CAD on the Macintosh Platform

New machines and emulation software have expanded the cross-platform options. April 21, 2007

I was wondering if there is any new drafting software available for Mac. I use AutoCAD and I called AutoDesk today, and they wouldn't tell me if they plan on re-releasing CAD in a Mac format. I really want to replace our Windows based computers with Apple, but if I can't draft in them, then there isn't much point. Aside from Quickbooks and internet access, I don't really use it for anything else. I am sick of my computer crashing.

Forum Responses
(CAD Forum)
From contributor T:
The new Macs also run Windows. All that is required is to log on and off between the two operating systems. Best of both worlds?

From the original questioner:
I know about what they call boot camp. The problem with it is that it is an exact copy of Windows, faults and all. What makes a Mac so great is that their OS, what they call a kernel, is separate from the programs, which is why it is nearly impossible to crash. In Windows, programs integrate themselves into the kernel when you install them, which is why, if you have too many of the wrong programs running at once, it crashes. With boot camp, you have these same problems on the Windows side. Basically, it makes your computer dumb. But, yes, I have thought about it. The other problem is, I have AoutCAD on all day long, so if I wanted to use the computer for something else, I would have to save everything and shut off CAD and, as you said, reboot. The first is still the best.

From contributor M:
There are two applications that will do this without rebooting your machine that I know of. One is Crossover from and the other is Parallels Desktop from Crossover is similar to the WINE solution for Linux in which Windows apps do not require Windows OS to run. I've checked their website and they say AutoCAD should run. You can download a free trial from either one of them and see if it works or not. Let me know if it works, please, since my Mac (at home) is an older machine, but I have plans to buy MacBook Pro and would like to know if it works. I, too, have several Windows machines that I need to replace. New Macs may be just what I need.

From contributor P:
You might want to check out SketchUp. It is cross platform and free.

From contributor T:
I have been using a CAD program on Windows platforms, '98 through Xp, for 13 years and I do not suffer from crashes of my CAD sessions, so I'm not sure that CAD and Windows are the culprit.

My main beef with Windows is that the OS uses mass amounts of resources to run services in the background that have nothing to do with drafting and that all of the security problems are with Internet Explorer, Word and Outlook, not the CAD program.

For this reason I am keeping an eye on the Linux OS or just simply using a dedicated machine for CAD and another machine for all the bug infested programs (like the internet) and sharing files.

So far the results of drawing quality shop drawings on a Mac are limited at this time. This might change if more programs were written for the Mac system, but it has been quite some time already. CAD is changing all the time and it is ready for a big jump right now, so there just might be something better on the horizon, or maybe it's just the next big headache.

By the way, I am speaking strictly about drafting furniture and millwork. The graphics that are produced on a Mac are far superior to any other.

From contributor J:
The very reason I have not gone fully to CAD yet is I use a Mac. There are CAD programs for the Mac OS. Ashlar Vellum has several programs that are similar to AutoCAD; SketchUp has a Mac version (the version you pay for is better than the free one and it's still cheap), and there are a few others that are more architecture driven. If you just need 2d or 3d drawings and don't have a need for a program such as Microvellum or other such add-ons, then one of these should work.

The new Macs with the Intel chip do allow the use of Windows programs, as others have mentioned. One thing to think about - use the Windows section to run the CAD program and the Mac side to run everything else. One other beauty of the Macs (for now) is that there are very few programs written for them that infect them; viruses are thus far not an issue.

I am in the same position right now of trying to find the right software to use and whether I stay with Mac or buy a PC just to do drawings. Hope I can stay with the fruit.

From the original questioner:
I appreciate the responses. Nice to see I am not the only one who wants to doodle on a Mac.

Contributor M, I am going to look into those two programs, but I don't have a Mac yet. I used to many years ago, but got rid of it because there weren't any good programs for them.

Contributor P, I looked at the Sketchup site. The geo-referenced examples they had were very neat. I think I am going to download it to play around.

