Hobby CAD shootout: Plasticity

Published on 2023-09-28
I explore Plasticity for hobbyist use. Plasticity brings a trendy startup take on CAD design with a minimalist UI and pure direct modeling. I find it barely usable and question its accessibility.

When covering software I try to strike a balance of impactful and interesting apps to cover, however my Plasticity trial ends in 5 days so…


Plasticity is yet another direct modeling app. Boasting a “creativity-focused workflow” and no subscription, it seems to target hobbyists directly.

I’m glad they know who they’re targeting at least cause I don’t. This app always struck a weird chord with me as it doesn’t appeal to my 3D modeler side or my CAD side, it doesn’t have enough features to compete even with simple 3D mesh software like Wings3D and the destructive workflow makes it incredibly frustrating to design stuff with. It seems Plasticity’s closest rival is Moment of Inspiration 3D but I have never tried it so I don’t know how they compare (MOI3D also has a non-subscription license).

Plasticity also seems to be full of “trendy startup smell”. It’s a 600MB electron app and 1/6th of it (~113MB) are duplicated files like pskernel.dll which show up twice. Support is done through a private Discord and according to their website you can’t get first-party technical support, only help from other customers. At least they have an email you can reach out to instead of some convoluted form!

The UI

The UI is both simple and a bit annoying. It’s dark mode with some minor color tweaking options.

BTW: I point out dark theme in software because as a hobbyist a lot of my CAD work is done after work and I generally can’t stand light mode software after a certain hour so I really appreciate when dark mode is an option.

The camera is stuck to the weird turntable style in FreeCAD and SpaceClaim, thought you have several options for keybinds.

Just like in DSM/SpaceClaim there is a single workspace for both sketches and features and all the contextual actions are in the bottom right corner, thought it seems it’s just a selection of most common actions since I usually have to consult the hamburger menu of doom to look for the commands I need.

Flow breaking and irritating

This article was hard to write as this app has tested my patience a lot quickly became my most hated CAD software, I tried to make my writing not leak any overemotional outbursts but you’ve been warned, I absolutely did not have a good time with Plasticity, every part of the UI either feels like it’s designed for someone that isn’t me or because they didn’t care for basic use cases.

The trials

Test drive: TooTallToby 04-05B - C Clamp

Today’s part is a simple one, 04-05B - C Clamp. I usually aim for something a bit more complex to show off more advanced capabilities but this is already the backup part as the first one I tried modeling I could not get done and I just gave up.

This was miserable. Trying to use Plasticity to recreate a CAD drawing feels like one of those “Monalisa in MSPaint” challenge where you’re just trying to figure out how much work can you offload into your head instead than the software so you can get the part down and be done with it. Plasticity doesn’t even do mass calculation so if you ever want to try to compete in TooTallToby’s leaderboard you’ll need to use a calculator like this person did.

Not having a proper sketch system makes snapping stuff a royal pain in the ass. At one point I build a circle which I would really like to have snapped to the front face but it instead gets placed mid-way through the part and I have to do some weird extrusion to get it where I want, I’m sure there’s going to be some convoluted way to have it work my way but it’s incredibly annoying when this works out of the box and intuitively in any other software.

There’s some weird workflow stuff where you can specify certain parameters like chamfer angle instead of just the offset which would be nice however they are completely useless to me because they only seem to work while dragging the feature (and you’re holding your left click down) and you’re apparently supposed to press a shortcut and then input the numeric value without ever releasing the mouse click. This means that this is basically only feasable if you have a numpad, which I don’t have!

A lot of the UI is like this, you can TAB to insert dimensions in most thing but you’ll still need mouse input for some parameters like direction and to confirm most operations. It’s these interactions that make me glad I have two working hands and it makes me wonder if they tested this software at all with people with physical disabilities because I can’t see how they’d get by!

Real world part: Miyoo Mini stand

Functional parts are basically out of the question given how inconvenient Plasticity is when it comes to dimensioning, so let’s make a fancy stand instead.

A very unconventional stand

A very unconventional stand

A very unconventional stand

The way you can just drag stuff around has some appeal and lets you experiment a lot and I will admit that it makes it a bit fun. It was also very satisfying to see something, go “well that’s too much overhang” and just drag a chamfer to make it work.

Sadly everything turns into sadness when it starts failing and you realize that you can’t really go back on your steps. There’s some features in the part that I would really like to revisit but due to the destructive nature of the software I’m kinda stuck with them. You also can select vertices of curves but not bodies, so forget having total control over the model like you would in Blender.

That said, the part exported fine as an STL (yes, even on the trial, more on that later) and with definition maxed out all the curves turned out fine:

The part in PrusaSlicer

The part in PrusaSlicer

The part in PrusaSlicer

Export options

Plasticity solids can be exported as Parasolid (X_T, X_B), STEP, STL and OBJ in the Indie license plus some extra formats (IGES/ACIS) in the Studio license.

In the free trial you’re limited to “low export OBJ” (according to the website) but I found out STL export works just as well with all the tuning knobs like detail working just fine in my testing. I don’t know if this is a bug but I figured I’d point it out.

What about the rest

I usually cover making technical drawings, sheet metal tools and assemblies but Plasticity has none of them! That doesn’t mean you can’t somehow make your own sheet metal parts out of the basic toolset but you’re definitely not going to make them unbend and get pretty DXFs.

Conclusion: Master of none

I don’t like Plasticity. It may be because I’m not their target audience but I really can’t see where this fits in today’s landscape. The UI has all the problems I see in every modern webapp, the direct modeling implementation is shallow and troublesome and if I wanted an affordable tool to model like this I would just use Blender (which I will cover at some point).

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