Q. What simple CAD program can you recommend for generating low-tech working drawings?

A.Craig Savage responds: Your question is a good one because it is important to correctly define what you want to do with the CAD software before choosing the package. By my definition, "low-tech" means simple 2-D drafting, not 3-D perspectives, not color rendering, and certainly not generation of materials lists and project schedules. Of course, you can get these things in many CAD programs, but there is a cost — and it’s not just in money. It’s the time and effort needed to master a complex program.

Having said that, both Macintosh and IBM-compatible machines running Windows or OS/2 have a large assortment of 2-D CAD programs that are easy to learn and use. I started on the Mac, so I am partial to MacDraft by Innovative Data Design (about $400). It’s now available for Windows machines, as well, and is very capable of turning out everything from shop drawings to floor plans . Claris Draw ($250 to $400, depending on where you buy) is a fine Mac CAD product with a Windows version on the way. Aldus Corp (now Adobe Systems) makes IntelliDraw (about $100 when ordered direct from Adobe Systems). It truly is an intelligent drawing and graphics package, requiring a short learning curve. Finally, AutoSketch from AutoDesk (from $130 to $300) is another fine, simple-to-use drafting package. Mastering it will help you to prepare for the big (time-consuming) leap into AutoCAD (about $3,800), should you decide that low-tech drawings aren’t enough.

One last word of caution before you embark on computer drawing programs (or any program for that matter): Don’t get suckered into buying more "power" than you need. It’s much better to be able to use 80% of a program that delivers 90% of what you need, than to be able to use only 20% of a program that’s capable of delivering 100% of what you need (but can’t understand) .

Craig Savage is a builder in Carpinteria, Calif., and publisher of Macintosh Construction Forum and Window on Construction newsletters.

Simple CAD Sources

Adobe Systems P.O. Box 6458 Salinas, CA 93912 800/642-3623

AutoDesk 111 McInnis Pkwy. San Rafael, CA 94903 800/228-3601

Claris Corp. 5201 Patrick Henry Dr. Santa Clara, CA 95052 800/325-2747 or 408/987-7000

Innovative Data Design 1820-L Arnold Industrial Way Concord, CA 94520 510/680-6818