STL File to Carving

Cheers Carbon 3D Community,

My apologies to the moderator if I’m posting in the wrong category.

I am of course a noob, albeit a proud noob of my Shapeoko Pro, well…. Hasn’t arrived yet but I’m proud of the purchase.

I’d like to thank many of you for the tips and tricks, and the overall wealth of information that you share with the community. This is an incredible resource that makes a world of a difference to us all, especially for us newcomers who are clueless and in need of guidance. I look at forums as “big brother”, so thank you all!

I intend on using my Shapeoko Pro as a carving tool for wood projects that are readily available via STL Files.

My Set Up:

  • My stock is 12” x 8” x 1”
  • I believe that this type of model carving might be called 2.5D, not 3D
  • I have two laptops, one in the office, and the other will be connected via usb to shapeoko, so carbide creator/carbide motion.

Now onto my burning question(s). Questions might be silly, but like I said, I’m quite the noob…

  • I was under the impression that I could just open a CNC or STL File in Create and send it to Motion for processing and cutting, (I had the desktop publishing mentality…. Such a noob!), however, I’ve been reading that my objectives will require setting up toolpaths, which I fear may be too technical of a task, or time consuming. Since I am looking to create finely detailed work, Is setting up toolpaths necessary for my objectives and will it require a lot of work or coding?
  • Is there a steep learning curve to this seemingly basic objective?
  • I have a friend who’s offered his unused license of Vectric Aspire at a fraction of the cost, I was playing with it at his home, and it’s interface is quite intuitive… If I choose to use Aspire over Carbide Create, will I still need to use Carbide Motion to process the cutting, or will I be able to send file directly to the shapeoko pro?
  • So these are my most burning questions, I have 2 or 3 other minor ones, I’ll send up at a later date. Can I get some guidance, or illumination as to the “process of operation” especially in respect to going from (a) CNC or STL File, to (b) Finished detailed carved project.

I love the possibilities, capabilities of the Shapeoko Pro, I’ve seen a lot of YouTube videos and have read a lot of content, but sometimes, I find conflict with the info I’ve gathered. I had to make up my mind on the last two contenders, X-Carve Pro or the Shapeoko Pro, well Carbide won me over. Now I just want to be as knowledgeable as possible for when my puppy comes home.
I just hope that the projects; which are mostly based on carvings as the one I’ve shown here, aren’t going to be a monstrous undertaking in modifications of the files, or toolpaths settings.

Thank you all for your insight and assistance in understanding this matter.


Hi @Inkblink,

Welcome to the forum and this nice little hidden place of the interwebs where people are quite friendly :slight_smile:

You may be interested in given this a read:, and particularly the first chapter on the CNC workflow.

You do need to spend some time creating toolpaths, but depending on the thing you want to cut, sometimes it takes 2 minutes, sometimes it takes hours.

Carving from an STL file is surprisingly one of the easiest things, thanks to a) Carbide Create Pro, which you can get a one-year free license for, and b) @fenrus super nifty STL to heightmap tool, which you can can a tutorial for here

Aspire for cheap: definitely go and grab it. You will still be able to send the generated G-code with Carbide Motion.


Edit: Hah, beaten by @Julien
MeshCAM does a pretty good job of importing in stl’s and helping generate tool paths.
I think fenrus (pretty sure), generated a tool to help create a greyscale image from an stl so you can import that into carbide create.

I will say some geometries with carving can make things complicated. I’ve done a bunch of 2 sided machining, and have worked on a jig to do 4 sided machining, but this requires different setups in fusion and can be a bit complex. Though there is a video where Winston goes through the process:

2 sided contest thread also might be a good place to look:


if all you want is to just carve the STL file… will generate gcode for you directly
(in addition to the grayscale heightmap for use in Carbide Create Pro, as per Cutting STL models with Carbide Create Pro (nearly-2021 edition) tutorial)


Thanks Julien, I really appreciate that, I will definitely heed the advice.

