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AutoCAD 2007 is a 3D modeling and visualization application. it measures up to the capabilities of other 3D modeling solutions, many of which gained in popularity and established themselves primarily because the industry-leading CAD solution, AutoCAD, did not provide adequate 3D support before.
New 3D Modeling Capabilities
When you launch AutoCAD 2007, it presents you with two different workspace options: 3D Modeling or AutoCAD Classic. If you are migrating settings from a previous version of AutoCAD, there is also a third option, AutoCAD Default, which borrows from your earlier settings. Whichever workspace you choose, you can always change it later from the Workspaces toolbar. You can also save and use your own customized workspaces. The AutoCAD Classic workspace option opens with the default drawing template file, and displays the classic default interface. For the purpose of this review, we will focus on the 3D Modeling workspace option, which opens with a 3D view using a 3D drawing template file and displays an interface designed for working in 3D (see Figure 1). It includes a new dashboard comprising several control panels containing tools organized by function such as 3D object creation, navigation, visual styles, lighting, materials, and rendering. As with other AutoCAD palettes, the dashboard can be docked on one side or it can be floating over the graphics window with features such as Auto-hide and Transparency. Clicking on a control panel in the dashboard expands it to display a slide-out panel that has additional controls, and also opens up an associate tool palette with more tools and options.
Let’s start by looking at the 3D object creation tools. You can create a variety of 3D solid primitives such as box, cone, cylinder, sphere, pyramid, wedge, and so on, and the operation of these tools, unlike in previous versions of AutoCAD, is up-to-date with current modeling standards and includes the proper rubber-banding that is needed for interactive modeling. In addition, the dynamic input feature introduced in the previous version of AutoCAD (see my review of AutoCAD 2006), which displays all coordinate and dimension values as well as command prompts near the cursor and updates them dynamically as the cursor moves, makes it easy to create accurately dimensioned models. So, for instance, if you select the Box tool and move the cursor over the graphics window, you can use the dynamic input feature to specify the correct starting point, and likewise specify the exact second corner and height by reading the dynamic display or by specifying it numerically (see Figure 1).
Improvements in Rendering and Visualization
AutoCAD 2007 features several new and enhanced visualization and presentation features to complement its revamped modeling capabilities. Topping this list is the introduction of “visual styles” for the display of entities in the graphics window, applied through the Visual Style control panel in the dashboard. There are some predefined visual styles such as Realistic, 3D Hidden, 3D Wireframe, and Conceptual that can be selected from the dashboard; some additional styles have been provided in the associated Visual Styles tool palette. One of them is shown in Figure 5 at the top. You can further customize an applied visual style by changing different variables such as edge color, edge overhang, edge jitter, width of silhouette edges, and the visibility and color of obscured and intersection edges.
Other New Features and Enhancements
While the focus of the new release of AutoCAD is undoubtedly on 3D, it does feature some enhancements on the drafting front as well. DWF files can now be referenced for use as an underlay and the External References palette has been expanded to provide a centralized location for managing all image, XREF, and DWF referencing. All the layer tools that were previously part of the Express tools, such as Layer isolate and Layer freeze, are now integrated into the main application. In addition to the ability to publish drawings and models into 2D and 3D DWF files respectively, AutoCAD now includes a new driver that allows drawings to be plotted to the Adobe PDF format. However, the ability to publish models in the 3D PDF format (see my recent review of Adobe Acrobat 3D) is not available. And finally, files can be saved down to older formats as far back as AutoCAD version 14 to facilitate data exchange with other project members. This is critical as the DWG file format has been changed in AutoCAD 2007, supposedly to accommodate the new 3D capabilities.
Strengths and Limitations
With this release, AutoCAD can no longer be berated for having poor 3D capabilities. Its new modeling and visualization capabilities are now at par with other established modeling and rendering applications and the developers have done a nice job of integrating all the new tools and capabilities into a single Dashboard interface. The new 3D capabilities also build up on powerful drawing and editing features that AutoCAD has perfected over the last two decades including grips, snaps, object snap tracking, inferencing, and dynamic input, which adds to their ease of use. For a seasoned AutoCAD user, learning to use the new 3D capabilities should be a breeze.
The new capabilities of the application are also amply supported by good documentation. There is a New Features Workshop that guides you through the new features and is customized based on the version of AutoCAD you are upgrading from. It contains a series of animated demos, tutorials, and feature overviews, which are very useful in learning the new features. The application also ships with a concise paper manual entitled “Building Your World: Conceptual Design and Visualization with AutoCAD” which is entirely focused on explaining the new 3D capabilities.
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