Cadalyst Labs Review: View Masters1 May, 2006 By: Ron LaFon
New 2D/3D viewers for CAD drawings
Whether you need to find a particular design in a set of files or mark up and communicate data with your design team, a drawing viewer of some sort is essential. In the viewer market, no one-size-fits-all application exists. A small, AutoCAD-only design firm has different requirements than a large design house that might use SolidWorks, Inventor and CATIA in addition to AutoCAD. Your needs might extend to showing models to clients, in which case you may need more-sophisticated viewing options than suffice for in-house use.
When deciding which viewer is appropriate for your needs, the first question is whether the viewer supports the file types you use most commonly. Do you work in just 2D, or is some of your work 3D? What do you need to do with the drawing files? Is a simple viewer enough, or do you need to control layers, view attributes or view cross sections? Do you require markup and redlining tools? Are you working alone or do you need an enterprise-wide viewer? Does the viewer enable easy navigation within both files and directory structure? What is the cost of the application compared with the feature set? Lots of questions, but fortunately there are many capable applications from which to choose.
2D/3D Viewers for CAD
For this roundup, our original intention was to test CAD 2D/3D file viewers with both AutoCAD and SolidWorks test files. As it turned out, the scope was broader than I expected: some excellent viewers supported only a few AutoCAD file formats and no SolidWorks formats, and other viewers supported more than 400 different file formats. I ended up testing each of the viewers with a variety of file formats, including specific files that I knew would be problematical based on past experiences. I was impressed with the overall quality of the viewers and their nimbleness in handling a variety of files.
File formats, both 2D and 3D, change frequently. Take AutoCAD files as an example and note the number of changes that have occurred to the DWG file format over the years. You may well need to view and work with files that go back a number of years, so even a single format such as DWG has numerous variants—some of which may contain components that are not supported by a particular viewer. Expand this situation for many file formats, each with its own history of variations, and it's sometimes amazing that viewers work as well as they do. And they do work well—very well—based on my findings from this roundup.
Something for Nothing Free Viewing Software from Adobe, Autodesk and SolidWorks
With the variety of viewers in this roundup—11 vendors responded to Cadalyst's invitation—it was impossible to include a report card. What may be an A+ viewer for one user might be considered a C viewer for another. Needs vary, often widely. By using the feature table that accompanies this article at www.cadalyst.com/0506viewers/, you should get some idea of which viewers will meet your needs. The overall quality is very high—you'll have to determine which is appropriate for your intended usage. A significant number of products were prerelease versions, indicating that viewers definitely are not a static segment of the software industry.
At the upper end of the viewer spectrum, I found remarkably useful features. For example, the new Actify SpinFire 8.0 software has forward label viewing, which I saw in beta release. If you've viewed and rotated a 3D file that includes dimensioning information, you'll note that when viewing the object from the back the dimensions read backward—often making it difficult to get the information you need. Forward label viewing results in the dimensions reading correctly—not backwards—when viewed from the back. As applications evolve, usability features such as this one provide a path for vendors to distinguish their product from others. The end users benefit by having products that are both more capable and easier to use.
SpinFire Professional 8.0
As I was producing this roundup, Actify was updating its entire product line and sent me a prerelease version of Actify SpinFire Professional 8.0. Viewing a broad array of files is just one aspect of what SpinFire Professional does—Actify doesn't consider itself to be simply a viewer company.
Actify SpinFire Professional 8.0 supports a wide range of file formats and incorporates many new usability features.
Although I saw a prerelease version, SpinFire Professional 8.0 had many impressive features, including a new and cleaner interface, the ability to view and interact with PMI (product manufacturing information) annotations and GD&T (geometric dimensioning and tolerancing) annotations and forward-reading annotations during 3D dynamic camera rotation. This last feature keeps items such as dimensions reading correctly regardless of a user's orientation to the 3D model. This feature, in combination with the new display priority feature that slightly grays objects in the background to highlight foreground objects, is a great new usability feature. Also new is an annotation explorer pane that lets you search by GD&T type instead of by part or surface.