P.S. I had forgotten to attach the sample file. :slight_smile:

btw for this level of detail, I would strongly recommend getting a “tapered ball nose endmill” instead of a simple ballnose… you’ll get much better results at less cutting time.
(only gotcha is that those often advertise Radius not Diameter… so need a mental “x2” in there)

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Thank you @fenrus @Julien, you guys are a godsend. I think I found a new home! :slight_smile:

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Great point, noted. Thank you @fenrus

Definitely, definitely go for this. I bought aspire 9 used and the more time goes on the more Aspire becomes my ‘go-to’ software. It has some fantastic features that you may not appreciate or even understand to start with, but will appreciate later on. If you plan to ever sell items you’ve made with your cnc, Aspire is a VERY useful tool in increasing profits. It also offers the best V-carving and 3d relief toolpaths I’ve seen

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Stu, thank you for that vote of confidence, Vectric Aspire is definitely something I’d like to embrace, I hear their support is also super! I am wondering though, does aspire send the output files for cutting straight to the Shapeoko, or do we still need to use carbide motion to process?

The workflow from Aspire Carbide Motion is pretty simple, Create your toolpath in Aspire, save the gcode file, then open the Gcode file in Carbide Motion. Very straightforward. There is a Shapeoko/grbl specific post processor.

If you’re using the Bitsetter (another great tool) in your workflow @neilferreri has done some awesome work and created a Post processor for Vcarve (which works in Aspire) that will let you save all toolpaths for different tools to one file, and it will just prompt you to insert the next tool then use the bitsetter to check the new tool length, then carry on - Here


Love it! Thanks Stu. :grinning:

As Fred says, the workflow is pretty simple and very similar no matter what you use to generate the gcode.

It’s probably worth mentioning that the Shapeoko as a device doesn’t have any real facility to process files. It only really processes single instructions… essentially single commands to move around. So there’s never really any “sending the file to the Shapeoko”.

The overall process is:

  1. Create or plagiarize a design :slight_smile:
  2. Create toolpaths for that design… in other words, associate the shapes in the design to paths the machine will use to cut the shape.
  3. Generate some machine operations from those toolpaths… (known as GCode)
  4. Use a “GCode sender” to send the instructions to the Shapeoko, one instruction at a time.

As for software to help with this process:
(1) can be often done in any design tool for 2D or 3D files (Inkscape, Illustrator, 3D Builder, blender, Aspire, Carbide Create, MS Paint, Fusion 360, OpenSCAD etc)
(2) and (3) are always done using a “specialist” tool, such as Aspire, Carbide Create, Fusion 360, or FenrusMagic ™
(4) is always done by a specialist tool. On this forum most people either use Carbide Motion, or something called CNCjs.


Thanks Gerry, I appreciate that forward clarity. When my baby comes home, I’ll be taking baby steps to embrace the fundamentals, and work my way towards mastery. I feel that this community will serve me well when I stumble onto something that try to overwhelm me… The friendly savvy members are very welcoming from what I’ve gathered thus far. Thank you all!


I was going to say the same thing (Stu) stutaylo said.
I use Aspire and continually learn more and appreciate more about the program. It is a great investment in your personal development that will outlive any hardware you buy. They have an included postprocessor built in for Shapeoko so the G-Code it creates can be sent to your CNC with Carbide Motion.
The Aspire price appears high but the value will endure. My wife talked me into buying an $1100. tripod with the line that it will last me all my life and serve my future cameras as I upgrade them.
Same here.
Consider it a great investment. You won’t have to keep learning new software as your project needs grow. Both Carbide 3D and Vectric have great support so you won’t be left hanging.

I consider myself a Noob, but did this with my Carbide XL and Aspire -

Have Fun!!!

BTW, I use Photoshop and that expensive tripod every day!


Hey Jim,

Thanks! I will be learning all the ins and outs of Carbide Create Pro and Motion of course, once I feel that I can swim with the sharks; I’ll dive in to Aspire, and she’ll probably be my steady girlfriend. It’s pretty intuitive I must say, and for the 500 bucks I got it for, the investment is quite sound. BTW, interesting little jewelry box ya got there, not bad for a noob! :slight_smile:

Thanks again for your feedback!

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