When Upperspace approached me about reviewing their newest release of DesignCAD,
I welcomed the opportunity to examine one of the low cost 3D CAD programs
on the market. As a hobbyist with only 2D experience, this presented me an
opportunity to see just how difficult the move to 3D would be, and whether
or not it was a move I needed to make.
DesignCAD 3000 lists for $299 and brings a lot to the table for that price.
In addition to a full complement of 2D capabilities, the program boasts an
exceptional 3D interface for the money. All of the standard CAD tools are
part of the package as well as some special treats. Each program that I have
used over the years has had its own unique command structure and vocabulary,
and DC3000 is no exception. I like to use keyboard shortcuts as much as possible.
It took a while to become familiar with the shortcut nomenclature used in
DC3000. The program has a learning curve that is steep but not insurmountable
for users to learn on their own. The tutorial gave a good start to understanding
the program, but the help screens could be more thorough in their explanations.
The command reference section gives an overview of each command, but the first
time user will have to dig deeper to fully understand many of the tools and
capabilities of the program.
I spent approximately three months of spare time becoming familiar enough
with the program for this review. I still have much to learn about the full
power of the program, but I've seen enough to be able to say that DC3000 will
do whatever it takes to draw anything you can imagine. The program's power
is in the variety of choices the user has in using the software. Simple programs
always limit the choices available to the user. The fewer choices, the easier
it is to master. DC3000 gives almost all the power to the user, and it takes
a while to learn all the skills necessary to enjoy using the program. Once
those skills are learned however, DC3000 shines!
3D interface presents four windows, Top, Front, Side, and Isometric. These
windows do not automatically refresh with each change in the drawing. This
lets the program redraw the active window faster. When the need arises to
see all four views refreshed, a quick shortcut of Ctrl-Shift-W does the job.
The top, front, and side views help when positioning the cursor in 3D space.
I learned that you can't count on the isometric view to tell you where the
cursor is in the drawing. Upperspace helped solve that problem by building
in a tool called Gravity Snap. The gravity snap locks the cursor onto the
nearest point in the drawing with one keystroke or click of the mouse. The
other standard snap locks are available, but I found myself using the Gravity
Snap almost exclusively. The only points it won't lock onto are the midpoint
and intersection of lines. All endpoints, arc radii, circle center points,
etc. are available with Gravity Snap.
The program has several features that make it very desirable for architectural
drawing. The scale of the drawing window can be changed quickly by clicking
two points on the window and then specifying the desired distance between
the points. This is helpful when starting a drawing, but also allows the user
to quickly and easily change the scale of a completed drawing. The double-line
mode allows you to effortlessly draw plan views of interior and exterior walls.
Distances can be entered using several modes. A tool bar across the top of
the screen lets you manually type in x, y, and z values, or you can invoke
several different dialog boxes to specify either relative or absolute distances
from the last cursor point or the last cursor position. Direction can be specified
using coordinates, degrees or polar relationships.
I was surprised to find an animation tool in such a low cost package. It
takes a little time to set up, but is invaluable to someone who is wanting
to make the best possible impression on a customer. Most of my drawings are
related to woodworking and custom furniture. Being able to animate a piece
and send the AVI file to a client is sure to get a positive response. It helps
the customer envision a custom piece in a way that no other drawing can.
The program is not without its weaknesses. The array command was particularly
troublesome to learn. All of the 2D programs I have used referred to rows
and columns to specify arrays, and once that information was typed in, the
programs prompt you for the position of the first copy. Being a 3D program,
DC3000 adds one more parameter, layers, to the array and simply refers to
the three parameters as Direction 1, Direction 2, and Direction 3. The user
provides the number of copies in each direction and then must bring up a dialog
box to provide the position of the first copy. If you don't bring up the dialog
box, the array appears on the screen and moves as you move the cursor. It
took awhile for me to learn how to position the cursor for the first copy.
You must center the phantom array over the original item, then use the dialog
box or cursor movement keys to position the first copy in the array. It would
be helpful if the program would automatically lock onto the point of origin
after the number of items in the array have been entered. Visualizing the
array would also be easier if Upperspace had used Row, Columns, and Layers
rather than Direction 1, etc. But this is another example of how they have
given as much power as possible to the user.
I still have a lot to learn about the full capabilities of the program,
and since I don't use CAD professionally, there are many features for which
I'll never have a need. If you are looking for a good 3D program that won't
break your back financially, DesignCAD 3000 is certainly worth your investment
in time and money.
Loren Hutchinson is an amateur woodworker, CAD user and webmaster of
"CAD Files for Woodworkers".
You may e-mail him at email@example.com