Other 2D CAD

CAD that Won't Break the Bank (Cadalyst Labs Review)

1 Jan, 2008 By: Ron LaFon

Inexpensive CAD applications can offer significant functionality for substantially less money than top-of-the-line products.


Cadalyst knows that inexpensive CAD applications can offer significant functionality for substantially less money than top-of-the-line products. In our annual survey article of affordable CAD products, you'll find applications that are feature rich and flexible. Many of these applications can read and write DWG and DXF files, and some offer integrated visualization features. These products have capabilities significant enough to warrant consideration as primary design applications for many purposes, rather than as just low-priced alternatives to pricier software.

Not everyone needs or can afford major design applications such as AutoCAD, so many individuals and small design and engineering firms must look elsewhere to meet their software needs. Complex and sophisticated applications are remarkably capable, but not everyone needs all the bells and whistles. You may not need 3D design tools at all, or you may not need radiosity rendering or customer-level programmability. Fortunately, many low-cost design applications provide rich and capable tools without breaking the proverbial bank. And you might be surprised to find that many of them even offer 3D design tools, radiosity rendering, and programmability.

AutoCAD dominates the midrange CAD market, so it comes as no surprise that AutoCAD compatibility is touted by many of the applications described in this article. They may be able to read and write DWG and DXF files or even enter the same commands used by AutoCAD on the command line. Most of the applications evaluated here offer the flexibility of customizing and extending the interface and functionality of the product. These popular design applications thus offer the ability to fit well into an AutoCAD-centric work environment and make it easier to move designs to AutoCAD itself, if the need arises.

The depth of features found in these design applications is remarkable; in fact, this development has become expected, rather than surprising. Many of the applications offer OpenGL hardware acceleration, rendering, antialiasing, transparency and/or reflectance, and ray tracing. Some have symbol libraries, hatch patterns, and linetypes that match those in AutoCAD and support for external xref files. A number also offer programming language interfaces such as VBA or C++ for customizing how the program works, which allows you to focus on your specific needs. For more information about the features of each product, please see the accompanying online table at www.cadalyst.com/0108budgettable.

User input frequently results in new features. The continued and growing popularity of this segment of the software market has caused individual vendors to innovate in many areas to make their products easier to use and more productive for their customers. Smaller firms generally tend to be more agile and responsive to their customer base.

Many of the vendors offer newsgroups and forums of avid users who share information and resources with one another, which often is a much faster way of getting information than either trial-and-error experimentation or calling technical support. Some vendors offer e-mail support, which can be faster for end users and inexpensive for the software developer.

The design applications discussed here can handle a wide range of tasks and are suitable for numerous types of work. Whether the applications are intended as a primary design tool or as an economical CAD seat, you'll find much to like.

 

What We Requested

 

It will come as no surprise that product costs, along with just about everything else, have continued to escalate, but Cadalyst still was able to keep the $800 upper price limit for budget CAD applications for this 2008 review the same as it was last year. We invited several vendors to submit applications and reviewed only those that had been updated significantly since last January. Some vendors did not respond, and others hadn't updated their applications. Despite these factors, Cadalyst received even more applications to review than last year. Obviously, there is a lot of interest in economical CAD applications, as this category of design software continues to grow steadily. Users now get even more for their money, because the increased competition has kept prices low while the applications themselves have become more capable.

This group of applications have greater diversification, with budget CAD moving into slightly more specialized areas. For example, this roundup includes a solid modeler as well as applications geared toward AEC users. This move toward specialization is a product of both customer demand and the need for products to distinguish themselves in an increasingly competitive market.

What hasn't changed is the fact that everyone likes a good deal. The low-cost CAD applications covered in this article are all moderately priced (one even is free), yet they offer surprisingly rich feature sets and some useful capabilities that haven't yet made their way into high-priced applications. If you need a design application but can't justify making your budget stretch to include the per-seat licensing fees of major applications such as AutoCAD, you'll find a remarkable amount of depth and flexibility in the products reviewed here. You get a significant amount of the functionality at a small fraction of the cost of the major design applications — definitely a good deal for all concerned. Depending upon your needs, one of these capable applications may be all you need to get your job done.