SpinFire Professional 8.0 offers extensive CAD file format support, either directly or through add-on plug-ins, that include ACIS SAT; Autodesk's 3D Studio, DWG, DXF, DWF, Inventor and Mechanical Desktop; CATIA V4 and V5; IDEAS; Pro/ENGINEER; Solid Edge; SolidWorks and Unigraphics, as well as more general formats such as IGES, CGM, STEP, STL, VRML and U3D.
Using a proprietary compacted file format that typically provides 10X compression, SpinFire Professional 8 also offers a .3D workspace where users can compile multiple 2D, 3D and Microsoft Office/PDF documents in a single file. CAD data is protected in the .3D format and cannot be reloaded into a CAD system or reverse engineered in any way. The Actify Publisher product has the ability to automatically convert native CAD files to .3D compressed files. Password protection and sharing across firewalls is supported by the Actify DesignShare product.
Pricing for Actify SpinFire Professional 8 is $499, with specific CAD importers ranging from $99 to $599. A free viewer, SpinFire Reader, is available. Supported operating systems for SpinFire Professional 8 are Windows ME/NT/2003/XP.
DWGSee Pro from AutoDWG is a compact, quick DWG viewer that supports AutoCAD drawings from v2.5 through 2006. With its ACDSee-like interface, DWGSee Pro allows users to browse, view, measure and print DWG, DXF and DWF files. DWGSee Pro is one of several products from AutoDWG—the company also makes products that convert DWG to PDF and PDF to DWG, batch-conversion utilities, and a DWG-to-Flash converter, among others.
DWGSee DWG Viewer Pro handles DWG-to-image and DWG-to-PDF conversion.
The Pro version of DWGSee also supports DWG-to-image (JPEG, TIFF and GIF) and DWG-to-PDF conversions. Its advanced markup features allow users to publish markups in PDF or image file formats. Markup options include rectangles, ellipses and clouds. Users can measure lengths and areas using the company's smart snap feature. An ActiveX component is available for download from AutoDWG's Web site.
DWGSee Pro's interface is simple and easy to use. From the Options pull-down menu, users can access an xref manager, set the font path, open a Layers Manager dialog box and choose display options such as black-and-white, white background (the default background is black) and open with browser, which opens the viewed file in your Web browser using the ActiveX feature.
The Markup pull-down menu offers features such as measure area, redline and markup options and markup information toggling. A markup manager puts DWGSee Pro into markup mode and facilitates these operations. Access to DWG Converters is located on the File menu, where users also can elect to view a print preview. The save and view markups options also are in this menu.
AutoDWG has kept its focus narrowly centered on AutoCAD formats such as DWG, DXF and DWG, rather than trying to be all things to all people. As such, it will serve the needs of many users—with the conversion features a bonus for those who need to repurpose their work for uses such as Web pages.
At $98, DWGSee Pro is a good deal, and it is an excellent replacement for the now-discontinued Autodesk Volo View. You can download a time-limited demo version of DWGSee Pro from AutoDWG's Web site for evaluation.
Amethyst CADwizz MAX
CA Design Associates
Phone: +44 (1457) 765750
Amethyst CADwizz MAX from CA Design Associates is a fairly fast viewer that supports DWG and DXF files from AutoCAD v2.5 through 2006. From CADwizz MAX, users also can open and save zipped files and create self-extracting archives.
Amethyst CADwizz provides a tool to make AutoCAD drawings look hand drawn.
One of the product's most interesting and unique features is its ability to create hand-drawn effects for presentations or illustrations. The Wizzle feature applies random changes to the lines in your drawing to give them a hand-drawn appearance. Each line comes out slightly different from the others so, like hand-made drawings, the results are unpredictable.
With Wizzle, users work directly with AutoCAD drawings, rather than first having to save their drawings in another file format. They can view the Wizzled effect directly and undo or make modifications as required. Predefined settings include steady, wobbly, sketchy and architectural, each of which can be modified to produce custom settings that users can save and recall for future use. By modifying amplitude, steps, overshoot and undershoot, users can achieve many effects. Using the control to set amplitude for vertical lines yields a more realistic effect for architectural drawing. Wizzled drawings can be printed or saved in various bit-mapped formats for further processing with a graphics application.
Amethyst CADwizz has a clean and easily understood interface, which makes it a good choice for users who aren't familiar with AutoCAD but still need a fast and capable AutoCAD file viewer. A single-user license is priced at $77, and discounts are available for multiple-license purchases.
