This article is now officially hosted at: jcopro.net. This site is no longer updated.
As I took a free class on Solidworks two summers ago, I was on the Dassault Systemes mailing list. Dassault Systemes most famously makes CATIA and Solidworks and now apparently make something resembling AutoCAD for free. As I no longer have a copy AutoCAD at home from college, I decided this would be worth a try. As with GIMP, the price for “DraftSight” was very attractive at zero dollars.
Upon downloading and opening Draftsight you’ll get some message about how you have to register within 30 days. Either register with your email address or bypass it for the time being and you’ll get to a screen that looks like this:
Those of you that have used AutoCAD will recognize this screen as something that looks almost identical (I’ve used R14, 2000, 2004, and 2006, so yes, in my opinion it does). Even the command window is there! If you’re pretty experienced with ACAD, you’re probably wondering if the text commands work; for the most part they do. A couple commands seem to be different, but the basics are there. Even the “F” keys work, such as F2 showing the command window up front or F8 turning “ortho” on or off.
Although I haven’t used DraftSight for any really “heavy” drafting, I’ve found it useful for when you don’t have access to 3D drafting tools such as ProE or Solidoworks and you need to figure out something simple quickly, such as when I needed an angle for the legs on my cornhole set. (I guess there’s always trig too, but that gets a little hairy after a while).
Draftsight is able to open and save in many versions of DXF and DWG files. This program works very well if you don’t have another 2d package to open them with. It’s even convenient if you have another “heavier” program like ProE that could open it, but you don’t want to wait on it to open (it can go from not running to having your selected .dwg open on my machine – dual core 1.83 Ghz notebook w/ 2GB or RAM – in roughly 3 seconds). I’m assuming it’s the same with Solidworks or CATIA, but I don’t work with either of those packages on a regular basis. As an example, the DXF drawing below was generated with ProE Wildfire and opened in Draftsight.
When compared with a 3D package -ProE at least- you can edit and view native 2d drawings more easily with this package. When you’re done, it will save in Release 12 DXF or DWG format all the way up to 2010 formats, so you have a lot of options available. You would expect something free like this to feel crippled, but I didn’t find anything obvious that I couldn’t do with it.
My personal thoughts on this program is that if you are going to be using a 2D package as your primary drafting software in a business setting, AutoCAD is still probably the way to go (although last time I tried to call for pricing it was nearly impossible to find a phone number let alone reach anyone). I haven’t used the latest versions of ACAD, but there seemed to be a few minor differences between the versions I’ve used and Draftsight. Also, Draftsight is Beta, so that may make you a little leery of jumping into it head first.
For either hobby use or to occasionally open things from work, Draftsight is a great solution. Additionally, if you have a 3D package for work purposes, and there are times that a 2D package would work better for you – like layout drawings or some electrical drawings – this package would be ideal. Just make sure everyone else can open your files as well. In the end though, the price is free, and they don’t seem to spam your email when you register, so I would definitely recommend at least trying it.
**Update, if you’re getting a “This product is not licensed or has expired” message, see this post for a solution.