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CNC Guide

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

Working With Text

Text can easily be added to a project creating a text box, which will allow you to set the font, size, formatting, etc. Text boxes can be quickly edited to change the font, characters, or formatting at a later point without having to recreate it from scratch. To create a text box, select either Create Text or Auto Layout Text . The most important difference between the two types of text is that Auto Layout Text creates a bounding box that will resize the text as needed in order to ensure that the entire text will fit inside the box without being skewed. If you select a closed vector shape before selecting Auto Layout Text, the bounding box will be the size of that vector. This is useful if you want to ensure that text will fit inside another shape that is being cut out.

From here, you can set the font, size, and alignment, as well as several other options.

  • Text: The actual text to be displayed. If you need a larger area to put in text click "Larger Edit...".
  • Font: The font to be used, which will show a preview of what each font looks like next to the name.
  • Bold/Italic: Stylizes the text. Some fonts do not noticeably change when bolded or italicized.
  • Text Alignment: If the text spans multiple lines, this will align the different lines. Additionally, for Create Text, this moves the anchor point along the bottom of the box to the left, center, or right.

Create Text options

  • Text Height: The height of the text; the width will be adjusted automatically.
  • Anchor: The exact position of the anchor point on the workspace.

Auto Layout Text options

  • Bounding Box Dimensions: The exact size of the bounding box. The text will automatically be resized to fit within the box.
  • Margin Size: Creates a 0%, 10%, or 20% margin between the text and box edge. Adjusting this will resize the text, not the bounding box.
  • Vertical Stretch: Can either skew the characters or increase the line spacing to make the text fit to the top and bottom of the box. This is generally only noticeable when the text box is disproportionately taller than it is wide.
  • Horizontal Stretch: Can skew the characters or increase the spacing between words or characters (kerning) to make the text fit to the left and right edges of the box. This is generally only noticeable when the text box is disproportionately wider than it is tall.


Choosing The Right Font

When selecting a font, it is important to use one that works well with the router bits. Since router bits are relatively thick compared to a pen or laser, it is important to use a font that can be carved properly. Thin serifs and other stylistic lines often will not work because even a small bit is too wide to fit in a narrow space. The larger the text, the more room a bit has to move, however you will need to check the preview after creating a toolpath to ensure that it will cut enough out to be legible. Thicker, sans-serif fonts generally work better as there are fewer thin areas to work around.

See below for a comparison of the same letter carved with a 1/4", 1/8", and 1/16" bit. Note how even the smallest bit does not carve everything out. In this case, the only way to carve everything would be to either choose a different font or make the letter significantly larger.


Other Text Tools

Edit Text Spacing And Curve

The Edit Text Space And Curve function gives you a special cursor that allows for simple adjustments to the curvature of the text box and the spacing between characters (kerning). Select a text box and then select the function from the left panel.


To adjust the spacing between individual characters, simply click between the two that you want to adjust. Clicking brings them closer together by default and holding shift while clicking separates them. Note that if you edit the text afterwards and modify those characters any adjustments to the kerning will be lost.

Example of kerning changed to the word 'MAKE'. The 'A' is further from the 'M' and overlaps the 'K'.


The text can be given a basic curve with this tool as well (for more complex adjustments to the path of the text, use the Text On A Curve function described below). Select the text and grab either of the green boxes to curve it upward or downward. Once the text curves, red boxes will appear in the upper corners and blue boxes in the lower ones. Dragging by the red boxes will allow you to rotate the text around the curve and the blue ones will increase or decrease the distance of the textbox from the center point. Changing the text after editing the curve generally does not result in edits to the curve being lost, however the 'circle' may be expanded if large amounts of text are added.

Example of curvature to the word 'MAKE'. The text is curved and rotated.


Convert to Curves

With most types of vector objects, the object is simply stored as a list of vertices (nodes), and when the software is displaying them, it reads in the list and builds the object. Text is different in that it is stored as an array of characters with data on how it is marked up, including the font to use. When displaying a text box, the software must look up the font from the operating system to build the text. Therefore, if the VCarve file is created on a computer with a specific font and then moved to a computer without that font, it will not be able to display it properly.

If a special font (such as one downloaded from the internet) is used when creating the text at home and then brought into the PPLD computer attached to the CNC, the font will not be available. PPLD staff will not install custom fonts under any circumstances. The way to get text where the font is preserved is to convert the text box into a standard vector object. This can be done simply by selecting the text box and click the Convert to Curves . The text will now be stored as a collection of nodes, making it look the same on any computer.

This is a one-way operation - once converted to curves it can never be turned back into a text box.
This means the font, characters, spacing, etc. cannot be easily changed.

The best solution is to make a second copy of the file once the design aspect of the project is completely finished and then convert all of the text in that file to curves. That way if you need to make any alterations you can simply go back to the original file without having to rebuild the text box.

Almost every vector design program that can work with text has a text to curves function, though it may be called something different. In Inkscape, this can be done by selecting "Object to Path" in the Path menu. In Illustrator, this is done by creating an outline of the text and then moving or hiding the text box.

Text On A Curve

While the Edit Text Space And Curve function can easily shape the text to curve, if you need more options or want it to run along a different shape, the Text On A Curve function will be useful. Despite the name, it can actually put text on any kind of vector, including closed polygons and (poly)lines.

Simply create both the text box and the vector path, select both and then click the Text On A Curve icon on the left panel. It will automatically move the text to the curve with the default settings. From there, you can manipulate the curve with the options panel or the mouse.


  • Text Size: the text will can either be kept at the original size or automatically adjusted to fit the path.
  • Text Spacing: Adjusts the spacing between characters.
  • Text Position: Moves the text to the top/outside, bottom/inside, or through the middle of the path. If the text is upside-down, simply check "Text on other side" to flip it. Offset Distance can be used to move the text away from the path.
  • Text Alignment: Moves the text to the left, right, or center if it is shorter than the path. Additionally, you can have the characters automatically rotate with the curvature of the path or stay vertical while the text as a whole moves along the path.
    Demonstration of vertical alignment of text along a path.

You can modify the path using the mouse. In addition to the standard anchor points for moving, resizing, and rotating the text, a blue anchor in the center can be dragged to move the text along the path.

Afterwards, the path can be safely moved or deleted without impacting the text. Even if the original path is deleted, you will be able to alter the text by selecting it and clicking the icon in the left panel again. The path data is now part of the text box and will remain even if the text is modified. Generally, the path will be automatically updated to match the new size of the text box, but it may be necessary to fine tune it afterwards. To remove the alterations completely, right-click on the text and select 'Remove Text From The Curve' to restore it to a standard flat text box.