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PROS: Produces electronic sketch designs quickly Good for exchanging drawing information electronically

Fun with 3D glasses

CONS: Not for highly complex work PRICE: £395 Further information: Guildsoft on 01752 895100 or visit www.deneba.com for a trial version.

RATING: ***Deneba's first CAD application built on the foundation of its powerful graphics application Canvas and offered architects and designers an alternative to the expensive and often PC-only applications on offer.

Its integrated design and rendering environment makes it ideal for both working drawings and visualisation. Version 2, just released, offers new features and extensive file support.

The key to the success of any CAD application is the ability to exchange data with others. Unless you are working on very small projects, the chances are that you will have to read others' drawings or provide information to others in an electronic form. DenebaCAD supports all the major CAD formats including DXF, DWG and IGES.

Working is split into three main modules or modes, each with a different toolset customised for design, modelling and rendering. This reduces screen clutter and makes organising your workflow straightforward. As with most UScentric applications the first thing you need to do is change the default preferences. The US still uses imperial dimensions and scales for construction drawings. Metric units can be selected from the unit preference dialogue as can the scale of the drawing.

Working drawings are created within the Draft mode. This area's extensive range of drawing and annotation tools makes it possible to draw up complex plans. Work can be organised on to 256 2D layers and within those can be further organised into classes. For example, windows could be grouped in one class. This would allow you to export information on the number of items within a project into a spreadsheet for costing or ordering.

While the 2D drawing tools are pretty good, architects may find the lack of cavity-wall tools limiting. A parallel polyline tool helps to fake cavities, but a proper wall tool would be useful.

Symbol libraries make it simple to add common elements such as furniture and Deneba has made it easy for users to create their own libraries from drawn elements. A comprehensive co-ordinate system allows objects to be placed in absolute space, based on Cartesian or Polar co-ordinates or placed relative to one another. The six options on offer each have merits in different situations and can be altered on the fly.

An increasing number of designers like to work in 3D and the next mode, Sculpt, is a fully 3D environment. You can either base 3D objects on the plan information in your draft mode or build them from scratch. With a basic set of 3D creation tools, 256 3D layers can be used here.

All the common methods of object creating are provided, based on surface geometry. But DenebaCAD is not a fully featured modelling application and users would find it hard to create very complex 3D geometry without a great deal of work. The 3D tools are suitable for quick visualisations and design development rather than as a full working environment. You can export models as QuickTime VRmovies or create walkthrough animations and save them as movies.

The final mode is the rendering environment. Textures and materials can be placed on surfaces, and lights placed within a scene to create photo-realistic images. Shadows, transparency and reflectivity are supported in the raytracing rendering engine. Results are pretty good and the render is quick on a fast machine.

As well as artificial lights, there is an option that allows the model to be placed in a real geographic space at any time of year. Sun shadows can even be animated.

One cool feature is the ability to render anaglyphic images and movies. This explains the inclusion of two pairs of red and blue glasses in the box. Anaglyphic images look 3D when viewed using the glasses. While this may have little real use, it is fun.

Deneba CAD is a great application if you want to produce electronic sketch designs quickly.

While not extensive, the toolset does get you up and running quickly although it lacks the depth of higher-end CAD applications. But external reference files are supported as with major CAD applications and the quality of the renderings is very good. If you just want to do the odd drawing or are involved in small-scale projects this is a great choice. If your work is highly complex you may want to look elsewhere.

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