More than Meets the Eye (Cadalyst Labs Review)1 Feb, 2008 By: Ron LaFon
Cadalyst compares and contrasts eight of today's CAD viewer solutions.
Viewing design files created with a CAD application is something that everyone who works with CAD must do at one time or another. It could be to show a model to a client or to keep coworkers informed about design changes, but having a viewer that can quickly go through design files without having to fire up the originating CAD software is a widespread need for efficient operations. This review article looks at the latest versions of currently available 2D and 3D viewers.
You might only need to look at a simple set of design files to determine the one you need, or you might be deluged with a huge number of files in various formats that you must communicate with your team. In either case, you won't want to start the originating applications and open each file to see exactly what it is.
DWGSee DWG Viewer Pro supports DWG-to-image (JPG, TIFF, GIF), DWG-to-PDF conversion, and advanced mark up with the ability to publish mark ups in PDF or image format.
Whatever your specific needs, a drawing viewer of some sort is almost essential. But what your specific needs are in these software programs can vary widely. For example, a small CAD firm that only uses AutoCAD won't have the same viewer needs as a large design house that might also use SolidWorks, Inventor, CATIA, and AutoCAD. To this mix, add visualization files, high-resolution graphics, word processing documents, and spreadsheets, and the situation can become daunting. No one viewer fits all needs or budgets, so it's necessary to find one that is appropriate for you.
Among the first questions you should ask when choosing a viewer is whether it supports the file types you most commonly use. Is your work entirely 2D or is some of it 3D? Then there's the question of what you need to do with the drawing files. Do you need just a simple viewer or do you need to control layers, view attributes, or view cross sections? Do you need to do mark up and redlining? Are you working alone or do you need an enterprisewide viewer? Will the viewer allow for easy navigation among both files and directory structure? Is the cost of the software compared with the feature set within your budgetary restraints? Obviously, a lot of questions need to be answered, but fortunately you can choose from a wide array of capable applications, making it much easier to find a good fit for your needs.
With InnoCielo View, you can view, zoom, compare, and print more than 200 file formats without needing the native application on your workstation.
What We Requested
For this roundup review, Cadalyst requested 2D and 3D file viewers from several vendors with the intention of testing the submitted viewers with both AutoCAD and SolidWorks test files. Not all the viewers supported both file formats, although all did support some form or another of AutoCAD DWG files. I ended up trying a variety of file formats with each of the nine viewers that Cadalyst received for evaluation. I was impressed with the viewers and their ability to accurately view a wide range of file formats.
With the continued evolution of major design applications, file formats also evolve, making them somewhat of a moving target. Note the number of changes that have taken place in the DWG format over the years. Because you may need to work with DWG files that go back a number of years, you'll want to be sure that your chosen viewer supports them. Obviously, DWG files are not the only ones whose formats changed over time, so sometimes it's remarkable that viewers work as well as they do with the number of file formats they support.
In the two years since Cadalyst last did a viewer roundup, a number of changes have occurred in the industry itself. Some viewers no longer exist, and some company names have changed — Cyco is now BlueCielo ECM Solutions, for example, and Oracle purchased the parent company of Cimmetry Systems, making AutoVue an Oracle product. Autodesk, which typically would be represented in this roundup, is absent this time because it has a viewer product in beta that is not yet ready for evaluation. Look for a new Autodesk release later in 2008.
Slick! PdfPlus v1.1 converts AutoCAD drawings, DXFS, and DWFS to PDF and to almost any raster or vector file format and supports batch conversion.
With the popularity of this segment of the software industry, we're beginning to see more innovation and greatly improved usability within the individual applications. Although simple viewers still exist and fill the needs of many users, other applications are adding features that were undreamed of only a few years ago. As vendors strive to distinguish their product from others, this trend is likely to continue, and it will benefit end users with products that are more capable and easier to use.
For more information about these products, see the online feature table at www.cadalyst.com/0208viewertable.
