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Best CNC Routers For Sign Making Projects [2023]



John Abraham
Hey I'm John. I write about Manufacturing, Metalworking, CNCs and Lasers at Mellowpine. If you have any questions related to CNCs or Lasers, I'd be happy to answer them. Reach me at mail@mellowpine.com


Sign-making is one of the best applications of a CNC router.

Traditional sign-making methods use a v-chisel/ power chisel for hand carving letters on the target surface.

Although you can make decorative signs using hand lettering, this approach has some limitations.

CNC routers provide an excellent alternative to traditional carving and can be used to produce high-quality custom signs using a variety of materials.

You can use CNC routers to automate and make your sign-making project more efficient, allowing for the timely delivery of signs to customers.

In this article, I’ve listed out the best CNC routers for sign making and discussed features that you should consider while selecting the best cnc router for sign making.

In the end, I’ve also provided some tips for making signs using CNC routers.

MellowPine is reader-supported. When you buy through links on my site, I may earn an affiliate commission at no extra cost to you.

Best CNC Routers for Sign Making

For Small Jobs
BobsCNC Quantum CNC Router Kit with the Makita Router Included (24" x 24" cutting area and 3.8" Z...
CNC Router
BobsCNC Quantum
Shapeoko 4 XXL
Suited For
Hobbyists and small businesses
Cut Area
24" x 24" x 3.8"
33" x 33" x 4"
10,000 - 30,000 RPM
12,000 - 30,000 RPM
Drive system
Belt drive
Belt drive
90 Days (Router), 1 Year (Motor)
1 Year
For Small Jobs
BobsCNC Quantum CNC Router Kit with the Makita Router Included (24" x 24" cutting area and 3.8" Z...
CNC Router
BobsCNC Quantum
Suited For
Cut Area
24" x 24" x 3.8"
10,000 - 30,000 RPM
Drive system
Belt drive
90 Days (Router), 1 Year (Motor)
CNC Router
Shapeoko 4 XXL
Suited For
Hobbyists and small businesses
Cut Area
33" x 33" x 4"
12,000 - 30,000 RPM
Drive system
Belt drive
1 Year

I have compiled this list after evaluating CNC routers from different CNC brands for their performance in sign-making.

1. BobsCNC Quantum

BobsCNC Quantum
BobsCNC Quantum

Quantum CNC router is a budget-friendly router from BobsCNC, a popular brand among hobbyists and beginners in sign-making who are looking for a capable option for their sign-making projects at an affordable price.

It has a 36″ x 40″ x 22″ footprint and weighs around 50 lbs, making this CNC router fit on most desks.

You get a work area of 24″ x 24″ that lets you make signboards of sizes like 12″ x 12″, 12″ x 24″, and 24″ x 24″.

It has a Z-axis travel of 3.8 inches. But depending on the cutting tool length, you can use workpieces having thicknesses below 3.5 inches.

If the stock cutting area is insufficient, you can opt for its max variant which provides you a total cutting area of 24″ x 50.5″ allowing you to make 24″ x 48″ signboards.

You can use acrylic, foams, plastic, wood, and other soft materials for sign-making using the Quantum CNC router.

The chassis of Quantum CNC is constructed using laser-cut baltic birch plywood that provides strength and durability for CNC sign-making projects.

However, its chassis is prone to flex if you use feeds and speeds above the recommended range.

Overall, its chassis is rigid enough and suitable for most hobbyist applications. Using BobsCNC Quantum CNC router, you can achieve repeatability of 0.002 to 0.004 inches.

For X and Y axes movement, Quantum uses a belt drive. It is fast but has low responsiveness to sudden accelerations. So, it’s a good idea to gradually ramp up the speed while making the cuts.

BobsCNC uses Acme rods and Acme nuts to drive Z-axis. This arrangement resolves the issue of wobble even when the spindle is lowered to the workpiece surface.

All axes of Quantum CNC are driven by NEMA 17 stepper motors having a holding torque of 76 oz-in.

