AEC

Cadsoft Envisioneer 2.5-2D and 3D Design Tools for Architeccture, Interiors and Landscaping

1 Jul, 2005 By: Steven S. Ross

Designers And Developers Involved in residential and light commercial/industrial work and landscaping should take a close look at Envisioneer from Cadsoft.


Designers And Developers Involved in residential and light commercial/industrial work and landscaping should take a close look at Envisioneer from Cadsoft. It's easy to use and nicely segregates the various design tasks, such as building shell and frame, interior design, 3D visualization and so forth. It comes with plenty of symbols and an entire plant library and can easily import more. At the end of the day, it writes a bill of materials and an AutoCAD-compatible file (the export was perfect).

 Envisioneer 2.5
Envisioneer 2.5

Envisioneer grew out of inexpensive retail software Cadsoft developed with Broderbund . Those applications include 3D Home Architect Design Suite, Landscape Design and Home Design (now branded by Encore). Envisioneer, which first appeared in 2003, combines features of all three, but keeps the design wizards and inviting interface. At first glance, Cadsoft has positioned Envisioneer between inexpensive "amateur" CAD programs (meant for the home-decorating stores and for those designing their dream homes) and full-blown production CAD. If you look beyond the user-obsequious wizards, however, almost all the professional production CAD tools are there.

The list price is $595, but we found Envisioneer on the street for as little as $445. Upgrades from Envisioneer 1.0 or higher are $295, and upgrades from 3D Home Architect are $395. All prices include toll-free technical support free for the first two months in North America only. An additional ten months of support costs $200. Envisioneer runs on Pentium III or higher systems with Windows 98/ME/2000/XP with minimal memory.

Figure 1. Roughed-out two-story home is shown in 3D view. Notice that the interiors are fully visible through the windows. We are getting ready to put a new surface on the roof.
Figure 1. Roughed-out two-story home is shown in 3D view. Notice that the interiors are fully visible through the windows. We are getting ready to put a new surface on the roof.

High-end Features

In Envisioneer, drawing objects are true objects. That is, they're aware of their surroundings and behave according to their building application. As with high-end CAD, doors, windows and structural elements such as floors, ceilings, roofs, footings, members and columns are associated with walls. Framing occurs automatically. Moving a wall updates all the associated building elements that are connected to it. Elements inserted on floors remain associated with floors. Elements inserted on terrain remain associated with terrain. Sinks automatically remain associated with cabinets. Railings remain connected to stairs, skylights to roofs. As in the real world, elements can't occupy another element's space. Walls fuse to one another—90° angles are standard.
Figure 2. The opening screen presented by Envisioneers New House wizard allows for up to three stories.
Figure 2. The opening screen presented by Envisioneers New House wizard allows for up to three stories.

Users can edit in both 2D and 3D (figure 1). The wizards provide many options, but they don't begin to explore all the design possibilities. Still, I found it delightful to run the wizards for stairs, basic building shell (figure 2), landscaping and so forth. After all elements are in place, check the cost against budget and start changing things. For example, specify a higher ceiling at the entrance foyer. The wizard's roof won't account for it. But it's easy to adjust the height in the entryway manually. To insert a custom window, just insert a placekeeper in the rough design and find one on the Web to import. This is an intuitive, fast way to work.

Figure 3. With the Kitchen Design wizard, start with the basics and then stretch to fit the room designated.
Figure 3. With the Kitchen Design wizard, start with the basics and then stretch to fit the room designated.

The kitchen wizard is another good example. Users start with a selection of space configurations and dimensions, pull cabinets and appliances in and modify as needed (figure 3).

Envisioneer handles plumbing, electrical, HVAC and lighting details, too. A collision control option keeps users from inserting a pipe where a stud already occupies the space.

Envisioneer 2.5 Summary
Envisioneer 2.5 Summary

Presenting final models to clients is easy—just walk, fly, orbit or spin through and around a finished 3D model. Shading options include radiosity (lighting fixtures in the model conform to IES standards as well). Exterior lighting is calculated by geographical location, month and time of day.

Use the view filter to show only the objects wanted—for example, to filter out exterior walls or certain types of furniture. The view filter also makes it easier to edit drawings in 3D, without every entity in the file getting in the way (figures 4–7).

Figure 4. View filter lets users turn off various details to work on the others, or to visualize them.
Figure 4. View filter lets users turn off various details to work on the others, or to visualize them.

The included plant encyclopedia covers more than 7,500 trees, flowers and shrubs from around the world with associated care information, growth over time and seasonal appearance changes.

