Which program for drawing layouts?

Discussion in 'Track Planning' started by OzAndrew, Jun 27, 2003.

  1. OzAndrew

    OzAndrew New Member

    Does anybody know of a simple, free, easy to learn program for producing layout drawings like the ones on this forum?
    I've got a layout I would love to get some advice about but it's drawn on art paper 1:4 scale. Doesn't photo very well.
    Thanks for any help I can get,
  2. scoobyloven

    scoobyloven Member

    their is many out their the one most pepole use is the one from atlass it is called atlass right track it is on their home page at cad program atlas and it is free their is another one called 3d power plant from el dorado software their home page is 3d power plant that is a very good one and it is also free for a demo but with it you can render it all in 3d and run trains on it to see how it all looks
  3. RailRon

    RailRon Active Member

    Hi Andrew,

    welcome to the Gauge - you'll find a bunch of nice guys and gals going out of their way to help you on... :)

    (... when they can! :D :D :D)

    You are looking for a free CAD program - and the ATLAS program really is free (but without support from ATLAS. You can buy their support, if you wish). It is quite easy to use, but it is restricted to ATLAS track elements, of course.

    The other one, 3rd PlanIt (not '3d power plant', scoobyloven :D ), however is a full-fledged CAD program with endless possibilities. You have libraries with dozens of track elements, buildings, rolling stock and so on. You can create the landscape of your layout, complete with surface textures and you can look in 3D at your future layout from every angle. And yes, you can place the 'camera' on the rails and take an engineer's view ride through your layout! GREAT! (If you want to see how that looks, drop in here at my website!)

    BUT... it is NOT FREE! 3rd PlanIt costs around $100! Included is the access to all updates for one year. (The demo version has all the features but you can't save a layout :( )

    And now it depends: If you simply want to doodle around to try a few ideas of your layout, a freeware program will suffice. But if you want all the stuff I mentioned, you have to pay for it. Be assured that planning with 3rd PlanIt can become a hobby in itself - I know it! :rolleyes:

    If you have more questions about 3rd PlanIt I'll help you gladly. BTW: I have no business connections to the producer of this program - apart from paying for it! :D :D :D

    Hope this helps,

  4. billk

    billk Active Member

    If you can use one, there are some pretty cheap ($50 or less) 'generic' (i.e. not model RR specific) CAD programs available. I use something called QuickCAD, which although doesn't have all the bells and whistles of a full-blown CAD program is certainly more than adequate for layout planning, etc.
  5. Bill Stone

    Bill Stone Member

    I've been using professional-level CAD programs since they became practical on PCs --- about 1985. I've acted as a consultant on CAD, have managed CAD design-drafting operations, have trained CAD operators, and have done a whole lot of design engineering (and layout design) with CAD. I've used a number of different programs, and have had second hand experience with a bunch more.

    I never use a drawing board any more.

    BUT...... My advice is to stick to the drawing board unless you really believe that you will have the long term need for the CAD program that would justify your spending a whole lot of time --- and I mean months --- getting up to speed using it. You could redraw your track plan in ink that could be scanned --- a whole heck of a lot faster than you could learn to use any CAD program. One good aid to "manual" drafting is the track planning template sold by some company that advertises in the model rail magazines.

    By the way, I went to the trouble of downloading the Atlas program to have a look, and in my opinion it's worth about what they charge for it.

    Bill S
  6. jon-monon

    jon-monon Active Member

    Welcome to the-gauge Andrew!

    I believe the Atlas software is the only free windows program of this nature. Respecting Bills opinion, there are many folks here that use it and are satisfied. The $100 programs are very nice indeed, but in the opinion of many, a $100 worth of model rail supplies is even nicer! If I had a lot of money, sure I would probably buy the commercial software.

    If you happen to run Linux, or decide now is the time to try it out (hint hint), there are free professional grade CAD programs out there and there is one model rail CAD program, but it limits you to 4' X 8' if you don't buy it. I use xfig a lot in Linux, which is an easy to use CAD program, but since the Atlas software is free and easy to learn, I just use it for track plans.