These motors are powerful enough to provide a rapid traverse of 200 IPM and a cutting speed of 100 IPM on soft materials.

BobsCNC provides a 1.25 hp Makita RT0701C router that has a speed range of 10,000 to 30,000 RPM. This router has excellent protection against dust, hence is a good choice for sign-making projects using wood.

For CAD plus CAM software, you have options to choose among VCarve Desktop, VCarve Pro, and Aspire software to create design and G-code files for your signboard.

If you are using the stock cutting area, VCarve Desktop is a good option. You should consider VCarve Pro CAD/CAM software for the larger cutting area of the Quantum Max CNC router.

Both VCarve Desktop and Pro are affordable, intuitive, and designed to meet professional needs.

The features, like single-line engraving fonts, beveled letters, robust V-carving, and true shape nesting (Pro software), make them suitable for sign-making.

Quantum CNC ships as a DIY kit in well-labeled boxes with a detailed instruction manual. Hence, you can quickly assemble the CNC router in around one day.

Although BobsCNC does not have an official online forum, they have a dedicated Facebook page where you can get CNC sign-making-related ideas and tips on tool choices and discuss CNC-related issues.

With Quantum CNC router, you get a 90-day warranty period and a 30-day trial window from the date of purchase. Additionally, for the Makita router, you get one year warranty from the manufacturer.

BobsCNC Quantum
  • A rigid laser cut 5-Ply Baltic Birch frame with SG20U supported rail system.
  • GT2 9mm belt drive on X and Y-axis and Tr8 Acme Rod mounted with an ACME Nut on the Z-axis.

2. Shapeoko 4 XXL

Sign making using Shapeoko 4 CNC router
Sign making using Shapeoko 4 CNC router

In March 2021, Carbide 3D launched Shapeoko 4, the latest CNC router in the Shapeoko series. This CNC router is designed to meet the needs of hobbyists and small business owners.

Shapeoko 4 is a desktop CNC router available with three different cutting areas, standard, XL, and XXL. I have chosen the XXL variant because it provides the maximum cutting area for CNC sign making.

Shapeoko 4 XXL has a 50″ x 41″ footprint that provides you with a work area of 33″ x 33″, ideal for comfortably making signboards of different sizes, like 12″ x 12″ and 24″ x 24″.

It has a Z-axis travel of 4 inches. This thickness is quite enough to create signs on wooden artboard. But workpiece thickness also depends on the length of the tool you use.

You can use acrylic, wood, PVC, MDF, aluminum, and brass workpieces for CNC sign-making projects.

The chassis of Shapeoko 4 is made of aluminum extrusions that are 5 mm thick and provide rigidity during soft materials and metal machining.

One of the great features of Shapeoko 4 is its optional hybrid table that has closely-spaced multiple aluminum extrusions underneath.

Additionally, the top surface of the hybrid table has multiple T-slots that let you use various work-holding options, such as Teez nuts, gator tooth, and tiger claw clamps.

Both chassis and hybrid table is stiff. Hence, they do not flex and dampen vibrations even during heavy-duty CNC machining.

This stiffness lets you make CNC signs with good accuracy and repeatability.

Shapeoko 4 CNC router has a 15mm GT2 belt drive that is non-stretchable and quite responsive.

Furthermore, movement in the X and Y axes is guided by V-wheels that travel over rails on the chassis.

Although V-wheels are not as good compared to linear rails, they perform well in light-duty CNC sign-making applications.

The Z-axis uses a lead screw drive for router movement that provides rigidity, good accuracy, and resolution in signboard-making projects.

All axes of Shapeoko 4 are driven by NEMA 23 stepper motors that have a holding torque of 140 oz-in.

These stepper motors are powerful enough and can achieve good cutting speeds for making signs on soft materials, hardwood, and occasionally on aluminum and brass.

Carbide 3D provides Carbide Compact Router for Shapeoko 4, and you need to purchase it separately. It is a 0.84 hp router with a speed range of 12,000 – 30,000 RPM.

Alternatively, you can use other routers that can be fixed into a 65 mm mount provided with the CNC router kit.

