A brilliant exploration into the world of additive and subtractive fabrication. 

Students across Atlantic Canada continuously come up with incredible ideas that they want to construct. What's even more incredible is that advancements in desktop fabrication technology like 3D Printers, help those ideas become a reality in less time than ever imagined. 

While most of the digital fabrication hype surrounds 3D printing, there is another technology that deserves highlighting - the CNC Router. 

The Brilliant Labs X-Carve courtesy of This 1000mm CNC Router can carve through an amazing amount of materials. If you have a carving idea, feel free to schedule a time to come by and use our wood shop to make your idea a reality. 

Subtractive vs. Additive
Operations not only found in math class. 

Many school makerspaces have two main fabrication techniques available to them: Additive and Subtractive. As those terms suggest, an additive technique involves the construction of an object by adding layer upon layer, upon layer of material until the object is complete. This is usually the process followed by a 3D Printer. 

As you have likely already guessed, subtractive fabrication involves the use of a tool to remove small amounts of material until the completed object is revealed from within. This is the process used by the X-Carve in the .gif above. Not only is this method messy, but it is also one of the more simpler technologies as it has been in use in industry for decades longer than any 3D printing. 

What's with all the acronyms? 

We have to admit something: with all of these different acronyms used in a makerspace, we often get confused. So, we thought we would try our best to explain the technical process by which an image becomes carved from material. 

If you spend any time around youtube searching videos on rapid-fabrication, someone is likely going to refer to two common acronyms: CAD and CNC. Let's figure these out. 

Let's start with CNC (Computer Numerical Control). This is a fancy way to say a computer is using numbers to control the movement of a machine. It's important to note that while we hardly ever refer to a 3D printer as being a CNC device - it clearly uses a computer to control the mechanic parts, however the numbers are sometimes a little more ocmpelx than those used in a CNC Router. 

As the diagram above suggests, when you want to carve an image into a material, you start by using a program that allows you to create a CAD (Computer Aided Design) file. This term simply means that rather than a person drawing an image by inputing a series of (x,y) coordinates, a computer aids that person by completing that coded translation process. 

A CAD design is then exported to a CNC device where another piece of software translates the individual points of a drawing into (x,y) coordinates on the material to be carved. It is important to note that while this seems to be a very 2 dimensional process, the computer is also using Z coordinates for the depth of the carve. 

If we think back to learning about plotting (x,y) coordinates, we can quickly understand how the CNC Router carves our CAD file into the material of our choice. 

Let's get carving!
Using Inventables CAD solution: Easel. 

The learning curve with some CAD programs can be quite steep. Luckily, has considered how eager their users may be when they finally assemble their X-Carve. 

The image on the right demonstrates how we were able to carve the pennants for the 12 Days of Brilliance set. As you can see, it is very easy to design a project and send it over to the CNC router. 

If you are interested in subtractive fabrication, we encourage you to create your own account at Then, if you would like to carve your design, let Brilliant Labs know, and you will be on your way to becoming a CNC master. 

Now... get out there and make something brilliant!