CAD and 3D Graphics

Bridge CUThe marketing materials for CAD software vendors like Bentley and Autodesk try to sell the idea that the same software used to create engineering plans is equally capable of producing marketing and presentation graphics. They make it seem that all one needs to do in order to get a beautifully rendered 3D representation of a design is to push a button or two. And while the 3D rendering capabilities are indeed built into the CAD applications themselves, the jump from engineering line-work to presentation graphics is a little more complicated.

Getting from Here to There

CAD software is perfect for designing projects and creating construction plans. In most cases, however, the graphical components that are used on the plan sheets are not well-suited for use as presentation graphics. Generally they are 2-dimensional representations of the project that are meant to look good on the plan sheets. With some clean-up work, a little tweaking, and a properly configured print configuration it is possible to produce acceptable 2D illustration graphics. There is no good way to get to 3D, however.

Some of the latest advances in CAD software allow designers to work in three dimensions from the very beginning. The software is then able to translate the 3D design into line-work suitable for plan sheets. And while this might appear to solve the issue of creating engineering and presentation graphics simultaneously, there are some serious things to consider. In order for this type of system to work, the designer will need to be trained to use these new tools and the CAD system will need significant set-up and configuration.

Furthermore, in order to get any type of presentation output from a CAD system, a significant amount of work needs to be done setting up the project in CAD. Once that is done, the design needs to be built in the software, at least to a preliminary stage, for the entire project. In cases where presentation graphics are not billable, for example when using them in a proposal, this level of design effort can be cost-prohibitive.

The Right Man (or Woman) For the Job

Even if a CAD system is state-of-the-art and the designers and technicians using it are the best in their field, it’s probably still better to get someone else to create presentation graphics. As I stated in another article, it is important to consider whether taking someone out of billable design and production is an effective strategy. Furthermore, finding CAD people who also know the complexities of 2D and 3D graphics, animation, multimedia, and photography are very hard to find.