If you want to use a router bigger than 65 mm, you need to purchase a separate mount or make your own.

Carbide 3D provides Carbide Create free software that has 2D and 2.5D CAD plus CAM features to create designs and convert those designs into G-code files for your CNC signs.

Carbide Create has an advanced V-Carve feature that lets you make V-Carving to a fixed depth and pocket out the remaining area. Hence, this feature efficiently mills detailed design in CNC sign making.

This advanced feature is a helpful addition to Carbide Create, and it requires 460 and higher versions of Carbide Create.

Carbide 3D offers many useful accessories, like dust boot and BitSetter, that make your CNC sign-making easy. For instance, you can quickly zero the Z-axis using BitSetter.

Shapekok 4 CNC router can attach a laser kit to it to make laser signs on metal surfaces and for laser engraving.

However, you will not get a laser kit from Carbide 3D. Hence, you need to purchase from 3rd party source separately. Laser kits from J Tech Photonics are used in Shapeoko 4 CNC router.

Shapeoko 4 CNC router ships as a DIY kit in well-labeled packages. These boxes are labeled according to the assembly sequence of components. Hence, you need not open all packages at once.

Carbide 3D provides a detailed instruction manual that lets you assemble a CNC router in around 3-4 hours. Even if you face any issues, you can get support from Carbide 3D and the official YouTube channel.

You will find an official, online forum of active users where you can get solutions to your CNC sign-making-related issues and troubleshooting tips.

With Shapeoko 4, you get a one-year manufacturing defects warranty and a 30-day replacement policy from the date of purchase.

Carbide 3D also offers excellent customer support over email and call.

A detailed review of Shapeoko 4 series CNC routers can be found here- Shapeoko 4 CNC Review

3. Onefinity X-50 Journeyman

Sign making using X-50 Journeyman CNC router
Sign making using X-50 Journeyman CNC router

Onefinity is comparatively a new brand in the CNC router space and has gained popularity due to its slick design and pleasant appearance.

The X-50 Journeyman offers the largest cutting area in the Onefinity CNC router series.

It is an affordable desktop CNC router designed for hobbyists, entry-level professionals, and mid-size business owners.

Onefinity X-50 Journeyman has a 61.37″ x 53.75″ footprint that provides you with a work area of 48″ x 32″, ideal for making signs of sizes like 12″ x 12″ and 48″ x 24″.

If you have limited floor space, you can use its wall mount bracket and brushing accessories to use this CNC router.

Its Y-axis is open from two sides that let you slide a workpiece of any length, let’s say 96″, having a width of 48 inches. You need to provide sufficient support to the hanging workpiece.

However, X-50 Journeyman does not ship with a workbed, and needs to purchase it separately or make your own.

It has a Z-axis travel of 5.25 inches that lets you carve signboards and cut letters of thickness less than 5 1/4 inches (depending upon the length of the cutting tool).

X-50 Journeyman can make CNC signs using various materials, like plywood, hardwood, plastic, aluminum, and brass.

Its chassis consists of cylindrical hollow steel shafts that ensure excellent rigidity and minimum flexing. The X-axis has a steel shaft of 50 mm that lets you use a powerful router/spindle.

X and Y axes of the X-50 Journeyman CNC router use a 16 mm ball screw and a 12 mm ball screw as linear motion component for the Z-axis.

One of the benefits of a ball screw is that it does not have backlash, providing good cutting accuracy and finish for CNC sign making.

All axes of the X-50 Journeyman are driven by NEMA 23 stepper motors with a holding torque of 178 oz-in.

These motors are powerful enough to provide a rapid traverse of 500 IPM on the X and Y axes and 200 IPM on Z-axis.

Onefinity does not provide a router with X-50 Journeyman, and you need to purchase it separately. They recommend Makita RT0701C, a 1.25 hp router with a speed range of 10,000 to 30,000 RPM.

This router is designed for woodworking, and you can also use it to make CNC signs.

J-Tech Photonics manufactures 7W laser kits for all versions of Onefinity CNC routers. You can engrave laser signs and logos on wood surfaces using this laser attachment.

