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The latest version of Microspot’s CAD application MacDraft improves on its fine set of drafting tools, and also means it’s now available to Mac OS X users.
MacDraft is a 2D-CAD application, which means it can be used to create drawings, and representations of a wide range of objects, including house and office plans, engineering drawings and more abstract compositions – such as flow-charts and organizational diagrams.
Its basic toolset is easy to use, and quick to learn. For instance, selecting the stroke-&-fill properties of a shape is simple, and the tools for trimming and joining lines, or combining shapes, make it easy to create forms. Hatching and other shading is easy to apply, your own hatching can also be defined.
A polyline tool allows you to create smooth bézier curves and jagged freehand lines. Shapes and lines can be transformed by applying operations such as moving, scaling, rotation, and skewing. Wallsare easy to create with the parallel lines tool, with a good range of options as to the joining and finishing of the line.
So far, so good.
As a CAD tool, scale, units and dimensions are critical components, and all are present in MacDraft. You can define both units – including metric and imperial – and scale for your drawing, and then use dimensioning to mark key length (such as the length of a room) on the drawing. With version 5, MacDraft supports Linked Dimensioning, which means that if a dimension is drawn with reference to the vertices of an object, it will resize if that object’s vertex position changes – for instance, when the wall of the room is moved.
MacDraft supports layers, which means that you can build up the complexity of a drawing by placing different bits of information – such as furniture, or text on unique layers – which can then be hidden, or locked, if required. However, this is where MacDraft’s budget class begins to show, due to a clumsy user-interface that makes managing documents needlessly tricky. Many of the palettes that you’d like on screen at all times, such as the Resize Palette or Move palette – useful for positioning elements with numerical accuracy – take up too much space, and would be much better off sitting in a neat command strip at the top or bottom of the screen.
MacDraft allows you to group elements together and store them as symbols thanks to the Media Assistant Lite application. However, MacDraft doesn’t come with any symbol libraries in the basic package – although there are five available separately, including one for architecture elements, and one for electronic schematics, for approximately £25 each. It’s foolish that Microspot didn’t at least include some symbol elements – such as door swings, window openings – or basic furniture.
Lines and shapes created in MacDraft are dumb lines on screen by default. But they can be given additional information – for instance, to define that all the large square shapes represent tables, and the small ones represent Ethernet ports, or that a particular line element is a brick wall. You can define up to five fields per object, allowing you to specify information such as colour, supplier, or part-number of an object.
Object information can then be compiled into a Report using MacDraft’s in-built spreadsheet tool, to allow the production of bills of quantities or specification sheets. However, the application has the ability only to count elements, or calculate areas and lengths. This can then be printed or displayed on screen. As with layers, the implementation of reports and objects, while sound enough in principle, could do with a solid rethink of the user interface.
MacDraft is a versatile application that can work well with other CAD-drawing and illustration applications. It can load a wide range of archaic CAD file formats, such as Dreams and MacDraw; and save in a number of bitmap formats, such as TIFF, JPEG and PNG. However, it’s its ability to read-&-write AutoCAD compatible DXF and DWG files that will give it the most compatibility with other CAD applications. Given that DXF and DWG are notoriously loose and unpredictable file formats, this is good news – although the importer will not import hatched objects. I’d like to see more support for other vector-based file formats – such as Illustrator .AI, .EPS, and even Flash SWF.
One area not tackled by MacDraft is 3D, which limits MacDraft’s long-range appeal to create isometrics, and perspective illustrations. However, for creating plans and diagrams quickly and without fuss, MacDraft is a useful little application. Its small memory requirement and general ease of use stand in its favour, but it’s a shame some of the user-interface issues couldn’t have been addressed at the same time as the port to OS X.
At under £200, MacDraft offers probably the cheapest way to import and export AutoCAD files, and to create reasonably advanced architectural drawings and other plans.
But the poor user-interface and lack of 3D features mean that professional users will want to migrate to a more fully developed CAD tool, such as VectorWorks. Reviewed last year at version 4.4, there’s not a huge number of new features, and it’s probably worth upgrading only if you want the Mac OS X support.