 

Alibre Design Xpress Plus

 

Alibre
877.525.4273
www.alibre.com
Price: $249;
$349 with Alibre PhotoRender

Alibre Design Xpress Plus is targeted toward 3D CAD beginners or users who require an entry-level application that offers much of the functionality of professional-level software. With its user-friendly interface and standardized workflow, Alibre Design Xpress Plus is easy to understand and approachable.

Alibre Design Xpress Plus is for 3D CAD beginners or users who want an entry-level application that offers much of the functionality of professional software.
Alibre Design Xpress Plus is for 3D CAD beginners or users who want an entry-level application that offers much of the functionality of professional software.

Unlike most entry-level programs, Design Xpress Plus offers a remarkably rich set of features. Users with experience designing in 3D will find much to like, but those moving from 2D to 3D really will find this software an easy way to make the transition. Design Xpress Plus offers sophisticated parametric solid modeling capabilities, feature creation tools, assemblies, and the ability to create 2D drawings automatically.

In Alibre Design Xpress Plus, designs can have as many as 30 unique parts per assembly. It provides access to advanced modeling tools such as design Booleans, lofts, sweeps, and shelling. Part-modeling capabilities include intelligent sketching with automatic constraint capture and feature-based modeling with parametric history, mirroring, and pattern creation. Users even can check for interference or access measurement tools and the physical property calculator.

The recommended hardware for running Alibre Design Xpress Plus is a system with an Intel Pentium or equivalent processor running at 800 MHz or faster, 512 MB of RAM, a 16- or 32-bit color DirectX 9.0c graphics card that has at least 64 MB of onboard RAM, and a monitor capable of at least a 1,024 x 768 resolution display — although 1,280 x 1,024 is recommended. You'll also need 200 MB of hard disk space, 800 MB of virtual memory space, a CD-ROM drive for installation, and a mouse or other pointing device.

If you expect to be working on a design with more than 500 parts, you should use a system with a 2 GHz or faster Intel Pentium or equivalent processor, 1,024 MB of RAM or more, and virtual memory of 1,000 MB. If you plan on using Alibre Design Xpress Plus with Microsoft Windows Vista, you'll need a 1 GHz or faster Pentium or equivalent processor (2 GHz or faster with more than 500 parts), 1,024 MB of RAM, and a 32-bit color video card with at least 128 MB of onboard RAM. I evaluated Alibre Design Xpress Plus on a system with Windows XP with 2 GB of RAM and found it to be both nimble and responsive, even when working with larger models.

Alibre Design Xpress Plus is priced at $249; with Alibre PhotoRender, the price only rises to $349. These prices are remarkably good for an application as capable and well designed as this one. For the additional $100 cost, Alibre PhotoRender adds such features as texture mapping, ray tracing, transparency, and refraction capabilities that enable visualization of the design. Alibre Photo-Render is included at no charge in Alibre Design Professional and Expert versions of the software.

Tutorials are integrated into the product and are updated via the Internet when new versions are available; printed tutorials are available as well. In addition to the integrated tutorials, Alibre Design Xpress Plus comes with four video training CDs, so learning to operate the software should be no obstacle.

 

VersaCAD 2007 for Windows

 

Archway Systems
714.374.0440
www.versacad.com
Price: $795

VersaCAD for Windows is a 2D production-level design application that lends itself to use in several technical professions, including architecture, mechanical industries, and construction. A version for the Macintosh is available, so the software works quite well in mixed computing environments.

VersaCAD for Windows is a production-level CAD software package intended for use by engineers, draftspersons, and other technical professionals working in the architectural, civil engineering, construction, and mechanical industries.
VersaCAD for Windows is a production-level CAD software package intended for use by engineers, draftspersons, and other technical professionals working in the architectural, civil engineering, construction, and mechanical industries.