DWGSee Pro v2.63
AutoDWG's DWGSee Pro v2.63 is a compact and speedy DWG viewer with support for DWG, DXF, and DWF file formats. AutoCAD drawings from release 2.5 through AutoCAD 2008 are supported by this viewer. AutoDWG's DWGSee lets you quickly view, browse, measure, and print files, and the DWGSee Pro version that I evaluated adds additional features.
DWGSee Pro is but one of several products from AutoDWG — others convert DWG to PDF, PDF to DWG, and DWG to Flash and include batch-conversion utilities.
In addition to its viewing capabilities, DWGSee Pro also supports DWG-to-image (JPG, TIFF, GIF) and DWG-to-PDF conversions. Additionally, DWGSee Pro supports advanced mark-up features and allows you to publish the mark ups in PDF or image-file formats. A variety of mark-up options are available from the Markup pull-down menu, including redlining and rectangle, ellipse, and cloud markups. You also can measure length and area using the product's Smart Snap feature. Although I didn't evaluate it, an ActiveX component is available for download.
The Windows interface of DWGSee Pro is clean and uncluttered and is both easy to use and understand. The application presents a single toolbar across the top of the viewing area, along with several pull-down menus.
By keeping its focus narrowed to AutoCAD-centric file formats, AutoDWG has produced a speedy and simple viewer that will fulfill the needs of many users. For those who need the conversion capabilities for repurposing their work for the Web or producing compact graphics for transmission, these features will be a welcome bonus. Reasonably priced at $98 (the same as it was two years ago), DWGSee Pro is a good deal. The product is available in several foreign languages, including German, Italian, French, Spanish, and Japanese. A time-limited demo version of DWGSee Pro v2.63 is available from the AutoDWG Web site for evaluation.
As a multipurpose application, ABViewer has advanced functions for dragging, zooming, and centering images and for marking up, printing, converting, and copying to the clipboard.
InnoCielo View 2008
BlueCielo ECM Solutions
Many will be unfamiliar with BlueCielo ECM Solutions and its InnoCielo View 2008 product, at least by those names. The company formerly was Cyco Software, and InnoCielo View 2008 formerly was AutoManager View. InnoCielo View 2008 lets you view, zoom, compare, and print more than 200 different file formats, including the latest AutoCAD 2008 files.
InnoCielo View 2008 is an easy-to-use and well-designed application that can easily switch from AutoCAD 2008 drawing files to Microsoft Office documents or numerous graphic files. This release also supports the InnoCielo BriefCase format used in many of BlueCielo's products. BriefCases are a secure and efficient method for exchanging sets of documents and related information such as redlines and bill of material (BOM) information. BriefCase technology facilitates the review, change, and approval process between and within workgroups.
Many file formats are supported by InnoCielo Blue 2008. AutoCAD drawings through AutoCAD 2008 are supported, and other AutoCAD variants are supported as well, including AutoCAD Map 2008, AutoCAD Raster Design 2008, and AutoCAD P&ID 2007 drawings. The AutoCAD support includes the viewing of fonts, linetypes, dimension, external (clipped) references, and layouts.
InnoCielo View 2008 offers seamless integration of the Autodesk Inventor and Mechanical Desktop viewers for viewing up to and including Autodesk Inventor 2008 and Mechanical Desktop 2008 drawings and models. This seamless integration also extends to the SolidWorks eDrawings viewer for viewing 2D drawings and 3D models created in up to and including SolidWorks 2007. In fact, InnoCielo View 2008 can integrate a number of viewers from third parties to provide a single integrated solution for viewing documents.
However, InnoCielo View 2008's in-depth file support is but part of the picture. With the product's Compare feature, for example, you can display both the old and new versions of both vector and raster files and print the difference information for reference. InnoCielo View 2008 presents a clean and simple interface, but you have a lot of options for what exactly is displayed. You can toggle the file selector window on or off (and choose what information shows in the file selector window), and you can set many options for features such as redlining and BriefCase options.
