DraftSight v1R2.128 Nov, 2012 By: R.K. McSwain
First Look Review: CAD software has AutoCAD-like interface, views and edits DWG files, and is easy on the budget — that is, free.
Dassault Systèmes may be better known for developing 3D CAD software such as SolidWorks and CATIA, but it is also the maker of a budget-friendly, 2D CAD product called DraftSight. What makes DraftSight worth a closer look? It offers a familiar interface, affordable support and services, and it can read and write DWG and DXF files from AutoCAD R12 up to AutoCAD 2010.
By "budget-friendly," I mean that it is a free download. Yes, I said free! A Premium version is available for purchase, including the Premium Pack for businesses, which offers phone and e-mail support, network licensing, and access to the DraftSight APIs; the Campus/Classroom Premium Pack for educational use; and the Prosumer support package for individuals. For this review, however, I'm going to see what the free version is all about.
DraftSight is available for Windows, Mac OS, and Linux platforms. Minimum Windows system requirements — Windows XP, Pentium 4 processor, and 1 GB of RAM — are such that virtually any Windows PC running today should fill the bill. The DraftSight web site lists detailed system requirements.
As I examined DraftSight, I looked at it through the eyes of a seasoned AutoCAD user, as would millions of others still devoted to AutoCAD for 2D (and 3D) work. If you have used AutoCAD 2000–2007, the DraftSight user interface (UI) will be very familiar to you (figure 1). This is a huge benefit for existing AutoCAD users. Pull-down menus, toolbars, tool palettes, status bar buttons, and yes, even the Command line, are all present. Compared to the AutoCAD UI, the pull-down menu items in DraftSight are generally in the same order with the same names, and most of the toolbar icons are very similar. The Options dialog box is different, but most of the terminology within will be familiar to you.
Figure 1. DraftSight's user interface will look very familiar to AutoCAD aficionados.
What if you are not an AutoCAD user? The DraftSight UI is not overwhelming for newcomers, but keep in mind that despite it being free, this is a not a consumer-grade, drag-and-drop–style application. If you want a door, a sink, a wheel, or a tree, you must draw it from scratch or find an existing drawing to use. The upside to this is that you can use DraftSight to draw just about anything you can imagine.
Drawing and Editing
Figure 2. With DraftSight, you can assign frequently used commands to certain mouse gestures.
DraftSight includes a full suite of dimensioning commands and supports linetypes, lineweights, multilines, blocks, fields, True Color, external references, referenced images, named views, and OLE objects, to name a few. You can also create certain primitive 3D objects such as a sphere, cone, wedge, and pyramid. When working with a 3D model, you have access to all the usual viewing tools such as zoom, pan, and orbit, as well as multiple shade modes including 3D wireframe, hidden, and shaded.
One interesting feature is the availability of mouse gestures, meaning you can assign commands to certain movements of the mouse. Mouse gestures provide yet another way to launch frequently used commands and should prove to be very useful even if you are a keyboard junkie (figure 2).
The software's Layers Manager dialog box, which includes layer-management tools, is very similar to its AutoCAD counterpart. Some of the terms used within are a bit different, such as "show" instead of "on," but the resizable dialog box is easy to navigate (figure 3).
Figure 3. The robust Layers Manager for DraftSight includes all the features you need to manipulate layers, including filters.
You can customize most elements of the user interface — including colors, menu and toolbar items, and the aforementioned mouse gestures — using an interface that is very easy to understand. Palettes, the Command line, and toolbars can be positioned to your liking, and profiles (for example, a saved group of program settings) are supported.
It's similar, yes, but DraftSight isn't intended to be a direct replacement for AutoCAD. Creation and editing tools for 3D modeling are very limited, and many newer AutoCAD features are absent, such as the ribbon UI, parametric constraints, dynamic blocks, Sheet Set Manager, and annotative objects. The free version of DraftSight also does not support AutoLISP or VBA customization, although it does support script files. If you rely on AutoLISP or other customization code, then you would have to live without these tools or look into purchasing the DraftSight Premium Pack, which offers application programming interface (API) access for AutoLISP, C++, and COM.
On the other hand, Draftsight may very well serve as a viable replacement for AutoCAD LT or other products designed primarily for 2D drawing and editing — and at a substantial cost savings.
Give It a Try
The DraftSight web site offers plenty of free support. A "Getting Started Guide," FAQ section, tips and tricks, videos, and user community forums are just some of the resources available at no cost. The videos are quite informative and concise — generally two to four minutes long. They are especially helpful for explaining unusual features such as the mouse gestures. Additional support is available with the Premium Pack.
Dassault Systèmes reports that it created DraftSight not only as a viable 2D design solution, but as a way to help existing and new customers free up funds previously spent on 2D CAD tools to invest in 3D solutions — presumably SolidWorks or other Dassault Systèmes offerings. The company's commitment to DraftSight is clear; in fact, as this article went to press, it released DraftSight v1R3, which adds features including the Align Viewport command, object snaps, the Revision Cloud command to highlight annotations, In-Place Text Editor, Explode text, and more.
DraftSight isn't an AutoCAD replacement, but it is a powerful tool that could be just the ticket for many CAD users who work primarily in 2D and don't require the full menu of AutoCAD features. If this describes you, and if you are intrigued by the prospect of a solution that is not only free but could offer a relatively easy transition, give DraftSight a test drive. I think you will be pleased.