General Software

First Look Review: DesignCAD 3D Max v16

8 May, 2006 By: IDSA ,Mike Hudspeth

IMSI offers a wide range of consumer-level solids-modeling capabilities in a small package for a reasonable price.

DesignCAD 3D Max v16
Pros: Price. The raster-to-vector converter by itself is worth the price.
Cons: This is a consumer product, not really intended for commercial modeling.
Price: $89.95


First off, let me clarify that this program is not Autodesk's 3D Studio Max. It is DesignCAD 3D Max v16, from IMSI (International Microcomputer Software Inc.). One inevitable conceit of the 3D modeling world is that one program is professional grade and another is consumer grade. I believe if you can do meaningful work with it, you can call it professional. In the case of DesignCAD 3D Max v16, IMSI is targeting the beginning modeler, and the company describes this as a retail consumer product for the hobbyist. It won't have the capabilities you might expect from a commercial application, but for a street price of $89.95, it has a lot to offer.

DesignCAD software isn't new -- in fact, it was the first solid-modeling package I ever bought. (That was the early 1990s. The system was sold by American Small Business Computers Company and cost $399.) A lot has changed since those old DOS days. DesignCAD 3D Max v16 is based on a brand-new, proprietary modeling engine. IMSI did that to keep the price down. Bob Mayer, IMSI vice-president of Precision Design, says DesignCAD 3D Max v16 is a great way to start in 3D CAD. You can build furniture, schematics, layouts, maps -- even that weekend project you're planning.

How many times have you started a project only to discover things you hadn't considered? We all have. Using a tool such as DesignCAD 3D Max v16, you can fully explore your designs from top to bottom before making major commitments. That way, when you actually build whatever it is, you'll get it right the first time. If you can't or don't want to spend time modeling chairs and such, you can easily import more than 10,000 standard symbols, 700 3D symbols and millions of mechanical and architectural symbols from IMSI's For the home hobbyist, this software could represent heaven on earth!

Stylus Pro 9800
The modern Windows interface in DesignCAD 3D Max v16 is customizable so you can create your own workspace, templates and views. If you know Visual Basic or Visual C++, you can create custom toolboxes, keystroke shortcuts and menus.

In DesignCAD 3D Max v16 you can use Boolean operations such as add, subtract and slice to build up complex 3D parts. Then you edit your models using DesignCAD's Info Box, kind of a one-stop shop for changing objects. Change the color, line type, font -- just about anything you want. And when you're done, animate and present your design with realistic materials and textures, even transparency and fog. You can even make your models glow from within!

A very unexpected but nice tool comes integrated with DesignCAD 3D Max v16 -- ScanPro, a raster-to-vector conversion tool. It works similarly to Corel's CorelTrace, if you are familiar with that product. It looks at a bit-map of, say, an old drawing, and recognizes where the lines are, as opposed to the background. It then approximates those lines with vector-based entities. The result is not always exactly what you might want, but it sure beats redrawing from scratch.

Getting geometry into and out of DesignCAD 3D Max v16 is fairly straightforward with its translators. You can read and write formats such as DXF, DWG, IGES, WMF, VRML and even HPGL. And if you have any problems, the company's Web site is helpful. DesignCAD 3D Max v16 isn't just a 3D modeler either. It also does 2D drafting with layers, symbols and dimensions. One interesting thing you can do is dimension your model using units other than the drawing's base units. That means if you have DesignCAD 3D Max v16 set to work in inches, you can still specify a dimension in millimeters if the need arises. That's a capability that's lacking in some big-name CAD programs.

DesignCAD 3D Max v16 combines a wide range of capabilities into a small package for a reasonable price, especially for its intended customer. If you are just beginning, it might offer you a good chance to get your feet wet without getting soaked.

About the Author: IDSA

About the Author: Mike Hudspeth

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