CADwizz MAX capably handled the variety of AutoCAD drawings and DXF files I tested it with. This, combined with its ability to manage zipped files and create self-extracting archive files, distinguishes Amethyst CADwizz MAX. Users who need to produce illustrations that mimic hand drawings will find the Wizzle feature useful.
In addition to CADwizz MAX, CA Design Associates also offers CADwizz LE, which omits features such as redlining, batch conversion and batch printing. Another product, CAD Convert, offers viewing capabilities and the ability to batch convert and batch print all layouts in a drawing.
CAD Systems Unlimited
Slick! has been around for a long time, and I remember using it in its early incarnations some years ago. Needless to say, the product has evolved over time—indeed, now users can choose from several Slick! products: Slick!, Slick! LT, SlickView! (which limits viewing to DWG, DWF and DXF files from AutoCAD Release 12–2006) and Slick ViewPlus! (which views DWG, DWF and DXF files as well as raster formats such as JEDMICS, CALS, TIFF, GIF, BMP and others). Slick ViewPlus! also offers batch printing of all supported file formats, including PDF.
Slick! ViewPlus for Windows can view DWG, DWF and DXF files from AutoCAD Release 12 through 2006.
I examined SlickViewPlus! v1.0.013e for this roundup and found it to be a capable viewer with much to offer. SlickViewPlus! supports more than 150 file formats. Files can be viewed by double-clicking on the filename using Slick's familiar Microsoft Explorer-type interface that displays an expandable directory tree. A right mouse click zooms to the drawing extents; a zoom window is always active and can be activated by using the plus and minus buttons.
When users double-click at any place on the graphics screen, SlickViewPlus moves that point to the center of the screen. Navigation is easy, both within an opened drawing and when moving through the directory structure. Printing options include print to black, and SlickViewPlus! can print selected files and optionally print a date and time stamp. Filenames always are present for ease of selection for either viewing or printing.
With a drawing open in SlickViewPlus!, users can reset the drawing background color (requires a restart) or select how the application starts the next time. Users can, for example, choose to reload the last file and directory at startup or to maximize the view on the startup file. They also can also set active layout, select layer visibility and select named views.
SlickViewPlus! is available for $99. Standard SlickView! costs $49 per license. SlickViewPlus! performed quite well on the test drawings I sent its way, with no evident problems. You can download a demo version of SlickViewPlus! from the CAD Systems Unlimited Web site at www.slickwin.com.
AutoVue v19 SP3
Cadalyst previously reviewed AutoVue 19 in the November 2005 issue (www.manufacturing.cadalyst.com/1105autovue/), noting at the time that a service pack update was imminent—service pack 3 was introduced recently, giving an indication of how active Cimmetry's development of AutoVue really is. Each service pack solves any minor problems that exist and typically adds updated file format support.
AutoVue SolidModel Professional provides viewing and markup for 450+ 2D CAD and office formats as well as visualization and markup for 3D CAD parts and assemblies and EDA (PCB/IC) layouts and schematics.
AutoVue is Cimmetry's flagship software application for viewing, markup and collaboration. I checked the desktop edition, but a client–server edition also is available for Windows or UNIX servers. Cimmetry's viewing and markup products are designed to integrate with document management, workflow, PLM (product lifecycle management), PDM (product data management), ERP (enterprise resource planning), ASPs (application service providers) and e-business portals—either directly or through the Internet.
AutoVue supports more than 450 file formats—www.cimmetry.com/formats.html provides a full list. Obviously, AutoVue provides a lot of flexibility in viewing, but that's just part of the picture in terms of what it offers—both to individual users and to enterprises.
New in AutoVue 19 are full collaboration features for several key manufacturing formats, including Gerber, ODB++ and EDIF. The viewer incorporates new minimum distance measuring and multiple-page BOM (bill of materials) generation capabilities. Another new feature is 3D Explode, which allows users to explode/implode an entire assembly or selected parts and subassemblies. Users can save the exploded view for future use. With this release, users can search and filter for parts in a 3D assembly based on various native file attributes such as selection status, type (body, part, assembly, etc.), PMI (product manufacturing information), location and more. Results can be inspected, transformed, colorized and exported.
