V-Groove Machining

PhotoVCarve creates lines of grooves that vary in width and depth to represent the detail in a photograph or image. The quality of the finished result is very dependant upon a high level of contrast between the material surface and the machined grooves. This information is very important to remember when cutting designs using the PhotoVCarve software.

PhotoVCarve machines dark areas in a photograph with wide groove and the lighter areas to have narrower ones. The software automatically calculates the toolpaths based on the cutter selected and maximum depth of groove required.

This diagram shows how the machined grooves get wider over the dark areas of the eye.


Cutting a design into a very Light Material such as wood or plastic will require the grooves to be Painted or Stained with a Dark Colour otherwise the end results will not look the way it should.

Engraving designs into brass will require the machined areas to be etched using a chemical blacking fluid or painted, and then have the top surface polished back to its original metallic state.

Unfinished job
Low Contrast
Stained Grooves give
High Contrast

Preparation & Finishing Techniques

Flat Material

The material you carve or engrave MUST be flat otherwise the grooves will not be machined at the correct depth relative to the surface. The table or bed of the machine must also be flat and we recommend that it is skimmed flat or a sacrificial board is stuck onto the table surface and then skimmed flat.

Preparing and finishing a PhotoVCarve machined design is critical to how the finished piece will look. As you can see from the images above, a high degree of contrast between the material surface and the machined grooves is essential otherwise the effect will not be very prominent or visible.

Suggested preparation and finishing techniques include,

Wood & MDF

Varnish or lacquer the top surface of absorbent material

Carve through the sealed top surface

Apply a dark stain or paint and wipe the excess off the surface

Leaving dark grooves that contrast with the material surface and bring the design to ‘life’.


Carve the design detail directly into the wood / mdf

Paint / spray the complete job with the contrasting dark colour

Use a sanding machine to clean off the top surface leaving the grooves dark.

Brass & Aluminum

Engrave directly into the material

Apply an etching chemical such as ‘Blacking Fluid’, black paint or enamel

Wipe the surface clean and polish using emery paper or a polishing wheel

This process is explained in more detail below.

Original image
After Engraving
'Blacked' using an
etching fluid

Finished piece after polishing the top surface


Engraved in both directions using the Cross Hatch option

Laminated Materials

Dual layer or multi layered materials such as Micro-laminate from Rowmark can simply be engraved through the thin top layer to reveal the base material colour, eliminating the need for any finishing.

Working in Reverse

When using materials that have a dark surface colour the grooves will need to be stained or painted a lighter colour to obtain the desired contrast. PhotoVCarve includes an option on the Cutting Parameters form to Invert the design for these situations.

The example below has been engraved into a white base micro-laminate with a very thin dark blue top surface. The Invert option in the software was used for this toolpaths, as explained above.

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