It is hard to believe that it was only seven years ago I witnessed a CNC router in action for the very first time. I was fascinated and simply had to have one! Although I had been in the creative end of the three dimensional sign business for most of my life I didn't really know what I would do with one - but I just knew it could do fantastic stuff.

Through extensive research I quickly found out that with the relative simplicity of EnRoute, CNC routers were capable of just about anything imaginable. This journal will chronicle that journey to date and continue each week with two or three entries as we continue to explore just what is possible with this wonderful software... -dan

Tuesday, March 31, 2015


My most favourite way to create textures in EnRoute is to use bitmaps. The possibilities are literally endless. The principles are simple. The bitmaps are read, pixel by pixel and then the EnRoute Program assigns a value to each. In normal settings (add to) black does nothing, white raised the relief to the full height of the number you enter and greys do something in between depending on their value.

As always we start with a vector outline. I then create a relief (in this case a flat relief). It can be any shape you wish.

If you are new to the program it is best to render what you create after every step. This will let you know what happened. If it is not what you expected then you have to change something.

I then imported a bitmap from my TEXTURE MAGIC COLLECTION. I make all of my own bitmaps and have amassed more than a hundred so far. These are sold on a DVD collection. In this case the bitmap is called addition. It is a black and white bitmap with hard edges. The bitmap will open to the size of your plate. In most instances this is far too small and so I then resize it as per my needs. The relief is visible as a greyed area. To see it clearer merely hit the render button.

Once you have the bitmap sized and positioned correctly you need to open the correct box. I keep this tool bar at the top of my screen. To make the button active you will need both the relief and bitmap to be selected.

When you open the dialogue box with the button you will see this box.  I put a vale of 0.2"  This means the white area of the bitmap will raise the relief areas 0.2" The black will do nothing,]

When you hit apply the results are instant. If you render it you can see what happened.

Even  after eight years of doing this I still check multiple views to make sure it happened as I knew it would.

If the edges of the bitmap are blurred the relief will reflect that same thing. The transition from black to white is very soft on this texture.

We can reply;irate any texture I can imagine using bitmaps. I just have to keep in mind what the bitmaps do. Dark is nothing while pure white raises the surface. In this case I have a mostly texture with some dark wiggly lines. It is called 'CRACKED UP' and looks a lot like dried mud when we are done.

This is a new one which will be on the next TEXTURE MAGIC DVD collection. It is called 'DOUBLE WEAVE'.

This one I use often and it is called 'driftwood.'

The next one I also use a lot. It is made from a heavily tweaked picture of sandblasted redwood. I did the sample blasting more than twenty-five years ago. You can see from the picture that the bitmaps can be enlarged a great deal and still look right.

The next one is fun! It is a digitally tweaked bitmap of a fossil fish. Applied to my flat relief it looks good but we aren't finished yet.
 After the fish bitmap was applied I imported a second bitmap called splotches. This creates a wonderful texture that is also one of my favourites. The application of a second (or even a third) layer of bitmap is a technique I often use to get a believable texture.

I also like to create certain effects using bitmaps such as a waving flag. This is done using a blended or graduated bitmap. To get a more dramatic bend in the surface simply type in a bigger number. In this case I used a value of 0.5" which is a fairly large number on a piece this small.

Any number of things can e created using bitmaps. This one of called 'spaghetti' with predictable results. It was inspired by my grand daughter's scribbles when she was young.

As I stated above anything you can imagine is possible. I encourage you to experiment and create your own. If you are too busy to do your own there are 101 bitmaps on the first TEXTURE MAGIC DVD  which we sell and I am well on the way to having another 101 new and different bitmaps for a new DVD to be released soon.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Instant old tiki

The MultiCam CNC router is a wonderful tool. It works fast and accurate every time. But every once in a while it is fun to do a project the old fashioned way. The good people at Coastal Enterprises are to have a booth at the International Sign Association show in Las Vegas. I offered to whip them up a little sample for their display. 

The sample piece had to demonstrate the qualities of Precision Board. It's easy to work, holds detail well and when painted can resemble whatever we imagine. 

I chose a TIKI as the subject - just for fun. I decided to do the piece by hand to demonstrate it's ease of use. I drew some quick guidelines on the block of 40lb Precision Board, then fired up my air powered die grinder.  It took less than an hour to carve the block into the rough shape.

Another half hour with the grinder filled in the detail. The next stage was a coat of FSC-88 WB primer. I used a small brush and purposely added just a little more texture.

When the primer was dry it was time for three coats of the base color.

Once the base colors were good and dry it was time for some fancy magic. The glazes were started with a warm orange/brown. I slathered it on and then wiped it off judiciously.

