How to Make Files for CNC Machining

How to Make Files for CNC Machining

You're looking for a way to make your idea a reality. You can hire a designer to design and model it for you, but maybe you're on a budget or want to learn a new skill. We at Portland CNC are boot-strappers ourselves and have learned many ways to get something done cost-effectively.

  • To start, you'll need to make a drawing or model of what you need to have made. Look below at the Software section to choose what's best for you and your project. You might also need a way of accurately measuring your parts, for that check out the Tools section.

  • Do you need 2D or 3D files?

    • 2D - Many projects only need a 2D or vector drawing. The format of choice is a DXF file (drawing exchange file) that is ubiquitous between file systems and most software. DXF files are 2D and have limitations but are good for most projects. DWG is another good format to use in this case.

    • 3D - If you need a 3D object, you'll need to design and then export it

    • Unsure? Pick a software that does 3D and you'll most likely be able to export 2D from it.

  • Create your model / drawing and export in:

    • 2D: DXF

    • 3D files: 3DM (if Rhino), IDES, or STEP

  • Send to Portland CNC for a Free Quote.

  • Profit.

Learning the Software

Hot tip:  Most anything can be learned on Youtube. If you're looking for good tutorials or how-to's — just search for it. We have a series on YouTube, Learn Fusion 360 for Beginners

Also, check out your local library (online). Many libraries give free access to sites like or other useful subscription services for free. King County (Seattle), Multnomah County (Portland) offer free use of

Ask for help. Many places like Reddit, Quora, or Stack Exchange have places to ask questions about your chosen software. E.G. - Rhino on Reddit


Take a course from our friend Kevin Kennedy of Product Design Online. Fusion 360 Masterclass at Product Design Online


Links below contain affiliate links - we earn a small percentage from qualifying purchases.


  • Sketchup (3D, Mac/Windows) - Fun and simple way to 3D model. Sketchup also has an enormous free 3D warehouse to download all the things you can imagine.

  • Fusion 360 (3D Mac/Windows) Trial / Subscribe - A wonderful and free parametric modeling software. You can do everything from 2D drawings to 3D models, with rendering, CAM operations, and engineering simulations.

  • Inkscape (2D Mac/Windows) - A free software to draw 2D vector drawings.


  • Rhino (3D, Mac/Windows) - One of the best software for all-around CAD making. It excels in the precision modeling of all scales from jewelry to buildings. We use Rhino every day and it's a workhorse of many design and job shops.

  • Adobe Illustrator (2D Mac/Windows) - You may already have this but it's a viable way to make drawings that are machinable.



Want to Learn CNC & CAM?

We are happy to help. We do design consulting and of course CNC machining!

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