Contributor T, I don't blame CAD for my crashes. It is just as you said - Windows devotes so many resources to running extra programs that it can't keep it straight. Combine that with all of the stuff that a Windows PC picks up from surfing the internet, i.e. cookies, viruses, adware, etc., and it really bogs down the whole system. I am thinking that I might do as you and use my current Windows computer just for CAD.

From contributor W:
My shop is full of Mac users, independent woodworkers who do some drafting. One colleague uses a program called Graphite which he loves. The product I have seen looks real nice. As for me, I recently picked up a top flight drafting machine at an auction; I still go with the pencil for the limited amount I do. Now if only the CAD programs written for Mac could solve some of the stupid errors I see on architect's computer drawings that could never occur in a hand-made drawing. I would swear there are far more errors in CAD drawings, but why should architects care? It's up to the builder to detect them and fix them.

From contributor B:
I installed Parallels on my MacBook Pro to test eCabinets. It works very well. In fact, Windows runs much better on the Mac in the Parallels environment than it ever ran on my PCs.

From the original questioner:
I looked at Codeweaver and Parallels. If I were to make a decision based off websites, I would definitely try Parallels. It says it will run any Windows based product (actually they both say that). I know a couple of geeks that I am going to ask. If something is too good to be true, it probably is. My concern is that these programs take a bit of the hard drive and turn it into a Windows hard drive, which would mean you are back at square one. Since, after all, Windows programs are designed to integrate themselves into the OS and I don't see either of these two programs changing the behaviors of the Windows-based programs themselves.

From contributor O:
From another user: "The new Intel Mac with Parallels is the best Windows machine I've ever owned." You do not have to reboot when switching OSs with Parallels. MacConnection, for one, offers Parallels free when you buy a new MAC.

I also spoke at length with the CEO of a company that uses Windows. He has always preferred MACs, so he upgraded to an Intel based Mac. He runs Windows native and says there are less crashes on the MAC. When I get an Intel MAC, I am going to try Ecabs.

As for MAC drawing programs, VectorWorks is an excellent program. The biggest drawback is that it doesn't have a stretch command as good as ACAD, but it does have things that are very convenient… Automatic metric to English dimensioning in dialogue box; ability to manipulate objects using arithmetic operations in an info box - you can add, subtract, divide and multiply and the object automatically resizes. This is especially helpful in dividing things into 2 or more equal parts. You can export in DWG of DXF for CNC machining. I nest the parts myself. Sadly I don't always get them right, just like regular cabinetmaking.

I know a designer who uses Sketch-up and loves it and I've seen him use it. It looks slick for #D. Don't know about exporting for CNC.

Get a Mac. You'll like it. Also, the new IMAC has a 24" screen option.

From contributor J:
Contributor B, any other feedback you can offer? Do you see a problem with viruses, etc. getting infested in the Windows side when you are on the internet or do you shut that side down? That's my one big question about Parallels, that you might get a stray virus that could wreak havoc with the whole works.

I emailed Parallels about running AutoCAD and they have no experience. Anyone else out there tried it on an Intel Mac with Parallels? Or is anyone running another CAD program like Vector or SketchUp on the Mac side and exporting dxf files over to the PC side to run through a cutlister program? The other big issue that I see - I haven't found a cutlist/optimization program that runs native on a Mac.

Very good to see that Macs have a small foothold here among woodworkers. Go fruit!

From contributor M:
The very reason why someone wants to switch from Windows to Mac is dissatisfaction with Windows OS (for many and different reasons). Parallels will run most Windows apps (only those that access Ring 0 at the core of the OS won't run), but you still have Windows OS in the Mac environment with all the goodies - spam, viruses, registry hacks, etc. will be prevalent in the Windows environment as much as running a Windows machine.

I run SuSe Linux and Windows. There is an application called WINE (Wine Is Not Emulator) that allows running Windows programs without Windows OS installed. CrossOver is same as WINE in that it allows running Windows programs on the Mac without Windows OS installed. If you don't want to fool with Windows but want to run Windows apps, then this is pretty much the only solution.

