Cadalyst Labs Review: TurboCAD Professional v121 Jul, 2006 By: Steven S. Ross
Mature 2D and 3D package gives the mechanical crowd and architects good value
Another year brings another fine upgrade for the TurboCAD franchise, which recently was purchased by IMSI/Design (see details). The big news is for the Professional version (figure 1). The stripped-down Deluxe version has the same interface changes, but only minor improvements in functionality, mainly in 2D and 3D text editing. As with earlier versions, TurboCAD is responsive enough, even on a slow laptop, to encourage playing around, sketching and trying various changes. On a system with a 1.6GHz processor and 1MB of RAM, it handles like your pencil. On a system with an 800MHz processor and 512MB of RAM, it's hardly sluggish. The Deluxe version and some features of Professional supposedly will run in Windows 98, but I couldn't find a machine to test it.
Figure 1. TurboCAD v12 uses LightWorks v7.5 rendering for more realistic and easier visualizations.
The interface change alone is worth the upgrade for either version. It has more shortcut icons at your fingertips and more context-sensitive menus. Viewed on a 1280x1024 screen, the icon-to-workspace balance is near perfection. But even on a 1024x768 screen, the view isn't crowded. If users don't like the new look, they can easily customize it.
Figure 2. One of TurboCAD v12 s dialog boxes for modifying the interface and file locations.
Figure 3. A customization screen for menus and palettes.
In the Professional version, the beauty is more than skin-deep. For solid modeling, the ACIS version was bumped up to 15 from 14. That change means users get better deformation controls and better NURBS (nonuniform rational B-splines) in TurboCAD Professional. The software even has a Deform under Pressure Load command (figure 4).
Figure 4. A quick rendering of a 3D assembly. Note the facet selected just below the Render menu and highlighted in green. It can be deformed by applying pressure or by stretching.
LightWorks rendering (v7.5), which includes ray-tracing, is still part of both versions, and TurboCAD supports LightWorks' LWA format. To complement this, users get access to LightWorks archive materials on the LightWorks Web site in the form of files created by specific brand-name materials suppliers for more realistic and, frankly, easier visualizations.
Figure 5. TurboCAD v12 s materials editor.
Users can apply different material properties to individual facets on objects and preview blends—a nice feature that saves time on slow machines. A new reflected gradient fill effect, color transparency support, and the ability to combine multiple materials and their effects into a single material all add realism to rendered drawings. In fact, blends take only one mouse-click. The materials editor for creating custom, photorealistic materials and surfaces is improved (figure 5), as is the Properties palette, where data can be entered directly or via menu options. Editing the environment for models is easy (figure 6).
Figure 6. A dialog box is used to edit environments before rendering.
The latest version of TurboCAD has fixed a small annoyance: it now provides three options for displaying fractional dimensions: stacked, diagonal and in-line.
Mechanical Design Features
TurboCAD always has been particularly popular for production drafting of parts for design and manufacture, so it's little wonder that the program has continued to stay in step with competing products for that use.
TurboCAD Professional v12
On the mechanical design side, the software offers a new part tree feature that supplements the parametric tools introduced with v11 (figure 7). It presents a more complete view of a part's history and constraints and displays as many as 256 3D Boolean, blend and shell operations performed on solid objects.
Figure 7. TurboCAD v12 s clean new interface includes floating palettes that can roll up (right). Here the part tree is invoked to start a new palette (behind and above the floating palette at the right). Note constraint box on the component.
The editing operations inside the tree are terrific. You can take a block object and edit hole spacing and diameters inside the tree. The tree does not allow solid objects created as surfaces, however. And using the Facets Edit or Facets Deform command deletes the edited objects from the tree. (Don't worry about deleting an early operation—especially those pesky things that you change six times and end up where you started—but if you delete something important, the object can change. Luckily, there's a clear Undo command available.) The tree can be stored separately or within the main TCW drawing file.
Note that the part tree is not a firmly linked audit-capable history as you would find in Autodesk Inventor—a program that costs six times as much. Also note that you can perform some shortcut drafting tricks that change the mechanical properties even if they don't change the look—for instance, you can convert a solid to a surface so you can remove a facet without reconstructing the entire object. You do the solid-to-surface conversion by exploding the solid object twice so you can edit any node.
The parallel-plane constraint that debuted in v11 has been improved and expanded with new horizontal and vertical constraints that make it easier to move between 2D and 3D. The parallel constraints can be invoked with a mouse-click.
To constrain objects while they are being created (and not afterward), you must remember to make the Auto Add Constraints command active in the parts inspector bar.
TurboCAD's architectural features, while solid, have never been quite as polished as those in some other software programs. Users can create parametric doors and windows and drag them directly into the walls of a 3D drawing. The opening in the wall is rectangular, even if the window or door is not, but the opening can be edited easily to accommodate designs such as arched windows.
A new Point Marker tool automatically numbers and tracks objects such as doors, windows and even whole rooms. The effect allows creation of construction callouts and legends worthy of software that costs two or three times as much. Users can select specific properties for each object, including frames, hinges and knobs.
Oddly enough, for so complete a package, TurboCAD still has no automatic stair generation. The roof generation is solid but not fancy: you add dormers and similar features in extra steps.
Two new specialized add-on packages—Mechanical Pack and Architectural Pack—are available. The Mechanical Pack includes new bending, facet offset and hole tools, as well as a fully parametric and editable part tree and additional geometric constraints.
The Architectural Pack features additional parametric window and door designs and styles, a profile editing tool for customizing windows and doors and an updated architectural tutorial that takes users through the process of creating a full set of house plans.
IMSI is a member of the ODA (Open Design Alliance) and benefits from the ODA's file translation filters, including filters for AutoCAD's DWG and DXF and MicroStation DGN. Other supported formats include 3DS, IGES, STEP, STL and DesignCAD's DCD. A newly added feature in the Professional version supports the import and export of 3D files to and from DWF format. Both the Professional and Deluxe versions can publish designs to JPEG and GIF file formats with included alpha channel for transparent backgrounds. DXF, DWG and DGN input and output filters were updated for TurboCAD v12. The PDF file export also was updated, so users can export paper spaces such as rendered viewports and customize PDF fonts, TrueType fonts, SHX files, paper widths and paper heights sections.
The translation filters are terrific and are updated constantly (most are constructed in the SDK [software development kit]). Users have many options for specifying how things move back and forth to other file formats. You can of course stack objects in TurboCAD (each one goes in front of, or on top of, the ones created earlier) and select them by choosing various properties, but TurboCAD is a layer-oriented package, so you need to be careful specifying where objects go if your collaborators are using object-oriented schemes instead of layers. The impressive SDK now has XML-based definitions.
A Good Value
The software package comes with a terrific manual (in paper and as a PDF), along with context-sensitive help and good tutorials, including some in Flash.
Users have many purchasing options. The Professional version is $899.95, and Deluxe is $149.95. Upgrades from versions as early as v9.5 are $99.95, and competitive upgrades are $499.95. The Architectural and Mechanical add-on packages are $69.95 each, but cost less when purchased at same time as the full product. A Macintosh version, which has a slightly different feature set, is priced at $495.
All in all, TurboCAD v12 is a design package well worth the price. Highly Recommended.
Steve Ross has been reviewing CAD software since the days of AutoCAD v1.6.