Dimensioning is flexible and associative. Any contractor should easily understand these drawings. If not, print a framing view in full color. This version even lets users tile a drawing over multiple letter-size sheets, or to focus on a specific detail and print only that area of any on-screen view.

Figure 5. In 2D or 3D view, clicking on an element provides basic information and dimensioning.
Figure 5. In 2D or 3D view, clicking on an element provides basic information and dimensioning.

Upgrade Issues

Anyone who purchased 2.0, which was released in June 2004, will receive a free upgrade to 2.5. The changes are all minor, but may be important to a designer's work. Aside from the new print options, they include the ability to:
  • 1. Insert DXF and DWG into views.
  • 2. Create window and opening sills.
  • 3. Mirror items.
  • 4. Automatically generate tray and cathedral ceilings.
  • 5. Move one wall and have all colinear walls move with it.
  • 6. Insert plants directly from the plant encyclopedia.
  • 7. Record walkthroughs, which are almost instant, in AVI.
  • 8. Attach WAV files to elements for explanations and realism.
  • 9. Insert lamps into a design to see lighting effect immediately.
  • 10. Display almost instant 3D views of design from predefined viewing angles.
  • 11. Add batt and rigid insulation, wood and masonry sections and cut lines to plans.
  • 12. Point and click to draw precise site boundary.
  • 13. Generate automatic door and window schedules with corresponding element tags.
  • 14. Attach manufacturer information and even logos to elements and materials.
  • 15. Import custom objects.

File Import and Export

Many firms, especially those without a degreed design professional on staff, will find Envisioneer's features well worth the price. But Envisioneer also coexists fairly well with AutoCAD, AutoCAD LT and Cadsoft's own higher-end Build package. Users can export to all AutoCAD DWG and DXF 2D and 3D file formats from Release 13-2005. Export to Art*lantis and Lightscape rendering, VRML and Autodesk 3D Studio is also supported. A view on the screen can also be sent to a BMP, JPEG and TGA file. There's a utility to specify AutoCAD layers in the export as well.
Figure 6. Here, the View filter has been used to strip away the exterior walls to view the kitchen area. It’s now easy to locate a window over the sink. Note the Quickview window—clicking on one of the arrows immediately changes the viewpoint.
Figure 6. Here, the View filter has been used to strip away the exterior walls to view the kitchen area. It’s now easy to locate a window over the sink. Note the Quickview window—clicking on one of the arrows immediately changes the viewpoint.

The trip is mostly one-way, however. Users can easily import custom 3D blocks into a custom catalog (symbol library) from DWG, DXF and 3DS formats, but they can't bring in an entire AutoCAD project file with full intelligence. Users can import a file using Tools | Drafting | Create Image from CAD file, but the original intelligence doesn't translate well. Envisioneer also handles IES lighting files. Manually trace images, even entire floor plans, from BMP, JPEG and TGA scans by scaling the pixel file, then bring up foundations, walls, and so forth in Envisioneer and drop in symbols to fit. Affinity, the software for tracking projects that involve residential living spaces, provides an Export to Cadsoft Envisioneer option.

Terrain modeling highlights one of the limitations of the package. It would be great to import terrain from an existing map digitally—perhaps as DXF, but it's not possible. Users can import a scan of a contour map and trace it, but that's cumbersome. Still, most builders will modify the terrain anyway before building on.

Figure 7. The bill of materials provides an assortment of output options.
Figure 7. The bill of materials provides an assortment of output options.

Designers can output a BOM (bill of materials) to Excel or to an ASCII file, or link with popular estimating and accounting packages such as Buildsoft, CSG, Timberline Precision Estimating and ISS. Envisioneer implements a good filtering function, so it's easy to isolate costs for, say, the kitchen before exporting. Doors and other objects link to assemblies in the BOM, too. That is, a door has costs associated with it for items such as jambs, hinges and knobs. They can also get cut lengths—the length of materials such as joists and studs as they are bought at the lumberyard—but users must specify that on a separate properties screen.

There's no real audit trail inside Envisioneer, so it's easy to fool the BOM software by editing the list externally—a common problem in CAD. Also, if users change the default materials price from the default (which always must be done), the price change affects only new insertions of elements. That's perfectly acceptable for small single-seat offices, but it makes the product a bit difficult to manage in multiseat environments. If you need to grow your business, there's a clear upgrade path to AutoCAD LT or to Cadsoft's Build.

Steve Ross has been reviewing CAD software for more than 20 years.


About the Author: Steven S. Ross


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