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7/96 Reviews SW: DesignCAD 3D 8.0a

Listing of July 1996 Reviews

3-D Models at a Modest Price

By Ranjit S. Sahai

When you model (drafting, not fashion!) in the CAD world, you create a three-dimensional representation of an object. Architects model buildings; engineers use models to study the properties of anything from tunnels to tractors. Those applications sound very sophisticated, but the price of the new DesignCAD 3D 8.0a is low enough that anyone with an interest in modeling can afford to give it a whirl.

DesignCAD 3D started life as a DOS product with extensive keyboard shortcuts that sped an experienced user's command selection. The new Windows implementation, version 8.0a, remains faithful to both its newfangled graphical environment and those efficient old keystrokes, which should ease the migration woes of its DOS customers. You'll still be able to call up the Point Relative dialog box with the apostrophe key, and the "O" key still initiates the drawing of a circle.

DesignCAD starts with four windows on a blank page; these windows can be overlapped or resized as needed. The largest shows a perspective view, with the three smaller windows tiled to the left displaying front, top and side views. You're not told this, unfortunately; the title bar on each window simply displays the filename followed by a number. It would be far more useful if the program actually showed the name of the view, so that the top view of the drawing "STATION" read "STATION: Top" instead of "STATION: 2."

Considering the price, DesignCAD's repertoire of two- and three-dimensional commands is impressive. You'll find tools to draw most line-based entities, including b-spline curves. The program includes basic 3-D building blocks such as boxes, spheres, hemispheres and walls. You can extrude an object, projecting its shape along a line you define, or sweep it, rotating the shape about a line; either technique is a fast way to generate 3-D objects from familiar 2-D elements. DesignCAD also offers snap modes and Boolean commands, which add or subtract pieces to generate more complex objects.

Another category of commands commonly found in 3-D modeling software will help you render your creations, making the final output appear as realistic as possible. You can assign the textures and shadings of specific materials such as chrome, brick or concrete to the surface of your model, for example, or alter the way it deals with the light(s) that fall on it. DesignCAD does plenty of the former, helping you define the color, reflectivity and texture of various surfaces using its Materials Toolbox. It also offers a Hide command, which performs hidden line removal.

DesignCaD's economy shows, however, in its lack of advanced rendering techniques. You can't cast a shadow, assign transparencies to materials, use bump maps or perform ray tracings. Still, I was able to do some pretty impressive renderings with this program.

DesignCAD does help newcomers who struggle with building a three-dimensional model on a two-dimensional screen, an inherently complex-and difficult-task for the inexperienced. Moving through the x- , y- and z-axes can be especially confusing, so DesignCAD simplifies drawing navigation by restricting the cursor to a single plane, depending on which view you're using. In the perspective view, for example, you can move in the xy plane. In top view, though, you're forced to use the xz plane.

You can further restrict the movement of the cursor to follow a particular axis by holding down the Ctrl, Shift or Ctrl+Shift keys. I found these controls extremely helpful in keeping my bearings straight across the 3-D space. In fact, it's far superior to the unrestricted cursor movement implemented in the popular AutoCAD package.

The program also lets you build objects by specifying their dimensions, a great help if precision is important. It supports rectangular and polar coordinates; you can specify drawing points in absolute or relative coordinates.

A tenth of the price of other three-dimensional CAD programs, DesignCAD gives you lots of bang for the buck. It offers an impressive toolset, including an integrated macro language for automating the repetitive parts of the modeling process; you also get the ability to read and write popular CAD file formats, plus some fancy extras such as 3-D text. DesignCAD may not offer the breadth of a MicroStation or AutoCAD, but it can help you create impressive models at an equally impressive price tag.

Info File
DesignCAD 3D 8.0a
Pros: Price; 3-D text; file format support; macro language
Cons: Learning curve; rendering
Platforms: Windows 95, NT
800-233-3223, 918-825-7555
WinMag Box Score: 3.5

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