File format support now covers AutoCAD 2006, MicroStation v8 and Adobe Acrobat 7, and a service pack adds support for SolidWorks 2006 files.
Native file property support is enhanced in AutoVue 19—users can access native camera positions and views saved in SolidWorks, CATIA V5, Pro/ENGINEER and Unigraphics. The software provides extended PMI support for Pro/ENGINEER, CATIA V5, Unigraphics and DirectModel JT.
AutoVue 19 has a well-designed interface and is speedy in performance, providing a number of useful options. AutoVue versions range from $395 to $1,495, depending on the version's capabilities. A demo version is available from www.cimmetry.com.
Cyco Software's AutoManager View—AM-View, for short—is designed to view all CAD and Microsoft Office documents from a single environment. Its user-friendly interface makes it an excellent complement to other Cyco applications such as AutoManager Meridian, which provides robust and highly scalable data management for corporate divisions and engineering departments, and AutoManager TeamWork, which provides document management for engineering workgroups.
With AutoManager View 4.2, you can view, zoom and print more than 240 file formats without needing the native application on your workstation.
As a stand-alone application, AM-View is quite flexible—it can view drawings from AutoCAD 2006 and other leading CAD applications as well as spreadsheets and word-processing documents from Microsoft Office applications. I tested AM-View v4.2, which supports the recently released BriefCase functionality found in Cyco's AutoManager 2005a product.
AutoManager BriefCases are a secure and efficient method for exchanging sets of documents and related information such as redlines and BOM information. Redlines will travel in a BriefCase so you can share changes with outside groups. Briefcase technology facilitates the review, change and approval process between and within workgroups.
In addition to file support for AutoCAD 2006 drawings, AM-View also supports other versions of AutoCAD as well as files from Inventor, MicroStation and SolidWorks (preview viewing of SolidWorks 2005 and 2006). The AutoCAD 2006 support includes viewing of fonts, linetypes and dimensions. Additional viewing support includes files from facility management systems such as ARCHIBUS/FM, strategic asset management automation such as MRO Software MAXIMO, ERP packages like SAP and popular desktop software. You can open multiple AutoCAD drawings in AM-View with support for AutoCAD's multiple drawing layout using the same kind of tab structure as found in AutoCAD. Navigation within a drawing or through a directory structure is both easy and intuitive.
With AM-View's Compare feature, users can display both the old and new versions of vector or raster documents to verify that all changes have been made correctly.
Cyco AM-View is moderately priced at $249 for a single-user license or $150 per seat for enterprise-level licensing. Download a demo version of AutoManager View from the Cyco Web site at www.cyco.com or request a demo CD. Operating system support includes Windows 2000/2003/XP Professional.
Brava! Desktop 2.0
Price: $29 to $595
Informative Graphics' Brava! Desktop 2.0 features a totally new code base, a sleek and attractive new interface, and capabilities that take it beyond what was possible with Brava! Desktop 1.2. As this article went to press, the new Brava! Desktop 2.0 was in alpha release, which I was able to see and test to a degree, although some of the features were either grayed out or simply did not work yet. What I did see in this early version, however, was impressive, and I look forward to the final product release.
IGC s Brava! Desktop 2.0 merges the features of the company s Brava Desktop 1.2 and ModelPress Desktop products.
Brava! Desktop 2.0 adds the ability to open multiple files in a single instance, support for 3D, an export-to-TIFF capability and Save Redaction to both PDF and TIFF, in addition to the previously supported CSF file format. The enhanced Redaction feature includes Blockout (for Redaction), Redact to Phrase List and Redact by Phrase. The upgrade also has enhancements to Brava! Desktop 1.2's existing features.
Compared with Informative Graphics's Myriad product—Myriad is another viewer that includes markup, measurement and publishing capabilities—Brava! Desktop 2.0 has no dual printing (that is, the ability to send all prints of a given size to the plotter) and no bird's-eye view or DDE interface, but it can save to PDF, DWF and secure CSF and has a more modern interface than Myriad's DDE. Brava! Desktop 2.0 does not offer embedded Adobe Acrobat support (but it can open PDF files directly). 3D cross-section and 3D measurement features will be at the level found in Informative Graphics's ModelPress, rather than the full complexity of Myriad. Other differences exist between the two products, but this should give you some idea of where Brava! Desktop 2.0 fits into the product lineup.