Onefinity only provides CNC control software with a router kit. It means you are free to use any CAD plus CAM software to create designs and G-code files for CNC sign making.

You can choose Cut3D, V-Carve Pro, or Carbide create for designing 2D and 2.5D signs for CNC machining. If you want to design 3D characters, I suggest you use Aspire or Carbide Create Pro software.

Onefinity offers essential accessories, like a dust boot and a 3-axis touch probe, making your CNC sign-making process easy.

X-50 Journeyman ships pre-assembled with plug-and-play electronics components. Hence, you need to spend around less than an hour assembling and calibrating this CNC router.

Onefinity has an official online forum for active users to get ideas for CNC-related projects and solutions to CNC-related queries.

With X-50 Journeyman, you get a one-year warranty against manufacturing defects. In addition, they also provide good customer support for their products through phone or email.

4. CAMaster Cobra SignPro 510

Sign making using Cobra SignPro CNC router
Sign making using Cobra SignPro CNC router

CAMaster Cobra SignPro is a professional-grade CNC router designed especially for those in full-service production of the sign-making industry.

It is a versatile CNC router and lets you expand your production capabilities.

CAMaster Cobra SignPro CNC router is available in two footprint options, 87” X 135” and 87” X 159” that provide you with a cutting area of 61” X 97” and 61” X 121”, respectively.

Both options of Cobra SignPro have a Z-axis travel of 8 inches, which is more than enough for CNC sign-making projects.

It means if you choose the 61” X 97” cutting area, you can make a CNC sign, such as a foam board sign or Dibond signs of standard size 48″ x 96″, which is the maximum size of any signboard.

Cobra SignPro lets you use various materials like acrylic, foam, plastic, plywood, hardwood, aluminum, and brass to make custom signboards.

The frame of this CNC router has a heavy-duty steel construction. It is made of industrial-grade components that provide sturdy build quality and dampen the vibrations during metal machining.

It also has a steel welded gantry that is rigid enough to dampen vibrations during metal machining.

CAMaster offers you various tabletop options to choose from for customizing your workbed while purchasing a Cobra SignPro CNC router.

If you want to make signboards of custom sizes, you can consider the tabletop with aluminum T-slots to hold workpieces of any size for CNC machining.

You can consider a phenolic tabletop if you want to make CNC sign using aluminum. Because phenolic is a non-porous material, it will not absorb mist during metal machining.

Its non-porous nature also helps to create a strong vacuum to hold workpieces for sign-making projects.

Additionally, you can also use vacuum pods that lift your signboard off the tabletop to machine its edge on a phenolic tabletop.

Cobra SignPro CNC router has a helical rack and pinion drive system to provide linear motion on the X and Y axes. This drive system is robust and suitable for heavy-duty CNC machining.

Its Z-axis uses a ball screw drive that provides smooth motion to a heavy-duty spindle.

Additionally, all axes of Cobra SignPro are equipped with 25 mm steel rails that linearly distribute the load during CNC machining.

With its precise linear motion component, you get good position accuracy and repeatability of 0.001 inches.

The Cobra SignPro CNC router comes with brushless AC servo motors attached to planetary gearboxes. This gearbox produces good holding torque that is required during heavy-duty CNC machining.

Its servo motors are powerful enough to achieve a rapid traverse of 2,500 RPM and a cutting speed of 1,500 RPM.

CAMaster provides a 10 hp HSD automatic tool changer (ATC) spindle as standard with Cobra SignPro CNC router.

For the ATC spindle, you need to consider a linear tool rack or rotary tool carousel for quick tool access.

ATC spindle is very useful because it let you use multiple cutting tools, like V-bit for carving and up-cut spiral bit for profiling during CNC sign making without zeroing each time.

Hence, it reduces physical efforts and machining time to speed up the production of your sign-making business.

Suppose you want to make self-adhesive signs, stickers, and advertising logos using soft or semi-rigid material, like foam boards, vinyl, or corrugated cardboard.

