Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Why sodaCAD is meant for the apparel industry

There seems to be a lot of confusion about what sets sodaCAD apart from other projects like Valentina or WildGinger. I hope this will clear things up.

It is first necessary to understand how professional pattern makers work. Pattern makers do not spend a lot of time drafting patterns from zero. Usually they draft their essential pattern pieces and these are digitized into CAD. Pattern makers may draft by hand with pencil and paper first or draped in cloth on a form. Some pattern makers work entirely in CAD. These first pattern pieces are fitted on a person or form and are refined. They will contain all of the necessary fit adjustments for a particular size. Regardless, once those initial pieces are drafted, they are stored in a database or file system.

When a new style is under development a pattern maker will pull existing pattern pieces from their file system or database and modify them. A professional pattern maker rarely drafts a new pattern based on measurements because that work has already been done. To repeat it would be inefficient. Once these pattern pieces are modified for a new style, they are plotted out, cut in cloth and sewn. The sewn sample is tested for fit and adjustments are made. Once the style is approved, the pattern pieces are graded and made ready for production cutting. Grading is the process of creating additional sizes from the sample size. Production ready patterns contain all of the notation and specifications needed for cutting larger quantities.

Valentina is primarily focused on what the industry calls Made-to-Measure. The user inputs measurements and the software drafts for you. This kind of thing has existed for a long time in commercial software, but it is very problematic. The software creates a draft for you based on the measurements entered. The resulting draft is based on a complex set of mathematical rules, but the software is not smart enough to recognize the nuances of a particular curve or desired shape. The resulting draft usually requires a great deal of refinement and modification to truly arrive at the desired outcome. Because this process is so time intensive, professional pattern makers rarely use this. Instead, they rely on patterns they have already spent the time to perfect.

The best analogy is to compare apparel CAD software to architectural software. An architect would never rely on blueprints auto-drafted based on the body measurements of the people who will live there. Instead, the architectural software contains automated functions to improve efficiency that allows the user to draw faster and more accurately. The user applies his knowledge and experience to create blueprints that will result in the desired outcome.

The goal of sodaCAD is to have it be equivalent to the software used by the industry, such as Optitex, StyleCAD, TukaTech, Gerber, and PAD. Valentina is equivalent to WildGinger, which is geared more toward home users. You can google those packages to see the differences.

Commercial packages do sell Made-to-Measure modules, but few apparel companies that do use CAD do not buy it. I am not opposed to this function being added to sodaCAD, but it is not a primary focus.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

A little bit of work on the icons

I've started to transition the LibreCAD icons to Tango. The existing LibreCAD main toolbar is on the left, SodaCAD on the right.

My first step is to go through the tool bars and select Tango icons that already exist and also convey the intend functionality of the tool. For example, the select tool in the lower right corner on the LibreCAD tool bar (hand appears to be selecting a point) was confusing to me as I started to play with LibreCAD. I had to hover over the toolbar button until the tooltip information revealed select. Clicking on the button reveals several select options, which I would not have assumed were there. I switched that out for a simple pointer. I had similar difficulties with the draw points tool. Can you guess which tool that one is? I replaced it with the plus sign above a point on a line. This may not be the best replacement icon because it implies that you can only add points to a line where LibreCAD allows for points anywhere on the drawing space. This is perhaps one option that will change for SodaCAD. I'm still debating the dimensions tool (changed to a compass). Is there something better? Or the import image changed from a camera to the arrow pointing at a piece of paper?

There is still a lot of work to be done. Icons which do not have a Tango equivalent will need to be created to Tango specifications.

The things I ask myself as I work through this:
1. Does the visual representation of the icon convey proper meaning?
2. Does the replacement icon fit within the visual theme?
3. Does the replacement icon improve the overall look?

The hope is that the Tango and Tango-style icons will conform with other open source graphics apps like Inkscape, Gimp, and Scribus and convey equivalent meaning and understanding among users.

I've updated the code base to reflect these changes but they are in no wise the final say. I welcome feedback.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Icons for sodaCAD

When LibreCAD was forked from QCAD, the icons were not allowed to transfer over. So a LibreCAD developer quickly pulled together the Lime green icon set that ships with LibreCAD. For the moment, those icons are sufficient and LibreCAD developers are working on improving drawing functions. The developers would prefer to create an icon theme setup similar to Inkscape. In this situation, the icons are stored in an SVG file and extracted via a script. This would be ideal because it would make it easier to maintain the icons. For now, the icons are added to a resource file and automatically scaled by the QT libraries as needed. This setup will continue until someone is motivated to improve the situation.

