What to look for in a Basic Drafting Software Package

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    In 1984 I got my first taste of CAD Computer Aided Drafting with AutoCad 2.something and since that time there is no way that I would go back to drawing by hand. The features that were available in that software are still pretty much the same and remain the basic tools for drafters, architects and engineers.

    Today’s CAD Drafting Software can provide the user with a variety of internal and add-on features. Everything from 3D rendering of your project with animated walkthroughs and flybys to detail cost projection sheets listing every item and its cost that is added to your drawing.

    All of these things are fine for professionals but for the small contractor or for a do it yourself project builder that just needs to submit a few plans to the local building official all of the overhead and extra costs are really not necessary.

    Here we will take a look at the basic tools that you will need to produce clean plans for your projects. In other howtos in this section we will cover some of the ways you can print your projects and how to layout a easy to read and compliant set of drawings that will show your building official that you understand the project you are about to attempt.

    First of all the main and most important feature that sets CAD tools apart from basic drawing tools is their ability to draw in real world sizes. This means when you draw a wall that is 8 foot tall and 24 feet long you are actually drawing a 8′ x 24′ long wall in the software. If you choose to you could print out the plan in real world size. This is often done by sign makers and companies that make decals that go on the side of trucks and vans. But for the most part you will select to plot or print out a scaled drawing that when measured on paper with a ruler will match the sizes of objects in 1/4 , 1/2 or some other scale.

    The next most important feature of a good CAD program is the ability to group objects and sort them on layers. For instance if you are drawing a top view plan you will want to group all of the lines that make up your walls and then make another layer for your electrical, plumbing, HVAC and so on that way when you make changes as the drawing progresses you can turn on or off seperate layers to get a better look at things or move or copy groups of objects  such as a window or door object.

    Copping of  groups is one of the best features of CAD productivity. If you are laying out 18 interior doors for a home and all of the doors are exactly the same width, height and model you only need to draw the door once and then you can copy and move and rotate it to fit the other openings in your plan without spending hours redrawing the same lines over and over. As you produce more plans you will save groups as objects and then if you need a 36″ door in your new design you can copy it out of the library of objects that you drew for previous projects. Window, Door and other manufacturers also provide CAD objects for use in your plans that are exact detail models of their products.

    Dimensions are a very important feature and being able to edit or select from different types of dimensions is important. Since we already know that we are drawing our lines and objects in real world sizes we need a way to show this on our printed out scaled drawing. Dimensional tools can easily measure the distance between 2 different points and they can  also calculate the angles between different items. This makes it extremely easy to  add measurements and check distances while you draw. The use of dimensions should be used often while drawing to make sure that everything fits exactly the way you want it to.

    These basic features are the core of any good CAD software package and the ease that you can access and the ways you can find to use them to their fullest will make your projects come together faster and make you more productive.

    Just because a package boasts of thousands of options does not mean you will ever make use of them in your day to day work.

    Starting with an inexpensive or even free package may be your best bet to lower your initial outlay but when picking your first package you will want to make sure whether it costs $100 or $5,000 that it can save files in industry standard file types of DWG and DXF and also PDF for printing.

    Another thing to watch-out for is software that is primarily used by designers and not drafters. There are a number of totally useless so called Drafting Packages out there that are supose to be used to design your kitchen or bath or a deck or your garden. For the most part not one of them will provide you with the correct information you need to build your project and they will most definitely not be able to generate plans suitable for submission to your building official.

    In other howtos we will cover some of these and other features of CAD software in more detail but the main thing you need to know when looking at any application is how fast and accurate will you be able to draw up your plans.

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    The YouRepair Store has a full selection of CAD Software and CAD Training books to help you plan your projects.

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