MYRIAD Viewer lets you view, rotate, print, measure, compare, mark up, and save to PDF/TIFF/DWF with Visual Rights–protected CSF files.
InnoCielo View 2008 runs under Windows 2000, Windows XP, Windows 2003, and Windows Vista. A standalone version of InnoCielo View 2008 is priced at $249 and is available either on CD or as a 56-MB download. Enterprise-level licensing is also available for a per-seat fee. Download a trial version of the InnoCielo View 2008 from the company's Web site. A full list of the extensive file formats supported is available at www.bluecieloecm.com/download/docs/BC_icv2008_file_format_list.pdf.
Slick! PdfPlus v1.1
CAD Systems Unlimited
Price: $99, single-user license; $295, three-user license; $75,
per additional user
CAD Systems Unlimited has been around for a long time, producing CAD viewers that have benefited from the company's extensive experience in the field. For this roundup review, I checked the recently released version of Slick! PdfPlus.
Slick! PdfPlus v1.1 lets you view drawings from AutoCAD (DWG), Autodesk Mechanical Desktop (DWG), design Web files (DWF), and drawing interchange files (DXF) from Release 12 to 2008 as well as a wide variety of raster formats, such as TIFF, JEDMICS, CALS, PNG, and JPEG. In addition, you can convert AutoCAD drawings to PDF raster or vector format and to a large number of graphics formats. Batch conversion is supported, as is batch exporting and batch printing of all supported file formats, including PDF.
Additionally, you can use Slick! PdfPlus as a front end to AutoCAD for opening and inserting drawings. The product displays AutoCAD block attributes and can export them to comma-delimited CCSV files that can be opened by Microsoft Excel.
Slick! PdfPlus presents a simple interface that features a directory navigation tree on the left of the screen with a listing of the supported files in a window above the directory structure. A simple double-click quickly loads the file into the viewing window, where you can zoom in or out on selected parts of the drawing. The Zoom window is always active — just drag a window with your mouse and release the button to zoom in. A single click of the right mouse button zooms to extend.
If you happen to have installed viewers available from SolidWorks (SLDPRT, SLDDRW, and SLDASM), MicroStation (DGN), or Spatial Technologies ACIS (SAT), you can use Slick! PdfPlus to launch these viewers from the file window. Similarly, PDF files can be quickly opened with the free Adobe Reader software.
Slick! PdfPlus is priced at $99 for a single-user license and $295 for a three-user concurrent license ($75 per additional user). You can download a time-limited demo version of Slick! PdfPlus v1.1 from the CAD Systems Unlimited Web site.
+7 (4872) 34 82 95
Soft Gold, the parent company of CADSoftTools, is a software development company located in Tula, Russia, that offers CAD-related products and services. Among the products are tools for reading DXF, DWG, and HPGL (PLT) files as well as DLL libraries for a number of popular programming languages. The plug-ins for IrfanView, XNView, and Konvertor provide an inexpensive and speedy solution for viewing and managing files. For this roundup review, I've examined ABViewer v6.2, the latest version of the company's CAD viewer software.
ABViewer is unique in its support for 32 different languages, a trait it shares with other products from Soft Gold. ABViewer is now available in three versions: Enterprise, Professional, and Standard. The Standard version does not support editing, redlining, batch conversion or batch printing; the Professional version has no support for either batch conversion or printing; and the Enterprise version supports all functions.
Version 6.2 offers numerous new features and enhancements, among them support for older DWG file formats and improvements in the display of a number of entities such as Leader, LWPolyline, and Mtext. File sizes are as much as 10 times smaller when converting to PDF, and converting to DXF files is three times faster. Display speed for TIFF and other raster formats is increased, and HPGL quality is greatly improved. Support for Unicode is now available for DXF export as well.
Oracle s AutoVue Electro-Mechanical Professional v19.2 provides manufacturing organizations with secure and reliable native document viewing, mark-up, and collaboration capabilities.
