Download PDF version (136.5k) Log In or Register to view the full article as a PDF document.
Q.I’m looking for a CAD program that can produce 3-D drawings of a feature like a custom soffit that incorporates arches. I would also like to do standard house drawings. If I could take a digital photo of a project and make changes to the existing house for presentation, that would be perfect.

A.Technology consultant Joe Stoddard (stoddard@epix.net) responds: I know of no single piece of software that will do everything you’re asking for, so you’re going to have to combine some tools. SoftPlan Pro (http://www.softplan.com) will let you model the arched soffits and will allow you to apply existing textures to the CAD model. It will also produce good working drawings. Chief Architect (http://www.chiefarchitect.com) will allow you to render a CAD model and produce drawings, but you’ll need a separate application like SketchUp from @Last Software (http://www.sketchup.com) to create the curved soffit model for import into Chief. ArchiCAD (http://www.graphisoft.com), VectorWorks (http://www.vectorworks.com), and Cadsoft Build! (http://www.cadsoft.com) are three more CAD programs that can create and render (with add-ins) those kinds of custom features.

That kind of modeling is a very advanced application of any CAD program, though; it’s not something a beginner would be able to do right off the bat with any of them.

Entry cost for the software is going to be $2,000 or more. I’m basing that on current versions of Chief Architect plus SketchUp, or VectorWorks plus RenderWorks. SoftPlan Pro starts at $2,190, Build! is $2,999, and ArchiCAD starts at around $4,000.

Modifying existing digital photos to show new textures for your clients is a different issue. For that, you’re going to need a presentation product. One that many contractors use is called VisualPhile (http://www.visapp.com), which ranges from $400 to $1,000 depending on features purchased. Another option is an online system such as ChameleonPower (http://www.chameleon power.com), which will set up its visualization system on your website for a monthly fee.