Testing Features in the New ZWCAD 2015

December 22, 2017

ZWSOFT produces CAD and CAM software from its headquarters in Guangzhou, China. It was founded in 1998 and now has over 320,000 clients in more than 80 countries. It plows more than 20% of its revenues into research and development towards its two main products:
•ZWCAD+ for 2D and 3D CAD
•ZW3D for MCAD and CAM

For this article I was asked to review ZWCAD+ 2015, specifically some of the new features in the 2015 release. The new features include Unicode text, Google Earth support, Sweep and Loft commands, super hatching, a reference manager, and an updated user interface.


ZWCAD+ 2015
The company describes ZWCAD+ 2015 as a cost-effective, lightweight CAD platform with seamless .dwg compatibility for drafting, modeling, and drawing. As for cost-effectiveness, it sells for just under $800, which is a couple hundred dollars less than AutoCAD LT. ZWCAD+ has a fair amount of features that are included in full-blown AutoCAD. The lightweight description is pretty spot on, as the software took less than 15 minutes to download, install, and register. As you can see from the system requirements below, it doesn’t take a huge workstation to run:

Operating systems: Windows XP SP2 or SP3, Vista, 7, or 8, or Windows 2003 or 2008 Server

Processors: Intel Core2 Duo or AMD Athlon X2 CPU or higher

RAM: 1GB recommended

Display card: Minimum 1024 x 768 display with True Color; 128MB recommended

Hard disk: 1.5GB free disk space, with 1GB free space on drive C required

Pointing device: Mouse, trackball, or other devices

DVD-ROM: Any speed (if needed for installation only)

After the download and installation, I was ready to move on to testing the new features in 2015.

Simpler and Cleaner UI
Having never before used the ZWCAD+ software package, I thought the best feature to tackle first would be the user interface. This allowed me to begin to familiarize myself with how the software is structured and operated. As you can see in Figure 1, the UI Layout is similar to AutoCAD.

 

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Figure 1: ZWCAD+ 2015 showing its user interface

 

 

The layout of the UI, in general, has a clean look with no additional clutter. The familiar ribbon, tool palettes, and model/layout tabs are all there. The basic commands that I use day-to-day are easy to find. 

The interface also includes a Space Switch setting, which lets me switch to Classic Mode. This displays pull-down menus, toolbars, and no palettes, much like an older AutoCAD. Or I could customize a space to my own liking. 

Unicode
As designing and collaborating in multinational environments becomes more common, this new release from ZWSOFT makes a big upgrade to ZWCAD+’s kernel. Unicode lets all design data to be accurately exchanged between different languages. 

While I understood the importance of communicating effectively across languages, it took a little research for me to understand what Unicode was. After all, those of us who speak English (upon which computers were first designed) don’t know that the frustrations of those who write in non-Roman languages. Unicode is a character encoding standard similar to ASCII, but all-encompassing. ASCII and Unicode define the way in which individual characters are represented in text files, Web pages, and other documents. The ASCII character set, however, only represents 94 characters and punctuation in English. (It was developed in the day of the Teletype, and then adapted to computers.) In contrast, Unicode (short for universal character encoding) is designed to support all characters from many languages, like Ethiopic and Cherokee and right-to-left sentences. It has space for roughly a million characters.

In ZWCAD+ 2015, Unicode is supported in the program’s user interface, such as the menu bar, in dialog boxes, and with file names.

Google Earth Support
ZWCAD+ 2015 allows me to see what my designs might look like in the real world by allowing me to directly import a snapshot from Google Earth, and placing the design on the map. Here’s how I did it: In the ribbon’s Tools | Google Earth tab, I clicked Import. This opened Google Earth inside of the Import to ZWCAD+ dialog box. (See Figure 2.)

 

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Figure 2 - Google Earth appearing inside ZWCAD+ 2015

 

I zoomed in to the open green space to the south of our yard. Then I quickly drew a garden shed in isometric mode, adding hatching for the siding, shingles, and coloring. I dropped it right onto my map and got a feel for how it would look by our garden. The result gave me a good idea how it might look once built, and what size and spacing might work best. (See Figure 3.)

 

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Figure 3 - Garden shed inserted into the corner of my yard

 

Transforming 2D to 3D Models
The Sweep and Loft commands are new to ZWCAD+ 2015, and they use 2D objects to create 3D ones. Sweep works by sweeping an open or closed planar curve along an open or closed path; lofting creates 3D models by specifying a series of cross sections. 