In that case, you can do it using an oscillating knife that comes standard with the Cobra SignPro CNC router.

CAMaster provides Vectric VCarve Pro software with the Cobra SignPro CNC router. It has 2D and 2.5D CAD plus CAM features to create design and G-code files for CNC sign-making projects.

Its features, like robust V-carving, beveled letters, single-line engraving fonts, and true shape nesting, are helpful in sign-making.

CAMsater offers a 7W laser attachment kit for the Cobra SignPro CNC router for laser and raster engraving on signboards.

This laser kit is manufactured by J Tech Photonics and can be used for laser sign-making on the surface of non-ferrous metals.

Cobra SignPro CNC router ships fully assembled on a steel base. You will need around one hour from unloading to make it ready for CNC machining.

CAMaster has an online, official forum of active users, “CAMheads,” where you can discuss CNC-related issues and get tips from expert users for your sign-making projects.

With Cobra SignPro, you get a two-year warranty and lifetime technical support for the CNC router.

Additionally, CAMaster provides good customer support that you can avail via call or email, or even at your doorstep.

5. ShopSabre IS-M 612

Sign made using IS-M CNC router
Sign made using IS-M CNC router

IS-M series CNC routers from ShopSabre are professional-grade CNC machines built for full-service production in the sign-making industry.

These CNC routers are perfect for heavy-duty CNC sign-making applications. ShopSabre IS-M series CNC routers are made with state-of-the-art industry-grade components to produce signs with high accuracy.

ShopSabre IS-M CNC router is available in three cutting area options. The IS-M 612 provides a maximum cutting area, i.e., 74″ x 146″. Hence, you can make signboards of any size on it.

Although all IS-M CNC routers have a gantry clearance of 12 inches, they are equipped with ShopSabre Super-Z technology, increasing Z-axis travel to 16 inches.

This increased Z-axis travel lets you quickly cut thick workpieces using long-cutting tools.

Using an IS-M CNC router, you can make signboards from various materials, such as acrylic, plastic, wood, foam, aluminum, and brass.

Its base frame comprises welded steel tubes that provide sturdy build quality to dampen the vibrations produced during heavy-duty CNC machining.

Additionally, it has a steel-made gantry that handles the cutting force and supports a heavy-duty spindle during metal machining.

While purchasing an IS-M CNC router, you have options to choose from an aluminum T-slot table top and phenolic table top (with hybrid T-slot and/or vacuum zones) for workbed.

I like the phenolic table top because it is suitable for machining both soft materials and non-ferrous metal for sign-making projects.

Additionally, phenolic is non-porous, hence does not absorb mist, and creates a strong vacuum to hold the workpieces.

ShopSabre IS-M has a ball screw drive on all axes and provides backlash-free motion. The ball screw drive can produce vibrations at high speed, leading to position inaccuracy.

ShopSbare has done an excellent job in reducing the vibrations. They have kept the screw stationary, and ball nuts circulate around the screw. Hence, it provides whip-free motion.

Additionally, all axes are equipped with 25 mm linear rails with wiper-bearing blocks on each rail. These blocks distribute the cutting force load over the rails, and the wiper keeps the linear rails clean.

Hence, it reduces noise levels during CNC machining.

The precise linear motion components of the IS-M CNC router let you achieve good position accuracy and repeatability of 0.001 inches.

High-speed 1kW AC servo motors drive all axes of the ShopSabre IS-M CNC router. Servo motors perform better than stepper motors because of the positional feedback obtained by their encoder.

With its high-speed motors, you can achieve a maximum rapid traverse speed of 2,100 IPM and a cutting speed of 2,00 IPM.

You have the options to choose a spindle at an extra cost while purchasing an IS-M CNC router. ShopSabre offers an HSD spindle and an ATC spindle with 10 tool position rotary carousel.

ATC spindle reduces machining time and effort and increases your CNC sign-making capability.

Additionally, ShopSabre offers HSD vertical drill spindle. It has nine boring position heads that are pneumatically driven and can spin up to 6,000 RPM.

