include:

  • Groups: Temporarily treats multiple vectors as a single object when it comes to selecting and transforming.
  • Layers: Transparent "stacks" of vectors that can be hidden as needed.
  • Sheets: Multiple workspaces that are displayed together and can be switched between with a click.
  • Sides: For boards that will be cut on both the front and back, this enables you to design both at once.

Diagram showing groups, layers, sheets, and sides 


To create a group of objects, select multiple vectors and click the Group button Group button in VCarve under Edit Objects (or press Ctrl+G). From this point on, the software will treat all grouped vectors as a single object for the purposes of selection, transformation, or creating toolpaths. This is different than welding the objects both in that it is a temporary action and that it does not remove any interior lines of overlapping objects.

When objects are grouped, the bounding box created is the size and shape of the smallest box needed to encompass all objects, and the center of the group is used for any kind of scaling or rotation. This will result in objects in the group being moved in significantly different ways that they would be if they were scaled/rotated individually.

To ungroup objects, select the group and click the Ungroup button Ungroup button in VCarve under Edit Objects (or press Ctrl+U).

Group of three objects


Notes on Groups

  • Object groups can be grouped, creating multiple levels of grouping. Ungrouping will leave sub-groups as groups unless otherwise specified. To ungroup all sub-groups, press Ctrl+Shift+U.
  • Node Editing mode is not available for grouped objects. Entering this mode will prompt for grouped objects to be ungrouped.
  • Selecting multiple objects essentially creates a group that lasts as long as the objects are selected.


While groups are essentially containers of multiple objects, layers function as sheets of objects stacked on top of each other. As each layer is transparent, your are able to see though the entire stack to view all objects at once. Layering offers the advantage of allowing you to hide objects in a layer, change the color of vectors in each layer, and lock layers so the objects cannot be selected or modified.

An example of when layers are helpful is when you want to create nameplates with the same design but changing the name. On the bottom layer you can create the design with the shapes of the nameplate and any engravings and then lock the layer so you cannot accidentally change or mis-select those objects. On another layer, you can place the textboxes and then just change that as needed.

To create a new layer, go into the Layers tab on the left or select the Layers dropdown from the top and click Add New Layer. The layer can be given a useful name or left as Layer 2. From here you can add new objects - note that the active layer is bolded and that will be the one where the new vectors are placed.

Additional options:

  • Click the lightbulb to hide the entire layer and click it again to show the layer.
  • Click the color box next to the bulb to change the color of vectors on the layer.
  • Double click the layer name to rename it.
  • Click the box to the right of the name for more options. Right-clicking on the layer name gets you the same popup menu.
  • Use the arrow buttons to the right of "Layers List" to reorganize the layers in the stack. Objects are drawn starting with the top layer, so non-transparent objects (such as bitmaps) will cover any object below it.

Popup menu:

  • Activate: Makes the layer the active one. Clicking on a layer name does the same thing.
  • Show/Hide: Sets visibility of the selected layer, plus options for showing only the layer, all layers but the selected, and showing/hiding all layers.
  • Lock/Unlock: Prevents or re-enables editing of objects on the layer.
  • Insert New Layer: Adds a new layer directly above the selected. The Add New Layer button at the bottom of the Layers panel always adds the new layer to the bottom of the stack.
  • Delete: Removes selected layer, all visible, all invisible, or all empty layers.
  • Rename: Renames the layer. Double-clicking a layer name does the same thing.
  • Merge Visible: Combines all visible layers into a single one. Objects and toolpaths are moved to new layer.
  • Select Layer Vectors: Selects all vectors on the layer. By comparison, Select All selects all objects across all visible, unlocked layers.

The popup menu from right-clicking on an object in the workspace will include options for moving and copying objects between layers. Note that if a vector is cut or copied, when it is pasted it will be on the same layer as the original vector.

