PROS / It has more than 100 design templates for 70 different kinds of visuals including floor plans and engineering diagrams.
CONS / It lacks photorealistic rendering, transparency options and lighting effects, all of which can render more realistic designs.
VERDICT / Experts may not like the prefab templates, but the software’s a good starter application for beginner and intermediate users.
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.
If you’re looking for CAD software that minimizes the inherent learning curve, SmartDraw may be for you. SmartDraw isn’t a conventional CAD application; instead of manually creating complex shapes and designs from scratch, the software has thousands of templates that can be used as springboards for your designs. The software was created as a visual companion application for Microsoft Word to create professional visuals such as flow charts and network diagrams. However, its robust design functionality and wide-ranging templates allow it to function as decent CAD software as well. While the templates boost overall convenience of the application and are likely to appeal to beginners, a few usability issues and missing features keep SmartDraw from being a top contender in our lineup.
SmartDraw has some but not all of the features we were seeking in light CAD software. It has convenient drag-and-drop functionality that allows you to simply click on an object from the library and drop it directly into your design, like a chip in a circuit diagram or a window in floor plans. You can also place and edit text anywhere on a design and the software automatically calculates dimensions. Disappointingly, the software doesn’t support macros, and we couldn’t find any type of command history that tracked design changes. It also lacks a point marker tool that automatically numbers identical objects.
SmartDraw’s standout design feature is undoubtedly its customizable templates. With hundreds of templates for 70 different types of visuals, these quick-start templates can be used to design anything from landscape plans to electrical schematics. They save both time and effort by eliminating the tedious and often complex processes associated with fundamental computer-aided design. Under the floor plans category alone, the software has more than 160 templates to choose from. These range from office layouts to warehouse plans. For each type of visual, the software also has an impressive catalog of symbols. For instance, if you want to design house plans, the application has doors, windows, appliances and furniture that can be added to your design.
While its template and symbol libraries are noteworthy, the rest of SmartDraw’s design tools and methods are not. The application doesn’t have any 3D capability and lacks transparency options, lighting effects and photorealistic rendering. It does, however, offer more basic CAD design functions, including a color editor, textures and useful snap tools.
When it comes to file compatibility, SmartDraw is decent, supporting most major file formats associated with CAD software. For instance, the software supports the import of DWG and DXF files. DWG is the native file format for many CAD software applications, and DXF is a native AutoCAD format created to improve interoperability between AutoCAD and other design applications. SmartDraw does not, however, support DWF files, surprising considering it’s also a native AutoCAD format. Other supported file formats include WMF, BMP, JPEG, TIFF and PNG.
The software claims it provides “CAD results without the CAD hassles.” While we appreciated the convenience of the prefab templates, we didn’t find the software to be much easier to use than any of the other CAD software applications we reviewed. The interface isn’t highly intuitive and finding specific functions or features proved to be more difficult than it should be. That being said, we did like the look and feel of the software. The interface is clean and sleek and emulates Microsoft Word, which may be beneficial for some users in terms of familiarity.
SmartDraw is supplemented with a range of useful help and support options. The manufacturer provides direct technical support via both email and telephone. The latter is significant because most CAD software manufacturers charge for phone support or don’t even offer it. When it comes to online resources, the SmartDraw website hosts several training videos, in-depth tutorials, and a user forum where you can seek advice from SmartDraw support staff and other users. There’s also a FAQs section but it deals more with advantages of the software rather than technical issues. The one thing we would have liked to see is a built-in help section accessed directly from the software’s interface. To access the user guide or tutorials, you must go to the SmartDraw website.
SmartDraw functions as decent CAD software because it provides powerful 2D drawing capabilities and unique design templates that can be completely customized. The software lacks some of the more complex CAD features we sought, but its vast array of templates and notable help and support options (namely free telephone support) make the application worthy of consideration in the hunt for top design CAD software.