Free Cad packages are fine, but a lot of time you are collaborating with others who are using the industry common tools and having to save files in a .DFX or other intermediate format ( Revit/ArchiCAD with IFC etc) always causes data loss and issues when transferring to another package, so having something that saves to a .DWG format is great.
I just want to add, there are a few other FREE graphics tools that are pretty powerful, they are BLENDER , a 3D creation tool, way out of my league but more like Maya, and GIMP, a GNU Image manipulator, like Photoshop, which I have used in a rather pathetic way as it has so many capabilities. These tools, open source, are a bit like QGIS which is a free and Open Source Geographic Information System.
It is a similar tool to SketchUp & Autodesks FormLt.
I have played with SketchUp and enjoyed using it as a tool, but I have never used it as part of my production workflow, it did not seem to connect into Acad at the time, so I used it as an INSTEAD OF tool. I have not used it for a while now and I am sure it has had a lot of enhancements. One reason is I had moved onto BIM and embedded data.
WOW! I just went to look at Sketchup again. I used it pre-trimble, now it seems to be locked down pretty tight. The free version on the web browser less intuitive, I couldn’t figure out how to save a file to my computer (I’m sure you can somewhere), also the pro-version now $695USD, not an insignificant amount. There seems to be a SketchUp Make that is downloadable and free. I will have a look at that. Trimble have changed SketchUp quite a bit, even the student licenses at $49USD and school licenses seem to be tough.
The one thing that SketchUp has is its 3D Warehouse.
Autodesk’s FormLt I am wary of, as Autodesk, in my opinion want to control your whole design environment, and make you pay for every increment on the way and lock you into their eco-system. I am fundamentally averse to that process so will not use it on principle.
BricsCAD is an emerging 2D to 3DBIM tool out of Europe that I have been following with interest. They are trying to plug the 3D BIM as an extension onto the 2/3d CAD process. Autodesk went down that route before and it was difficult. I hope BricsCAD have learned from that and come up with a more elegant solution.
Here in NZ there is ArchiCAD and Revit in the BIM environment. There are a few players in the VectorWorks space but not many. Archicad with small architectural firms as it is about $7000 NZ a license compared to the old Revit Suite license of $13,000 NZ (now about 1/3 for annual subscription $4,300 ish). I would like to see other BIM players break into NZ but we are a staid bunch here.
From the videos I have seen the BricsCAD Shape programme has some very good tools, allowing you to rough up a conceptual model quickly. The thing that appeals to me is that it works by layers and you can save it and open it into a DWG drawing package for doing your documentation. So you can speedily do a 3D model for viewing at preliminary design and then open that information up in a Cad package to document for contract/construction drawings. Also having all the layers set so that you can control these from the start, so transitioning from one package to the other allows you to control line weight and colour (I don’t think SketchUp does this, I need to check).
I have stayed away, pre BIM from 3D modelling as I saw a massive effort, even from my drawing board days, of effort going into presentation drawings which where then thrown away as they could not be used in the production phase of the project. So a separate work stream that did not connect.
Whereas now, the conceptual presentation model can be used as the basis of your production process.
So combining BricsCAD Shape with DraftSight (below) gives you a complete presentation and documentation package for free.
BricsCAD Shape learning
They say you can learn BricsCAD Shape in 30 minutes. It sounds great, I will try it and see. I found the learning tutorial videos Very simple and quick. I wonder if there are some more complex videos & learning tutorials?
There seem to be, on YouTube , a few BricsCAD Shape videos.
I just downloaded & imported into Shape a complicated bit of grass with flowers from SketchUp 3D Warehouse and BricsCAD shape brought it in as block and got very upset about it. I’m not sure if you can then make it a component or how you’d go about doing that.
On my feed I received this article on Autodesk Wasn’t Adobe, After All which discusses issues that Autodesk are having transitioning over to a subscription model instead of a software purchase model.
The issue has been discussed in the AEC area for a while. I am someone who disagrees with the subscription model and some of the views in the article I agree with.
After making that point I will now get on to the point of this article. In the above article there was a comment about an alternative to AutoCAD LT which is free, the software mentioned is DraftSight by Dassault Systems LINK HERE. Download HERE.
In the article it mentions that AutoCADLT is $50/month compared to free DraftSight. If they are comparable in performance, why would you use AutoCAD LT ? Both do not have access to the API for programming. But there is a pro-version for $149 US which seems pretty reasonable if you can do a bit of programming in it.
