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Best digital program for building....?

pantenkindpantenkind Member Posts: 258
edited April 2011 in Building and Techniques
I have recently come out of my dark ages about 6 months ago. I have bought and assembled about 100 or so sets since then and feel I have mastered enough building techniques to start a few smaller MOC'S I have been thinking about. I have started messing around with the virtual building program on the site and was wondering if that was the best place or program to do it? It feels a bit clunky to me and doesnt always seem to have what I am needing. I realize that the more I use it the easier it will become, but before I spend a ton of time trying to master it I just wanted to make sure it was the one I should be at. Any help on this would be appreciated greatly. Also since this is my first official thread, I have to say I love the new forum here, This is the site I always used to keep track of my collection and now that the forums are here I find myself checking it daily. Also, being an adult collector it has helped set my mind at ease that there are alot more adults out there just like me :-).


  • HuwHuw Administrator Posts: 7,119
    edited April 2011
    The most established LEGO CAD system is LDraw, which is 'an open standard for LEGO CAD programs that allow the user to create virtual LEGO models and scenes.'

    MLCad is the most widely used program for generating models in LDraw and it's pretty impressive. It's arguably harder to master than LDD, since LDD is aimed at kids, but far more powerful and less restrictive.

    I can't claim to be an expert but I believe files are interchangeable between the two to some degree. I'm sure there's an expert here who can provide more info.

    You can find out more and download it at

    Oh, and thanks for your comments :-)
  • vynsanevynsane Member Posts: 179
    I use LDD because the open-source offerings for Mac are pretty slim. I played around with Bricksmith, which is a Mac application that utilizes the LDraw library, but the interface was clunky compared to LDD. I like the ability to zoom in/out and rotate around the model swiftly in LDD - it reminds me of the game Homeworld. In fact, it's almost the exact same motions/behaviors.

    That said, LDD can be VERY limiting if you use it as-is. In order to make it much more versatile, you need to enable the 'LDD Extended' building theme (originally referred to as 'LEGO Universe Mode' in ver. 4.0, this is the new enhanced mode for ver. 4.1). There's already a discussion about the updates in LDD 4.1, with a link to the instructions on how to enable 'LDD Extended'. Even with LDD Extended enabled, you are still restricted in terms of printed pieces, whereas the LDraw library has a lot of legacy (out of production) prints, but this doesn't bother me much - when I design something in LDD, I usually place a generic minifigure in there as a figurehead and then choose the best pieces to compliment the design.
  • MartinMartin Member Posts: 375
    I've used MLCAD extensively for some time and IMO it's head and shoulders above LDD. Some of the tools in the LDraw suite are also extremely powerful - LPub, LDView and L3PAO (for Pov-Ray) to name but three.

    I've designed small models in MLCAD and large ones (50,000+ elements). It's UI can appear a bit dated but everything you need is there. It just takes a bit of time to gain some experience. I learned more in one morning talking to another expert than the whole month before. LEGO Power Tools is also a good book on the subject (again, a little dated now but a great starter).
  • drdavewatforddrdavewatford Administrator Posts: 6,756
    I've only ever used LDD, and Universe mode has served me well. The problem I have with it is the amount of slow-down as my design grows in size. I'm maybe up to 10,000 pieces or so and it's virtually unusable now.
  • pantenkindpantenkind Member Posts: 258
    Thanks for the advice, I am getting ldraw as we speak...That looks like the best option for what I am looking for. I will also check that book out Martin.
  • MartinMartin Member Posts: 375
    ^ MLCAD can suffer the same performance issues on my machine, but it depends on how I structure the model (and submodels).
  • MartinMartin Member Posts: 375
    edited April 2011
    Forgot to mention, LDraw and MLCAD can be a bit of a pain to get set up initially. The all-in-one installer went some way to alleviating the pain but many of the components in that one installer are now out of date and it is no longer recommended. I hope you are following the step-by-step tutorial as that's the way to get the best versions of LDraw, the parts library and the associated tools installed. LPub4 is far better than LPub 3, for example.
  • drdavewatforddrdavewatford Administrator Posts: 6,756
    edited April 2011
    ^ MLCAD can suffer the same performance issues on my machine, but it depends on how I structure the model (and submodels).
    Intriguing that the way you structure the model is a factor in performance - I would have assumed it's just the processing power needed to model the movements of all the indivdual elements. I'm designing a city layout, and what really killed the performance stone dead was when I imported a few of the modular buildings into the overall design, whereupon it ground to a virtual standstill. Very frustrating, as the modulars will be an integral part of the layout I'm designing......
  • legolijntjelegolijntje Member Posts: 12
    I prefer to use sr3d builder. It is almost as easy as LDD and it is as proffesional as Mlcad.
    It has even a built-in "hose generator" (or something like that, don't now the name) and you can "test" technic functions.
  • FMNinjaFMNinja Member Posts: 4