With a broad range of 2D drawing tools, VersaCAD for Windows offers customization capabilities that can mold the application to users' particular needs. VersaCAD for Windows supports CAD Programming Language (CPL), a programming language similar to Visual Basic for Applications (VBA). A number of symbol libraries are included with the product, but other third-party libraries can be used easily with VersaCAD. Supported file formats for importing are DWG, DXF, IGES, and text, so output from a broad range of applications can be brought into VersaCAD via these industry-standard formats. Users can export files from VersaCAD in the same formats supported for importing, making it easy to get work into other design and visualization applications.

The range of available tools for 2D drafting is quite good and includes niceties such as the ability to generate bills of material (BOMs). Drawings can include as many as 250 layers. Although you can't have multiple drawings open simultaneously in an instance of VersaCAD, you can open multiple instances of the application, each with a separate drawing opened for editing. A reference drawing capability (xref) allows users to merge a copy of one or more previously saved drawings into a working file. VersaCAD for Windows is speedy in operation and presents a well-designed interface.

The system requirements for VersaCAD 2007 for Windows are a PC with at least 32 MB of RAM and a hard disk. The program runs on Windows 98/NT/2000/ME/XP/Vista and works with any graphics adapter that works with Windows, running at any resolution supported by the graphics adapter. The input device can be any Windows-compatible device, such as a mouse or a WinTab-compatible digitizer. VersaCAD 2007 for Windows can output to any Windows-compatible printer or plotter, including DMPL, CalComp, HP-GL, HP-GL2, PostScript, and selected printers. A CD-ROM drive is required for installation. Obviously, VersaCAD 2007 will run on a wide range of Windows-based systems, making it a good choice for those who have older systems available; VersaCAD for Windows will run on systems running Windows NT thru Vista.

VersaCAD 2007 also is available for the Mac OS7 through 10.x operating systems, running natively on both PowerPC-based Macs and on Intel-based Macs. For additional information about the Mac version, visit the VersaCAD Mac Web site at www.versacad.com/versacad/vcadmac.htm. With a lot of capabilities, minimal system requirements, and availability for both the Mac and PC, VersaCAD is an excellent choice for mixed computing environments.

Pricing for VersaCAD 2007 for Windows is $795, but you can add one year of premium service for an additional $200. Premium service, which includes all updates, new releases, and support, typically is $595 per year for the first license and $200 per year for each additional license. For five or more licenses, you can contact Archway Systems for a price quote. Academic pricing is available, along with unlimited campus licensing for qualifying individuals and institutions. Training also is available.

 

DataCAD LT v12

 

DATACAD
800.394.2231
www.datacad.com
Price: $295

DataCAD LT is a professional-level AEC CAD program that can be used for architectural design, photorealistic rendering, animation, and construction-document creation. DataCAD LT's clean interface, which has all the available tools at hand either through drop-down menus or toolbars, is both easy to use and powerful. Even though it is a powerful design application, the system demands are low enough that you can easily install the application on a laptop for trips to a construction site.

DataCAD is a professional-level AEC CAD program for architectural design, photorealistic rendering, animation, and construction-document creation.
DataCAD is a professional-level AEC CAD program for architectural design, photorealistic rendering, animation, and construction-document creation.

DataCAD LT was developed by architects and software engineers for architecture and includes tools — such as automated walls, doors, and windows, associative dimensioning, OpenDWG-based DXF/DWG translators — that make design and drafting easier. You'll find the dialog boxes to be both coherent and useful.

For architects, DataCAD LT enables drafting, editing, and the preparation of precision construction documents, taking them all the way through 3D models and photorealistic rendering. Tools for controlling lighting and shadows and applying texture maps let you create 24-bit color images that show off your design. This facility is particularly valuable when working over design changes with a client. The new features for this release are quite extensive, encompassing literally hundreds of enhancements.