I have now downloaded the software and fired it up. It seems, at first glance, perfectly fine & has a similar interface to the AutoCAD with layers etc. Also Model Space & Sheet Space (paper Space) so that is good for document setup.
First, I loaded up the image above into DraftSight model space, for some reason the background went black, even with me playing with options in Draftsight.
Then the setup in Layout – 2D plan and adding a dimension (dimension in Model Space & scaled to 100:1
Then A 3D display in Layout space
Then a couple of Autocad drawings opened in DraftSight. First one a survey plan in model space.
2nd one a detail from BRANZ (Building Research Association NZ) roof detail series.
So with my limited knowledge of either package they both seem work well.
One thing I did note on import from BricsCAD Shape into DraftSight was that walls came in as faces that needed to be exploded before I could dimension to them. I am sutre there are a few other issues thart will crop up but for 2 free programmes I am pretty impressed with them both.
I can also use all my old AutoCAD details and other drawings which is great too.
I still need to test the building and using of Attributes Blocks & import/export data from them (current AM/FM interest).
Some Keyboard Shortcuts can be found on this blog HERE. Also in the path ……..\AppData\Roaming\DraftSight\18.1.2094\Alias there is an alias.xml file where you can create/edit these as well.
Also a pop up to do key editing on screen.
I did a quick print and both BricsCAD Shape and DraftSight print to PDF.
BricsCAD Shape seems to only print to PDF and also has an import from SketchUp (which is handy if your into SketchUp)
DraftSight prints to PDF, also to JPG, SVG & PNG and to printer /fax so you can set line colours/weights to different pen thicknesses etc. So pretty versatile.
There are some learning resources from DraftSight, but you need Adobe Flash, which I’m not interested in installing, HERE IS LINK.
I also went to YouTube and typed in DraftSight and there were heaps of videos.
There are also some plugins for the programme, one, PDF import and convert PDF to CAD in from this site, you have free 30 day trial, also an online map plugin (free) from HERE.
When you are in DraftSight, there is a menu button on top right of screen. This shows a few extras that the pro version offers. One of them being PDF as background (for tracing or background drawing ( in which case you need a whiteout command to hide aspects of the PDF that you want to update)
There is also an Xref equivalent called Attach Drawing (although I cannot see detach so I deleted it) but this version seems pretty extensive.
Attributes & Blocks & Data extraction
I have checked and it does Blocks & Attribute Blocks, so you can do attribute exports. There is a tutorial on that HERE. This is good as I would like to be able to export attribute data from a DWG file, which you can do using FME (see other blogs about AM/FM data extraction on this site).
Both packages are pretty impressive.
BricsCAD Shape is similar to Sketchup and seems to have a lot of the versatility of Sketchup but my primary interest is in the DWG format.
I should really go back and have another look at Sketchup and see how that works with DWG format. I have been reading about its blocks/family library that has been occuring over the last few years, and this product has impressed me as to how easy it is to use (even with my minimal learning on it).
DraftSight is a good production tool. Seems to have all the elements and tools that you need. I really really need to take this for a test run. I have used Acad for over 20 years and this seems to have most of the features that you need.
From a productivity point of view, if you were using it on a day to day basis I would explore the pro tool as the value is amazing.
CAD has been around for a long time and the price should be dropping for it. I have seen a couple of cad packages out of China and they are far more expensive than the pro version of DraftSight and I’m not sure they have the same range of tools.
There are things I need to explore, such as Hot Keys. I was always a Hot Keys user in AutoCAD. I found it easier to use keys rather than commands on the ribbon, so I will have to investigate whether these can be extended.
New Zealand context
In New Zealand a lot of contractors are using AutoCAD for As-Built documentation. Consultants design in BIM and then documentation dumbed down to CAD for As-Builts.
Moving Contractors from 2D to 3D BIM will be a challenge as this is almost an afterthought to their main job. They do not see the benefit of it, also this is not their core business, so only require cheap software to meet minimum requirements for As-Builts. If data-capture for Asset/Facilities Management can be done via Attribute Blocks in DraftSight then this may be an alternative tool to AutoCAD at present.
I am pretty blown away by the flow from one package to the other.
Please go out and try either or both packages. If you know SketchUp or AutoCAD then I think the learning curve is not that great. Conceptually all the same processes in both packages.If you are new to draughting, then try both, these are tools that can help you develop a set of professional contract drawings (you’ll still need the technical skills of the design profession (Statues, building codes, buildability etc)) but these packages certainly help you visualise and document your design.
Very good tools. Well done and thank you BricsCAD and Dassault Systems for creating these tools and making them free for people to use.
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