7 questions to ask before buying

OS-X or Windows?

The only reason to install Windows on your Mac is when the CAD software that’s best for your needs just isn’t available for Mac OS-X and requires Windows to operate. This is not as big a deal as it used to be. Installing and using both operating systems is both cheap and easy to do, and it does open up a whole new set of software options for you. Windows via Bootcamp is the best approach as it uses less RAM, leaving you with more for your CAD program.

General purpose or specialized CAD?

This is a ‘no-brainer’. If you’re in a specialist industry and you want your CAD software to work hard for you then get a specialist product to do the job. An example would be architecture – there is no point in getting general purpose line-by-line drawing software when what you want to do is create walls, windows, doors, roofs and stairs. For this you need a specialist architectural CAD software designed to create buildings. They will do it faster and much easier than you could do with general purpose CAD software.

Purchase general purpose CAD when you’re importing and working with 2D drawings created by others or when you only need to produce 2D drawings and diagrams. You should also consider general purpose CAD when you design a variety of different things that may or may not be related to each other. A typical example would be a shop fit-out company that needs to design display stands, equipment, cabinetry and lay it out in a room plan as well as produce construction documents and electrical or lighting diagrams. This is a mix of architecture, interior design, manufacturing and cabinet making.

2D drafting, 3D modeling or both?

Most people only need 2D drawings but as 3D is so much easier and accessible than ever before it may be worth considering an integrated 3D system that delivers both 3D CAD models and 2D drawings from that model. There are no hard and fast rules in this area as it totally depends on your needs and desired outcomes however it is safe to say that 3D on its own is not overly useful without the ability to generate 2D documentation from it unless you are going straight from a 3D model to CNC manufacturing or 3D printing. It is also safe to say that Architects, interior designers, product designers and machinery designers should all be using 3D modelers with 2D drawings generated from the model or 3D models automatically generated from the 2D plan.

How much to invest?

Our experience suggests that more than 80% of CAD users experience greater than 80% productivity improvement over manual methods when using general purpose CAD and far greater than that when using specialist CAD software.

A drafter producing concrete panel drawings by hand will experience a productivity increase of approximately 300% when switching to general purpose CAD software. If that same person switches to a specialist CAD software designed specifically to help produce concrete panel drawings they’ll experience productivity improvements greater than 20 times that of generic CAD!

It will be different in your industry and will also depend how many times you need to use the software but either way the cost of the software is rarely more expensive than the productivity gains it gives you in a short time.

How important is support?

CAD software is not like a word processor. If you’ve never used a CAD program or you’re looking at purchasing a new CAD product, get support from the vendor. Many hours can be lost trying to work your own way out of a problem that an expert can help you with in minutes. Be a little sceptical of software or suppliers that do not offer support. You could well be on your own and that could be costly and time consuming.

Learning and training?

No professional CAD product is so easy that you can learn it without guidance. Set aside a part of your budget to get trained. Be sure to ask your vendor about training options. Online videos are a great help.

More than one?

It is very common for CAD users to purchase several products to get the tools they require. You may purchase a great 3D modeling software but also need photo realistic renderings, and for this you may need to add a dedicated render program. You may also want to generate PDF files from your CAD drawings and for this you may need a PDF writer. You may need to do quick 3D models of your design and later document them in 2D and for this you may require 2 products to do the best job. One for the 3D and one for the 2D drafting. Ask your vendor for a package deal.

Ok what's next?

Once you have some answers to the 7 key questions above it is worth  seeking the advice of an expert BEFORE you invest in purchasing. It is often difficult to find good unbiased advice as your adviser will either be selling a particular product if they are a vendor or will only have a limited amount of hands-on experience if they are an existing CAD user. If you don’t know anyone then feel free to contact us here by email, We can’t promise an immediate response but we do look at our emails regularly and are happy to assist where we can. Alternatively you can contact the guys we turn to from time to time at CAD International as they seem to have a high level of expertise without being limited to only one or two product brands. These guys also seem happy to recommend software that they don’t even sell which we find very refreshing.