First Look Review: Mastercam Design LT

31 Oct, 2005 By: IDSA ,Mike Hudspeth Cadalyst

3D Wire-frame Modeler

How Much Should You spend on design software? For those on a budget, Mastercam has just released Mastercam Design LT, and it offers real capabilities.

Mastercam Design LT, formerly known as Mastercam Draft, is not a solid or surface modeler—it's a 3D wire-frame modeler. Mastercam rebuilt the sketcher interface so that it now has a streamlined, context-sensitive property bar that it calls a ribbon bar. When a command is activated or an entity selected, new tools become active and ready for use.

 Mastercam Design LT
Mastercam Design LT

Mastercam Design LT uses what it calls live entities—objects that are changeable. In some CAD applications, when a piece of geometry is created and values are added, the object is finished. Users must go back into the command or select the entity again to continue to design or change what was just done. With live entities, the command doesn't end until the user accepts the result.

Another entity type is the phantom entity. When geometry is dynamically created in the graphics window, the entity type selected is drawn with a dotted line until all the points are selected. It then becomes a live entity, which is colored differently from a fixed entity so it's easily discernible. The values can be locked on the ribbon bar so users can create multiple entities with the same numbers to save time.

Another handy tool is the AutoCursor. When the mouse is moved over a point on an entity, such as the end or the midpoint, a small symbol appears next to the cursor, making it obvious what is under the cursor. The AutoCursor can also snap to an angle or find a tangent or perpendicular, horizontal or vertical line. This feature is something you'd find in big-name, expensive modeling programs.

Shortcut keys are customizable and consistent with previous versions, so users will feel at home with the new version. To make it easy to learn the key combinations, users can keep Mastercam in learning mode so that the Tips bar comes up when the cursor is anywhere in the ribbon bar to list all the shortcut keys and functions available with the selected tool.

When AutoCursor is active, small icons appear as the cursor passes over certain areas of a model, making it easy to find line endpoints, midpoints, arc centers and so forth.
When AutoCursor is active, small icons appear as the cursor passes over certain areas of a model, making it easy to find line endpoints, midpoints, arc centers and so forth.

Let's get real for a moment. You may not need another modeling program. If that's the case, Mastercam Design LT has another claim to fame. Many people buy it for its excellent file translation capabilities. It imports and exports a number of 3D file formats, such as VDA, SolidWorks, Inventor, KeyCreator, STEP, Parasolid, Rhino, Solid Edge, ASCII, AutoCAD and IGES. Mastercam Design LT makes it easy. It also works well as a file viewer. Yes, Windows Explorer can display thumbnails of the parts in the files created by most 3D modelers, but not all.

Mastercam Design LT is a fairly straightforward program that's easy to learn. It provides all the commands expected—lines, arcs, etc. Its drafting capabilities are more than adequate for most jobs. And with a price under $200, it's in the range of most designers. There are other programs that offer surfaces or solids for about this price. You may ask what good is a wire-frame modeler nowadays? The answer depends entirely on what you need to do. If you don't need surfaces or solids, Mastercam Design LT could be the answer. Check it out—it might be just what you need.

Mike Hudspeth, IDSA, is an industrial designer, artist and author based in St. Louis, Missouri.

About the Author: IDSA

About the Author: Mike Hudspeth