Is Free DraftSight CAD Usable CAD?

May 24, 2013 | Comments

Many in CAD marketing circles refer to 2D CAD as a dead technology, having gone the way of earlier technology such as eight-track and VHS tapes, and laser discs. In reality, many kinds of companies still require 2D CAD. It’s not always because they don’t want to change their practice to 3D, but because for their product lines and design processes 2D drawings are more efficient than 3D. Examples include truss design and FEA software, which uses 2D simplifications to reduce complexity. If you don’t need it, then why bother creating it, right?

Many 3D snobs (myself included) are willing to argue that there is no substitute for 3D, but it just isn’t the case in all situations in design, which brings me to DraftSight, a relatively new product brought to you by Dassault Systemes to fill a need of its customers: a very low cost (basic version is free) but powerful tool for designers, drafters, and engineers to support legacy 2D data in what are otherwise 3D design firms – or an easy to use 2D drafting tool that gives practically all the functionality of AutoCAD. To learn more about how 2D drawings fit into the design cycle, I interviewed a practitioner of DraftSight who embraced the software and has not been disappointed.



Figure 1: Sail designer Jason Diffin of Goya Windsurfing

Jason Diffin is in charge of sail design at Goya Windsurfing in Haiku, Maui, Hawaii (see figure 1). It may be unimaginable to CFD (computational fluid dynamics) and surface modeling experts how one could design such complex components without an application that calculates all digital and theoretical factors before summarizing them in a 3D finite element model. This may well be the practice at some companies.

In design today, we can forget that centuries of knowledge often make it more efficient to design from experience than by starting from scratch. Such is the case with sail design. Designing of sails dates back millennia (see figure 2). Suffice to say, before there was CAD, designers probably had a good idea of how to get a sail done without adding the complexity of 3D.



Figure 2: Sails designed with 2D CAD software

Jason, his company, and others have decided that for their needs they cannot justify 3D.

Jason’s journey with 2D CAD began as for most, with AutoCAD and getting by using the typical commands available in the software, working with layers, dimensions, layout work, title blocks, and so on. Nothing extravagant, except for a couple of LISP programs.

Jason ran into problems, however, such as compatibility with newer versions of DWG files from outside vendors, and a complex user interface that didn’t match his creative nature. Along with this, there was the push for expensive annual subscriptions or updating costs for AutoCAD. Enter DraftSight.

Draft Sight closely resembles the look of AutoCAD until the late 2000s: simple yet effective. It could be referred to as AutoCAD 2008 with a facelift. Are the features new to AutoCAD 2014 really used that much? For Jason, DraftSight had nearly all of the tools he needed in a refreshingly simple interface. In speaking with me, Jason could not mention enough times how much he enjoyed the DraftSight interface and how it actually reduced his frustration he felt using overly complicated software.



Figure 3: The user interface of DraftSight for Mac. DraftSight also runs on Windows and Linux.

The workflow worked well for Jason in its free package. But he enjoyed it so much that he purchased the premium version. It adds an API (application programming interface) to write LISP programs, technical support, and some other features suitable for enterprises, like a deployment wizard. This comes at a cost and a minimum purchase of five seats. This is, however, 50-80 per cent less than the annual cost of a single seat of other packages, such as Autodesk’s Design Suite. Plus, DraftSight comes with some very nice functions not found in Design Suite, such as mouse gestures. He testifies that Dassault’s technical support is very responsive.

Are some user interface elements in slightly different places? Sure. Are they hard to get used? No, not by any means. Any AutoCAD veteran will feel right at home with DraftSight. Now some power users might not be thrilled that it doesn’t include parametrics or 3D, but it is a professional grade 2D application not trying to do anything more, and so if that’s all you need, then why have the overhead?

DraftSight is perfect for quickly modifying a DXF or DWG file to get it out to the CNC cutting table. It works for modifying existing legacy drawings, and for making completely new drawings. You can do that in nearly the same way you would as if you were in AutoCAD 2008. Should you, like Jason, need to add LISP programming and support, then you may want to consider ponying up for the premium version.

While Jason works at a smaller company, any size of company could look at DraftSight as a possible solution for many situations. What’s there to lose when it’s free? I say it’s worth a consideration.



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