    If you use the atlasware, learn how to use the flex track and shape it. It takes some fiddling to get good at it. Once you do that, the possibilities are unlimited.
  7. rcwatkins

    rcwatkins Member

    My favorite track planning is with a pencil. :D
  8. Clerk

    Clerk Active Member

    One word of warning. If you have a Mac, be careful what you get. Several are not compatable, (including the Atlas one) with Mac.
    I E Mailed Atlas about this and the response I got was "We can't be bothered with Macks and have no plans for them." This almost drove me away from all Atlas products regardles how good they are.
  9. billk

    billk Active Member

    Here's a plan I drew up in under 10 minutes using the QuickCAD program mentioned above. Not very imaginative, but oh well.
  10. OzAndrew

    OzAndrew New Member

    Thanks everyone.

    Thanks for all the advice. I've downloaded the free Atlas software, but I've also just started laying track. I doubt I'll learn how to reproduce Hornby track in the Atlas program before it's mostly finished! Yes I'm using Hornby track, very British of me I spose, but it's cheap and plentiful. My layout is going to circle the spare room at about 2M off the floor. Have to stand on a special bench I'm going to build to work on it. I had a 4'*8' layout, but I live in a 2 bedroom apartment and it was always stood up in the hallway. This way it's always ready for work and takes up no floorspace at all. Anyone know of any problems in this plan?

    Thanks again.

    P.S. (Clerk) I thought that would be enough to drive you away from Macs!!! (Just kidding!!)
  11. belg

    belg Member

    The first problem that comes to mind is how will you let people view your layout?
  12. dwayne789456123

    dwayne789456123 New Member


    I used 3rd PlanIt to plan my last layout (now dismantled). I will definitely use the program to plan my next layout. The following features are especially useful:

    :) turnouts are full size. On paper you can draw turnouts too close together. In CAD tournout size is defined. You cannot accidentally truncate them to accomodate small spaces.

    :) grades and clearances (vertical and horizontal) are easily calculated

    :) you can output the plan 'full-size' to a drafting plotter, then tack it to the sub-roadbead matterial to trace the track/ribbon.

    Drawbacks (some already mentioned):

    :( cost

    :( PC requirements (but if you're on this message board you likely have a PC)

    :( learning curve (if you haven't use some sort of drawing software before, this may not be the place to learn)

    Short story, I would recommend using CAD to plan a layout.

    Dwayne A.
  13. Russ Bellinis

    Russ Bellinis Active Member

    2 meters sounds a little bit high for convenient viewing. A little bit lower might interfere with doorways. Depending on how close the doors are together, and how much space you have between doors, you might be able to put some realistic grades on the mainline to bring the mainline down to 1 1/2 meters for scenery and viewing, then go back up to clear the doorways. An around the walls shelf type layout can be a lot of fun. If you can lower it in some parts of the layout, and put in some switching, scenery, and viewing locations, I think it will be enhanced over a layout that is over your head all of the way around.
  14. jon-monon

    jon-monon Active Member

    Re: Thanks everyone.

    RC: pencil and paper has it's advantages. Portable, without buying a laptop. Work well regardless of what type of computer you have or what OS. Minimal learning curve. I have a cousin who's a master modeler and has had his layout featured in RMC and he uses paper and pencil. I still think the primary advantage of using a computer to draw you track plans is if you enjoy it, then you will enjoy it :)


    Andrew, I suggest trying to use the atlas turnouts that are closest to your Hornby's. Then use all flex track between the turnouts. Then do the same on the real layout.

    Cheap and plentiful; same reason Atlas is popular here. :) :) :) Hard to beat a 3 ft flex track code 80 or 100 for about $1.50!

