Arriving only a year after the original Vellum Solids (see Reviews, October 1998), Ashlar’s Vellum Solids ’99 is packed with new solids-modelling features – yet it’s still relatively easy to use. Although the rapid-code upgrade shows evidence of a few growing pains, no other Mac CAD (Computer Aided Design) product can compete with Ashlar’s implementation.
Ashlar, of course, is looking over its shoulder. Not at its Mac competition, but at the industry leader, Autodesk’s AutoCAD – whose clunky-but-improving design-modelling capabilities this new version is intended to out-distance.
Vellum Solids ’99’s long list of new features will appeal most to industrial designers. While architectural CAD depends primarily on standardized components, CAD for industrial design needs fluid handling of curves, and curved surfaces. Think of the iMac or BMW Z3. Solids ’99 lets you draw a curve, rotate it in space to generate a surface, and then “knit” this surface to another, with a few quick mouse operations.
Even more impressive, the program remembers the association between your original curves and the surfaces, so you can modify the whole structure by moving a few points that defined the original curves. Solids ’99 also does a competent job of translating files from other CAD systems, into drawings where free-form surface associations are recognized.
Solids ’99 gives you access to all this power, using self-explanatory tools and palettes familiar to users of earlier Ashlar products. This is fortunate, because – while the product ships with complete documentation in a binder – it has none of the CD-based tutorials we’ve come to expect from CAD software. Solids ’99 does a better job than the earlier version at approximating truly photo-realistic output, and experienced solids modellers shouldn’t have much trouble poking their way through the new options. But, designers making the transition from strictly 2D work may need some guidance.
The program could also use some refinement in places. For example, although Ashlar claims Solids ’99 runs on a 128MB system, memory allocations up to 256MB produce Finder error messages, and it feels sluggish compared with last year’s model. In addition, Solids ’99 can’t read AutoCAD 2000 files – a glaring exception to Vellum’s usually excellent import/export utilities.
Vellum Solids ’99 is Ashlar’s ambitious attempt to produce a dream product for industrial and mechanical design, although it’s a little rough in spots from the furious pace of implementation. If you’re an old Vellum pro, and don’t need much hand-holding, Solids ’99 can accelerate your creative impulses.