Notes on Specific Drawing Tools

Objects can be selected across layers, however this can have unintended side-effects if you are not aware of how various tools behave and which layer is active. Of particular note:

  • Welding, Subtracting, and Overlap tools will move the modified object to the active layer even if it is none of the selected objects were on that layer.
  • Grouping objects across multiple layers is possible and the group will be moved to the active layer. When ungrouping, the objects will be placed on the group's layer by default, regardless of the active layer.
    • To restore ungrouped object to their original layer, right-click and under Ungroup Objects, select "Ungroup back onto original object layers".
    • To ungroup on to the active layer, move the object to that layer before ungrouping.
  • Using the Edit Polyline option under Node Editing will move the object to the active layer.
  • Importing bitmaps will create a new Bitmap Layer and if multiple bitmaps are imported they will all be added to that layer. The bitmap layer can be deleted and bitmaps moved to other layers, but future imports will recreate the layer.


Creating a new sheet simply creates an additional workspace that can contain it's own vectors and toolpaths. This is useful when you have a project that is going to use multiple boards since you will be able to move between them without having to create a new file for each board. To create a new sheet, simply go into the Sheets tab on the left and select Add New. The new sheet will copy over the geometry of the current sheet, but that can be modified by clicking edit.

Layout of sheets and Sheets tab

Notes on Sheets

  • If you zoom out enough, you can view all sheets, and double clicking on one will make it the active sheet.
  • Objects cannot be dragged into a different sheet, but right clicking on one will give you options to move or copy it to a different sheet. This option will only appear if you have created a second sheet.
  • Toolpaths are only for a specific sheet and cannot be moved even if the other sheets are the same size and contain the same vectors.
  • Sheets cannot be organized manually - the software will rearrange the sheets in the global workspace to accommodate changes in sizes and objects being moved out of a sheet's bounds. The list of sheets in the Sheets tab can be sorted alphabetically or by size.
  • Layers exist across all sheets, so changing a layer's visibility or deleting it will impact all sheets with objects on that layer.
  • The toolpath list only shows toolpaths for the active sheet by default, but you can change it to show all in the dropdown menu. Toolpaths for inactive sheets are grayed out.
  • The 3D preview can only show one sheet at a time.
  • If sheets have different sizes, origins, or z-zero positions, the Set Job Dimensions and Origins icon in the Drawing panel cannot be used to edit individual sheets. Instead, use the Sheets tab in the left panel.
  • Deleting a sheet removes the sheet, all vectors, and all toolpaths from the project file.


Projects can be designed so that both sides of a board are used. During the initial setup, under Job Type choose Double sided (you can also turn a single-sided project into a double-sided one using the Set Job Dimensions and Origin option in the File Operations section of the left panel). The main benefit to using the double-sided version instead of creating a second sheet for the backside of the board is that the preview will show both sides of the project.

To switch between sides, simply click the Toggle Top / Bottom Side button Toggle sides button on the top menu.

Notes on Double-Sided Projects

  • Each side has its own set of toolpaths, and moving vectors between sides does not copy the toolpaths over.
  • Turning a double-sided project into a single-sided one will cause all vectors and toolpaths on the inactive side to be deleted.
  • When working on a double-sided project, the Preview All Sides option in the 3D View will be available.
  • Vectors on the opposite side will appear dimmed out, but are still visible.
  • The project can be set to flip on either the X or Y axis, which impacts how vectors need to be lined up.
  • Vectors can be moved to the other side either by using the copy/cut & paste commands or right-clicking objects and selecting Copy/Move to Other Side.
    • Cut & pasting will account for how the material is set to be flipped, and objects will be moved and flipped to be relative to their original position on the other side.
    • Using the right-click menu will simply drop the vector through to the other side.

Demo of difference between Move and Cut & Paste options 

Tips on Double-Sided Projects

  • It is very important to make sure the board is in the exact same place when it is flipped over during the cuts. It is significantly easier to line the board up in the same place when using screws than when using tape or clamps.
  • Precise measurements of the length and width of the board are critical to working on both sides. Boards may be slightly different in size than advertised, so it is important to measure yourself or use the machine to cut the board to a specific size first.