As with previous versions of ABViewer, the interface is clean and easy to understand, and you have many options about what is displayed and how it is displayed. You can, for example, toggle ABViewer between three modes — Viewer, Editor, or Redline. File support includes DWG (including 2008), DXF, PLT (HPGL), SVG, CGM, and WMF. You can export supported files to HPGL format and save as DXF. Additionally, ABViewer converts all supported files to PDF, BMP, EMF, JPEG, GIF, and TIFF formats.
ABViewer has mark-up and conversion capabilities, as well as several printing options, including the ability to print large images as tiles that can be assembled into a larger print. The Editor properties of ABView allow you to create a new CAD file or edit an existing one. From the Draw submenu, you can add new entities such as text, line, polyline, arc, and others. You can save the changes as a DXF file.
CADSoftTools' ABViewer is moderately priced from 49€ to 398€, depending upon the version you require, with the standard version being the least expensive. Floating licenses are available and are twice the price of the standalone versions. A trial version of ABViewer and most other Soft Gold products can be downloaded at the company's Web site.
Informative Graphics Corporation (IGC) develops software for content visualization, secure publishing, and collaboration. Particularly noteworthy is the company's CSF file format, which is an alternative to PDF for securely sharing content by keeping control of what users can do with that content. CSF incorporates Visual Rights technology, which allows users to apply persistent security controls to grant rights to print, copy, and measure with an option to expire the file after a selected time interval.
I evaluated the completely redesigned MYRIAD viewer, which is a multiformat CAD viewer designed for the manufacturing and AEC industries. MYRIAD 8 represents a complete architectural overhaul of the product, featuring improved speed and performance. The new interface is clean, attractive, and easy to use. MYRIAD supports an array of 2D and 3D CAD file formats as well as popular image and document formats, including PDF.
You can view, print, mark up, measure, compare, and publish file formats in MYRIAD 8. The viewing features include multiplant cutaways or cross sections, 3D measurement, and interactive explode capabilities. This release also includes updated file-format and version support, enhanced comparison features for comparing two files or versions, and the ability to fly through 3D models. You can now publish 2D files to PDF, TIFF, DWF, or secure CSF with Visual Rights, and you can publish 3D models to 3D DWF or STL.
MYRIAD supports 23 2D CAD formats, including AutoCAD, MicroStation, SolidWorks, Solid Edge, Pro/E, and HPGL. It supports 17 3D CAD formats, including SolidWorks, STL, VRML, Inventor, XGL, 3DS, SAT, IGES, Pro/E, and STEP. Various common graphics file formats are supported, such as TIFF, PNG, JPEG, GIF, CALS, BMP, and EDC.
RxHighlight provides viewing, printing, and measurement features and offers access to a set of advanced tools for mark up, collaboration, file conversion, and batch processes.
MYRIAD 8 is available with desktop, network, and concurrent licensing and prices ranging from $115 to $595, depending upon the licensing options chosen. A license manager is included with the network version. For additional information about MYRIAD 8, visit www.myriadviewer.com. There you can download a trial version of the software for evaluation and learn more about IGC's Visual Rights technology.
AutoVue Electro-Mechanical Professional v19.2
Since Cadalyst last reviewed CAD viewers in 2006, Agile, the parent company of Cimmetry Systems, was acquired by Oracle. There are two new versions of AutoVue, including AutoVue EDA Professional and the top-of-the-line AutoVue Electro-Mechanical Professional. For this roundup, I checked out the desktop version of AutoVue Electro-Mechanical Professional v19.2.
In the past I have referred to AutoVue as the Rolls-Royce of desktop viewers, and this new release certainly carries on in the same tradition by incorporating extensive file-format support and features such as real-time collaboration and 3D digital mockup, which allows you to combine parts created by different 3D CAD packages into a single view. Design verification with interference checking is another of Auto-Vue's capabilities, so it is much more than a simple viewer, although it certainly excels in that area as well.
AutoVue supports more than 450 file formats — you can find a full current listing at www.cimmetry.com/formats.html. Support for a given file format has a lot of depth, so you'll find a range of variants that are also supported. For example, AutoCAD DWG files from 2.x through 2008 are supported, as are DXF and DWF, as well as SLD, SLB, and DST files.
