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SmartSketch is an outstanding example of 2D drafting software from Intergraph. Remarkably, considering its exceptionally good features and the fact that it is produced and marketed by one of the biggest and oldest firms in the CAD business, it is not all that widely known.
It began several years ago as Imagineer-Technical and was introduced at the same time as Intergraph’s equally outstanding new 3D mechanical design software, Solid Edge. Later, Solid Edge was sold to Unigraphics but Imagineer remained with Intergraph and was renamed SmartSketch. That name does reflect its smart features that help you sketch designs up very quickly, but perhaps it also might be considered to imply that it may not be a fully-fledged accurate drafting tool. Be assured however, that SmartSketch is indeed a highly accurate and fully featured professional 2D CAD system. It’s just easier and quicker to use than many.
The key features of SmartSketch remain the same in this latest release, as you would expect. It has two particularly outstanding features in my opinion: One is its intuitive user interface with continual automated assistance, at the cursor, for object-snapping and geometrical constraints or geometrical relationships. The other is its system of drag-&-drop symbol libraries that can have built-in intelligence. SmartSketch seems to me to integrate the most useful ideas found in systems such as Visio with the traditional basic functions of a proper CAD system. That means, it is good for very rapidly drawing up circuit diagrams, flow diagrams and similar, and is also good for detailing and dimensioning complex parts, or drawing building plans.
SmartSketch is supplied with a large number of Template files to define new drawing settings to suit various fields of work. These include:
- Process: Process Flow Diagrams, P&ID, Electrical Schematics, Ortho Piping, Control Loop, Process Block Diagramming
- Business Diagrams: Workflow Diagramming, Basic Diagramming, Office Layout, Flowcharts, Organization Charts, Network Diagrams
- Network Diagram
- Technical Drawing
- Mapping: Atlas Mapping, Directional Mapping
- AEC: Architecture, Construction, HVAC, Plot Plans, Site, Landscape
- Mechanical: Mechanical Drawings (ANSI & ISO)
Continuing from previous versions, there are various tools for integrating CAD data from AutoCAD or MicroStation into your work in SmartSketch. You can import such data into the SmartSketch data, which translating it to SmartSketch’s object types, quite successfully usually. Alternatively, if you link the DWG or DGN data as reference files, the linked data remains as separate DWG or DGN files and does not undergo any translation. You can even alter that data in-situ and it is saved in its own format.
In this version, the DWG and DGN translations has been augmented so that AutoCAD Blocks or MicroStation Cells that have attribute data attached are now translated as SmartSketch Symbols with SmartLabels that replicate the attributes function. Some aspects of data translation need decisions from a human, so there are dialog boxes that let you select your preferred translation options.
There is now an ‘Add-in Manager’ – a dialog box for loading or unloading optional modules. The illustration below shows this dialog, and you can see some of the optional modules. In the MicroStation translation dialog shown, you can see there are options for dealing with MicroStation’s unique units resolution (from its ‘seed file’), how to deal with Cells, and how to map linestyles, lineweights and fonts to those of SmartSketch. There is another dialog for AutoCAD translation options.
This version has adopted new data management logic to speed up opening files and moving around in the display of a very large drawing. It initially loads a ‘lightweight’ representation of each drawing object into memory – just enough to fully display it. Then the full object data is loaded if the object is selected for modification.
A special command has been added for Detail View. This will save a lot of time for those who use enlarged small details a lot. You define an enclosing envelope, and all data within it is copied and enlarged as specified to a new location.
Many CAD products now incorporate some form of automated object-snap system with pop-up symbols at the cursor to indicate what is possible. SmartSketch was one of the first to provide that facility, and it is implemented in a particularly intuitive manner. SmartSketch extends this with its Relationships feature. This is actually the same as Intergraph used in Solid Edge’s profile drawing sub-system, and reflects the parametric design philosophy of that product.
You can define various elements of a drawn figure as having orthogonal orientation, and junctions as being right-angle, tangent, etc, and other lines as being parallel or of equal length or symmetrical, or concentric, etc. Then whatever changes may be made those relationships will be retained. Then if new sizes are entered for some of the free dimensions, the whole figure will reshape itself to maintain those relationships, or complain if it is impossible. All relationships are marked by symbols on the elements so that there is never any mystery about what is happening.
A valuable aid to fast drawing is the PinPoint tool. This is a graphic tool that works in conjunction with the ‘Ribbon bar’ below the graphic area, where the current cursor position’s X,Y values are displayed as you move the mouse, and where you can type in X and Y coordinate values to control the cursor. PinPoint works on a ‘target point’ that is relative to the current or last cursor position. The orientation of the X,Y relationship can be swivelled around or aligned with an existing feature. It’s hard to explain, but extremely self-evident to use. It makes it easy to locate new objects at some coordinate or angular relationship to existing features without needing to draw construction lines and erase them afterwards.
A lot of drawing work involves using libraries of symbols, and SmartSketch really shines here. Not only is it easy to set up custom libraries that appear beside the work area as thumbnail images that can be dragged into the drawing, but the symbols can be given various ‘smart’ features. In particular, they can have connection points that connector lines fix onto. Then if the layout of symbols needs to be rearranged, the connecting lines automatically reorganise themselves. You can define whether they must use only orthogonal routing or can use angled elements as well. That is of course mainly of use for circuit diagrams and similar.
Symbols can also be defined to cut the object they are inserted onto. This is particularly useful for doors and windows for example when inserted into walls, or for adding in-line symbols to a diagram.
Many pre-defined symbols are provided with the product, grouped into several libraries. Users may have no need to create their own symbols, but it is quite an easy task – much more so in this version than formerly, as a new SmartSymbol creation module is provided. You can also link the parametric dimensions of a symbol to a table that can in turn be linked to an external program.
Both metric and imperial unit symbols are supplied for most fields of interest. However, users anywhere but in America will find the circuit diagram libraries of little use because although drawn to metric sizes, they still use the American symbols which are radically different from international standard symbols used almost everywhere else.
SmartSketch is a very powerful 2D CAD system of wide ranging applicability. It brings together in the one system, all the features expected of a top class 2D CAD system, together with the smart diagramming features normally found only in software that can do no more than diagramming. It is also remarkably easy to use and very fast to use. Unlike some systems, its ease of use is not of the kind that makes it easy to learn initially but frustrates you once you are familiar with it. SmartSketch is very easy to learn and to use, and its ease of use translates to speed of use with a little familiarity. It’s a highly recommendable, even though little known 2D CAD system.