I’m a keen lurker. I read a bunch of blogs, on some of which I am fond of making the odd comment. However, on many more I just read and learn. One such blog is Digital Morphogenesis, which boasts the lofty tag line of “Evolving architecture through computation.” Now I might say that it’s a lofty aim, but from what I’ve read, blog author and PhD Student Danial Davis, seems to be doing a good job. Well, he’s educating me, at the very least.

So I was very interested when on Monday I got around to reading his latest post on some new Cad software launches. I was so interested in his description of a new piece of free software called DraftSight, I checked it out and downloaded it.

Why was I so interested?

Well, I use a clunking old version of AutoCad LT from 2005, which in software years is far more ancient than it sounds; AutoDesk is currently retailing AutoCad LT 2011. When I bought this program for myself I had a fairly new notebook, but the previous year my employers had to build me a specific machine to run it (well, they were a little behind times, lets be honest), while I had a second machine to connect to the intranet, access word processing tools and write emails, etc.

These days I run my license in Parallels, since I now own a Mac. This is not an ideal situation, and I have never managed to configure my mouse to run as well as it did when running natively in Windows. There are other native alternatives, but they’re either expensive, or being open source, have fewer resources. So Davis’s article told me that not only is the DraftSight software very similar to what I already use, it runs native on OS X (AutoDesk plan to bring AutoCad back to OS X in the new year, after ignoring Mac users for about 18 years) and what’s more, the DraftSight software is free. I felt almost obliged to give it a spin.

So I downloaded it, configured some settings, did the drawing you see here and saved it (which included registration of the product), all in about 45 minutes.

The drawing – with and without guidelines. (They’re my construction lines – consider it an insight into how I actually made the drawing 🙂 )

Yep, it works similarly to AutoCad 2D. One reason I did this piece so (relatively, at least) quickly is because I’m familiar with all of the commands as they’re so similar. They are more similar than what I recently found Rhino to be, but then again, Rhino is a much bigger and more powerful package. Of course there’s differences – it handles a little differently – an extra ‘enter’ here, a highlighted line when hovering there (which struck me as potentially useful for beginners) but in all, a pretty easy transition. And the website says that’s what they built it for, so it’s a big tick for them there.

And then lets not forget to mention the startup time. It took seconds. I’m not used to that. AutoCad loads libraries, a big help section and of course I have to engage Windows from the outset, so startup time is a real pain, especially if I just want to do a quick print as I also have to engage my printer in its non-native environment. But with all of the time that AutoCad takes, it is able to offer a lot of inbuilt support, which I get the impression this software doesn’t have.

In fact, they tell you in their demonstration video that you have access to lots of online communities and help, which is great, so long as you’re online. This doesn’t matter to me so much now that I know what I’m doing (and it helps that the internet is more ubiquitous than six years ago), and I have to say, most of my AutoCad was self taught from user forums and communities. So not only is it cheap for them, it’s also good for most users. In the end I suppose, at least on that front, you get what you pay for.

In their license agreement they also make mention that this is a BETA version, so they don’t recommend actual manufacture using this release. So I guess I’ll be waiting on the final product to ensure it’s stable before sending it to my laser cutter.

I’ve been a little worried about my Cad skills getting rusty of late – in my first three years as an interior designer I picked up two Cad packages and some rendering packages that went with them. Since then I’ve been getting better at image manipulation, but I worry that my Cad knowledge is getting out of date.

Using this software told me two main things. My Cad knowledge is transferable for 2D drafting (at least in this instance), and the basic technology hasn’t needed to change much in five years. I especially would recommend DraftSight for anyone who hasn’t learned any form of Cad fluently, since this product presents a cheap and easy way to learn a valuable, and it would seem, transferable, skill.

Now, if I wanted to use a 3D printer to fabricate all of my pieces, that might be a different story…

3 responses to “lurk-i-cad”

  1. Hi Melissa,

    Interesting to hear that you find DraftSight to be so similar to AutoCAD. Looks like AutoDesk is going to need to do something very compelling to keep people with it. I will have to stay on the lookout for jewelery designed with DraftSight around Melbourne.