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By Ralph Grabowski, June 15, 2012
TurboCAD is probably second only to AutoCAD in name recognition in our industry, but not necessarily as favorable a one due to the image it has attained from IMSI's decades-long marketing blitzes. Behind these promotions was the idea that once IMSI could get people to try it, they'd like it, and then pay for the upgrades and add-ons.
TurboCAD sprang out of the cauldron of the mid-1980s excitement that was developing all kinds of computer-aided design packages for the then-new personal computer. Indeed, the name comes from the TurboPascal programming language.
Now it's 2012 and desktop CAD software hasn't changed fundamentally: a drawing area surrounded by UI elements controlled by a keyboard and/or mouse. Early on, AutoCAD emerged as the standard, and during the last two decades a half-dozen or more CAD packages paid homage by mimicking the leader as much as possible.
Not TurboCAD. It has its own way of doing things. In this review, I'll comment on how TurboCAD Pro differs from AutoCAD, as many readers are already familiar with it.
For those who would rather run a CAD package that more closely mimics the AutoCAD way of doing things but don't want to pay $4,000 - or $1300 for the rather limited AutoCAD LT - IMSI/Design also offers TurboCAD LTE Pro. In addition, there is a Mac version, but it is a different program.
Figure 1: The default user interface for TurboCAD Pro 19
New to TurboCAD Pro 19 is the black user interface, which does nothing for me. (To get away from it, right-click a toolbar, choose the Options tab, click Styles and Themes, and then select TurboCAD Classic or another theme.)
Otherwise, the UI is the way I like it: toolbars, menu bars, palettes, scroll bars, and a status bar. After all, the quickest way to peruse what a new CAD package has to offer is by paging through its menu bar. Sensibly, there is no ribbon.
No command bar either. Instead, TurboCAD communicates with you with prompts on the status bar, which also shows useful information like X,Y,Z coordinates. Notice the small boxes above the X, Y, and Z in figure 2: click them to lock the coordinates.
Figure 3: The Inspector Bar reports entity values and lets you overrule them.
Associated with the status bar is the Inspector Bar. It reports the current values and options for the drawing command underway. You override values by entering numbers or clicking icons for options; use the spin boxes to increment and decrement values. Like the status bar, it allows you to lock values by clicking the tiny padlock icons.
On the right edge of the screen are a few of the palettes that make up TurboCAD's collection. Some are the ones you might expect to see, such as placing blocks and editing materials. Others are different, such as the Style Manager, a one-stop shop for editing text, table, multileader, and other styles - instead of AutoCAD's approach of a different dialog box for each style.
|Figure 4: A right-click produces this comprehensive toolbar and context menu.|
Right-clicking the mouse in the drawing area at any time presents an impressive display of icons and a small context menu. The icons change modes, such as the viewing angle or the working plane, while the context menu provides command options.
In general, you will find that TurboCAD has a richer set of drafting commands than does AutoCAD, and more ways of working with entities. In TurboCAD, the default command is Line, instead of Select as in AutoCAD. Another twist is that Line draws single segments. You overcome this by using the Polyline command, which draws connected lines until you finish the command. Alternatively, have AutoConstrain turned on, so that entities connect, provided your next pick point is close enough.
Whereas AutoCAD has a single Line command whose resulting entities are modified by subsequent editing commands, TurboCAD has 14. I've already mentioned Polyline, and then there's others for drawing parallel lines, tangent ones, and bisected ones. For instance, construction lines work the way I would expect them to work in a mature CAD package: TurboCAD draws the semi- and infinite lines on their own locked layer with a light blue color and dot-dash linetype. Another for instance: after I draw a circle, and then select it, I can easily turn it in an arc using grips.
Careful with the Cancel command, however: it ends a command, as you expect, but then erases what you drew, as you might not expect. In this way, it operates as a kind of Undo command. Instead, use the Finish option to finish commands: you can press Ctrl+Enter, or else right-click and then select Finish. Also unexpected for users of AutoCAD and its clones: pressing the spacebar puts TurboCAD into select mode.
TurboCAD was ahead of AutoCAD when it added grips editing, and right from the beginning was ahead when it came to advanced grip editing -- something Autodesk only added in starts and stops. In TurboCAD, the types of grips available depend on the objects, whether they are 2D or 3D, and which selection mode you choose.
|Figure 5: Two different grips editing modes in TurboCAD: Select mode at left, and Edit mode at right.|
In Select mode, the blue grips resize objects, the yellow one moves them, and the green one rotates. (See figure 5, at left.) In Edit mode, the meaning and number of grips differs, and so here is an example for arcs: the blue grip changes the radius, the green one marks the starting angle and the red one the ending angle. (Figure 5, right.) I find this much clearer than AutoCAD's system, where grips are almost always colored blue, and so give little clue to their function.
