Ask professional sign makers which tool brings the greatest value to their projects, and they’d likely tell you it’s the CNC Router.
And for good reason! CNC Routers give sign designers the ability to create compelling signs that would be impossible to achieve using traditional techniques.
The CNC Router is a computer-controlled machine, and is mounted on a large router table. CNC stands for Computer Numerical Control. It can move in three dimensions and automatically cuts out the parts needed for a sign.
You may have used a router before, either in woodworking class or in your own shop. A router has a cutting or shaping bit attached to a spindle. A motor drives the router at over 10,000 RPM. The operator manually guides the router to shape the edge of the material, or to cut a hole or slot. Traditional work working routers are either handheld or mounted to a router table. With their powerful motors, high rotational speeds, and sharp tools, routers are indispensable tools for woodworkers — and for sign makers too.
But for professional sign companies, traditional router techniques just aren’t fast and accurate enough. That’s why the CNC Router was developed.
The CNC Router is precisely controlled by a computer program, under the watchful eye of a skilled CNC Operator. It gives sign makers the ability to create extremely accurate designs and letters in a variety of materials. It has led to entirely new styles of signs that just weren’t possible prior to its development!
A sign designer creates a new project on a computer workstation using specialized software. The design is then sent to the CNC Router operator, who uses the machine to create the different elements used in the sign’s design. For example, the design may require 3D letters to be cut from a sheet of clear acrylic.
Like any computer, the CNC Router only does what it is programmed for. It takes careful planning to efficiently create the parts for a sign project. Experienced CNC Operators avoid wasted time and materials by approaching the job with the right bits and cutting speeds.
Here’s a photo of some acrylic letters that were created on a CNC Router in our shop.
let’s take a look at how the CNC Router was used to create a Push Thru sign. The Station Cafe sign features acrylic 3D letters that were pushed through matching holes on a backing panel. Our fabricators used the CNC Router to create the letters and the panel. Creating a Push Thru sign requires very tight tolerances, which is only possible using the CNC Router.
The letters were made just slightly smaller so they could be pushed through the holes in the panel. The final step was to assemble the sign, secure the letters, and add LED lighting behind each letter. This allows light from the LEDs to project through the acrylic letters, which creates a beautiful effect.
CNC ROUTERS ARE VERSATILE
One of the strengths of CNC Routers is their ability to work with a wide variety of sign making materials. These include:
• Aluminum and other light metals
• Plywood and wood composites
• Lexan and other polycarbonate material
And in addition to being used to make 3D acrylic letters and parts for channel letter signs, CNC Routers have a wide variety of other uses in the sign shop. For example, with a V-groove router bit, flowing cursive text of varying depth and width can be cut into wood or metal. This kind of engraving can be done on a wide variety of materials, including glass.
BENEFITS OF CNC ROUTERS
Now that you know how CNC Routers are used, you’ll have a better appreciation for their role in creating high end custom signs. CNC Routers benefit our customers in many ways:
• Precision fabrication allows the creation of high quality signs
• Sign designs can be saved and repeated later
• Can be used to create signs using a variety of materials
• Reduces project costs by improving project efficiency and automation
• Enables the sign designer’s creativity
• Reduces waste
• Allows faster fabrication and delivery of signs to customers
That’s our introduction to the CNC Router. We hope you have enjoyed discovering how these amazing tools contribute to the art of sign making!