There are no computer programs that are learned by osmosis (and I say this is
light-hearted jest). Each of us learned to draft the old fashioned way and
many of us received our education in technical drafting back in school.
There are, however, less complicated softwares that should reduce the
struggle of converging from manual drafting to cad. Still, you must learn the
one basic concept that differentiates cad from manual drafting - scale. Once
you master this, the mechanics of drafting are easier to understand and can
be accomplished by learning less than 15 or 20 basic commands to complete 95%
of your drafting requirments.
In manual drafting, you plan your drawing scale from the onset. In computer
drafting, you draw the basic model in full size. It does not appear full size
in the computer because you are zooming in and out of areas that you are
working on. Scale comes into play when you start to add text and dimensions.
You can imagine being above a full size building and trying to read a 3/32"
tall text laying on the ground - can't be done in our older age. Therefore,
we enlarge the annotations in our drawing to fit around the full size home
and be visible if we were floating above it.
We start by enlarging the sheet boarder so that in 1/4" scale a 24"X36" sheet
become 96'-0" X 144'-0" (a scale factor of the inverse of 1/4 or 4 times
12). The text gets blown up by the same factor (3/32" Text times 48 or 4.5
inches). Every little tick mark or dimension is also scaled up to 48.
If this is not adequate to fit on a 24x36" sheet and it is necessary to
reduce the scale to 1/8", the scale factor will double to 96 times the actual
dimensions. Text increases to 9", the sheet border increases to 192' X 288'.
I bring this up, because this is the most confusing part of learning to draw
on computer. Once this is understood the rest of the process is much easier
than learning how to draw and line and rotate your pencil (to make a clean
line) at the same time.
There is a downtime that is simply paying your dues to learning a new and
hopfully productive tool.
With this said, the cost of GOOD cad packages has dropped dramatically in the
last few years. It is no longer necessary to pay thousands for a competent
cad program - most are available for less than $500 to $700.00 and often less
If you are willing to spend a few hours a week repetitivly creating lines and
learning the heirarchy of the menu's and commands, you should be able to
competently start drawing in days to weeks depending on your learning
The final key is to use the Cad as a productive tool in order to create once
and use repetitivly. This does not eliminate the need to be specific, but why
draw the same section of a 2x4 if you can draw it once and use the "block"
over and over again. In time, the use of "blocks" and symbol libraries will
make computer drawing much faster and more accurate than hand drafting.
PS: Check out the following software:
IMSI Visual Cadd 3.0
Smart Sketch (formerly Imagineer)
AutoCad LT 98
Visio Intellicad Professional
IMSI TurboCad Professional.
Each of these is reasonably priced and fairly easy to learn.
In a message dated 6/20/99 9:37:43 AM Pacific Daylight Time,
Thanks for the FastCAD recommendation. Based on your assessment, I'm
interested in learning more about FastCAD. I found their webpage and will
take them up on their 14-day free trial.
I sometime ago decided that, in one lifetime I don't have the time to be a
still-learning structural engineer and also become an AutoCAD operator.
Being a one-man office, there's no one else to turn to for computer drafting
(my subcontract drafter is less computer-literate than I) so my drawings are
all by hand. It works fine, and I'm satisfied with my situation for
stand-alone projects (which most are), but find that my situation
or eliminates the possibility of working with consultants who expect the
engineer to be AutoCAD compatible.
Are there one-person or small offices out there who have made a recent easy
(or at least not-too-horrible) transition from hand-drawings? Any tips?
Structural Engineer >>