    Love to see whatever you draw up! If you would like to post it, you can do "File | Save as", then pull down the list at the bottom, where it says "save as type" and select "Bitmap (*.bmp)". Then name it and save it. You have to open it in another program and save it as a ".jpg" and size it to fit requirements here. I use The Gimp. Please refer to Adding Images link at the top of this page for sizing info.
  15. babydot94513

    babydot94513 Member in training

    I guess I will throw in my vote for Atlas Freeware. I have used it for two layouts and two modules and have found it to be more than adequate for what I need.
  16. belg

    belg Member

    Baby dot I downloaded atlas freeware and was trying to layout a yard without knowing how it worked I didn't have time to read the instructions but was wondering if you could or someone else give some pointers in plain english as opposed the computer speak that seems to be attached to it.
  17. jon-monon

    jon-monon Active Member

    Are you having trouble with a particular task, or just don't know where to begin?

    Hovering the mouse pointer over a tool on te toolbar causes a box to open that tells what the tool is. To begin, select (from the white band across the top) a track shape that you want to place, then use the "place element" tool (looks like an arrow pointing down). Move to the drawing area an click it. Tools selection automatically changes to "add track and connect" tool. Move the mouse pointer around near the track you just laid and it will change shape to look like the currently selected tool when it is within range. Then click it and it will lay a track connected to the other.

    Now select the "place element" tool again and go to a different place on the drawing area and place another piece of track. Now you have to sections of track not connected in any way. Pick the "place flextrack" tool and click on the end of one of the sections. You should see a black arrow appear on that end. Then go to the other section of track and do the same. You should see a flextrack laid between the two sections. Migh look good, might look weird, and might not be a practical place to put flextrack, but it's OK for practice.

    Next select the shape flex track tool and click the new flex track. All I can say here is play around. The use of this tool is very important to master in order to have any flexibility in the use of the software. Unforutnately, it's proper use is indescribable by me. Just play with it till it works and it will be well worth the effort.

    Select the line tool and lets draw some borders. Right click where you want to start drawing the line, move to the first corner and righ click, move to the next corner and right click, etc., etc., until you fell happy, then left click where you want the end to be.

    You can pick different types of track and some buildings if you do elements|load library on the menu's. Default is HO code 100. Look around the menus, there is a lot to do. Check out the "special" menu.

    Rotation tool, another required skill: This tool is "greyed out" unless you have something selected or tagged (explained below). Lay a single section of straight track somewhere off to the side. Select the arrow tool (the one that looks like a regular mouse pointer) and click the track you laid to select it. It should get a grey rectangle around it. If you have it laid within another element, like the lines we drew, you might see that selected instead. If this happens, just click it again, and again if need be, until our track has the rectangle around it. Then it is "selected" or "tagged". The click the "rotate tagged element" tool and a window opens that allows you to rotate it. Slide the slider back and forth or just pick one of the buttons off to the left. You can do this with anything onthe drawing, not just a single peice of track. Click OK when you are happy.

    Then pick the "parallel tracks" tool off the special menu. This is also "greyed out" unless something is selected. Tell it how many tracks you want, how far apart, and where you want them, then OK, and you have parallel tracks, evenly spaced. You can play around with the other special tools and learn what the do.

    Just play around and practice for an hour or two before you try a real layout, then come back with questions or go to the help files. I hope this is de-geeked tot he point of being understandable :D :D :D
  18. belg

    belg Member

    Jon,thank you very much for taking the time to make it understandable for me. Now that its been explained in "english" I'll give it a try and get back to you with some more specific questions because I'm sure some will arise. That is if you can find the time. Pat
  19. jon-monon

    jon-monon Active Member

    No prob., Pat. Sure play around and get used to it and ask any questions you may have. I will answer whatever I can. The-gauge has done so much for me I'm all to happy to help in whatever way I can.
  20. jon-monon

    jon-monon Active Member

    rrtrack.com has a free demo/download that is "time limited".

    XtrkCad is what I was trying to remember when this thread first begun. It's demo version is not time limited, but it limits you to a 4 X 8 layout. I looked at it because there is a Linux version (windows too). I almost gave up on it, then I did the tutorials which only take a few minutes. After that it all makes sense and is easy to use. Probably a little more powerfull than the atlas, but not as easy.

Share This Page