Recommended software for the design of home projects with a brief description of each product. This includes some user insight and concentrates on sources of free and cheap software options. - FabRap

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Recommended software for the design of home projects with a brief description of each product. This includes some user insight and concentrates on sources of free and cheap software options.

I remember as a young man I was given the task of getting some industrial electronic equipment to work.  One of the first tasks I undertook was to approach the supplier, A reputable International company who shall remain nameless, to ask for appropriate documentation.  After repeated requests I was informed that the design had been done for only the one customer. The wording given was that it was a "back of the cigarette box design" and as such no documentation existed.  The only way to repair the equipment was to reverse engineer the item and then to do the fault finding.  This was an indelible lesson to me.

Many years ago while shopping at a computer company I found a outdated copy of TurboCAD3 that was being sold for 25 per cent of the new product price.  I bought the package more because of the extremely attractive price than any need to have the program.  This program has stood me in good stead and was my standard method of defining my projects before attempting to make them.  A small drawing was always undertaken before I would attempt to make anything regardless of how trivial the task was.

Times have luckily changed and now Dassault Systemes have made a very professional 2 D CAD system available free of charge.  Draftsight is a pleasure to work with and is very intuitive. Furthermore the tutorials and tools available on the Internet make it extremely easy to learn and implement.  It is indeed a pleasure to use.  This is a very commendable contribution Dassault is making and I can only recommend that any serious amateur get a copy of the program for their own use.

All new projects are now undertaken with Draftsight.  It is even used to clean and improve DXF files for projects that are either downloaded from the Internet or traced by Inkscape or Wintopo.  The web address for downloading the program is "".  

A number of years ago, Alibre made a free copy of Alibre Express available.  This was aimed at teaching new user's the basics and was intended for educational institutes.  I was lucky enough as a pensioner to get a life long licence for my copy of Alibre Express.  This is used for all my 3D work.  The learning curve is more demanding than the Draftsight but can be easily over come.  Unluckily new users will have to purchase the "Personal Version"  if they want to use this program.

Alibre Express is limited functionally for the commercial version, but is still a very powerful and constructive tool.  The most difficult problems are the inability to import files and only STL export is available.  It allows for 3D sketching and assemblies with a limited number of parts.  This is a great way to ensure your parts will fit together.  It is only a little frustrating to have to redraw all your sketches.  It would be great if you could import 2D DXF files and then to use the ability to extrude the parts to full 3D.

The hobby version of Alibre is available at the following website. ""  and is currently advertised for $199.00

For sharing STL 3D files I use Meshlab.  This allows me to co-operate with my friends and to solicit their opions on new design.  It is always useful to be able to get fresh opinions.  Meshlab is also very useful for changing file formats.  Meshlab is open source software and is thus free.  Meshlab is extremely powerful software.  I, however, only use the program for the simplest operations.  Meshlab can be downloaded from the following website.  ""

Another program that is very useful for viewing STL files is GLC Player.  GLC Player has a number of benefits for preparation of files for websites.  GLC player also has ability to make albums with album management and capture and multi capture capability.  GLC Player is open source software and can be downloaded from the following website.  ""

Addition software used for various projects has been included in the appropriate sections.

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