Wow, that took a lot more time than I had anticipated! I apologize if some of the sections appear rushed or if info was left out. Truth is, after playing around with the applications a bit I had settled on the following as the top two contenders:
- Lego Digital Designer (LDD)
I spent most of my time with them and then went back and played with the others to try and include a little more info besides, “I didn’t really like this program”. Hopefully you find some useful info in what has been written.
LDD quickly moved to the top of my list because it was pretty easy to use and the part snapping was really good. However, I didn’t really like the part search, grouping or color management as well as that of LDCad. Not a huge deal breaker, but the latest version is almost two years old and who knows what is planned for it.
LDCad’s controls were a little more difficult to adjust to and learn at first. However, after reading though the documentation I quickly started to pick things up and really started to like it. The part and color bins were great and made building easier and quicker. Being able to have all kinds of different split views and quickly toggle between 3D and 2D views was really helpful. Some might not like the GUI, but I think that’s one thing that really makes it stand out. Roland Melkert, the developer of LDCad, is actively working on this program and constantly adding additional features.
You can customize the GUI of LDCad by modifying one of the config files and creating your own custom icons, but I haven’t messed with that yet (info here). One of my favorite features in the new beta build is the ability to edit part snapping data from within the application. I also love being able to have multiple color and part bins in the beta version as well.
So, of the top two, which did I choose?
If you haven’t figured it out, the overall winner and grand champion, by a landslide, is LDCad!
To be fair to the others, here’s a quick summary on why I didn’t choose them:
- JBrickBuilder – The big turn off for me was the constant clicking to add parts and having to use Cut and Paste to move them. Not understanding how to move parts I left the program because I didn’t find it very usable. After posting on the LDraw forums I got an answer about moving parts, but it’s not a very elegant, or intuitive solution. It works, and one could probably get used to it, but I passed.
- LeoCAD – I wasn’t too fond of how you moved the camera around and how parts were manipulated. I also didn’t like having to switch between tools (move, select, color, etc.) to do things, that was a bit annoying. There wasn’t any part snapping either, and that just meant it would take more time to build. Having a proprietary parts library, even though it’s based on LDraw, was another minus in my opinion. On the plus side, this program is fairly current compared to some of the others. It was also the only one with the ability to export to some popular 3D rendering programs, which may be really appealing to some. It also has a pretty cool Minifig Wizard, check it out if you use lots of minifigs in your models.
- MLCad – The LDraw standard for a long time, a workhorse of a program, and useful for a lot of things (from what I understand, especially more advanced features), but it is a little dated and it didn’t really appeal to me. No part snapping, no editable 3D view (at least I couldn’t edit it), and not having a “full screen” view (maybe there is one), wasn’t appealing to me. Other things were not bad though. I didn’t really want something that hadn’t been updated in awhile when there was newer stuff available (however, it may be just fine in it’s current state and not really need any updates). I may go back to this if I need some of its features, but that might involve importing models that I build in another program. It also has a cool Minifig Generator if you like to build minifigs.
- MOC Builder – Loved the simplicity of it, but that was also part of it’s downfall for me. It just didn’t seem as feature rich as the others. It’s relatively new though, so that could change in the future.
- SR 3D Builder – I really had high hopes for this application going into this. First, I couldn’t get it to run and then I had problems using it. It just started to go downhill from there. Sadly, I found out the creator of the program passed away last fall and there didn’t appear to be much hope of the program continuing. That’s a shame, because from what little I did see Sergio Reano was well loved by the community and had created a truly amazing piece of software. Sounds like he had done some pretty innovative things and I would have loved to see what he could have done. Had there been a possible future for this program, and had it not been buggy, I might have spent more time with it.
Read the documentation and watch whatever videos you can. Try more than one out, you won’t know what you’re missing and/or don’t like unless you do and you might even find out about features that you would otherwise have missed. You might end up using more than one. Also, check out the different forums to get help or just see what other people are saying or need help with. You’ll get the most out of the program(s) if you do.
LDraw forums or the Eurobrick forums are a great place to post questions if you can’t figure something out, or are just great to browse through and see what others have said or are working on. There are other great sites out there, but these are two that have come up frequently in my searches. Enjoy!
There you have it. Hopefully you enjoyed some of the read and found something useful. Good luck in your quest to find the best program for you!