AutoVue can be integrated into existing data-management systems (DMS), product lifecycle management (PLM), and enterprise resource management (ERP) programs using the AutoVue Integration Software Development Kit (SDK), and Oracle delivers preintegrated packages for popular DMS/PLM/ERP systems that facilitate AutoVue integration. These AutoVue VueLink integrations serve as a bridge that securely conveys documents from a DMS repository to AutoVue for viewing and collaboration. AutoVue VueLink integrations are available for SAP PLM, EMC Documentum, MatrixOne, and SharePoint.
Right Hemisphere 5 Deep View is a free viewer that lets you easily view and interact with 2D and 3D graphics.
Given all its capabilities, AutoVue presents a clean and uncluttered interface that is easy to use. AutoVue is speedy in operation, and it includes an extensive and well-designed help system to guide you through some of the less commonly used operations. Several customization options let you define how the various features of AutoVue work, so the product can accommodate a range of user preferences.
Versions of AutoVue are priced from $100 to $2,995 per license, depending upon the version. For additional information, you can visit www.cimmetry.com/_products/autovue_software_suite.html. At the Cimmetry Web site you'll find a useful comparison matrix that shows the capabilities of the different versions of AutoVue. A fully functional time-limited version is available for download on the Web site.
+47 (22) 91 00 90
Price: $195, RxView CAD; $395, RxView; $595, RxHighlight
RxHighlight R9.1 is a full-featured viewing tool that lets you view, print, mark up, and convert between file formats and communicate changes and information. Produced by Rasterex Software in Oslo, Norway, RxHighlight is the same base application as the company's RxView with the addition of mark-up, file-conversion, and batch routines. There are, in fact, three versions of the viewer, all based on the same technology but with varying options. Rasterex offers a variety of visualization and collaboration tools that are used by many international companies working in AEC, manufacturing, reprographics, engineering, oil-and gas-related industries, utilities, and other disciplines.
RxHighlight offers redlining, mark up and file conversion among the more than 600 supported file formats. Batch printing and batch conversion are both supported by RxHighlight. RxHighlight improves revision control and shortens the time used for engineering changes. It is designed for network environments, providing administrative tools and access control, but it also functions well as a standalone application.
RxHighlight offers a clean and easy-to-understand interface that can be customized to a degree by adding and/or removing toolbars. Additional customization options, such as plug-ins, are managed by an incorporated plug-in manager. Navigation is smooth, and the extensive file support appears solid given the array of file formats and complex design files I tested. This release supports AutoCAD 2008 and SolidWorks 2007 files, as well as files from Microsoft Office 2007, including Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and RTF files.
The new release also includes support for 3D, as well as improved scaling and measurement features and new base features such as support for PDF bookmarks, new AutoCAD filter options, and support for EXIF file information in digital photographs. Other new features include improvements in mark ups, such as a new option for adding holes to a measurement area, a new field called Custom Data added to the markup list, support for line styles, and more.
Trix DrawingCenter opens 2D and 3D CAD and raster files and allows you to print, mark up, convert to PDF, and compare versions automatically.
Additionally, RxHighlight allows you to convert any viewable data or document file type into another file format. This is true for converting one type of CAD format to another, as well as for publishing to Internet file formats such as JPEG, DWF, and PNG.
At the Rasterex Web site, you can download trial versions of both RxView and RxHighlight. Pricing is $195 for RxView CAD, $395 for RxView, and $595 for RxHighlight. Enterprise-level pricing is available.
Deep View and Deep Publish
Pleasanton, California–based Right Hemisphere is a leading provider of enterprise communication and collaboration software that lets manufacturers optimize their global product development. Although Right Hemisphere has many capable products that integrate with one another, I want to focus here on two of its free products — Deep View and Deep Publish.
