Can DraftSight REALLY replace your beloved AutoCAD?

I have often joked over the years that my personal disdain for change doesn’t exactly go hand-in-hand with my role as a Technology Evangelist! I have spent much of my career helping/convincing people to embrace new technology and to move from one software product to another. I have a job that revolves around getting people to change. But I also believe that my personal struggles with change helps me relate to and feel other people’s pain as well as truly understand their fears.

Such is the case with AutoCAD. I have spent my career using, teaching and promoting AutoCAD. Not many people in the world know the product better than I do as I’ve built my knowledge of the product from Release 1.4, adding new features one release at a time along the way. I spent over 20 years with Autodesk promoting the annual “Best Release of AutoCAD yet” and I certainly feel at home in the product, just as many of you do. I have written three AutoCAD books, 20 years’ worth of AutoCAD articles for Cadalyst Magazine, and produced hundreds of AutoCAD video tips.

But the world around me did change and I ended up leaving my comfortable AutoCAD/Autodesk days behind. I was no longer jaded by all things Autodesk and I came to realize that there were a variety of other CAD options out there, especially for those who didn’t want to pay the hefty AutoCAD price tag. But were they good enough? Were they DWG file compatible? Were these “CAD-Clones” like cheap Louis Vuitton knock-offs or were they serious, robust, quality CAD solutions? And most importantly (for someone who LOVES her AutoCAD), could I possibly feel comfortable in a new CAD environment?

Since joining Dassault Systèmes and being exposed to DraftSight, I am happy to say the answer is a great big “Yes!” Not only does DraftSight produce 100% compatible DWG files (complete with blocks, dimension styles, layers etc.) for a mere fraction of the price, but you will feel right at home with DraftSight in no time. The User Interface has the same cozy, comfy look and feel as AutoCAD and the naming convention for most of the commands is virtually the same. The best part? Even where the commands slightly differ--you can key in the AutoCAD command name and it will know exactly which command to execute in DraftSight. OK now you have my attention! If you’re like me, you don’t want to have to relearn all of your favorite command names.

For example, you want to clean up your drawing file. In AutoCAD we would execute the PURGE command--in DraftSight--it is the CLEAN command (or CL). But you don’t need to worry your pretty little head over that --just key in PURGE (or PU) or select the tool from the toolbar or ribbon and you are good to go!

Figure 1: DraftSight identifies an AutoCAD command and converts it to the appropriate DraftSight command

Which brings me to another point--Autodesk basically pushed its users to embrace the ribbon... even to the point of hiding the Classic workspace in recent releases. Would you prefer to work with pull-downs and toolbars in AutoCAD? No problem... the choice is yours--DraftSight is much less “bossy” and much more easy-going when it comes to giving you a choice. The function keys are set the same, you can double-click objects to edit, and of course--the beloved Command line is hanging out in the lower left corner where the CAD gods intended (although you’re welcome to move it!) And they didn’t force that dreaded gray color on you either (did anyone really like that gray?) It’s been proven that black on white is very easy for our eyes to discern, I personally found the icon blue on gray was always very tricky.

Figure 2: DraftSight has a very familiar, easy-to-read user interface

Sadly, DraftSight doesn’t have the ability to change the status bar icons back to text, a plight that AutoCAD users have been requesting for years. At least they are easier to distinguish in DraftSight (and thankfully not so many jammed together).

One of the most powerful (top secret) tools in AutoCAD, Constraints, is front and center in DraftSight. Constraints are an entry point to parametrics, and those who use constraints have an easier time moving to the next level of CAD (such as SOLIDWORKS or BIM). Consequently, I applaud DraftSight giving Constraints its very own tab on the Ribbon.

And you may recall, even when I was still at Autodesk, I had serious command envy for the PowerTrim command. TRIM and EXTEND are two of the most frequently used commands in AutoCAD and DraftSight takes these commands to the next level as seen in Figure 3.  No need to waste time selecting cutting edges and boundaries--just jump right in and start trimming (or extending!)

