When Upperspace approached me about reviewing their newest release of DesignCAD, I welcomed the opportunity to examine one of the low cost 3D CAD programs on the market. As a hobbyist with only 2D experience, this presented me an opportunity to see just how difficult the move to 3D would be, and whether or not it was a move I needed to make.
DesignCAD 3000 lists for $299 and brings a lot to the table for that price. In addition to a full complement of 2D capabilities, the program boasts an exceptional 3D interface for the money. All of the standard CAD tools are part of the package as well as some special treats. Each program that I have used over the years has had its own unique command structure and vocabulary, and DC3000 is no exception. I like to use keyboard shortcuts as much as possible. It took a while to become familiar with the shortcut nomenclature used in DC3000. The program has a learning curve that is steep but not insurmountable for users to learn on their own. The tutorial gave a good start to understanding the program, but the help screens could be more thorough in their explanations. The command reference section gives an overview of each command, but the first time user will have to dig deeper to fully understand many of the tools and capabilities of the program.
I spent approximately three months of spare time becoming familiar enough with the program for this review. I still have much to learn about the full power of the program, but I've seen enough to be able to say that DC3000 will do whatever it takes to draw anything you can imagine. The program's power is in the variety of choices the user has in using the software. Simple programs always limit the choices available to the user. The fewer choices, the easier it is to master. DC3000 gives almost all the power to the user, and it takes a while to learn all the skills necessary to enjoy using the program. Once those skills are learned however, DC3000 shines!
The 3D interface presents four windows, Top, Front, Side, and Isometric. These windows do not automatically refresh with each change in the drawing. This lets the program redraw the active window faster. When the need arises to see all four views refreshed, a quick shortcut of Ctrl-Shift-W does the job. The top, front, and side views help when positioning the cursor in 3D space. I learned that you can't count on the isometric view to tell you where the cursor is in the drawing. Upperspace helped solve that problem by building in a tool called Gravity Snap. The gravity snap locks the cursor onto the nearest point in the drawing with one keystroke or click of the mouse. The other standard snap locks are available, but I found myself using the Gravity Snap almost exclusively. The only points it won't lock onto are the midpoint and intersection of lines. All endpoints, arc radii, circle center points, etc. are available with Gravity Snap.
The program has several features that make it very desirable for architectural drawing. The scale of the drawing window can be changed quickly by clicking two points on the window and then specifying the desired distance between the points. This is helpful when starting a drawing, but also allows the user to quickly and easily change the scale of a completed drawing. The double-line mode allows you to effortlessly draw plan views of interior and exterior walls. Distances can be entered using several modes. A tool bar across the top of the screen lets you manually type in x, y, and z values, or you can invoke several different dialog boxes to specify either relative or absolute distances from the last cursor point or the last cursor position. Direction can be specified using coordinates, degrees or polar relationships.
I was surprised to find an animation tool in such a low cost package. It takes a little time to set up, but is invaluable to someone who is wanting to make the best possible impression on a customer. Most of my drawings are related to woodworking and custom furniture. Being able to animate a piece and send the AVI file to a client is sure to get a positive response. It helps the customer envision a custom piece in a way that no other drawing can.
The program is not without its weaknesses. The array command was particularly troublesome to learn. All of the 2D programs I have used referred to rows and columns to specify arrays, and once that information was typed in, the programs prompt you for the position of the first copy. Being a 3D program, DC3000 adds one more parameter, layers, to the array and simply refers to the three parameters as Direction 1, Direction 2, and Direction 3. The user provides the number of copies in each direction and then must bring up a dialog box to provide the position of the first copy. If you don't bring up the dialog box, the array appears on the screen and moves as you move the cursor. It took awhile for me to learn how to position the cursor for the first copy. You must center the phantom array over the original item, then use the dialog box or cursor movement keys to position the first copy in the array. It would be helpful if the program would automatically lock onto the point of origin after the number of items in the array have been entered. Visualizing the array would also be easier if Upperspace had used Row, Columns, and Layers rather than Direction 1, etc. But this is another example of how they have given as much power as possible to the user.
I still have a lot to learn about the full capabilities of the program, and since I don't use CAD professionally, there are many features for which I'll never have a need. If you are looking for a good 3D program that won't break your back financially, DesignCAD 3000 is certainly worth your investment in time and money.
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