Reviewed by: Mark Goldstein, May 2005
Published by: dsi Publishing
Requires: Windows XP/2000/ME/98SE/NT, Pentium II CPU w/MMX, 64MB RAM, 20MB free hard drive space, 16-bit color, 800 x 600 or higher screen resolution
Creating a full blown 2D Computer Aided Design (CAD) program requires the combined efforts of dozens of programmers. Those programmers can't be just any old bunch of coders—no way. They've got to possess a broad range of deeply detailed knowledge about graphic design, page layout methods, vector graphics, mechanical & industrial design, image editing, color, 2D rendering, text rendering, text formatting and a hundred other things too. It also helps if they know a bit about the various trades and disciplines at which the software is aimed. What I tried to figure out during the course of reviewing CADPro 4, was whether or not a CAD program selling for a lousy eighty bucks could possibly be any good. I was also determined to find out what compromises had to be made in order to justify a price that seems very low for a full-featured 2D CAD program.
CADPro 4's strength comes only partly from the program installation. The rest of the value arrives in the form of plans & projects—lots and lots of plans & projects—an enormous supply of design symbols, a thorough tutorial CD, and a reasonably intuitive user interface. We tested CADPro 4 for several weeks at the offices of a busy construction company and the studio of a busy landscape architect. In both places the software was installed on Pentium 4/3.2GHz Windows XP computers running ATI Radeon 9600 128MB video cards and 1GB RAM.
The construction company used CADPro for two sets of project plans. The company designer is very experienced with CAD software, so the adjustment to CADPro 4 was fairly easy. The first project was an extensive set of built-in cabinets for the main floor of a very large, designer home. The cabinetry specification included a variety of features such as a 120 bottle, refrigerated wine cellar component, entertainment section, 24 separate cupboards with various internal shelf and compartment configurations, and 200 total feet of open shelving. The second project was a set of plans for the conversion of a two car garage into a large workshop. The scope of the second project included a requirement for electrical, plumbing (small washroom) and mechanical drawings (a small HVAC unit) including ducts.
The landscape architect used CADPro 4 to create the garden and planting layout for a 100,000 square foot (2.3 acre) lot backing onto a large country home. The design and layout included 22 separate flower and vegetable gardens joined by tumblestone walkways, integrated with accent shrubbery, shade trees and two Gazebos.
Both designers made use of CADPro's Photo Pop-Up feature to include photos of actual materials, fixtures, shrubbery and other items. The cabinet designer also made use of the Audio Note feature to include descriptions of some of the cabinetry detail, particularly some of the complicated hinges and joinery. Obviously, these sorts of features work quite well when viewing the digital file, so if you're delivering the plans to a client via e-mail attachment or CD, be sure to include a ReadMe file which points out the additional features and the accompanying viewer. Any CADPro plans can be viewed on any Windows PC (Windows 98SE or newer) as long as you include the free CADPro viewer.
Despite the large selection of symbols provided with the software, both designers spent a couple of hours creating a selection of their own symbols and primitives for use in the three projects. Both designers were clearly impressed with CADPro's speed, relative ease of use, versatility and its relatively low retail price.
After seeing the results from the professionals, I decided to use CADPro for one of my office layout projects. I've been using several different programs over the past couple of years including Visio, AutoCAD and CADopia. The office layout I completed was for a 2,500 square foot space being occupied by a real estate broker. The layout included mechanicals, network drops, electrical runs, walls, doors, windows, desks and file cabinets, washrooms and lobby. Because I had watched the construction designer quite extensively, I felt relatively familiar with the software. The only real mistake I made was not creating the symbols and primitives/objects I needed before actually starting the layout process. Once I realized how much more efficient it is to do that beforehand, I stopped the layout process, made a list of symbols and objects, then went about the one hour process of creating them. After that, the layout went very quickly.
Cons: A couple of minor boo-boos in the tutorial including a board positioning setting which is incorrect in the tree house. Screen redraws initially appear very sloppy because of the default scrolling setting of 5 pixels, so it's a good idea to adjust the increment to something smoother. The QuickTime tutorial video races by with little or no time for you to follow along by imitating the actions of the narrator. You'll find yourself constantly pausing the video, re-starting it, pausing, re-starting, etc., etc. The tutorial does not mention that you can save the floating toolbar palette positions, an important little point for newbies. Selecting drawing objects can be a bit fiddley because you have to get quite close to the corner or angle handles when you click to activate the item—clicking in the middle of an object does not select it. It's a minor quibble.
Pros: No compromises—the software performs as advertised. The primary strength of the software seems to be 2D blueprint drafting and object/site layouts, and for this it works very well indeed. Output quality and detailed rendering are more than acceptable for working site plans as well as for submission with building permit applications. The free CADPro viewer is included in the program and is also available for free download from the CADPro web site, so anybody with a Windows PC can view your plans. There is some stiff competition in this product segment, but CADPro 4 holds its own and remains a worthwhile choice for builders, interior and exterior designers and planners, renovation contractors, and serious hobbyists. The program is supplied with content—lots and lots of content. The Plans & Projects CD contains hundreds of complete plans, including corresponding materials lists, for everything from barbecue pits to garages and from bungalows to duplexes. There are also dozens of additional plans and projects and hundreds of design symbols installed with the main program. The software is suitable for use by professionals, hobbyists and even relative novices (who should definitely do the tutorial). The price is right. What more do you need?
Letters to the Editor are welcome and occasionally abused in public. Send e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org