✱ My 2d Drafting Software of Choice

Do you recognize this icon?

Do you recognize this icon?

There's been quite a bit of talk about moving on to BIM versus continuing to use AutoCad, Vectorworks, or other programs for production drawings of architectural projects. I thought I'd share what I use for CAD on my Mac (and Windows and Linux too if that's your thing) because unfortunately it's still a necessity to have something for basic CAD work. I say unfortunately because no, we can't use BIM applications for everything yet. I'd love to see that happen sooner than later. 

As you might know, finding a CAD app on the Mac platform has almost always been a bit of an issue until 2011 when Autodesk released AutoCad for the Mac once again after a 14 year hiatus. It might surprise you to find out my particular solution however.

If this is something that interests you, please read on. Something that might get you interested if you're not is that my choice doesn't cost a penny.

First, there's something I have to confess. I have a hate/hate relationship with CAD in general. I've been using either ArchiCad or Revit for at least the last 10 years and I never want to go back to drawing in CAD. The advantages BIM has to offer in coordinating drawings alone make it so that I never want to go back. I've gotten to the point where I'll even use Revit (since it's currently my office's standard) for drafting 2d stuff like floor plans and site plans in the early planning stages of a project. 

I also use formZ heavily and SketchUp occasionally, as they allow me to draw 2d lines on a page to scale just fine. I'll even use Adobe Illustrator sometimes depending on what I need. I've heard there is a CAD plugin package for handy tools like dimensions, line trimming, and filleting available for it although I've never used it myself. I'm also moving away from Adobe's products but that's a different article for another time.

With that in mind, I really dislike the bloated piece of software AutoCad has become, but it's true there are just some things you can't do in Revit. For instance, if a consultant sends me a CAD .dwg file, I can't edit the lines in Revit unless I embed and explode it. It comes in basically as an underlay (using the Link CAD command), and this is something important everyone who is thinking about switching to BIM needs to know. You still need a CAD platform running concurrently unless you want to really bloat your own files with everyone else's line work. As far as I'm concerned this is not an option. There are other reasons too, but just know that it's the current state that the BIM programs currently are in. 

To be clear: If you want to draw 2d stuff, you can do that in Revit. You can then export it as either a 2d or 3d .dwg or PDF which can be edited in CAD or illustration software. You can also turn off layers and adjust the way imported files display in your views in Revit. You just can't edit actual line work that's in an imported .dwg file, and by edit I mean move lines around. 

So finally, here's my recommendation:

Get DraftSight from Dassault Systèmes. I've written about it before, and you'll be pleased as I am that they've added a lot of additional functionality since my original article including the ability to open 3d .dwg files and navigate them, create some basic 3d shapes, and add sheets to your layouts for plotting. They are really going after the 2d and 3d CAD space to get people interested in their higher-end packages. 

Dassault is the same company that makes other software like Solidworks and Catia (which is typically used for aerospace design but it's also what Frank Ghery used for buildings such as the Walt Disney Concert Hall), which you may be familiar with. In other words, they are a company that is hugely embedded in the digital design software space with years and years of experience. I'm not affiliated with the company in any way. I'm just happy it exists as an alternative.

DraftSight lets professional CAD users, students and educators create, edit and view DWG files. DraftSight runs on Windows®, Mac® and Linux.

Draftsight is free* (yes, there's an asterisk). Basically that means it's available for free if it's a standalone license, and you provide your email address to them to activate it. I'm happy to do that in return for saving me a ton of money that I would have had to pay Autodesk or anyone else instead. There are paid options available for enterprise and bulk educational users. Why do this for free? My guess is that they want to get you out of Autodesk's ecosystem and into theirs. The high end software market is very competitive and companies are having to try crazy ideas to get people to switch. This seems to be one of those scenarios.

DraftSight running on my Mac (click for a full screen zoom).

DraftSight does everything I need it to do. Unbelievably, it has all of AutoCad's commands built in so if you're like me and you've spent years memorizing keyboard commands to drive it, you can still use all of those. It has model space. It has paper space. It has almost everything. It even reads and writes up to version 2013 .dwg files. AutoCad 2012 doesn't do that. 

What doesn't it have? I don't know. I haven't found it yet. Like I said, I don't use CAD unless I absolutely have to. 

What Autodesk does offer that DraftSight can't is their Autodesk 360 cloud platform which may be something you absolutely need. Personally I haven't had much use for it yet. I could see this being necessary for those of you that have bought into the Autodesk ecosystem.

Dassault offers a Getting Started Guide (PDF) for those interested in seeing what it has to offer. 

The Mac version is currently in "beta". I haven't found any issues with it and it's never crashed on me. Your mileage may vary, but that also goes for every piece of software ever written.

Will it always be free? I don't know. They could remove it from their site tomorrow, but for now I'm very happy it's available. I'm counting the days until CAD is completely obsolete, so I'll take DraftSight while it's here. As far as I'm concerned, that day can't come soon enough!

What CAD program are you using and why? Do you love working in CAD or are you trying to move solely to BIM? Let's talk about it!


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Update 2014-01-27 : My friend Mark LePage says that he used this software based on my recommendation, but when it came time to print, he couldn't get it to connect to his plotter. He ended up buying AutoCad LT and his plotter worked just fine. So... your mileage may vary. It's always best to test software in all of your common situations before committing. DraftSight is under continual development, so this may change in the future, and I'll update this article accordingly.