ShopSabre provides V-Carve Pro CAD plus CAM software. It has 2D and 2.5D designing capabilities and creates G-code files for your signboards.

J Tech Photonics manufactures a laser kit for ShopSabre CNC routers using which you can add laser engraving and laser sign-making capabilities to your IS-M CNC router.

Alternatively, you can use Opt Lasers PLH3D-6W laser kit for laser engraving. Both laser kits are compatible with V-Carve Pro software.

IS-M CNC router ships fully assembled on a pallet. After receiving, you need to remove the holding nuts and make the necessary connections.

You can complete all of these processes in around two hours.

ShopSabre does not have an official community forum for their CNC routers. They have a Facebook group that is an excellent place to get CNC projects and troubleshooting tips.

The customer support offered by ShopSabre is excellent, and you can avail it using call or email.

Features of Sign making CNC routers

Whether you are a hobbyist, small business owner, or in full-service production, you can leverage the advantages of CNC routers to produce high-quality signs.

While looking for CNC routers for sign-making projects, it is essential to know the factors you should consider before choosing one.

1. Drive system

Drive system in CNC router
Drive systems in CNC router

Linear motion components of a CNC router are essential factors to consider. If you are a hobbyist or learning sign carving, you can consider belt-driven CNC routers for your initial selection.

It is because belt drives are cost-effective and require less maintenance.

You can choose a lead screw or ball screw-driven CNC router for your sign-making projects if you are running a small business.

Ball screws are better than lead screw drives because they are rigid, backlash-free, and have good position accuracy.

However, ball screw drives are only suitable for a maximum axis length of 4 feet. If you use ball screws on a longer axis it will lose accuracy eventually.

It is because long-axis drive requires high-power motors for operation, and the high speed of such motors causes vibration in the axis. It is known as “screw whip.”

To maintain position accuracy over the long axis and ensure vibration-free high-speed operations, you should consider CNC routers with rack and pinion drive.

2. Work area

Cut area of a CNC router
Work area of a CNC router

Work area is another essential factor to consider because it defines your production capability.

Choose a CNC router that has a work area large enough to accommodate the largest workpiece that you intend to work on.

Whereas, 6040 CNC routers will be ideal for small sign-making applications.

Alternatively, you can select a CNC router with two opposite sides of the work area open. This allows you to slide long workpieces into the work area and carve them in steps.

However, the width of the sheet will be limited by the width of the work area, and you will also have to make proper arrangements to support the workpiece that is dangling outside the work area.

This feature, where you cut a large design part by part without breaking the workpiece into pieces, is called tiling. X-Carve Pro is one such CNC router that allows you to cut 4×8 sheets within a 2×4 work area.

If your requirement involves making multiple signboards with quick cycle time, it is recommended to look for a CNC router with a larger work area than the maximum size of your workpiece.

For example, if you need to make 1×2 signboards you can use a 4×8 CNC router and cut 16 signboards in one go out of a 4×8 full sheet.

3. Laser attachment

Laser engraving kit
Laser engraving kit by J Tech Photonics mounted on Shapeoko 4

Having a CNC router that can use laser modules is an added advantage, as you can use them to make laser-engraved signboards out of wood, acrylic, plastics, glass, metals, and many more.

You can find a laser module for most CNC routers that can be easily installed on your CNC machine.

There are several projects that you can make with a laser engraver to complement your sign-making jobs.

4. Ease of use

It is an essential aspect that you should consider while choosing CNC routers for your sign-making projects.

If you are a newbie or hobbyist and looking for a CNC router for light projects, I suggest DIY routers for your requirements.

DIY routers need to be assembled and have basic functionality at relatively reasonable price options. Additionally, you get many self-help resources to resolve DIY CNC router-related issues.

For small and mid-size businesses, you can consider desktop CNC routers that can cut various materials, handle slightly large projects, and produce high-quality results.

If you are in full-service production, then industry-grade CNC routers are the best options for you. They are robust and have multiple functionalities, like an ATC spindle, enabling CNC routers to speed up your production.