For contractors, DataCAD LT has features such as a built-in framing utility that automates 3D framing for floors, walls, and roofs. After a design is approved, users can output a BOM that includes a complete list of board feet. Using the separately available EasyEst (www.cscsoftware.com), you can create a comprehensive estimate that includes overhead and profit.

The system requirements for DataCAD LT 11 and 12 are a system based on an Intel Pentium 4 or AMD Athlon microprocessor running Microsoft Windows 2000, XP, or Vista. Memory requirements are at least 512 MB for use with Windows 2000 or XP and 1 GB or more for use with Vista. Although DataCAD LT 11 required 200 MB of free hard disk space, the recommendation for DataCAD LT v12 is 500 MB of free disk space for a complete installation. A CD-ROM drive is required for software installation, and you'll need a monitor and display adapter capable of at least 16-bit color at SVGA or better resolutions; that is, 800 x 600 or better. Finally, you'll need a Microsoft-compatible mouse, with the three-button versions recommended. I evaluated DataCAD LT v12 under Windows XP Pro on a system with 2 GB of RAM and found it to be both speedy and responsive.

DataCAD LT 12 is priced at a moderate $295 for the package — a bargain price for a program this capable. A visit to the DATACAD Web site will provide additional information about the company and its products, which include a number of add-ons for DataCAD LT as well as books and training aids that are available for purchase. At the Web site, you can download a demo version of DataCAD LT v12, a 70.1 MB download. The demo version of DataCAD LT v12 has certain restrictions, including a 45-day limit on the use of the demo, and printing output — although fully functional — has a DataCAD LT v12 watermark printed in the center of the page. In addition, file sizes are limited to 5 MB.

 

CADVANCE LiTe v13, CADVANCE with AETools LiTe

 

FIT
714.956.3171
www.cadvance.com
Price: $595, CADVANCE LiTe v13 only;
$795 with AETools LiTe

Cadalyst evaluated two applications from FIT: CADVANCE LiTe v13, which was in late beta release, and the same application with the addition of AETools LiTe. Both the standalone application and the combination with the architectural add-in fell within the price-range guidelines.

CADVANCE LiTe is marketed worldwide and is used by architects, engineers, designers, and facility managers.
CADVANCE LiTe is marketed worldwide and is used by architects, engineers, designers, and facility managers.

CADVANCE is noted as the first successful Windows-based CAD application on the market, originally released in 1982 before AutoCAD. With its clean, uncluttered interface, whether using the standalone application or in combination with the AETools LiTe extension, it's a combination of capable tools in an easy to use and understand configuration. The application is marketed worldwide and is used by architects, engineers, designers, and facility managers.

This release has several new features and changes, including enlarged drawing and symbol sizes, support for importing AutoCAD R2007 files, additional features associated with the mouse right-button operation, True-Type font operations, and free-hand line drawing. Other small but useful updates include the new ability to run a selected application within CADVANCE by simply adding one line in the CADVANCE.INI file. You could, for example, add your favorite text editor to the menu Utility/Applications menu of CADVANCE LiTe for ready access when needed.

The minimum system requirements for CADVANCE LiTe v13 are an Intel Pentium-compatible PC with at least 64 MB of RAM, although at least 128 MB is recommended. Supported versions of Microsoft Windows are Windows, 98, 2000, XP, and Vista. You'll need at least 100 MB of free hard disk space for installation and a graphics board and monitor supported by Microsoft Windows — recommended are displays of SVGA (800 x 600) or better resolution. You'll also need a mouse or other digitizer that is supported by Microsoft Windows; a printer or plotter supported by Microsoft Windows is optional. On my test system with Windows XP and 2 GB of RAM, performance was snappy, as expected.

The pricing for CADVANCE LiTe v13 alone is $595 and $795 for a bundled package with AETools LiTe. I found both the standalone version and the combination with AETools to be well worth their prices. The latter combination is great as far as price and performance are concerned, making it a particularly good choice for users who are working with architectural engineering designs. You can get additional information about CADVANCE LiTe as well as other products from the company Web site at www.cadvance.com. Here you can also order a free demo CD with a trial version of the application. Updates for the application are posted for download as they become available, and the company runs a forum where users can interact with the company and make suggestions.

