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Computed Numerically Controlled engraving or CNC engraving for short (to put it basically) is using a computer to control a machine that does the engraving process. In modern day CNC engraving, CAD/CAM programs are used to produce a computer file, which in turn gets fed into a particular CNC machine (also called a CNC engraver at times) for production. There are many types of custom CNC engraving software, from free software to high end software such as VCarve Pro and Aspire.

How CNC Engraver Works

CNC engraving is used to produce highly accurate engravings. CNC engraving is also great for reproducing the same, consistent results for mass production. CNC machines use a wide variety of different tools such as different drills or saws to create a variety of products and engravings. Modern CNC engraving machines often combine many tools into a single “cell”. In other cases a human or robotic external controller may change the parts on a machine required for engraving. How CNC engraver works is a fascinating process from the design phase to a finished product.

With the introduction of lower-cost computers and better CNC engraving machine design, getting a perfect engraving is becoming even cheaper. The most common CNC mill is the 3-axis mill. These consist of a table that moves in the X and Y axis directions, and a tool spindle that moves in the Z (up and down) direction. A new addition is the 5-axis mill which enables the tool spindle to move in a multi-directional way, so to work with complex shapes and designs.

cnc engraving machinephoto credit: chromalux


Many different kinds of materials can be engraved such as aluminum, plastics, wood, stainless steel, ceramics, and graphite. Many ‘CNC places’ can engrave a range of different mediums and with a high precision factor.

Cost and Tips on getting a good quote

The cost of getting a CNC engraving varies. It all depends on the time the particular CNC engraving machine will take, which is largely influenced by how complex your design is and how cnc engraver works. Add on top of this set-up charges and design time in CAD. Generally speaking, engravings do not require much actual cutting time, so the cost can be very reasonable. Remember to always get a variety of quotes, as lead time and set-up fees may vary drastically between different places. Also ask to see a sample of previous projects to get an idea of their quality and craftsmanship.

More and more people are turning to CNC engraving, as costs are continuing getting lower. Apple even has an option on their website for engraving on their brand new iPods to show off to friends and family. Hand engraving may never die out, but when it comes to accuracy and consistency, CNC engraving may be the way forward for your application.