Then it was time for a red/brown. This time I wiped it off just a little harder leaving the darker color in the cracks to show off the texture to it's maximum advantage. The tiki was already looking pretty fine.

I then used some green, red and white paint to add in the color needed to bring it to life. Some missed spots and brush strokes were purposely left in place.

The last step was to add a dark glaze. It instantly added character and age to the piece.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Packing for the ISA trade show

I'm really looking forward to attending the International Sign Association show in Las Vegas in less than two weeks. I'll be at the MultiCam booth # 712 on the showroom floor. I look forward to meeting a lot of people and sharing my passion for creating dimensional signs.

Today in preparation for the show I began packing. My personal suitcase has to wait a little while yet but it is time to get the show pieces down south so we built a giant crate for each piece. It took eighteen sheets of plywood to fabricate the sturdy crates and they weighed in at almost 2000 lbs in total when they were all loaded.

See you soon in Las Vegas!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

MultiCam TV

The last piece to get it's final coats of paint was the TV stand and surround. Like the others it got its light and dark silver coats of paint. The flexible hoses got their bright green metallic. Once everything had dried thoroughly a glaze was liberally brushed on and then wiped off judiciously to make it look perfectly industrial.

The TV surround was carefully assembled and wired for the LED lighting in the gauges and 'liquid tube' which was clear acrylic tubing with air bubbles cast inside. After it was assembled and the base coats were dry this too received it's industrial glaze.

I had great fun with the branding, sneaking it in thirty-one times through the display.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Robot Router

Ready to speak

As I designed the MultiCam trade show display my goal was to infuse three mechanical pieces with personality. While they are largely machine made and very precise the end goal was to make them look used and full of character.

The three pieces are now complete. The last time we looked at the lectern the pieces were beginning to go together. As always the actual build stage means some changes and tweaks. I made the bottom box a little larger so it could be used for secure storage. This also added a great deal of stability to the lectern. The traditional MultiCam feet add character and branding.

When the pieces went together I decided to move the table top supports onto the gears.

We first painted the lectern in pure silvers, three coats to bring out the depth of the metal flake colors. Some bright apple green hoses added a little bling and fun.

We then added a dirty glaze over the entire piece to create the mechanical, industrial magic we were looking for. One more coat of bright silver paint on the lettering finished things off nicely.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Awesome mesh tool

EnRoute has many cool tools that can be used individually or together with other tools to create anything I can imagine - and that's a lot. Last week I was building some faux hydraulic cylinders for a display and the mesh tool proved to be the simplest and quickest way to get exactly what I needed in a hurry.

The cylinders are a small part of the MultiCam display for their booth to be held at the International Sign Association trade show in Las Vegas next month. This is the TV stand which I will use for my presentation.

I started with hand drawn artwork as per my usual. This artwork defined the basic look of the finished piece but did not lock down every detail. We always get better ideas as we proceed.

The original thought was to fasten the vertical piece to the backdrop the client would provide but as I set about beginning the build we decided to include a horizontal base so it would stand on its own. To make it a little sturdier some angle braces on the bottom were in order but they couldn't merely look like angle braces. We decided to camouflage then as hydraulic cylinders in true steampunk style. For an extra bit of fun I added Kris Co embossed into the cylinders - a nod to my friend Kris Hanchette, president and general manager of MultiCam.

All of the necessary vectors were drawn in EnRoute with the drawing tools including the rectangle around the piece.

The first step was to use the rectangle to create a zero height relief.

 I then selected this relief before opening the mesh creation tool. In this fashion the mesh tool is used to modify the relief rather than creating a mesh shape alone. The menu takes you through the procedure easily.

In a few clicks I had my cylinder shape. The next step was to add the flat flange which would protrude out of the bottom of the cylinder.  I would build it as a separate relief.

This separate relief is then merged highest with the base relief.

I now had half of a cylinder. I duplicated it and then created the lettering we would emboss into each side. I duplicated the lettering vectors before flipping one 90 degrees (so they would read the same way no matter which side you read) 

I positioned these letter vectors on the cylinders.

Then I modified the reliefs by subtracting from the reliefs using the lettering as a mask.

I made two copies of each side because we needed two cylinders. then I sent the files to the MultiCam to be routed from 2" thick 30 lb Precision Board. They were fitted over the 1" pipe braces. Other smaller pieces were fit around the end flanges to build convincing attachment points in mere minutes.

Then I fitted on all of the PVC conduits with custom routed brackets. Some domed rivets were also routed and then glued onto the back board. It looks very industrial and steampunk in a hurry. The paint will add a lot  in the next days.

Two of the three pieces are nearing completion. Stay tuned to see the finished results.