 

General CADD Pro v6.1

 

General CADD Products
607.264.8344
www.generalcadd.com
Price: $599

Based on the popular old DOS application Generic CADD (CADD, CADD5, and CADD6), General CADD Pro is a more capable and sophisticated application that updates and adds to the basic design. General CADD Pro, commonly called GCP, is a 2D CAD and drafting program updated to fit comfortably in the Microsoft Windows environment while retaining — but elaborating upon — the older application's ease of use and command structure.

General CADD Pro is the ideal solution for quickly making precise, accurate, 2D line drawings.
General CADD Pro is the ideal solution for quickly making precise, accurate, 2D line drawings.

General CADD Products is not the company that originated Generic CADD, but it has been the driving force in recreating the program for Windows and continuing the development with features requested by its user base. For this roundup review, I evaluated General CADD Pro v6.1, which is still in beta testing as this article goes to press. Users can download GCP6 in either a demo version or they can prepurchase the application prior to its release. The download is, in fact, the real application, although the ability to save files has been disabled. All other features, including printing, are fully functional. A fully illustrated help manual is also available for download.

Since making the transition to the Windows environment, the development of GCP has been steady, incorporating numerous needed new features and commands while retaining the two-letter command structure of the original application. Each release has added new capabilities.

General CADD Pro v6.1 has numerous improvements and enhancements for performance: a major speed increase for Dimensions/Text, a faster NP search, better selection rules when complex objects (such as components, fills, hatch, and text) are on top of one another, faster multiple drawings and batch print, and storage of entity extents in the drawing for faster load times after a drawing has been saved from GCP6.

The minimum recommended system requirements for General CADD Pro v6.1 are a PC with a Pentium 4 microprocessor and at least 512 MB of RAM. Microsoft Windows XP Pro is recommended, and the company notes that — as is true with most design applications — the faster the processor and the more memory, the better the performance of the software. In addition to Windows XP, which I used for my evaluation, Windows, 98, 2000, and Vista are supported. The application requires a dongle for licensed operation, so you'll need a free USB port for operation.

General CADD v6.1 will be available for $599 when released. At the General CADD Web site, you can download evaluation versions of their software. You'll also find links for downloading a number of files that enhance the operation of General CADD, including architectural–electrical–mechanical symbol libraries and surveyors' utilities. Older versions of the primary application also are available for download, as is a new GCP6 command video tutorial.

 

IntelliCAD 6.4

 

IntelliCAD Technology Consortium
503.293.7655
www.intellicad.org
Price: $199–$799

The IntelliCAD Technology Consortium (ITC) is a nonprofit, open-source organization that is owned and governed by its members. ITC focuses on the development of the IntelliCAD DWG-compatible platform, and individual members focus on the customization, marketing, and sales of their specific products.

IntelliCAD is available as a standalone package but is often integrated with applications serving the various needs of the engineering market.
IntelliCAD is available as a standalone package but is often integrated with applications serving the various needs of the engineering market.

In late August 2007, ITC released IntelliCAD 6.4, which offers improved quality, compatibility with the latest DWG format, and increased stability. IntelliCAD 6.4 uses the latest advances in the ODA DWGdirect 2.3.2 libraries, which interpret the updated DWG 2007 file format, including 2008 object support. IntelliCAD 6.4 can read, display, and save drawings in the latest DWG file format, which includes several new entity types, such as annotations, and more than 40 new system variables.

ITC licenses the basic IntelliCAD technology to its commercial members. The members can add and offer options, including VBA, rendering, ACIS solid modeling, and raster image display and can add their own improvements or applications. No single IntelliCAD product exists; rather, a variety of products are based on IntelliCAD technology.

