PROS / It offers parametric modeling that automatically updates an entire design when just a single dimension is changed.
CONS / The software has a difficult learning curve, with a cumbersome, utilitarian interface.
VERDICT / It's got a large enough feature set and low enough cost to make it worth the investment.
Editor's Note: This review has been removed from our side-by-side comparison because it no longer ranks as a top 10 product. The original review is below, but check out our current top 10 about CAD Software here.
Alibre Design PE is CAD software specially designed for home hobbyists. The software is the light, personal edition in the Alibre family of design applications, which also encompasses professional and expert editions. For a consumer application, the software is surprisingly powerful, boasting both basic 2D drafting and 3D parametric modeling. While you won’t see the full-scale design functionality found on professional CAD software or even on some of the other more robust lite applications in our lineup, the software proves to be a useful, low-cost application worth the investment.
Considering it’s an entry-level application, we were pleasantly surprised to find the CAD software offers the majority of the features we were looking for including a command history, text editing and a measure tool that automatically measures linear distances. However, it doesn’t have a point marker tool that automatically numbers identical objects, though you can easily duplicate identical objects with a simple keyboard command. Also, you can create macros to use with Alibre Design, but the application itself doesn’t have the native ability to record macros.
Alibre Design PE offers versatile 2D and 3D functionality based on parametric solid modeling. This means the entire design is driven by intelligent dimensions. Whenever one dimension is changed, the entire design is automatically altered to reflect the change and maintain dimensional accuracy. This is highly convenient because you don’t have to adjust every single dimension manually whenever one is changed. The more complex a design, the handier parametric modeling is.
The CAD software has a basic 2D drawing toolset ideal for drafting floor plans, engineering schematics and other two-dimensional designs. It also has snap tools and color editing and lighting effects to add depth and aesthetics to designs. What the software lacks is photorealistic rendering, a full 2D toolset, cross hatching and lighting effects. However, these features are available on Alibre’s professional and expert editions.
Alibre Design PE’s file compatibility is mediocre at best. It only offers 2D import of DXF and DWF drawing files and basic PDF publishing. It also offers 3D export of STL files. STL refers to the native file format of computer-aided manufacturing software. There’s no support for WMF (Windows Metafile) and it doesn’t support raster images.
When it comes to ease of use, Alibre Design PE isn’t immune to the sharp learning curve inherent with most, if not all, CAD software. The computer-aided software takes some getting used to, and navigating can sometimes be inhibited by the cumbersome interface and its tiny, unlabeled icons. It may be packaged as a consumer application, but to use the software seems more like high-end CAD software that’s simply been stripped of some advanced features. Despite being challenging to learn, the software proves highly useful and interesting once you get the hang of it.
Overall, we were impressed with the software’s help and support options. To receive direct technical assistance for any Alibre products, you must purchase a software maintenance plan, which isn’t ideal but is a rather common practice among manufacturers of technical computer applications. Under the plan, you can receive support via telephone, online ticket system or live chat. You can access the live chat directly from the CAD software’s interface and speak directly to an Alibre engineer. This particular feature is completely unique to Alibre and one we think makes the software maintenance worth the investment. The company also offers free support resources including a built-in help section, online tutorials and training videos, all of which are informative and proved to be valuable resources for us.
Alibre Design PE isn’t the easiest CAD software to use and proper utilization of the application requires time, effort and patience. However, with an attractive price tag and exceptional parametric modeling, Alibre Design PE proves to be an impressive entry-level CAD application.