ZWCAD+2012 Hands On Review
By David Kingsley
ZWCAD+2012, released in July of 2012, is an AutoCAD alternative. The manufacturer, ZWSOFT of Guangzhou, P. R. China, openly states this using these terms in their promotional material. It appears that the primary market differentiation for ZWCAD is its price, claiming to be 25% that of AutoCAD.
ZWSOFT claims 320,000 users of their products worldwide, which includes a companion CAD/CAM product named ZW3D. Their website lists one exclusive US distributor of ZWCAD at zwcadusa.com, and 6 US VARs for ZW3D. There are several listed for Germany and Spain, and one each for France and Italy.
ZWCAD+2012 is marketed as a significant performance upgrade compared to the previous version. One should take note that the performance improvement claims on the web site are based against the similarly-name ZWCAD 2012 release (which used an older engine), not the current version of AutoCAD
Many of the user interface features and commands listed as new in this release have been in AutoCAD for several releases. This includes, but is not limited to, the ribbon and tool palette UI, associative dimensioning, block attribute manager, field objects, and object cycling. The current release supports the DWG 2010-12 file format and older.
Because of the similarities, I found it difficult to present something what’s new and exciting about ZWCAD+ 2012 – at least for anyone using AutoCAD 2010 or newer. Because ZWSOFT claims to be an AutoCAD alternative, I think that it is fair to report what it will – and will not – do, so that design firms using the more advanced features of AutoCAD can make an informed decision over whether to adopt ZWCAD+.
ZWCAD+2012 comes in three flavors, Standard (reviewed here), Professional, and Academic Network (not reviewed here). All support stand-alone and network licenses:
- Standard provides basic 2D drawing capability including layouts and annotation.
- Professional adds 3D ACIS modeling, including 3D meshes, plus API support including VBA, SDS (compatible with ADS), ZRX (compatible with ARX).
- Academic is only offered to educators and students, yet has the same functions as the Professional version, with the exception of adding a watermark to prints of drawings.
Networked versions of the software offer an electronic floating license that appears similar to other licensing schemas. A firm may install ZWCAD on all of their computers, but only the licensed number may be active simultaneously.
For the AutoCAD user, ZWCAD+2012 will be a very familiar environment. I found I was able to start drawing in 2D immediately, with a few minor differences that are easily overcome.
A populated set of tool palettes is provided and active by default. These tool palettes also include command sets, such as a “Draw” and a “Modify” palette, thus providing an alternate to the menu interface.
Right from the start, drawing in 2D model space will be a very familiar experience to AutoCAD users. The experience is enhanced further by gesture commands, which I’ll described later in this article. (Once you have them memorized, I think they will increase your drawing productivity.)
Solid and surface modeling are available. Models are editable by Boolean operations and by altering faces in various manners (see figure 1). All of this will be familiar to those who use AutoCAD 3D modeling in the last several releases.
Drafting and Annotation
Layouts are very similar in look and feel to those in AutoCAD 2012. One of AutoCAD’s most important dimensioning options (in my opinion) works as it should in ZWCAD+2012. This is the ability to snap associative dimensions to model objects in layout viewports that then display and update only model values. There is, however, no support for Annotation Scaling.
The new VpMax command comes in handy when I want to make minor changes to the model through a layout viewport. VpMax can be thought of as a way to temporarily suspend layout viewport properties. Let’s say I composed a layout viewport, positioned the model just they way I want it, set it to a specific scale, and then locked it. As we all know, this when I discover that I need to make a minor tweak to the model. The VpMax command, in effect, takes a snapshot of the viewport’s properties, switches the viewport to model mode for editing, and then resets the properties after the edit. No more accidental wrecking of nicely composed views!
Like the Design Center that has been in AutoCAD for some time, the Design Center function in ZWCAD+ 2012 enables me to reuse previously defined features, such as blocks, dimension styles, and layer definitions. When I launch the Design Center, it opens an Explorer type interface. I then navigate to the folder with the drawings that have the content I wish to reuse. Once I locate the drawing and select it, Design Center displays the blocks, layers, dim styles, and so on that are contained by the selected drawing. I then simply drag and drop the desired features into my current drawing.
There are two features in the comparison chart below that are shown as new in ZWCAD+ 2012 that are not found in AutoCAD 2012. Those features are “Drawing Tabs” and “Smart Mouse.”
SmartMouse is a new feature in ZWCAD+ 2012 providing command input using mouse “gesturing.” SmartMouse may be turned on or off through the ribbon or toolbar. When on, I enter commands by holding down the right mouse button and then moving the mouse in a specific direction, or “right click dragging.”
There are approximately twenty predefined gestures for common commands. In the illustration below, the “Gesture” column indicates that by right click dragging a vertical stroke I initiate the “New” command (see figure 2). As an example of a more complex SmartMouse command, I can create a rectangle by right-click dragging four adjacent perpendicular strokes. I can customize the default set of gesture settings.
Drawing Tabs enable me to open multiple drawings and navigate between them easily. Like multiple layout tabs, a tab appears above the window of each open drawing. Clicking a tab switches to the drawing. In AutoCAD, one way to accomplish is with “Quick View Drawings” but it requires more keystrokes and takes up more screen area.
There is a third-party developer community page on the ZWSOFT Web site. The major add-on package appears to be ZWMech, which addresses mechanical, ducting, piping, and structural disciplines (http://www.zwmech.com/zwmech/). Other third-party developers include ElProCAD (http://www.elprocad.com/), CivilCAD (http://civilcad.com.mx/), and Cadprofi (www.cadprofi.com).
ZWSOFT Online Presence
There is an active community page and a user discussion forum. It appears that ZWSOFT is making a sincere effort to follow it and address the issues in a timely manner. There are both developer community and partner community pages.
As well, there is an extensive set of online video tutorials and e-books at zwsoft.com. To access them, you need to go to the zwsoft.com home page, and then select Service and Support > Tutorial Videos. The videos are without audio, but this may be a deliberate design choice to permit a selectable language option in the future. There are numerous informative videos on YouTube through the ZWSOFT and ZWCADUSA channels, which can keep you updated on ZWCAD+.
There is a wish list page available through the online community. Features that I would put at the top of my wish list are (1) support for sheet sets, (2) the ability to attach DWF files as external references, and (3) support for annotation scaling.
ZWCAD+ 2012 is a basic drafting application that is maturing with each release, but at this point it is well behind current AutoCAD technology and features. Consider, for instance, that associative dimensioning and tool palettes are new in this release. It may be very stable and perform well with large drawings.
If yours is a basic 2D CAD office with a lot of simple legacy AutoCAD files, ZWCAD+ 2012 may be a cost effective solution for your drafting needs.
If, however, yours is a progressive office utilizing the latest features in the most recent versions of AutoCAD, then you will need to do some research into the features available in ZWCAD+ 2012 to determine if it addresses the functions needed by your drawing files. If even one advanced feature prevents me from opening a drawing, then it can be a show stopper for even basic drafting functions.
If you are a student or an independent in need of a basic drafting tool, then ZWCAD+ 2012 is an inexpensive entry into the CAD ownership world. Learning it as your first CAD program will be time well spent. When you realize that the software is becoming your limitation, you are well on your way to becoming a professional CAD operator.