From contributor O:
I'd be really surprised if you couldn't export a Vectorworks DXF into a cutlist program. It works fine exporting DXF and DWG into CAM. Vectorworks has a few speed bumps exporting into Ecabs. For some reason ECabs will not recognize a DWG or DXF that was grouped in Vectorworks. Sometimes I will group objects to make them easier to move, but I must remember to ungroup them if I am going to export to Ecabs. A cabinet side with all boring and machining will be recognized if it is exported into Ecabs as a rectangle, circles, cut-outs, etc, exactly as Ecabs wants to see it (and a CNC machine cut it), just as you drew it. Well, you have to decompose the rectangle, an extra step. If the same objects are grouped into a single part, then exported, Ecabs will not recognize that grouped object. At times it will not even be on screen.

Vectorworks exports fine into MultiCam and Alpha Cam. If there are issues with a DXF export to a cut-list/optimizer program, someone will know the work around. I'd be interested to know if anyone has tried it.

From contributor O:
I like that you don't have to have Windows installed - there, I said it, now I feel better. Where does one get Linux and suse? Do you need an Intel Mac or will it run on a power PC Mac?

From contributor B:
eCabs ran pretty well in the Parallels environment on the MacBook Pro with 1G of RAM. More RAM would be nice. I did run Internet Explorer just to play with it and it ran flawlessly. I didn't do a lot of surfing, so viruses and Spyware were not a concern. I have not purchased Parallels yet. I was testing the combination on my wife's laptop to see if I could trash my PC for a Mac. I plan to get the iMac 20" or 24" soon since the Parallels solution will allow me to keep running eCabs. They really are fantastic machines and trouble free!

From the original questioner:
I talked to my guru to see what his opinion was on Parallel. It obviously works great. My concern is with the Windows part. I want to know that I won't have the troubles that are associated with Windows. He knew of Parallel and a couple of other programs but wanted to do some more research before giving me his blessing. He is a trained Apple computer tech, so if he says all is well, I plan on buying a Mac and trying AutoCAD. Otherwise, none of the earth shattering news I was hoping to hear.

From contributor J:
Contributor O, my question would be could you run, say, Vectorworks or Cobalt on the Mac, export a dxf file over to a Windows-based cutlist program, such as SmartLister, that resides on the Windows side of your now partitioned hard drive (thanks to Parallels/Crossover), and have it work well. It would obviously work if you had it on the same OS, but it's that switching that I wonder about. Because if it works, then AutoCAD is no longer necessary and you could use one of the Mac native CAD programs and do away with almost all of the Windows issues.

From contributor O:

I don't know the answer to that question. Vectorworks is a Mac native drawing CAD program. My DXF and DWG goes right to the CNC guys. I have been doing cutlists manually. I never thought of using a Windows based cutlist program, as I don't use the Windows side of my machine much.

Maybe you could tell me where I could get a demo version of KutLister or other program. Does Kutlister run off your nested parts drawings and translate the parts into a cutlist? That would be really handy. I'd love to know. I really like Vectorworks except for the lack of a Stretch command like Autocad.

From contributor S:
In case anyone from Autodesk is monitoring this, I will throw in my request that they make their stuff Mac compatible.

From the original questioner:
Autodesk used to make their CAD for the Macintosh format, but stopped. Probably because of lagging sales. But I agree wholeheartedly. With the increasing popularity of Macs, I think it is time for Autodesk to review their policies. The same goes for anyone who writes software.

From contributor C:
You should have a look at InteriorCad. It's a dedicated cabinet plug-in. More complex and robust than I need. You can download a demo. I've been using V-Works for about 6 years now.