Figure 3: PowerTrim takes needless picks and clicks out of Trim and Extend

One of the tools that DraftSight supports that most of the other non-AutoCAD products doesn’t is Dynamic Blocks. Once you’ve created a robust library of Dynamic Blocks in AutoCAD, the thought of living without them is painful and --thankfully that’s not an issue with DraftSight as seen in Figure 4.

Figure 4: It’s easy to define new or use existing dynamic blocks in DraftSight.

Can you customize it? Absolutely! You can modify the toolbars, ribbon, keyboard shortcuts, etc. In fact, I think that DraftSight’s version of the CUI is easier to use than AutoCAD. Can you run LISP routines? You bet! Your AutoLISP routines and Script files should work like a charm in DraftSight.

DraftSight was originally designed to help SOLIDWORKS users with the DWG file compatibility issues that they experienced with AutoCAD. Much to everyone’s surprise this resulted in millions of downloads. It was also originally focused on the Mechanical market and you’ll see many powerful features (including ToolBox) for the Mechanical Designer. As time went on, however, the rest of the Design World found out about DraftSight, and the user base evolved to include a notable percentage of AEC. Consequently, the DraftSight team has been very keen on developing the product with commands for all industries (including a pathway to BIM!).

You’ll also find that DraftSight can save ALL the way back to an AutoCAD Release 12 DWG file. Not 2012... but literally AutoCAD Release 12 (we’re talking early 90’s!) I know companies that switched to DraftSight for the robust file saving capabilities alone as seen in Figure 5.

Figure 5:  DraftSight can save to a vast number of file formats.

Since DraftSight doesn’t have to carry around the baggage of a nearly 40 year old CAD product, you’ll find that it is also much lighter. The hardware and processing power requirements are much less than AutoCAD (also saving you money on hardware). Does it have all the commands that AutoCAD has? Absolutely not--but then why would it?  Do you need 38 years’ worth of commands? You need the best commands, the newest commands, the ones that are going to help you get your job done. The most frequently used and requested commands are included in DraftSight. Commands that were needed 30+ years ago that don’t make sense now simply aren’t included.

There are several DraftSight packages to choose from based on your budget and needs. DraftSight Standard is only $99 per year but won’t let you run any AutoLISP routines and a few of the advanced features such as Formulas in Tables are missing. Compare this to AutoCAD LT at $420 a year.

I’m partial to DraftSight Professional, which is much closer to full-fledged AutoCAD without the 3D. You get the advanced AutoCAD features and have access to the API. At $199 a year it is a bargain and worth the extra $100 over the Standard version in my eyes.

If you absolutely need 3D – then you should check out DraftSight Premium. Coming in at $499 per year, you have surface and solid modeling capabilities coming in at a fraction of the $1,690 a year for AutoCAD. You also get those great Constraint capabilities that puts you on the road to smarter parametric objects. I’ve never been a fan of AutoCAD 3D and prefer to use a parametric solid modeler like SolidWorks or Autodesk Revit but of course the choice is yours.

Figure 6: DraftSight is available in several packages to suit your needs.

Also unlike AutoCAD, you can buy a perpetual version of the product (DraftSight Enterprise) for those of you who like that feel-good feeling of actually owning a product. In these days of subscriptions I’ve grown to prefer a lower annual fee and automatic updates, especially since DraftSight is continually adding in great new features, but the choice is yours.

Don’t take my word for it--download DraftSight’s free trial and see for yourself. Only then will you know if you can adjust to the minor differences that the big change in price brings to the table. I like to believe that if I can do it--then anyone can do it!

In her 20+ year career as a Technology Evangelist, first for Autodesk and now at Dassault Systèmes, Lynn Allen has spoken to more than a half million professionals at events in over 50 countries. Her online presentations and videos have easily reached over five million individuals. Her passion and strength is connecting with users, helping them embrace change and shining a light on new technology. For over 20 years she wrote an AutoCAD column for Cadalyst magazine, and was the voice behind the very popular videos--“AutoCAD Tips and Tricks with Lynn Allen”. The author of three AutoCAD books--Lynn has over 21,000 followers on Twitter (Lynn_Allen) with over a quarter million impressions every month.

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