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We have already discussed the basics of CAD software or computer aided design in another article. Here we examine the various types of CAD and also whether you can get free cad software for some design jobs.

For instance some CAD software is for professionals only, not only due to high cost, but also it may have a steep learning curve. If you just want to model the layout of your new house or extension, there are simple packages available free or cheap.

Basic definitions and jobs available

Computer Aided Design is term with many applications. CAD is used in engineering, architecture, interior design, even fashion and textile design. It is also heavily used in visualisation, from product design to full length animated films such as Toy Story, or mixed media films such as Jurassic Park.

Engineering CAD

Is also called computer aided design and draughting - CADD. Although the word 'draughting' (or 'drafting') is becoming obsolete, as little is drawn in professional engineering design.

CADD has to produce figures not just visualisations. So the model might have weights, stresses, loads, tolerances etc, depending on the data for the materials.

Civil engineering is an essential part of building design and conversion and engineers command large fees, sometimes more than the architect per hour.

They will use modelling software which can calculate loads and stresses buy defining materials as well as lengths and sizes, and relationships.

Google SketchUp screen design

Above: Google SketchUp screen design of farmhouse

AutoCAD screen close up controls

Above: AutoCAD screen close up controls

Software for estimating building construction

Quantity surveying is an essential part of any large or even small building job. In fact, watching Grand Designs on C4, what these vanity projects lack is any realistic costing. But the rich people who indulge themselves in these 'grand' projects don't usually care too much - nobody wants to appear a skinflint on prime time TV.

There is much competing software for this task - although many people use Excel as the client will definitely have it, especially on smaller jobs. So it depends on the job, and the recipient of your calculations.

Top names are:

Clear Estimates (SaaS)
Sage Timberline Office construction software (more features)
Viewpoint Construction software (more features)
Pro Contractor MX
Work in Progress
EasyEst Estimating
CAD Estimator
Estimate Master
CBD Estimating

You will want:

Document Preparation: internal word processing from fields in the software - reports, letters, notes, lists etc

Purchase orders: generate and track orders

Accounting: this is a bit of an add on, outside the basic totalling and costing functions. Some link to accounting packages for wages etc.

What if or Spreadsheet features - for flexible calculations relating to changes, additions, subtractions etc.

Archiving: very useful for comparison and later trouble

This software usually has tracking as well as estimating, and archiving. Also comparisons should be easy to make between competing supplies. Also plugins and calculations should be available if you want to customise the software.

Road building and heavy construction estimating software

This is very specialised but worth a mention; easiest is to use one of the above packages just make sure it does all you want. In this case budget is not the point so the big hitters Sage Timberline Office construction software and Viewpoint Construction software are worth checking out.

Artist's Impressions

In parallel with the cold edge of computer print outs or animations are artist's renderings. These are used a lot, especially for master planning (overall design of a site), as this is a quick way to show major features. A computer model will need too much work and definition especially when such decisions have not been made. So the human hand eye and brain are still best. These artist's impressions are often to interest or inform the client and so can be made attractive and suggestive in a way a computer print out will not.

CAD designer or CAD operator

An Architect's office has many CAD operators, who are often not even architects, or are grade 1 or 2 (less training) architects who have specialised in the computer design area. There is usually a division between design architects or senior architects and the people who literally sit at their computers all day making accurate drawings using CAD. This is a pretty mundane job and is a fixture in large practices, so is a nice role to get and make easy money (since decisions are made elsewhere).

Obviously a small practice might have multiple roles but a good designer is wasted just draughting all day (computer aided or not).

AutoCAD screen design

Above: AutoCAD screen design of house

2D and 3D CAD software

Draughting is the production of flat 2D drawings that are dimensionally accurate to scale and so can be used in actual building sites. Scale rulers can be used to read off the drawings.

The 3D side of CAD for building and architecture is usually more for engineering design of loads and stresses, also pipe work, utilities etc. I

3D is also used for renderings and animations of the building before it is completed for client and marketing presentations. It is also useful to see the overall form of a building, although here artist's drawing are often quicker and better. Architects are trained to draw so they can visualise ideas very quickly on paper.

Some design is done directly on computer if the designer is very well trained and adept.

Training for CAD Software

Most professional software is very complicated and it can be a big waste of time to try and self-teach. Not only will it take longer, you will probably learn the wrong way to do things, or slow ways that cause problems further along.

It is also important to keep up to date with new software versions and also alternative software.

Free or cheap CAD software

Many very software packages are available now, unlike just a few years ago when it was all very expensive. Google SketchUp 8 is probably the best known. This has a Pro upgrade at 495$, with a suite of features such as modelling, flexible 2D in LayOut and Style Builder.

SketchUp also has many plugins, including engineering so it is worth trying out even if you want to migrate to different software application.

To get a decent well-specified package you have to spend a bit of money.

Great 2D draughting packages are AutoCAD LT (1,200$)and TurboCAD LTE v3 (150$) can set you up as offering pro services once trained. If new to the area, there is an obvious choice there. TurboCAD has AutoCAD style menus and principles.

Google SketchUp



See also Computer aided design CAD advice and tips >