Getting started

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Revision as of 16:53, 8 September 2013 by Yorik (talk | contribs) (Changed the "don't use it if you don't know python" paragraph... We passed that phase already!)
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Foreword

FreeCAD is a 3D CAD/CAE parametric modeling application. It is primarily made for mechanical design, but also serves all other uses where you need to model 3D objects with precision and control over modeling history.

FreeCAD is still in the early stages of development, so, although it already offers you a large (and growing) list of features, much is still missing, specially comparing it to commercial solutions, and you might not find it developed enough yet for use in production environment. Still, there is a fast-growing community of enthusiastic users, and you can already find many examples of quality projects developed with FreeCAD.

Like all open-source projects, the FreeCAD project is not a one-way work delivered to you by its developers. It depends much on its community to grow, gain features, and stabilize (get bugs fixed). So don't forget this when starting to use FreeCAD, if you like it, you can directly influence and help the project!

And if after testing you have feedback, ideas or opinions, please share it with us on the FreeCAD discussion forum!

Installing

First of all (if not done already) download and install FreeCAD. See the Download page for information about current versions and updates. There are install packages ready for Windows (.msi), Ubuntu & Debian (.deb) openSUSE (.rpm) and Mac OSX.

Exploring FreeCAD

The FreeCAD interface when you start it for the first time. See more screenshots here.

FreeCAD is a general all-purpose 3D modeling application, focused on mechanical engineering and related areas, such as other engineering specialties or architecture. It is conceived as a platform for developing any kind of 3D application, but also for doing very specific tasks. For that purpose, its interface is divided into a series of Workbenches. Workbenches allow to change the interface contents to display all and only the tools necessary for a specific task, or group of tasks.

The FreeCAD interface can therefore be described as a very simple container, with a menu bar, a 3D view area, and a couple of side panels for displaying the scene contents or object properties. All the contents of these panels can be changed depending on the workbench.

When you start FreeCAD for the first time, you will be presented a "general" workbench, that we call "complete workbench". This workbench simply gathers the most mature tools from other workbenches. Since FreeCAD is pretty young and not yet used for very specialized work, this workbench is very handy for discovering FreeCAD more easily. Basically, all the tools that are good enough for producing geometry are here.

Navigating in the 3D space

FreeCAD has four different navigation modes available, that can be set in the preferences settings dialog or changed by right-clicking in the 3D view. For full details about the modes, see the Mouse Model page. In particular, you will need the to set the Touchpad Navigation mode if you are using a laptop with touchpad and no middle mouse button. For the default mode ("CAD Navigation"), the commands are as follows,

{{{Select_name}}} {{{Pan_name}}} {{{Zoom_name}}} {{{Rotate_view_name}}} {{{Rotate_view_alt_name}}}
Hand cursor.png Pan cursor.png Zoom cursor.png Rotate cursor.png Rotate cursor.png
Mouse LMB.svg Mouse MMB hold.svg Mouse MMB rotate.svg Mouse MMB+LMB hold.svg Mouse MMB+RMB hold.svg
{{{Select_text}}} {{{Pan_text}}} {{{Zoom_text}}} {{{Rotate_view_text}}} {{{Rotate_view_alt_text}}}
{{{Ctrl}}}+Mouse RMB.svg {{{Ctrl}}}+{{{Shift}}}+Mouse RMB.svg {{{Shift}}}+Mouse RMB.svg
{{{Pan_mode_text}}} {{{Zoom_mode_text}}} {{{Rotate_view_mode_text}}}


You also have several view presets (top view, front view, etc) available in the View menu and on the View toolbar, and by numeric shortcuts (1, 2, etc...)

Workbench Draft.png 2D Drafting

Template:Draft Tools


Workbench Part.png Creating 3D Parts

Template:Part Tools


Exporting to 2D Drawings

Template:Drawing Tools


Exporting to external renderers

Template:Raytracing Tools


Scripting

And finally, one of the most powerful features of FreeCAD is the scripting environment. From the integrated python console (or from any other external Python script), you can gain access to almost any part of FreeCAD, create or modify geometry, modify the representation of those objects in the 3D scene or access and modify the FreeCAD interface. Python scripting can also be used in macros, which provide an easy method to create custom commands.


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