This review will focus on 3dvia Shape which is one of several software applications that are part of the 3dvia site. When you see 3dvia Shape in action (video on the 3dvia Shape page) it definitely reminds you of Google SketchUp. I am by no means an expert user at either piece of software and will not go into the details of the differences between the two, but I think it is pretty obvious they use similar methods to construct geometry in their workspaces.
3dvia Shape is a FREE application that is available for download. The client software does require a connection to the 3dvia site. You are asked for a user name and password as soon as the application opens. As far as I could tell it is required since closing the login window ends the application before it even starts. Once you log in you are presented with an application window offering a “5 minute” tutorial building a house. The tutorial does a good job of getting you familiar the functions of the software. If you download 3dvia Shape, I definitely recommend checking it out.
The user interface of 3dvia Shape is visually very appealing. The name of each feature appears when your mouse hovers over most of the toolbar buttons. Also included is a “tips” section at the top of the screen which shows useful information based on the stages of construction the user is at.
Basic geometry can be created either using rectangles, circles, arcs, or lines. You can sketch on the “floor” plane or planar faces of your existing model. Dimensions, which can be set to both Metric and US, are automatically displayed while you are manipulating the geometry but disappear once movement stops. Shapes are “extruded” or “cut” by using the “Push n Pull” tool. The Manipulate tool allows you to grab model or sketch faces, vertices, and edges for movement. “Triads” appear when this tool is activated which help control the direction of each movement. Without the use of these controls, a shape can quickly move in unintended directions. 3dvia Shape also includes a fairly extensive amount of textures available via the “Paint” tool so you can make your models look more realistic.
There is no “Save” button in 3dvia Shape. Instead there is a publish button which stores your model on the 3dvia web site under “My 3dvia”. Models stored there are listed as “private” unless you choose to share it. If you do not wish to publish a model but would like to save it locally you can close the software and select the “Later” option in the dialog box that appears prior to the software closing. The model will be available for opening the next time you start the software.
3dvia Shape is a probably a good tool for someone who has never used 3D modeling software in the past. Experienced 3D CAD users (particularly those used to parametric modeling) might find it a bit frustrating due to the different modeling methods required to create some shapes and the limited tools to make precise changes. Overall I found that the tools did exactly what they were supposed to do and could see how many 3dvia users have been able to create some very impressive models. This application does seem to be geared more towards creating architectural structures but a quick look at the 3dvia Library shows many non-architectural models that users have created.
As a free tool 3dvia Shape certainly delivers on putting the power of 3D in the hands of more users.