As for sodaCAD, the icons will need to be improved, both from a visual standpoint but also for usability. Some of the LibreCAD icons are confusing and need clarity. sodaCAD will over time need custom icons. So this is what I've started working on:

1. Convert current LibreCAD icons to the Tango Art Libre and/or Inkscape Tango-fied set.
2. Create icons for LibreCAD in which there are no equivalent icons in the Art Libre set, but which abide by the Tango guidelines.
3. Donate the new icon set back to the LibreCAD community.
4. Create custom icons for sodaCAD as needed.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Pattern pieces added to SodaCAD support files

I spent a lot of time over the weekend learning and using the drawing tools in LibreCAD to draft a front bodice pattern piece.

Most pattern making CAD software gives you two options for getting your patterns into the system. Either you draft directly or you digitize the piece from a hard (or paper) pattern. Because I do not own a digitizing table, I drafted directly in LibreCAD. There were a number of things I learned during this process.
  • To optimize drafting, the drawing tools need to be reorganized. I found myself going back and forth between Draw Parallel, Modify/Trim Extend, Draw 2 point line, Delete, and various snap tools. After a few hours, it was driving me crazy because I wanted my most frequently used tools together. Perhaps a custom tool palette is in order.
  •  The bezier tool (to draw curves) crashed on me multiple times. Partly because I did not understand how to use it. I may file a bug report over at LibreCAD on it. I prefer the bezier tool in Inkscape.
  • There were a lot of drawing tools/methods in Inkscape that I desperately wanted in LibreCAD. Add/Remove points, change point properties, etc.
  • The bright green icons are hard on the eyes and not visually appealing. I know that LibreCAD developers want to improve the icons too, but after a few hours, it is hard to look at the screen. This may be the first thing I work on that I can contribute back to the LibreCAD community.
The good news is that Inkscape can import DXF files pretty cleanly. The image above was imported into Inkscape and exported as a PNG. This means that a person could draft their pattern pieces in LibreCAD and pretty them up in Inkscape. I know that some people use Inkscape/Adobe Illustrator to draft their patterns but both of those tools lack precision and efficiency.

This pattern piece is the first of many to be added to the support files. It is meant for testing and demo purposes only. It should never be considered production ready.

Of course drafting efficiency is only one of the problems to solve. The second required capability is manipulating the pattern piece for actual pattern making.

The pattern piece is located in the source files:

sodacad/librecad/support/library/pattern_pieces

Thursday, January 23, 2014

A quick update on the status of sodaCAD

sodaCAD is still alive and well despite not much happening in the last year or so. But with some renewed interest, activity has picked up again. So this is what is currently happening:
  • Updated the code base to LibreCAD 2.0.2
  • Wiki is in progress
  • Work on a pattern piece file format
If you are interested in working on sodaCAD, it would be helpful to become familiar with apparel industry terms in the glossary. You can also look at the roadmap and see if something interests you there.

For the moment, development is focused on adapting the drawing environment and creating a file format.

If you are interested in creating a made-to-measure (MTM) module where the CAD system drafts a pattern for you based on measurements, look at the Valentina project. MTM's are not commonly used in the industry. Home hobbyists, custom sewists and tailors use this kind of software. Valentina is still in early development but would be similar to Wild Ginger.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

DWG file support for free CAD projects

DWG file format is a proprietary CAD file format created by Autodesk many, many years ago. Most CAD applications and hardware rely on this format, including apparel CAD. The proprietary software that I use on a daily basis uses the DWG file format. Providing support for the DWG file format in free CAD projects is critical in order to provide needed cross-compatibility with other CAD packages. Unfortunately, there are some major issues that have to be worked out. There is an excellent article explaining the history and current problems of the DWG file format at the libregraphics blog.

I'm following the lead of librecad in the direction of licensing, so at this point DWG can't be incorporated into sodaCAD.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Repository updated

I finally have the new code in the repository, available for download. If you like working in a development environment, download Qt Creator. A project file is included in the sourcecode, sodacad.pro, to help get you started.

Link to get the code.

Right now the code will not build or compile - there are a number of bugs to work through. There are also several files which need to be changed to reflect a sodacad project rather than librecad. If you are interested in working on this project, just submit two patches to gain commit access.

More info on the Sourceforge project page.