Licensing options for Brava! Desktop 2.0 are flexible. Network licensing options will be available, and pricing will range from $29 to $595, depending on desired options. Because this version is a new release and still in development, the download sizes are yet to be determined.
+47 (22) 91 00 93
Rasterex Software is headquartered in Oslo, Norway, and sells a variety of visualization and collaboration tools that are used by companies working in AEC, manufacturing, reprographics, engineering, oil- and gas-related industries, utilities and other disciplines.
Rasterex RxHighlight lets you view, print, communicate changes and publish documents and data to the Internet.
Supporting hundreds of different file formats, Rasterex applications are updated regularly to fix any bugs and add additional file support. The two primary viewing applications from Rasterex are RxView and RxHighlight v7.3. RxView enables users to view and print more than 250 different file formats, including 2D and 3D CAD, plot files, PDF files, Microsoft Office documents and raster images—all without the originating design software. RxHighlight R7.3, which I evaluated for this roundup, contains all the features of RxView and adds advanced functions such as markup, file conversion and text search and extraction. It's particularly useful for collaboration between design team members. Rasterex also offers a popular Web-based client–server edition called RxViewServer, which is mentioned as an ActiveX version of the company's viewer software in the accompanying feature table (www.cadalyst.com/0506viewers/).
Among the new features in RxHighlight v7.3 are significant GUI improvements, recover file (AutoCAD), load as 3D (AutoCAD files now can be loaded in 3D mode), support for snap-to-line intersections, password protected PDF and RxContent files and the implementation of internal PDF links (page coordinates). RxHighlight now uses the last used color or layer from the previous session, if a user is allowed to change colors and layers.
A wide array of licensing options are available, including both static and floating network licenses as well as single-use licenses. License management typically is handled by a FlexLM license system and support for Sentinel dongles provides additional flexibility.
RxHighlight has a clean and easy-to-understand interface that can be customized by adding, modifying and removing toolbars and menu items. Further customization options are managed by a plug-in manager. I found navigation to be smooth and the extensive file support to be solid on the array of file formats and complex design files I tested.
You can download trial versions of RxView, RxHighlight and a 3D add-on that provides additional features and file format support. Pricing for RxHighlight is $595 and for RxView is $395. See the accompanying feature table (www.cadalyst.com/0506viewers/) for additional price and licensing options.
ABViewer 5 is a product of Soft Gold, located in Tula, Russia. Soft Gold sells a variety of products specialized for CAD software development. My focus here is ABViewer 5.2, the latest version of Soft Gold's CAD viewer software.
Soft Gold s ABViewer 5.2 features include redlining, a measurement tool and CAD file merge capability.
ABViewer offers exceptionally broad language support—more than 20 languages. Two versions are available: ABViewer Standard and ABViewer Professional. ABViewer Standard lacks redlining capabilities, and the batch and batch print features have limitations in vector (DWG, DXF, HPGL, SVG, CGM and EMF) file processing. Batch and batch print support is limited to a maximum of three vector files in one package. The standard version has no restrictions for working with raster image formats.
New in ABViewer 5.2 is support for snap functionality when using redline and distance, BigFont support in DWG/DXF, and a Find 3D Point command. You'll also find new keyboard shortcuts, the ability to customize image size for copying to the clipboard and increased maximum possible sizes for exported raster file formats.
The ABViewer interface is clean and offers niceties such as 3D Orbit, selectable 3D views and viewing options such as monochrome or color, background color and the ability to add and remove toolbars. The viewer support the AutoCAD 2D and 3D DWG formats (Release 9–2006) and DXF. Also supported are HPGL/HPGL2, TIFF, SVG (with restricted functionality), CGM, GIF, BMP, EMP, WMF and numerous other formats. DWG, DXF, SVG and CGM arcs and circles can be drawn as smooth curves and saved to EMF as metafile arcs and circles so they can be zoomed after pasting into Microsoft Word without losing quality.
A number of printing options are available with ABViewer, which supports drag-and-drop operations. With ABViewer, users get a lot for relatively little cost. Soft Gold's ABViewer is priced at $49 for the standard version and $99 for the professional version. The ABViewer download is a modest 2.58MB and is supported under Microsoft Windows 98/ME/2000/XP.
