Since I am supposed to be a CAD Monkey, I thought I should write a little something about the low cost AutoCAD alternatives I have come across.
Many years ago, I started beta testing IntelliCAD 98 by Visio. Somewhere along the line, Microsoft purchased Visio and IntelliCAD was set free to look after itself. Well actually, the ITC look after it, but that’s neither here nor there.
In late 1999, early 2000, a beta of IntelliCAD 2000 by CADopia made its way on to the internet. I obviously downloaded it and it was the start of a 10 year affair with the product. I currently use CADopia Professional 8, which I purchased back in October 2008 for the princely sum of $249.00.
CADopia Professional 8
Whilst it does practically everything I need it to do, it is getting rather old and unfortunately CADopia are having some issues at the moment with the above mentioned ITC. This means that CADopia are not releasing any new versions of their product at the moment.
Like many CAD Monkeys out there, I don’t have the funds to buy a copy of AutoCAD or AutoCAD LT, it is just far too expensive and to be quite honest, I don’t need most of its features. The majority of my work is 2D plans, layouts and schematics. It is a rare occasion when I stray in to the 3D arena.
What I want is a low cost viable 2D CAD package that will not take long to learn and keeps file compatibility with my older work and with AutoCAD. DWG is the standard file format of choice here in Ireland, so I have to stick with it.
An email popped into my inbox a few weeks back telling me about DraftSight from Dassault Systemes. You may know Dassault as the makers of SolidWorks and CATIA.
DraftSight is a free 2D CAD package for Windows and Mac based computers. Its interface is very similar to that of IntelliCAD, which as we all know, is very similar to that of AutoCAD circa R2000. Now this is no bad thing, it makes the user feel at home and comfortable using the system within minutes of sitting down.
Commands work pretty much just like in AutoCAD. There will be a few that throw you, but a quick browse in help or on the online forum and you will be sorted. As I pointed out above, not only is this package available for Windows, but it is also available for the Mac. In case our Linux friends are feeling left out, don’t worry, it will be available to you later in the year.
To make some money, DraftSight will charge for Tech Support (though the support forum will remain free) and for access to the APIs. Access to the APIs means that you can create add-ons or use other developers add-ons with DraftSight.
There is not a lot more to say about DraftSight really. If you are looking for a cheap 2D CAD Package, then DraftSight works and it works well. It uses DWG as its native file format and reads and writes from R12 to R2010. DraftSight is free to use in a commercial environment.
Recently IMSI, makers of TurboCAD, released their DoubleCAD XT 2 software. It comes in 2 flavours, Free and Pro. The Free version is ehhh, well it is free and the Pro version costs $695.oo from their website.
DoubleCAD XT v2
The interface of DoubleCAD XT v2 is similar to AutoCAD. There are differences though and some commands work differently to how you would expect them to. You will require some patience in getting to grips with the changes, but ultimately, if you have the time, you will be rewarded with a good CAD package.
Now, you may ask why is there a free version and can I use the free version in a commercial environment? Well, I can only guess, but I would imagine that the free version is there to lure you into buying the Pro version. The Pro version has access to more features, 12 months free support and so on. Most importantly, because the Free version can be used in a commercial environment, there is no need to upgrade to the Pro version if the Free version fulfils your drafting needs.
DoubleCAD XT v2 reads and writes its own native .2CD file format and also reads and writes DWG from R14 to 2009.
The final package I am going to look at is probably the favourite to replace my aging CADopia. It is another ITC based CAD package by progeSOFT called progeCAD. progeCAD 2010 is currently available here in Ireland for €279.00
progeCAD 2010 Professional
Now why would I want to spend €279.00 on a CAD package when I could use the free ones above. Well that's a very good question and one I am not sure I can answer with any degree of sanity. I like IntelliCAD, I have used it since 1998. Apart from AutoCAD, it is the longest running CAD I have used! progeCAD is also the only one of the 3 packages mentioned here that supports Lisp straight out of the box and considering the large library of lisp routines I have, that is very important to me.
There is a free version of progeCAD available called progeCAD Smart. Unlike the other free versions listed above however, progeCAD Smart is not for use in a commercial environment.
So, if you are in the market for a CAD Package, I urge you to check out the ones above. One of them may just fit your needs and your bank balance will thank you for it.