The “point of sale” in architectural design is the moment when the client is suitably dazzled. For modern architects, that moment typically arrives via a QuickTime movie tour of a new structure. DenebaCAD 2.0, Deneba Software’s 2-D/3-D CAD application, is optimally designed for this purposeit renders so quickly that even a humble iMac can produce a series of on-the-fly building walk-throughs for a client. Five years ago, this feat wasn’t even a delirious dream for Mac users.
DenebaCAD blends basic 2-D blueprint drafting with high-end 3-D modeling and rendering. In version 2.0, Deneba has polished the rough edges of its previous version, updated formats for AutoCAD 2000 compatibility, and improved lighting effects. DenebaCAD has moved to the head of the class.
The interface has three modes: Draft resembles a standard 2-D drafting program; Sculpt lets you construct 3-D objects directly or create them by extruding or otherwise manipulating 2-D objects; and Render lets you add lighting effects and make surfaces realistic (see “Material World”). The context-sensitive menus and tool bars keep the screen blessedly uncluttered.
DenebaCAD 2.0’s Material Editor provides simple but detailed control over a material’s surface appearance.
Designers more accustomed to 2-D will find transferring their design skills to the 3-D environment fairly straightforward. DenebaCAD also lets you work in the other direction: modeling fans can work directly in 3-D and then generate sets of 2-D drawings from their 3-D objects. Although 2-D drawings usually require further detailing (such as electric outlets or small hardware fixtures), DenebaCAD’s automatic options alleviate much of the difficulty.
DenebaCAD displays all the surface reflections, transparency, lighting effects, and other photo-realistic details you need for professional architectural design. For example, intuitive lighting controls make it easy to produce simple shadows, as well as ones seen through a transparent section. Lighting effects include not only external sun control but also simple spotlights, parallel light settings, and uniform planar lights for interiors.
Whether you’re watching DenebaCAD generate a tour through a 3-D model’s wire-frame rendering or produce a stereoscopic 3-D blue-red QuickTime movie (which you view with the included stereo glasses), the program’s speed is impressive. In fact, DenebaCAD 2.0’s performancefor rendering and generating QuickTime and QuickTime VR moviesis so speedy that it feels like you’re using a new program. That’s not far off the mark, either. While Deneba ported version 1.5’s code from Windows, version 2.0’s is fully optimized and refined for the Macintosh. The company has also fixed glitches in library management and file handling related to DenebaCAD’s Windows origin. (We wish, however, that Deneba had also expanded the libraries.)
Architects who use CAD on a Mac have long worked in the shadow of AutoCAD 2000, the Windows-only program that defines compatibility standards in the CAD world. Fortunately, Deneba paid attention to file-exchange issues. As expected, DenebaCAD supports Autodesk release 14.01 standards for DXF and DWG files. But in our tests, it also correctly imported every 3-D object in a large AutoCAD 2000 file and exported to AutoCAD a set of Deneba sample files modified to introduce potential problems. That’s the best translation performance we’ve seen from a CAD program since 3-D files became ubiquitous. DenebaCAD also produces DWF files (AutoCAD Web format) and supports standard file types such as CGM (Computer Graphics Metafile), IGES (Initial Graphics Exchange Specification), EPS, TIFF, and JPEG.
The Competitive Landscape
A half dozen Mac programs can handle both 2-D and 3-D CAD and produce impressive photo-realistic walk-throughs. But unlike architectural CAD applications such as GraphiSoft’s ArchiCAD, Ashlar’s Vellum Solids, and others ranging in price up to $4,000, DenebaCAD 2 lists for $800, making it an attractive alternative for students, new design firms, and users for whom CAD is a secondary function. (Competitive upgrades are $329, and Deneba even accepts ClarisCAD in the upgrade program.) Another attraction: DenebaCAD 2 runs on any Power Mac with 32MB of RAM, although 64MB is preferable. And the program requires only a simple password, not a hardware dongle.
Advances in the computing world over the last few years have improved DenebaCAD’s chances for success. When we reviewed version 1.5, we were disappointed that it lacked a built-in materials spreadsheet, such as the one in Diehl Graphsoft’s VectorWorks. Version 2, however, lets you export materials fields to Microsoft Excel as tabbed text files, based on drawing descriptions. Given the current scope of Excel’s functions, this is a reasonable alternative. For instance, if you’re working on a collaborative project, you can post a DenebaCAD DWF file to the Web along with the materials list as an Excel-based Web page.
DenebaCAD’s lack of a scripting language no longer poses a problem either. Today’s processors deal with complex objects at lightning-fast speeds, negating the need for such languages.
Macworld’s Buying Advice
DenebaCAD 2.0 has muscled its way into a place where its only real direct competitor in terms of features is ArchiCAD, which costs five times as much and takes much longer to master. Deneba Software deserves considerable credit for investing the resources to put DenebaCAD in the top rank of Mac CAD programs.