IntelliCAD is an open-source CAD engine upon which hundreds of engineering applications are based. In addition to the v6.4 release, ITC has been working on a complete rearchitecture of the IntelliCAD engine using DWGdirect from the Open Design Alliance as its internal database. DWGdirect provides read/write compatibility with the DWG format and an application-programming interface (API) similar to Autodesk's ObjectARX. An alpha version of this new IntelliCAD was released to ITC members in November.

Using the various APIs, IntelliCAD end users have several avenues for customization, including ASCII scripts, LISP, SDS (C/C++), and ActiveX/COM (C++, C#, VB, and VBA). In addition to these APIs, commercial members have full access to the IntelliCAD source and can change the core engine when developing their vertical applications.

The pricing for IntelliCAD 6.4 ranges from $199 to $799, depending upon what additions and modifications the individual vendor makes to the base application. For a full list of the IntelliCAD Consortium members and their products, please visit www.intellicad.org/members/index.php. IntelliCAD 6.4 runs on Windows 2000, XP (Pro, x64, and Home versions), and Vista.

The consortium provides the base engine as a platform for software development for members. Members focus their applications for specific markets whose needs and features can vary greatly. Members such as Autodsys, Bricsys, Cadian, 4M, and Microsurvey provide complete vertical applications for civil survey, forensic mapping, or architecture. These programs provide much additional functionality, including landscaping symbol libraries and layer controls. Not everyone needs visualization features such as refraction for their work, but Adeko offers this capability in their version of IntelliCAD. Whatever your needs, you'll likely find a variant of IntelliCAD that fits your specific needs — and it will provide a solid underlying structure that is both speedy and reliable. For additional information about the ITC and its members, please visit the consortium's Web site at www.intellicad.org.

 

Solid Edge 2D Drafting

 

Siemens PLM Software
800.498.5351
www.solidedge.com
Price: Free

The recently released Solid Edge 2D Drafting program differs from the others in this article because it is completely free. There is no cost to download or license the software. However, optional support and automatic upgrades are available for nominal fees. Siemens PLM Software, formerly UGS, feels that 2D software is a commodity and places its emphasis on transitioning to a managed 3D model, and, of course, the company happens to make one of the premier 3D design applications currently available.

Solid Edge 2D Drafting provides a production-proven set of capabilities for creating 2D designs and documentation, including drawing layout, diagramming, annotation, and dimensioning controls that automatically comply with drafting standards.
Solid Edge 2D Drafting provides a production-proven set of capabilities for creating 2D designs and documentation, including drawing layout, diagramming, annotation, and dimensioning controls that automatically comply with drafting standards.

Many are familiar with Solid Edge as a 3D product, but few are aware that the company offers a 2D drafting package that is updated and improved periodically. Solid Edge 2D Drafting offers excellent drawing layout, diagramming, annotation, and dimensioning controls that automatically comply with a wide array of drafting standards.

As might be expected, given the company's focus on 3D design, Solid Edge 2D Drafting offers an abundance of tools designed to ease the transition of 2D AutoCAD and other design application users who are updating to Solid Edge. These tools include various import wizards and WYSIWYG of imported files (for example, AutoCAD fonts and color schemes are matched).

Solid Edge 2D Drafting has a built-in AutoCAD translator. AutoCAD files (DWG and DXF) can be opened by selecting files in the Open File dialog. Options can be set with the AutoCAD to Solid Edge Translation Wizard, which controls how the AutoCAD file is opened in Solid Edge 2D Drafting.

The latest release, which became available just as I began preparing this article, adds improved translator capabilities for AutoCAD 2D data supporting Color 7, xrefs, model space, and paper space drawing scales. An import wizard shows a preview with any option changes.

This new release also includes goal seek functionality that helps solve complex 2D engineering scenarios with free-body diagrams. It lets users set certain parameters, while the system varies other factors to achieve the desired target value of an engineering calculation. The results can also drive 3D geometry in a true hybrid 2D/3D design environment.