Right Hemisphere 5 Deep Publish is a free application that lets you view and share both 2D and 3D graphics using Microsoft Office applications such as PowerPoint, Word, and Excel as well as Adobe Acrobat and the Internet. The product is designed for non-engineering professionals and eliminates the need for engineering involvement whenever complex 2D and 3D graphics are needed. With Deep Publish, you can import file formats such as 3DS, DWG, CGM, U3D, DXF, OBJ, RH, 3DM, WRL, and SketchUp directly into a Microsoft Office document or publish them to Adobe PDF with one click. Please note that to get the plug-ins to appear inside Word, Excel, etc., you need to install Deep Publish first and then Deep View.
Deep View is a free viewer that lets you view and interact with 2D and 3D graphics in Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, and Excel. Using Right Hemisphere's enterprise offering, Deep Server, or client applications such as Deep Exploration, users can turn their 2D and 3D CAD models into lightweight product graphics and publish them in various document formats.
With Deep View, you can directly manipulate objects in the 3D scene, pulling them apart and reassembling them. You can measure angles and a number of other kinds of distance measurements, such as arc centers, surfaces, and edges. You can add mark ups and notes to the model for collaboration purposes, or you can display model views and animated steps — great for training purposes as well as a means of demonstrating to workgroup members how a given item functions or is assembled. In this context, you can also playback 3D animations. Additionally, you can view cross sections and zoom, pan, and rotate the model, and you can display parts lists associated with the 3D scene. You also can browse parts via a metadata browser that's built into Deep View.
Download both Deep View and Deep Publish from the company's Web site, where you can obtain information about other products as well.
Trix DrawingCenter v6
Trix Drawing-Center v6 opens DXF/DWG versions from AutoCAD R12 to 2008, as well as DWF, HPGL plot files, and DXF files. Among the supported file formats are Acrobat PDF and more than 100 raster formats, including TIFF, BMP, GIF, JPEG, CALS, and JEDMICS C4. You can choose the application interface you prefer to use with DrawingCenter, using either the standard XP-style interface or the Vista Ribbon interface used in Microsoft Office 2007.
Among DrawingCenter's features is the ability to call up and display AutoCAD DWG/DXF xref files. You can zoom to pinpoint locations within a file and measure with accuracy using DrawingCenter's raster snap feature. Mark ups can be saved as CAD vector files, and you have the ability to scan directly from TWAIN-compliant scanners. You can convert several raster file formats to other raster formats as well.
The full version of Trix DrawingCenter includes both ActiveX and Web Browser versions of the application, in addition to the desktop version. A multiuser floating network license enables license sharing, and mark ups or annotations can be shared with other DrawingCenter users. You can use ActiveX to build the viewer into your own applications and use DDE commands to automatically open or print files.
With Trix DrawingCenter, you can print the entire drawing, specific layouts, or details of the drawing at the sizes and scales that work for you. You also can quickly highlight the difference between two versions of the same drawing.
Mark-up functions in Trix DrawingCenter let you annotate with text, lines, boxes, or clouds, and you can save the mark ups to a PDF file. You can convert AutoCAD drawings and plot files to a PDF file that includes your mark ups.
Use DrawingCenter to view entire folders of files as slide shows to help you find the specific drawing you need. The application interface is simple and easy to both understand and use.
Trix DrawingCenter v6 runs under Windows Vista, 2003, XP, or Windows 2000, and you have a choice of regular standalone or shared floating network licenses. Pricing for the single-user standalone version is $196. At the Trix Systems Web site, you can download a demo version of Trix DrawingCenter and get information about other products. Particularly noteworthy is the Trix DrawingCenter Server, which serves drawings to browsers anywhere.
Autodesk Technical Evangelist Lynn Allen guides you through a different AutoCAD feature in every edition of her popular "Circles and Lines" tutorial series. For even more AutoCAD how-to, check out Lynn's quick tips in the Cadalyst Video Gallery. Subscribe to Cadalyst's free Tips & Tools Weekly e-newsletter and we'll notify you every time a new video tip is published. All exclusively from Cadalyst!