Industry-grade CNC routers can handle woodworking and metalworking-related sign-making projects to meet your business requirements.

How to make Custom Signs using a CNC Router

Designing and making a CNC sign is similar to other CNC projects. Although you can use pre-designed sign templates, you need to work from scratch to create a custom sign.

Here are a few essential tips that will help you get started with your first project.

Steps involved in making a wooden signboard
1Prepare the Design
2Sand the workpiece to remove irregularities
3Spray the wooden workpiece with a clear coating (optional, can affect the coloring output)
4Apply masking tape, such as oramask to attain a clean cut
5Run the engraving process
6Add color to the signboard
7Run a drum sander to remove any color bleeding errors.
Steps involved in making a wooden signboard

1. Design the sign

Mellowpine design in Illustrator
Mellowpine design in Illustrator

First, you need CAD software, such as Illustrator, to create a 2D/3D design.

You can also use free, open-source software likeLazyCAM and CamBam to create designs and produce G-codes for cutting and engraving signs.

Vectric’s Cut3D, VCarve (Desktop and Pro), EnRoute, Aspire, AlphCAM, MasterCAM, IntelliCAD, and AutoCAD are popular paid software to design text-based signs.

I like VCarve Pro because it is simple to use, user-friendly, and available at a reasonable price.

The initial step in sign designing is to take measurements according to the space where you want to fix your sign. Next, type the desired text, choose a font style, and center the text you want to carve.

Apart from that, when preparing the design, it is important to consider the physical limitations involved in the process.

Rounding the edges of design
Rounding the edges of the design

For example, using a round-nose cutting tool to produce perfectly square profiles is not feasible.

Therefore, it is advised to alter the design in such a way that each design element has rounded edges with a fillet radius greater than or equal to the nose radius of the tool.

2. Material Selection and Preparation

Sanding the workpiece to remove any surface irregularities
Sanding the workpiece to remove any surface irregularities

In this step, you need to choose the material with an appropriate size on which you want to carve your designed sign using a CNC router.

For sign-making projects, you can choose various materials, like acrylic, hardwood, plywood, sign foam, aluminum, and similar light materials, plastics, MDF, and fiberglass.

Make sure you are following the material preparation guidelines for safe CNC machining.

For instance, if you will make 3D letters for channel letter signs using PVC, wrap it with vinyl for a clean and good cutting experience.

Another tip for material preparation is to use double-sided tape to hold the acrylic sheet for CNC machining.

It is recommended to apply double-sided tape without removing the backing from the acrylic sheet.

This ensures easy peeling of the tape without damaging the quality of the acrylic sheet.

Preparing Wooden Workpieces for Sign Making

When using wood for sign making, it is always advised to sand the wood to remove any irregularities from its surface.

This helps to attain a smooth surface finish and uniform engraving depth throughout the design.

After sanding the workpiece, clean it to remove any dust from its surface.

Generally, it is advised to spray the wooden workpiece with a clear coating, such as shellac.

This coating prevents the wood from stains and other wear such as water damage.

Apart from that, it also limits the bleeding of the paint when adding color to the signboard.

However, these coatings can react with the paint and cause a slight discoloring of the workpiece.

For example, applying white paint over a clear coat tends to attain a yellowish hue, which can affect the look of the signboard.

Therefore, clear coating is only advised when your application involves filling only the engraved area with color and not applying color to the rest of the area of the workpiece.

After preparing the surface, it is advised to apply masking tape or Oramask to cover the surface of the workpiece.

This tape helps bind the wood fibers, eliminating the risk of wood splintering during the engraving process, thereby enhancing the quality of the cut.

Furthermore, it also helps in coloring the workpiece after the engraving process and limits color bleeding.

If you are a beginner in sign making, I recommend you start with MDF or any other softwood material that can handle the cutting pressure of CNC router bits.

3. Selecting the Right CNC Router Bit

Tooling is the heart of sign-making. Like material, selecting a correct router bit is also essential for CNC sign-making projects.