Solid Edge 2D Drafting includes limited symbol libraries (a 2D library with the most popular symbols for mechanical/plumbing is included), though full block and library tools are available for the product. Because visualization features such as ray tracing, transparency, and reflection or refraction are beyond the scope of 2D design, you won't find them here. What you will find are solid, well-considered 2D drafting tools presented in an interface that is easy to understand and use. The help system is well done and has depth; it includes a number of tutorials for specific features.

Solid Edge 2D Drafting runs under either Windows XP or Vista and is available in 10 languages. The software is available online at www.solidedge.com/free2d, where you'll also find more information about the product and the company itself. The download is approximately 250 MB; when you run the downloaded EXE file, you'll need about 250 MB of temporary space for the installation, which is approximately 600 MB for the full install.

Solid Edge 2D Drafting with purchased maintenance can be automated with Visual Basic and other languages, the caveat being that the customer must also have the full Solid Edge product. Solid Edge 2D Drafting is a subset of the full Solid Edge software and will not install on the same workstation as Solid Edge.

 

Vdraft v2.21

 

SoftSource
800.877.1875
www.softsource.com
Price: $250

SoftSource has been developing CAD drafting systems, translation, and commercial management software since 1982. For this roundup review, I looked at v2.21 of the Vdraft application. Little has changed since the last time I evaluated Vdraft, other than an original equipment manufacturer (OEM)-requested programming change. A new version of Vdraft with updates for Microsoft Vista is in the works, but it is not yet ready for evaluation. The instruction manual has also been streamlined since Cadalyst's last review.

Vdraft, short for Virtual Drafter, is a CAD system for AutoCAD and DXF Drawings.
Vdraft, short for Virtual Drafter, is a CAD system for AutoCAD and DXF Drawings.

Vdraft is short for Virtual Drafter, and it's a 2D drafting application that is compatible with numerous AutoCAD DWG file formats. Vdraft is highly customizable but simple enough in operation to make it a good tool for teaching CAD drafting. The system requirements for Vdraft are relatively modest, with the application running well on PCs with Windows 95 through Windows XP.

You'll find an array of capable tools designed for 2D, including a sketch mode called Sketch Freehand for making fast sketches of an idea before actually committing it to a drawing. You can view or edit multiple drawings simultaneously and cut or copy and paste elements between drawings. Vdraft's hyperlink support is compatible with AutoCAD hyperlinks, so you can hold down the Shift key, move the cursor over a drawing object to view the hyperlink information, and click to load the Web page.

Vdraft reads AutoCAD DWG and DXF files and can export DWG, DXF, HPGL, and SVF files. No symbol libraries are included with the application, but the supported file formats provide opportunities to use a wide array of available symbol libraries.

Worth noting is the spiral-bound manual that ships with Vdraft. It offers an abundance of information about the product and also contains a number of useful appendices. For shops that are primarily AutoCAD-centric, a quick reference to supported AutoCAD commands show where they are located in Vdraft.

For those involved in academic pursuits, SoftSource offers low site-licensing fees, as well as a grant program for institutions that make a commitment to Vdraft in their CAD drafting curricula. Site-licensing fees provide one copy of the software and documentation. The licensing contract allows the institution the right to copy the software and its documentation for educational purposes only. Institutions that would prefer to purchase copies of the user manuals and software can do so at a very low cost per copy.

Vdraft is priced at $250, toward the lower end of price scale compared with other applications in this review. SoftSource also offers a product called CADview for viewing and printing AutoCAD drawings. CADview can temporarily turn layers on and off and calculate measurements. An AutoCAD/DXF plug-in gives users the power to view and print AutoCAD drawings in Netscape or Internet Explorer. Users can zoom in on drawing details, turn layers on and off, and print the current view or entire drawing inside the Internet browser. SoftSource also offers a simple vector format (SVF) plug-in as a simple solution for access to SVF drawings from a Web browser.

For additional information or to download a trial version of Vdraft, please visit the company's Web site at www.softsource.com. The trial version of Vdraft is time-limited to 30 days.


About the Author: Ron LaFon


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