To try out the commands, I started by drawing a circle, the object I wanted to sweep. Next I drew an arc which to become my sweep path. (See Figure 4.)

 

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Figure 4 - Starting the Sweep command with a circle along an arc

 

After selecting the Sweep command, I chose the circle as the object to sweep and the arc as my travel path. ZWCAD+ automatically created the 3D object. The result shown in Figure 5 is after I changed the view from 2D wireframe to 3D viewpoint.

 

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Figure 5 - The Completed Sweep

 

To test the Loft command, I decide to create an umbrella top, similar to a tutorial I found online. I 2D plan view, I drew a circle to represent the top of the umbrella; a polygon formed the outer edge of the umbrella. Because I drew both of those objects in plan view, however, they had the same Z-axis, and so I switched to the left view. To set the height of the umbrella, I selected the circle (umbrella top) and moved it up. I then ran the Loft command, selecting the top circle as the first cross section and the polygon as the second. To control the look of the loft, I selected Settings to access the Loft Settings dialogue box(See Figure 6.).

 

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Figure 6 - Loft Settings displaying its dialog box

 

Here I can, where I could choose the surface controls at cross sections: Ruled, Smooth Fit, Normal To, or Draft Angles. Ruled and Smooth Fit have no parameters, and so they create the solid surface directly. Normal To means the solid surface will be normal (at right angles) to whichever cross section I pick from the pull-down list. Draft Angle gives me the greatest control, with parameters to set the start and end angles and magnitudes, and so I used this option. The finished loft is shown below in Figure 7.

 

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Figure 7 – Completing the lofted object

 

Super Hatching
The new Super Hatch command goes above and beyond the normal hatch function of using patterns predefined in PAT files; this new command fills enclosed areas with patterns made from blocks, external references, and raster images. 

To test it, I download the image of a stone pattern (for hatching a floor) and a wood grain image to simulate a tabletop. (See Figure 8.)

 

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Figure 8 – Super-hatching a table in wood grain and a floor in stone

 

It took me a little while to get the hang of it, but eventually I was able to manipulate the two images into my drawing. For a first try, it didn’t come out too bad! With some more reference material and practice, I can see how this could become a powerful tool for adding customized images and textures to presentations.

 

Managing References to External Files
It’s not that uncommon in our office to receive a set of CAD files from a client that come with a myriad of external reference files (xrefs) embedded into them. After we save the files to our network and then open them, the links to the external files links are broken and so the drawings do not display correctly. This occurs when links were created on another system that uses a file structure different from ours. 

The RefManager command in ZWCAD+ lets me easily manage those external resources. This includes external referenced drawings, as well as raster images, and fonts. (See Figure 9.) The Reference Manager dialog box lists the reference information without opening the drawings, and then lets me edit the information. (Don’t confuse it with the ExternalReferences manager; I think a better name would be “links manager.”) Updating the path for multiple references is as easy as selecting the references I need to update, clicking “Edit Selected Paths,” and then browsing to the appropriate folder or drive.

 

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Figure 9 - Reference Manager managing links

 

A Smarter Mouse
The last feature I want to touch on is the new SmartMouse function. This is a gesture-driven command system in ZWCAD+, although it is not new to 2015. SmartMouse allows me to execute certain commands by holding down the right mouse button, and then moving the mouse on a certain track. The direction of the movement triggers frequently used commands, such as New, Circle and Move. (See Figure 10.)

 

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Figure 10 - Standard SmartMouse commands

 

Not only are there the standard mouse gesture commands, but I can also easily customize commands for different mouse actions, such as a right swoosh motion for undo. I know that these kinds of mouse gestures have shown up in a few other software packages lately, but I was impressed at ZWCAD+’s ability to allow customization.

 

Takeaways
The price point (less than $800), ease of installation, and ability to run on something less than a very expensive workstation are definitely strong selling points for ZWCAD+2015. The similarity to AutoCAD allowed me to pick up on most of the commands easily. I would like to see some built in tutorials or more online reference material, especially for the new features.

The new features definitely add to the software’s capabilities. All and all, I feel there is a good amount of bang for your buck with ZWCAD+ 2015.

Jeffrey Heimgartner has over 20 years of CAD industry experience, a background in farming and construction. Previously owned an industrial drafting and design company, ATS, he is now working for CapStone and managing the Advanced Technical Services of CapStone’s CAD division. Having a degree in Industrial Technology with an emphasis in Computer Aided Drafting and Design, he is a very sophisticated CAD Designer.


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