CNC router bits for sign making
CNC router bits for sign making

The table below shows the various bits you can use to create signs on a variety of materials.

CNC router bitMaterialSuitable for
V tip engraving bitMDF, plywood, and plasticLetter grooving
V groove bit and
straight 2 flute bit
Acrylic, foam, HDPE, plywood, and melamineLetter carving
Point cutting bitMDF, plywoodDecorative trimming
Round nose bitHardwood, softwood, and plywoodCarving
Carving liner bitPlywood, aluminum, and brassExtra fine carving
Tapered ball tip bitPlastic, aluminum, and wood2D and 3D carving
O’Flute bitAcrylic, foam board, laminate, and woodClean edge finishing
Spiral down-cut spiral bitMDF, plywood, and plasticProfile cut

CNC router bit for sign-making projects

Sign-making generally involves the carving and growing of letters, with certain decorative trimming along the edges of the sign.

Therefore, a 90-degree V-tip engraving bit is best suited for sign making, as it provides the ability to engrave extremely precise lettering.

These bits have a pointed conical end, and altering the depth of cut also alters the width of the engraving. Hence, good process control is required to control the depth of cut for precise engravings.

Apart from this, a V-grove engraving bit is more suitable for comparatively thicker engraving elements, such as carving out bold lettering for the sign board.

Furthermore, you can use the O’flute endmill for carving signs on acrylic sheets. These endmills result in a clean edge that provides good reflective properties for illuminated signboards.

4. CNC Engraving

Mellowpine signboard engraved on a CNC router
Mellowpine signboard engraved on a CNC router

Once you are sure that all cut settings are correct, fix the workpiece in the cutting area, load the G-code into the controller and let your CNC router make signs according to your design.

Although CNC engraving is a completely automated process, it is advised to monitor the process to avoid any unwanted accidents that can ruin the workpiece or damage the CNC machine.

After completing the engraving process, you can remove the oramask from the area that you want to paint.

5. Post Processing the Signboard

Final sign board after adding color
Final sign board after adding color

After sign carving, you need to perform post-processing, such as painting, polishing, sanding, or vanishing, depending on the type of material.

For wooden workpieces, generally post-processing involves painting or staining the wood.

If your application involves coloring only the engraved area, you can peel off the masking tape from that area and spray the paint.

Any paint stains that bleed through the masking tape can be removed by sanding the workpiece using 80-grit sandpaper on a drum sander. This will get crisp characters on the signboard.

On the other hand, acrylic signboards generally require the addition of led strips to illuminate the sign.

Illuminated acrylic sign made on a CNC router
Illuminated acrylic sign made on a CNC router

For outdoor signboards, drill mounting holes and apply urethane spray to protect them from sunlight, water, and temperature change.

Final Thoughts

CNC routers are incredible tools that let you create intricate carvings for signboards and letters on various materials.

While considering CNC routers, it is important to look for the essential attributes required for your project and narrow down your search.

The rigidity of a CNC machine plays an important role in defining its ability to machine a hard material, like metals, with high accuracy.

Therefore, it is recommended to identify your choice of material for sign-making before buying a CNC machine.

Furthermore, CNC machines with an optional laser module attachment can help in personalizing signs with intricate patterns with quick cycle time.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Can you suggest one of the best low-cost entry-level CNC routers for sign-making projects?

If you are a hobbyist and want to make signs using a soft material and light metals, like aluminum, you can consider Shapeoko 4 CNC routers for your sign-making projects.

How could I keep my wooden signboard off of the table for staining?

You can use painter’s pyramid stands that let you elevate your signboard for easy staining/painting.

During carving the letters, I usually leave cut marks on my wasteboard, what should I do?

You should set the depth of cut slightly less than material thickness. Then do some quick sanding on the back of the workpiece to pop out the letters. Hence, you can protect your wasteboard.

John Abraham
Hey I'm John. I write about Manufacturing, Metalworking, CNCs and Lasers at Mellowpine. If you have any questions related to CNCs or Lasers, I'd be happy to answer them. Reach me at mail@mellowpine.com