From the original questioner:
Okay, I think this may be my final word on the subject. I have talked to several people that run CAD on Mac, and they all say it works great. Check out the forum page on the Parallels website for tips on increasing performance. What cinched the deal for me was the endorsement of Parallels on the Apple website. Of course Apple has a disclaimer saying they do not endorse the product, but they took the time to put it on their website, so good enough for me. I still don't have my virus, etc. concerns answered, so I guess I will just have to try it and hope for the best. I also haven't been able to find an answer for the question about non-native .DXf files and Cam programs, but I hope to find it. Thanks to all who responded.

From contributor J:
I talked with a CMA member I know about one very powerful por level cut list/optimizer program, SmartLister. He didn't see an issue with the exporting of files but the program runs on top of AutoCAD, much like MicroVellum and others, so you still have to have ACAD. So much for that idea. But if you didn't need such a powerful cutlist program, it seems very possible to export files from the Mac CAD program to a Windows cutlist program, at least until software companies realize that people are jumping the Windows ship. I'll post more in the future as I explore this. Right now I have to go figure out which Mac to buy.

From contributor O:
If I had a couple thousand and didn't have a year and a half old 20" PowePC Imac
I'd buy a 24" Imac with 2 gig memory. 2.67 mhz processor comes with Parallels software free from Macconnection. Not a bad deal when you consider screen size. In fact, that will be the next Mac I buy.

From contributor E:
I've been running Ashlar-Vellum's Graphite on Mac for about 5 years. It's a great 2D drafting app. Vectorworks is also great, license is about the same, slightly larger feature set. Like many of you, I do my cutlists manually, though Graphite does have a Bill of Materials module that I have never really gotten into. Also, Graphite will be releasing a major revision change in the first quarter of next year.

From contributor Z:
Macs are superior to Windows based computers in almost every way. Macs have been at the cutting edge of new computer design for 20+ years. Windows has copied almost all of Macs innovations. As a designer I can't believe AutoCAD does not have a Mac platform. Most creative people I know (musicians, writers, artists, filmmakers) are in Macs. I got so frustrated doing all my drawings on a clunky PC and everything else on a Mac, I almost went to the dark side full time. But wait, once again Mac innovates. Just buy the new Macs (especially new laptops) - they have the same chip that is in all PCs, so essentially it is a Mac that is driven with a PC engine. Windows can be installed and run as if were an HP or Sony or any other dull computer. I have gotten rid of all my computer gear except for my laptop and plotter. Extra bonus, I can do drawings on site when my crew is installing.

The comments below were added after this Forum discussion was archived as a Knowledge Base article (add your comment).

Comment from contributor R:
I've been using 2D Ashlar products for years on Mac’s for my shop drawings, starting with "DrawingBoard" which was replaced by "Graphite" and have been very satisfied with them. I bought a Mac mini with the dual core about 6 months ago and have had good results using "Parallels" to run "Cutlist Pro" for my optimization program. Note: To run windows apps, you'll have to buy windows OS and "Parallels".

Comment from contributor G:
I’ve been “drafting” on a Macintosh since 1985. There are, in fact many CAD applications. The programs run the gambit from sketching, simple 2d, very powerful 2d, modeling, 3d drafting and full on 3d CAD. The prices too are varied from free to almost $4K. Although I have not tried them all, most have the Mac’s traditional “intuitive” feel. The learning curve is pretty flat.

AutoCAD’s failure in the Mac world probably has a lot to do with its steep learning curve. The people at Apple have always worked to make the Mac and its applications easy to use. Friends of mine who have changed to the Mac have some difficulty “letting go” of fighting with their computer. As the world revolves around AutoCAD and its dxf/dwg formats most of these programs import and export these files. The 3d programs handle most modeling formats as well as 3d’s.

Another Mac feature is the ability to “print” any document to a PDF file, which anyone can open with Adobe’s Acrobat Reader whether Mac or PC. As to the cut list capability I’ve never looked that up being one of those who “make stupid errors that could never occur in hand made drawings”, and not one of the gifted few. There are days I too wish to go back to pencil and paper (I used a slide rule during my training), but try the free version of SketchUP and model something without worrying about scale. If your vision works best in 2d try a demo of PowerCADD, which is very easy to use.