RE Raster to vector
I don't know of any freeware or shareware that will do raster to vector conversion; however, there is a $1500 (approx.) called FlexiSign that does an excellent job. It can save as DXF (with arcs and lines), which is the standard format for CNC router/laser/plasma/waterjet cutting. Macromedia's FreeHand is much cheaper, at about $400 or so, and also does an excellent job of conversion; however, it lacks DXF export. You would then need Bezarc from Kandu, about $450, which will take an Illustrator (AI) file, and translate the bezier curves to arcs and lines in a DXF file, and has variable tolerance settings. Some of the vector illustration type programs, like CorelDraw, can save as DXF but only as line segments, which produces facetted edges on most CNC machines. (Older CNC machines may even choke on a file with thousands of line segments) Some newer CNC controllers can interpolate the segments to arcs or splines, but you run the risk of the interpolation producing unexpected results.
Unfortunately, there is no cheaper alternative that I am aware of, and I have been doing CNC work for about 8 years. If you rarely have a need to do this, your cheapest option is probably manual tracing in a CAD package, or paying your cutting service to do the conversion.
I'd certainly like to hear from anyone who knows of a cheaper option.
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: Sat Jan 17 2004 - 15:16:59 EET