3D objects get 3D bounding boxes, and the handles operate in 3D. Select mode rotates about any of the X, Y, or Z axes, while Edit mode stretches objects in all these directions.
TurboCAD not only has dimensional and geometric constraints (provided by D-Cubed, the same technology used by AutoCAD), but also has a parametric Parts Script Editor, which might be the closest it has to AutoCAD's dynamic blocks.
I'll note one other 2D quirk I found in TurboCAD. When I change the layer and then start drawing lines, the lines revert to layer 0. To make the program work more like users from other CAD systems expect, however, Release 19 adds "Apply general property changes to all tool preset" option (Options > Preferences > Advanced Settings) to make drawing commands match the current property settings.
While 2D operations in TurboCAD are different from AutoCAD, 3D is more similar. It has ACIS-based solids modeling, basic 3D objects like polylines and helixes, the ability to turn 2D objects into 3D ones, and now Release 19 adds the beginnings of 3D mesh modeling. Drawing 3D objects is just like in AutoCAD, while editing them with grips is as I described earlier.
More significant, however, are the mechanical and 2D/3D architectural extensions included with Pro edition of TurboCAD; even more extensive ones are in the Platinum edition. In short, for $1295 you can be drawing walls, inserting doors and windows intelligently, adding roofs and stairs, and importing terrain models upon which to situate your designs -- or just use the House Wizard. Release 19 add geographic locations, too.
On the mechanical side, there are tools that are more like design aides, such as gears, profiles along paths, and welding symbols. In addition, the Pro and Platinum editions offer bending and unbending, branched lofting, and pattern tools. If you are involved with CAM, then IMSI/Design offers both a home-grown 2 1/2D CAM plug in for $299, or a true 3D CAM product, VisualMILL 6.0, from MecSoft for $999.
TurboCAD boasts two rendering systems, LightWorks and Redsdk, which come with all the lights and materials you come to expect in CAD systems today. It also has visual styles, so that you can draw and edit in rendered or hidden-line modes.
TurboCAD imports a host of file 2D, 3D, and raster formats, including some that AutoCAD does not, such as Autodesk's own DWF format. Some significant formats include Rhino, MicroStation, and SketchUp. The same list is available for export, including MCAD standards like IGES and STEP.
Missing from both lists are heavy hitters like SolidWorks or NX, because these require significant royalty payments to specialty translation companies, which would drive up the price.
You can create and edit toolbars and keyboard shortcuts for any command; menus cannot be edited. Tool groups let you define which toolbars and palettes should appear. You can change the look and color of the UI. Help is available through either an integrated PDF Reference Guide, or through an online system; being on-line is not something I care for.
TurboCAD has its own SDK (software development kit) and supports .Net. You cannot import any customizations from other CAD packages.
Newly added is the Ruby scripting language. IMSI/Design picked it because it is an interpreted, open source programming language -- inspired by LISP and Perl, and first developed in Japan -- and because SketchUp uses it. In fact, IMSI says their implementation is compatible with scripts from SketchUp. You can use it with the Pro, and Platinum editions of TurboCAD Pro, employing the Ruby Scripting Console for writing custom scripts.
TurboCAD 19 is available as a 64-bit installation, useful for handling large drawings. Its hardware requirements are modest, as little as 1GB RAM for the 32-bit version, 2GB for the 64-bit version.
Where it gets tricky is with Redsdk, which TurboCAD uses for faster display modes, as well as generating renderings. When I first ran TurboCAD, it asked to turn off Aero mode, because it is not supported by Redsdk. This means that the Windows UI loses its glossy and transparent looks. The solution is to not use the Redsdk driver, unless you have to.
After I started up, a pop up reported that an update was available, so you'll always be running the latest release. TurboCAD recommended a different driver for my NVIDIA 2000 board, but suggested I download it only if I experienced problems, which I did not.
TurboCAD Pro is a competent CAD system that easily replaces AutoCAD for 2D drafting, provided you are prepared to spend a day or two learning the differences in its UI. Moving over to the 3D side is a split experience, for the generic 3D is less advanced than the capabilities Autodesk pushed into AutoCAD over the last several releases. On the other hand, TurboCAD Pro's integrated architectural modeling is handy bonus. Customization is not as extensive, and programming is very different, unless you are already familiar with .Net and Ruby.
Ralph Grabowski is the owner of upFront.eZine Publishing
and hosts the WorldCAD Access blog. He has written over 100
books and several hundred magazine articles about CAD. He
has served as technical editor for Cadalyst magazine, and
has been a columnist for CADENCE and AutoCAD World. Ralph
holds a civil engineering degree from the University of
British Columbia. He was awarded "Best CAD/AEC/PLM Editor"
by Strategic Research in 2005, and received the CAD
Society's "Community Award" in 2002.
Complete bio on upFront.eZine