    could you not just map out the size they'll take up with pillars and flat bars, in stead of putting in the whole model...
  • jwsmartjwsmart Member Posts: 298
    It really depends on what you want to do with the model once you virtually "build" it.
    If you want to make a high-quality 3d render, or generate printed instructions then MLCAD is the way to go.
    If you're just looking for something to mess around with, or try to visualize a building technique or color scheme without finding the bricks, then LDD has a clear advantage.

    There are also strengths and weaknesses in the brick palette - LDD doesn't have the old-style hinges and certain other older elements, like monorail track, and the MLCAD (and any other tool that uses the parts library) can be slow to add new parts.

    MLCAD also has a much steeper learning curve - it takes a comparatively large investment in time to get good at it, but the reward is the amount of freedom you get.

    For any of the LDD users out there, can you build this set?

    I wasn't able to attach the engines/robots... I think it's a limitation of LDD (and possibly an illegal design) but I would be curious to know if anyone else had success.
  • vynsanevynsane Member Posts: 179
    @jwsmart - it seems the only thing holding up that sub-assembly is the brick geometry of the 'arms' - the two on the inside of the assembly won't jive, only one will attach. The other one floats there, half invisible, meaning it won't allow the connection. I don't know if it's a bug in LDD (more-so, the piece itself) or an actual 'illegal connection', but since it's in an official set, I'd say it's more a bug with that piece.

  • brickmaticbrickmatic Member Posts: 1,071
    ^ I'm thinking LDD thinks the piece is too big to fit in the allotted space. Unlike in the virtual world, in real life the bricks have some give and can lean sideways ever so slightly.
  • jwsmartjwsmart Member Posts: 298
    edited April 2011
    I just threw together the pieces and checked - it's definitely an illegal connection.
    I think this highlights one of the other differences in LDD vs. MLCAD. It's not possible in LDD, because the software checks the geometry for you. In MLCAD, there's no such checking, so you're free to produce illegal connections:

    With all that being said- LDD is my editor of choice on the Mac as well, but once I get to the point where I want to render an image, or make instructions, I need to switch over to .ldr format.

    You can export from LDD to .ldr - but sometimes that doesn't go so well. Using this file worked very well with LDD 4.0 - but I have not tested with LDD 4.1...
  • tdhbrtdhbr Member Posts: 188
    Digging up an old discussion here ... I've used MLCad on my PC for a year or so and generally liked it. Now I have a new Mac. The Ldraw site lists 3 options to use on Mac with the Ldraw parts library ... Bricksmith, Mac Bricks(?), and one I forgot.

    Does anyone have enough experience with those to make a recommendation? I like to use MLCad to design MOC's, and to document MOC's I've designed by building, and I like to generate parts lists. Right now I'm not to concerned with high quality rendering, or generating instructions.

  • MarkVMarkV Member Posts: 42
    Do any of these support exporting to .obj, .stl, or other formats that can be used in "more traditional" CAD or 3D Modeling packages?
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