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CAD Software

I admit it. I'm a geek. I love the idea of automating every job I can think of. Here at Builder Chicks, we use CAD programs, estimating programs and accounting programs. While I'm sure there are many programs out there that we haven't tried, we've tried a whole lot and a few have stuck.

We try to download trial versions of the programs and check them out before making a buying decision. If you've been in construction very long, you know how expensive the software is.

And while some are very good...there are other that just don't deliver on their promise. Since this list only features the programs we've actually tried, we know we're missing many. All of our reviews are of free trial versions of the program or of programs we own the full rights to.

Oh, and no one has paid us a dime or given us free software for our reviews.

Computer Automated Drafting (CAD)

Clink on software name to download a demo of the product (if available).

SketchUp - When Google stepped into the ring - SketchUp became the CAD software program to beat. And it sets a pretty high bar. SketchUp 7 is totally free!  If you're just getting your feet wet in the computer automated drafting world, do not fail to try SketchUp 7.

Pros - The free version is a killer deal and the full-fledged Pro version is only $495. You can try out the Pro version for 8 hours. If you've been shopping around and comparing prices, you'll recognize that it's a pretty good deal. In both versions, you can import models and graphics and export your models. The program offers free presentiation animations that are cool.

Cons - I hate to even call these "cons," since the only differences between the Free and the Pro version center around printing large format documents and multi pages. In addition, in the Pro version, you can generate reports and use 3D modeling with intelligent components. Since my Pro version expired, I use the free version all the time.

But, seriously, download the free program and watch the free online tutorials and you may buy this baby. This one is on my "wish list" to buy before the end of 2010.


Cobalt: Ashlar-vellum makes a variety of software programs, but Graphite is the one we tested. Funsy-wunsy! This is a cool program and the best part is that Ashlar-Vellum offers free online tutorials to help you learn the basics.

My favorite features are the wireframe tools, the orbit tool and Cobalt's "Drafting Assistant" that helps out with alignments. It's a quick-learn program that offers high-end tech features.

While Graphite isn't specifically designed for the building and construction industry, you can certainly design your plans with this program that costs under $1,400 for a permanent license. But you can get a yearly license for under $400 or use a montly e-license for only $39. So Ashlar-Vellum is really trying to work with the average drafter.

At the very least, you simply must download the Graphite demo. But, beware, you might buy it.


Softplan: This is the first CAD program we ever used...twenty-some odd years ago and it ran as a DOS program. Don't say it....we already know...friends don't let friends do DOS. Anyway, you can download a current demo of the program and I suggest you do so before buying it because it is way overpriced (in my opinion).

Pros - Softplan offers user friendly design options that include standard objects, such as wall width, window and door dimensions and roof automation. There is a learning curve but it is less than with traditional CAD programs where you must use bezier curves and know your angles. The standard objects may be adapted to your individual plan.

Cons - Cost. Softplan is just too expensive for what it delivers, in my opinion. At over $2,300 for a stand-alone program that seems to need frequent patches, this program isn't on my list of favorites. I don't know what kind of tech support the company is offering today, but in the world of highly-competitive CAD programs, support should be free. Softplan used to hold training seminars around the nation - but they charged for them. If the company really wanted to make it big in this industry, they would invite purchasers of their software to attend the training sessions for free. Just my thoughts.

Oh, and they put a watermark on the printouts from their Education Copy of the program. Give me a break, already! Granted, this version is mainly for teachers and students, but get real. It still costs nearly $600 with an addition hundred bucks for workstation access and a student can't even print out his plans from a home computer.

'Nuff said.