Ashlar-Vellum Graphite v8 (Cadalyst Labs Review)4 Dec, 2007 By: IDSA ,Mike Hudspeth
2D drafting software is easy to use and fairly comprehensive in functionality.
Many of today's designers cut their 3D modeling teeth on Ashlar-Vellum. I first looked at the program in 1998, and it impressed me. Back then it was all one product, but a few years ago the company broke it up into packages to accommodate users who didn't want to pay for all the power of the product line when they were only going to use part of it. Now Ashlar-Vellum consists of Graphite (for 2D drafting with some 3D viewing and editing functionality), Cobalt (which includes everything), Xenon (no constraints, static assemblies only, no built-in 3D parts library), and Argon (for surfaces, rendering, and 3D output). The products are scalable, so you can buy what you need now and add more later. For this Cadalyst Labs Review, I'll take a look at Ashlar-Vellum Graphite v8.
Whatever you're designing, you need a good drafting tool. Even in today's world where you can send models directly to rapid prototyping machines and CAM programs, users still need to get quotes and inspect parts. That requires dimensioned drawings. Graphite v8 is a great way to get them. The software is very straightforward to load and use. The interface is simple, and most people will only use the first five icons on the toolbar for 80% of their work. Many more functions are hiding on expanding menus and drop-downs.
Nuts and Bolts
As you create geometry and use the cursor in the populated graphics window, Graphite v8 enables dynamic snaps to help you line everything up. When you want to use exact values or change what is already there, use the Edit Objects dialog box. Although it looks similar to a parametric function, Graphite v8 is not parametric. If you fillet a corner, then change the angle of one side, the arc won't stay tangent because there is no constraint to hold it. (For that kind of functionality, you need to upgrade to Ashlar-Vellum's Xenon product at a minimum.) When you want to vary your values, you can use the Resolve dialog box. Set up the variables you want to change (say dimensions a, b, and c) in Edit Objects,, then call up the Resolve dialog box to enter real values. The geometry will change accordingly. If you want to get to commands quickly, you can tear off the menus they are on. There really isn't much in the way of customization, but the interface is so simple, it shouldn't be a problem, according to Ashlar-Vellum.
I liked the Wall Object command -- a double wall line tool that would be handy in the architectural trade (perfect for floor plans). As you draw your lines, pressing the Shift key moves the line to the side opposite the default, and the Ctrl key centers it. I like how the resulting lines trim and meld themselves to whatever they cross over. If you make changes to the lines, they will fix themselves, but be careful. They can also unfix themselves because -- you guessed it -- no constraint holds them in place. If you're used to having those parameters, you could have a serious problem. You can also choose to display the control points (end points, midpoints, projected intersections, or arc centers) for every entity. That's helpful when you want to know what you're going to snap to.
I've always disliked how AutoCAD's Trim command is separate from the Extend command because you have to stop one to begin the other. I want to do both with absolute freedom. (I have heard all the arguments: Trimming is making things shorter and extending is growing them. But I believe they should be the same. Maybe it should just be called Edit.) In Graphite v8 you can use the Ctrl key when you are trimming to switch to extending. That way you don't have to be interrupted. I like it!
When you see a star on a Graphite v8 menu, you can pick that value graphically. That's good for when you don't really know what the number is, but you know it goes from here to there. Just pick the points or an entity that is the right length.
Regardless of what you might have heard, Graphite v8 can handle 3D objects. You can import 3D stuff and manipulate it somewhat. You can also draw 3D objects by sketching out the bottom and the top, then connecting the two. You can achieve some very good 3D views, but keep in mind they are merely wireframe. So you cannot perform any kind of automatic hidden line removal. If you want a 3D view, you have to add everything on the appropriate planes and trim it to get what you want to see. That can get pretty tedious.
I know many AutoCAD users don't use drawing viewports, But I think that's a mistake. Viewports are the fastest and easiest way to scale a drawing and keep everything straight. If you always draw everything at 1:1 scale, you can tell the drawing to show a particular viewport at 2:1. That way you can always plot full scale. You gotta love that! In Graphite v8 you can use viewports or draw directly on the drawing. It's up to you. If you bring a 3D viewport onto the drawing and want to flatten it, you can. Graphite v8 will put your geometry directly on the drawing with the Geometric Dimensioning & Tolerancing menu. You just pick off the menu graphically to set up your control frames. It's very easy.
Mac users can import (but not export) ClarisCAD files. A plug-in is available for Spotlight, the deep search function introduced in Mac OS X v10.4. You can also import 3D surfaces and solids (but the solids will be broken down into surfaces). When you are finished with your drawing, you can export it as a PDF file and embed other files within your PDF. So you can send your 3D model file, a spreadsheet, or even a Word document with the revision history or construction notes -- all inside the same PDF. I know Adobe Acrobat has been able to do that for a while, but this is the first time I've seen that functionality included in another application.
The Help system for Graphite v8 is the standard Windows-variety help. That's not to say it is bad, but it doesn't go beyond the average system you'll find available today.
Graphite v8 is priced at $1,495 and runs on Windows XP or Mac OS X. A free Graphite Share reader is available to download and distribute. When you buy it, you get a download link followed by an e-mailed registration code. That way you get instant "Graphite-ication."
I liked this software because it's easy to use and fairly comprehensive in functionality. Yep, Graphite v8 is running on all cylinders! However, when other software companies are giving away their full-function 2D drafting products, I can't help but wonder how many Graphite licenses Ashlar-Vellum will sell. Fortunately, the company has its quality 3D products to win you over. For more information about the entire line of Ashlar-Vellum products, visit the company's Web site.