Visual CADD

Back before Autodesk bought out Generic CAD, International Microcomputer Software, Inc.(IMSI) developed the competitor TurboCAD. When Generic CAD disappeared and AutoCAD Light appeared, TurboCAD seemed to be unopposed. IMSI International Microcomputer Software, Inc. has shipped more than one million copies of TurboCAD.

The makers of TurboCAD have written a Windows program called Visual CADD. Visual CADD is a drafting package designed mainly for the architectural draftsperson, but with some interesting features. It is a 2D CAD package, and is marketed as high-performance, intuitive software. Important features include:

 

1 Speed, even on pre-Pentium chips
2 Maximum drawing space by having a less cluttered interface
3 Shortcuts, such as changing real world drawings to size without having to worry about scale and drawing size until the time of printing and plotting
4 Visual previews of Boolean, trims, extends, and fillets before committing to them
5 Powerful snaps
6 Dynamic reference frames
7 Fully-open application programming interface (API)
8 Direct plotting drivers
9 Generic CAD and AutoCAD Support
10 GIS File Format Support (ESRI *.SHP and MapInfo *.MIF)

When starting a new drawing, the user will want to set up the drawing details. Figure 1 shows the interesting way in which this is handled in Visual CADD. The first thing that becomes apparent is the very large drawing area and the nice arrangement of tools around the periphery. What is not seen is that the same areas are used when new tools are brought up (the temporary tools stay up only as long as they are needed). Another unseen feature is the menus brought up by right clicking the mouse. The menus are specific to the current tool. This provides needed menus on the spot instead of having to search for them.

The ten tabs cover things that can be easily controlled in the drawing. In the system tab, which is selected, the user can control selection tools, cursor size and shape, environment save (so that preference need not be entered again), display colors, zooms, auto backup, things displayed, scroll bars and arrow key speed.

Each tab has an easy-to-understand and easy-to-use sheet with all necessary options for the complete control of the drawing environment.

The tool bar at the top contains a little blue box with a 3 in it, a solid line. This is called the Properties box. When clicked, the entire line is temporarily replaced. The replacement line allows changes in the color, line type, layer name, line width, and real world line width. It even has a Help button which accesses files that tell how to use each part. Finally, pressing the "OK" button returns the user to the tool bar.

To set up all the layers, bring up the Layer Manager from the "Utilities" button. Layer numbers can be changed to layer names like "walls," "furniture," etc. Color and line types can be set as well.

Visual CADD comes with an excellent tutorial. Following the instructions, even a somewhat inexperienced user should be able to turn a sketch or an idea into a readable architectural drawing. Visual CADD is fast, intuitive, and with very little training, it can be used productively. I have used AutoCAD for a long time, and I have had to use many other CAD programs, some of which were difficult to learn. The easier ones usually mimic AutoCAD. Visual CADD is not very similar to AutoCAD, but for me was the easiest to learn of all those programs.

New Time Savers
Some of the interesting new time savers are two letter "quick codes" for most functions. Another is the Ortho angle. Any angle can be put into the Ortho angle function and the Ortho display function will be cocked at that angle. Then, every new line will either be along this line or perpendicular to it. What this means is that the mouse can be dragged in the right direction and when the distance is typed in, it extends the line to that exact distance along the pre-set bearing. Of course, this is more of an advantage in design than in laying out fieldwork.
Dimensioning the line is the easiest ever. To do this, pick the line, drag the mouse to the side where the annotation is desired, and type in the distance off the line where the annotation is to be placed, and it's done, complete with lines and end marks.

Visual CADD also allows scripts to be written to automate routines that are repeated often. The examples given work, but they are not intuitive or structured. There are ways to incorporate the commands into a structured programming language, and examples can be found on the Internet. One of the best features of this program is reference to the excellent web sites: www.vcaddtoday.com and www.visualcadd.org. There is also reference to a company site www.imsisoft.com

A problem for surveyors is the inability to read in 3D coordinate points or to perform any elevation related work. It is possible to download a 2D-point file reader from www.visualcadd.org/cadfiles.html. This reads in 2D coordinates and places the points in the user's Visual CADD drawing. The user can read and write AutoCAD R14 and Generic CAD files (see below for other formats). For mortgage surveys, this would be my pick for the ideal drafting package because the measurements are usually taped and drafted from hand written notes.

I recommend that potential users and other software houses look at this program to learn more about screen management. I would also recommend their site to web designers, since this is a very well designed web site.

Figure 2 is a screen save of the vcaddtoday site. It is the end of the bug report list. Note that there are 196 reported bugs over the three operating systems (Windows 95/98 and NT). Some have fixes and some do not. These are user reports and the absence of "marketing" influence may be noted. There are bugs in virtually all programs and the developers are aware of most of them, but this is the first time I have seen them so easy to acquire. Anyone who has a problem can look here to see if anyone else has had the same problem, and if there might be a fix or a work-around. Note the menu at the left and the wealth of information which can be obtained here.

Modestly Priced
Figure 3 is an AutoCAD R14 drawing read into Visual CADD. The line work is excellent, as is the text. Contour lines, however, did not come across. All in all, the important things came across and are easily replaced in Visual CADD. I tried to see if it would write DWG files. The AutoCAD drawing file was R12, but it read into R14 perfectly.

Most surveyors or engineers can probably afford to have this in their shop. A free, fully functional copy of Visual CADD that runs for 30 days is available from the Internet at: www.vcaddtoday.com. Anyone with an interest in writing a survey API, or anyone who wants to make efficient mortgage surveys will find this program practical and well worth the low cost.


 

Joe Bell is owner of SCJ GPS/GIS Consultants in Las Cruces, New Mexico, and the Software Review Editor for the magazine.

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