Imagenation 8 can be configured to open a 3D file in either 3D model mode or 2D projection mode. Users can view models in 3D mode to rotate, measure, transform, cross-section and apply 3D markups to CAD models.
Behind Imagenation 8's new interface are numerous improvements and added features, including an updated ISiS scanning interface and the ability to send as TIFF or PDF files. The File/Send menu item has been modified to include a dialog box with subject, document name and the available formats in which a file can be sent.
Each of Spicer's products provides the ability to view more than 200 industry-standard file formats. Imagenation 8 lets users share information easily, and the extensive markup capabilities produce markup information that can be saved and displayed in any other of Spicer's visualization products. Security features are incorporated to protect sensitive data from being opened or altered by unauthorized users.
Imagenation 8 has several expanded file format capabilities, including the ability to read both 2D and 3D SolidWorks 2006 files, read support for 2D and 3D Autodesk Inventor 10 files and 3D support for Pro/ENGINEER 16 through Wildfire 2. You'll also find added support for Adobe's DNG (digital negative) format, GeoTIFF files, and Microsoft Outlook e-mail message format (MSG).
Imagenation 8's PDF options have been expanded to include new features such as support for CCITT and JBIG2 decoding and improvement of in-line image reading. The JPEG2000 library has been modified to handle both embedded JPEG2000 images inside PDF files and images that use CMYK color. New features for PDF annotations include polygon and polyline annotations, caret annotation, grouped annotations, reply-type annotation and opacity.
PCL support has been enhanced for PCL, HPGL/2 and RTL with a number of new modes and commands. File format support for Microsoft Office applications has also been enhanced. In Word documents, clip-art auto shapes are now supported as are nested tables, the tight wrapping style, cell spacing and support for top/bottom cell margins. When released, Imagenation 8 will start at $395 for an individual seat license, with volume pricing and discounts available. Plug-ins for Internet Explorer and Mozilla FireFox/Netscape also are offered.
API support includes DDE, OLE, CAPI and ActiveX, and is in the works for XML.
Trix DrawingCenter from Trix Systems is a CAD drawing viewer for DWG, PLT (HPGL), and DXF as well as CALS, JEDMICS C4, JPEG, TIFF and numerous other raster file formats. DrawingCenter opens DXF/DWG files from AutoCAD Release 12–2006 and calls up and displays xref files. At present, Trix DrawingCenter doesnot support 3D, but this capability will be available in Trix DrawingCenter 6, which is in internal beta testing at this time and should be released relatively soon.
Users can save drawing to PDF or e-mail a drawing as a PDF file using Trix DrawingCenter, as well as simply convert supported file types to the PDF format. The product also includes an IE Browser viewer (ActiveX plug-in) that allows users to see DWG, DXF and PLT files stored on the Internet and save them locally as PDF files. A separate browser utility facilitates browsing selected directories for specific files.
Trix DrawingCenter 5 implements a full set of markup functions.
Users can switch layers on and off, compare multiple drawings or details from the same drawing and figure the sum of areas and perimeters. DrawingCenter measures actual lengths, areas and perimeters, and can automatically calculate and sum areas and perimeters. With DrawingCenter, users can print either an entire image or just details, at the sizes and scales that fit their needs.
Navigation within an opened drawing is facilitated by using the mouse wheel to zoom in and out. DrawingCenter can show entire folders of files as slide shows to help users find specific drawings. The application interface is easy to understand and use. Toolbars can be turned on or off as needed.
Also included is support for TWAIN scanners so users can scan directly from DrawingCenter and perform raster-to-raster conversions.
Markup functions are well realized in DrawingCenter. Users can mark up with clouds, add notes and indicate revisions. Annotations can be shared easily with other DrawingCenter users.
Trix DrawingCenter requires Windows 98SE/NT4/2000/2003/XP. Pricing for a single-user static license is $196, and $255 for a floating single-user license. A five-user floating license costs $960. You can download a trial version of Trix DrawingCenter from the company's Web site at www.trixsystems.com.
Ron LaFon, a contributing editor for Cadalyst, is a writer, editor and computer graphics and electronic publishing specialist from Atlanta, Georgia. He is a principal at 3Bear Productions in Atlanta.