I’ve loved LEGO all my life and I recently found out that a bunch of cool LEGO building/design/CAD programs existed. So, I set out on a quest to find the best one for me. Not knowing anything about these, or much about the LEGO community online, it was a little difficult to find out what was available. I figured I’d share my quest so others might benefit.
Not knowing what these programs had to offer, I had a pretty short list of evaluation criteria:
- Try to build the same model in each program and see how easy it is to build (my primary objective)
- Must be compatible with Windows 10 (OS I’m running on my main PC)
- See how easy it is to build without reading the documentation first (not that consulting it was out of the question)
- Settle on a program that appears to be somewhat current and maintained
My primary objective was to find something that I could use to build LEGO models. I didn’t really dive into the more advanced features that some of them offered, like parts authoring, scripting, animation, creating build instructions, exporting parts lists, etc.. To be honest, I didn’t really know that some of these features were available when I started my search. Going into detail about all the different features would make for a very long post and that’s not my main objective. After having used the programs a little, I settled on the following evaluation criteria, since they cover the basic building experience that I was originally looking for:
- Adding parts (i.e. part searching and selection)
- Manipulating parts in the build area
- Changing part colors
I didn’t spend the same amount of time with each application. Because of that, some might complain that I wasn’t “fair”. Well, to be “fair”, this isn’t a professional review/evaluation, it’s just documentation of my personal quest to find a program that works for me. Take what you will from it. Maybe you’ll find that you love one of them that I didn’t particularly gravitate towards, that’s the wonder of personal choice! 🙂
Anyway, on with the good stuff!
Programs that I looked at, in alphabetical order:
- Lego Digital Designer (LDD)
- MOC Builder
- SR 3D Builder
For clarification, most of these are based on LDraw, a library of LEGO parts and software that can be used “for modeling LEGO creations in 3D software on a computer.”
Here’s a little more information about each one of the programs, as well as a link to where you can download it:
- JBrickBuilder – Version 0.4.1b (2015-06-12) – JBrickBuilder is a LEGO builder in Java for the LDraw part library.
- LDCad – Version 1.4b (2015-02-28) – LDCad is an LDraw model editor targeted at both the starting and more experienced LDraw user.
- LEGO Digital Designer (LDD) – Version 4.3.8 (2013-12-07) – LDD is LEGOs proprietary CAD program for designing LEGO models and is not based on the LDraw library.
- LeoCAD – Version 0.82 (2015-04-04) – LeoCAD is a CAD program for creating virtual LEGO models, Minifig Wizard included. It has an easy to use interface and currently includes over 6000 different pieces created by the LDraw community. LeoCAD maintains its own proprietary parts library, but is based on the LDraw parts library. The libraries are not compatible, but you can import LDraw parts in LeoCAD. It supports basic animation (via keyframing) and can export to 3DStudioMax, POV-Ray, and Alias Wavefront.
- MLCad – Version 3.40 (2011-12-27) – MLCad is a highly popular LDraw-based editor for Windows and Linux.
- MOC Builder – Public Release_20150202(bug fix2) (2015-02-02) – MOC Builder is a tool developed by Bricklink’s tool development team and touts the ability to easily order whatever you create, via Bricklink.
- SR 3D Builder – Version 0.9.7.81 (2014-08-25). SR 3D Builder is branded “The most advanced LEGO PC CAD for TECHNIC Model”, and many people seem to support that. My initial findings had me pretty excited about this software and quickly put it at the top of my list to evaluate. Sadly, Sergio Reano, the creator of SR 3D Builder passed away last fall and this incredible programs is no longer maintained (as of this writing).
LDCad, LeoCAD, MLCad and SR 3D Builder are packaged in the LDraw All-In-One-Installer (AIOI), which I recommend you use for installation of these programs, and can be downloaded here.
The following table is for reference and highlights some of the similarities and differences between the programs:
|JBrickBuilder||LDCad||LDD||LeoCAD||MLCad||MOC Builder||SR 3D Builder|
|LDraw Library||Yes||Yes||No||Propritary based on LDraw||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Export to Bricklink Wanted List*||No||No||No||No||No||Yes||No|
|LDraw and LDD file support||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Create Building Instructions*||No||No||Yes||No||No||No||No|
|Parts History List||Yes||Yes||No||No||No||No||No|
|Parts Favorite List||No||Yes||No||No||Yes||No||No|
* Exporting to Bricklink Watned List (to buy the model you build), as well as creating build instructions, can be accomplished through different programs for all of the LDraw programs. Checkout BrickUtils to export a parts list and here’s a guide to using LPub to create instructions.
I struggled a little with how to present all the data for this post. Originally I was going to list each one individually and talk about my experience with it. However, I found that I would compare one with the others, so I felt a better way to present my findings was to “review” by feature. Towards the end is a more complete list of features for each program, which is probably more info than is necessary, but is that so bad? 😉 Anyway, off we go…