PROS / The latest version has improved features and advanced support options.
CONS / AutoCAD has a large learning curve and takes months if not years to learn.
VERDICT / Features like associative arrays, command line enhancements and Autodesk Exchange are improvements to an already great product.
Autodesk, the creators of the world's leading CAD software, continues to enhance the world of design software with products like AutoCAD. Autodesk is a leader in 3D design, engineering and of course entertainment software. They released their first edition of AutoCAD software back in 1982, and have since grown to be the leading designer of professional CAD software in the world. Like previous versions, this version of AutoCAD includes a plethora of added features and updates to many of the previous design tools.
With 3D technology becoming more and more popular over the years, it's easy to see why Autodesk includes some of the most powerful 3D features in their latest bundle. However, engineers and those working on blue prints will also find new and improved tools to reduce the time they spend working on digital floor plans. Autodesk is taking the creativity found in movie studios or architectural firms and making them available to anyone willing to put forth the time and effort to learn and create. One thing to keep in mind is that AutoCAD is meant for professional use; the software is rather complex and takes a lot of time to learn. Despite the large learning curve, it is still hands down the best product on the market and winner of our TopTenREVIEWS Gold Award for its outstanding feature set and professional grade technology.
AutoCAD continues to update and improve in the areas of 3D and 2D design with features that make the process more mainstream and easier to use. One feature, preview actions, lets you see how fillet and chamfered objects will turn out before you complete the command. Knowing what something will look like before a command is finished will not only save a lot of time, but will also let you make minor adjustments without re-doing the process again and again.
The command feature makes using any of the more common tools, like creating lines, mirroring objects or using the zoom tool, much faster – and it will greatly speed up the design process. You can also use the command feature for the more complex tools as well, they simply take a few extra steps to complete. The auto command complete feature lets you access commands without typing out the entire name of the tool. As you begin typing, AutoCAD will automatically populate a list of commands you may be looking for. Simply scroll down the list, select the command you want, and you're done. Another time saving option is the group objects feature, which lets you select all the chairs or cabinets in the house and assign them to a group. Once they're in a group, you can easily locate the objects and change each object individually or the entire group at once.
The delete duplicate objects feature lets you select any given object on your drawing and delete similar objects without spending the time to find duplicates. This will save precious time when editing an existing floor plan that no longer needs a specific object. You can use this feature in both 2D and 3D space.
AutoCAD is one of the first CAD products on the market to embrace the idea of mobile or web access. The AutoCAD WS plugin gives you the freedom of accessing designs over the web on your home computer or work computer, and you can also access them on a mobile device such as an iPad. This is ideal for presenting a new design to a possible buyer or simply showing a client how your work is progressing. You no longer have to carry around USB drives and hope that everything saved correctly or that the software in a remote location is compatible with your files. AutoCAD WS takes the limitations of file sharing and throws them out the window.
CAD software is rather complex, as they typically include an overwhelming number of tools that each have a special use. AutoCAD starts you off with displaying the basic tools you'll need to create a floor plan or new 3D model. However, more complex and specialty tools are easy to locate, and you can add any tool to quick-access toolbars. Some of the tools new to this version are the associative array tool and the blend tool. You will also find all of the standard tools you have become accustomed to using and will find that they work the same as before.
The associative array tool lets you easily duplicate an object along a specified path. This is useful when you're creating parking stalls for a local business, trying to add thousands of seats to a stadium design or adding trees to your landscaping project. There are three different types of associative arrays – namely, rectangular, polar and path arrays – all of which can be used in both 2D and 3D views.
When you're working with 3D or 2D models, you will appreciate the new and improved blend tool. This amazing feature lets you create spline objects, which in turn let you smooth or connect two different lines. This is ideal when you need to combine two objects on a 3D drawing or need to smooth out some rough edges on your new 2D project.
AutoCAD utilizes the standard DWG file format for all of their basic 2D drawings and includes the most popular 3D formats. The best CAD software should be able to import, export, and of course open and save to, all of the major CAD files on the market. Since AutoCAD owns a large number of the more popular 3D and 2D CAD software, it's easy to see why they have the best possible file compatibility.
Ease of Use
Professional CAD software includes enough tools to make even the most seasoned expert dizzy. However, even with the large number of tools and features found within AutoCAD, Autodesk has managed to organize and separate the more common tools into their appropriate categories. Autodesk utilizes the same ribbon layout found in Microsoft Word, and the ribbon layout makes finding specific tools quick and easy. If you are upgrading from an older version, it may take a few minutes to adjust to the new ribbon-style layout, but in the long run, it is much easier to use. However, if you still prefer the older version look and feel, you can always change over to the standard view and carry on like normal.
The ultimate ease-of-use feature is the enhanced search feature; simply type in what you're looking for in the search bar and the software will locate the tool or feature. The auto command completion feature, arch and dimension adjustments and many other features make using the software a breeze.
Help & Support
Autodesk Exchange is one of the biggest additions to this version of the company's CAD software. Autodesk Exchange lets you view video tutorials on the latest features, view software announcements and much more. Instead of using clunky in-product help, which is hard to navigate and yields very little help in the long run, Autodesk has included a company-wide support feature to this CAD software. Autodesk Exchange provides answers to common questions and even includes the instructions needed to effectively use the software. We were very pleased with how simply this application works and found it answered a lot of our questions. You will need to have internet access for this feature to work, but as long as you're connected, you'll be up to date on the latest news and features.
We were very pleased to see that the company's website offers a number of helpful features. Technical support is easy to find, and Autodesk responds to emails in a timely fashion. You can call the sales team during work hours or use any of their online forums or FAQs pages to answer your additional questions. However, the combination of Autodesk Exchange and other help provided within the software is likely more than you will ever need to get answers to most of your questions.
AutoCAD is the standard when it comes to professional CAD software. This feature-rich software with easy-to-use tool sets make creating even the most complex designs seem easy. In this version, we were pleased to see a number of time saving tools and the addition of Autodesk Exchange. AutoCAD is ideal if you work for a large architectural firm needing to upgrade its CAD software, or if you recently graduated and are looking to start your own business. This type of software is not for just anyone, since it does take months of training to learn the ins and outs. However, once mastered, AutoCAD is the best professional CAD software on the market.