Viewing design files created with a CAD application is something that everyone who works with CAD must do at one time or another. It could be to show a model to a client or to keep coworkers informed about design changes, but having a viewer that can quickly go through design files without having to fire up the originating CAD software is a widespread need for efficient operations. This review article looks at the latest versions of currently available 2D and 3D viewers.
You might only need to look at a simple set of design files to determine the one you need, or you might be deluged with a huge number of files in various formats that you must communicate with your team. In either case, you won't want to start the originating applications and open each file to see exactly what it is.
Whatever your specific needs, a drawing viewer of some sort is almost essential. But what your specific needs are in these software programs can vary widely. For example, a small CAD firm that only uses AutoCAD won't have the same viewer needs as a large design house that might also use SolidWorks, Inventor, CATIA, and AutoCAD. To this mix, add visualization files, high-resolution graphics, word processing documents, and spreadsheets, and the situation can become daunting. No one viewer fits all needs or budgets, so it's necessary to find one that is appropriate for you.
Among the first questions you should ask when choosing a viewer is whether it supports the file types you most commonly use. Is your work entirely 2D or is some of it 3D? Then there's the question of what you need to do with the drawing files. Do you need just a simple viewer or do you need to control layers, view attributes, or view cross sections? Do you need to do mark up and redlining? Are you working alone or do you need an enterprisewide viewer? Will the viewer allow for easy navigation among both files and directory structure? Is the cost of the software compared with the feature set within your budgetary restraints? Obviously, a lot of questions need to be answered, but fortunately you can choose from a wide array of capable applications, making it much easier to find a good fit for your needs.
What We Requested
For this roundup review, Cadalyst requested 2D and 3D file viewers from several vendors with the intention of testing the submitted viewers with both AutoCAD and SolidWorks test files. Not all the viewers supported both file formats, although all did support some form or another of AutoCAD DWG files. I ended up trying a variety of file formats with each of the nine viewers that Cadalyst received for evaluation. I was impressed with the viewers and their ability to accurately view a wide range of file formats.
With the continued evolution of major design applications, file formats also evolve, making them somewhat of a moving target. Note the number of changes that have taken place in the DWG format over the years. Because you may need to work with DWG files that go back a number of years, you'll want to be sure that your chosen viewer supports them. Obviously, DWG files are not the only ones whose formats changed over time, so sometimes it's remarkable that viewers work as well as they do with the number of file formats they support.
In the two years since Cadalyst last did a viewer roundup, a number of changes have occurred in the industry itself. Some viewers no longer exist, and some company names have changed — Cyco is now BlueCielo ECM Solutions, for example, and Oracle purchased the parent company of Cimmetry Systems, making AutoVue an Oracle product. Autodesk, which typically would be represented in this roundup, is absent this time because it has a viewer product in beta that is not yet ready for evaluation. Look for a new Autodesk release later in 2008.
For more information about these products, see the online feature table at www.cadalyst.com/0208viewertable.
RxHighlight R9.1 is a full-featured viewing tool that lets you view, print, mark up, and convert between file formats and communicate changes and information. Produced by Rasterex Software in Oslo, Norway, RxHighlight is the same base application as the company's RxView with the addition of mark-up, file-conversion, and batch routines. There are, in fact, three versions of the viewer, all based on the same technology but with varying options. Rasterex offers a variety of visualization and collaboration tools that are used by many international companies working in AEC, manufacturing, reprographics, engineering, oil-and gas-related industries, utilities, and other disciplines.
RxHighlight offers redlining, mark up and file conversion among the more than 600 supported file formats. Batch printing and batch conversion are both supported by RxHighlight. RxHighlight improves revision control and shortens the time used for engineering changes. It is designed for network environments, providing administrative tools and access control, but it also functions well as a standalone application.
RxHighlight offers a clean and easy-to-understand interface that can be customized to a degree by adding and/or removing toolbars. Additional customization options, such as plug-ins, are managed by an incorporated plug-in manager. Navigation is smooth, and the extensive file support appears solid given the array of file formats and complex design files I tested. This release supports AutoCAD 2008 and SolidWorks 2007 files, as well as files from Microsoft Office 2007, including Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and RTF files.
The new release also includes support for 3D, as well as improved scaling and measurement features and new base features such as support for PDF bookmarks, new AutoCAD filter options, and support for EXIF file information in digital photographs. Other new features include improvements in mark ups, such as a new option for adding holes to a measurement area, a new field called Custom Data added to the markup list, support for line styles, and more.
Additionally, RxHighlight allows you to convert any viewable data or document file type into another file format. This is true for converting one type of CAD format to another, as well as for publishing to Internet file formats such as JPEG, DWF, and PNG.
At the Rasterex Web site, you can download trial versions of both RxView and RxHighlight. Pricing is $195 for RxView CAD, $395 for RxView, and $595 for RxHighlight. Enterprise-level pricing is available.