Software Review: A better way to draw schematics

Nov. 8, 2007
As a marine electrician, I previously used colored pens to hand-draw electrical schematics for the custom, sport-fishing boats our firm builds.

Edited by Leslie Gordon

The drawings were then sent to an in-house architect for transfer to CAD software. This process took a long time, and often left out many important details. But it was not feasible for me to learn CAD. For one thing, most of the software is expensive. And it requires a lot of training to use properly. Instead, we needed reliable, easy-to-use software for creating professional looking diagrams.

An Internet search turned up SmartDraw. It seemed easier to use than other drawing programs. Perhaps most important, the program provides thousands of symbols and templates for creating diagrams, including useful templates for electrical engineering. The software has a user-friendly interface, drag-and-drop drawing symbols, and lots of helpful tips and tutorials that quickly teach novice users the basics.

SmartDraw also includes libraries that include almost all symbols or graphics one would ever need to make electrical-engineering drawings. The program also includes what are called SmartPanels. The panel for electrical engineering walks users step-by-step through the task of creating an electrical- engineering diagram.

What’s more, the program includes features that simplify creating and presenting complex diagrams. For example, a “line-hops” feature can be used to show when wires or lines cross, but do not connect. Also appreciated is the capability to print interlinking pages so drawings correctly connect together. The software’s ease of use and powerful features let even a novice such as myself create high-quality diagrams. In a short time, I was building basic schematics. Soon after, drawings got quite detailed and descriptive.

And here’s another advantage of not making hand drawings. When designers previously made a mistake, the drawings were useless and had to be thrown away. SmartDraw lets me pump-out out detailed and accurate diagrams in just 2 hours. In fact, I can complete all the schematics before finishing installing the electronics. That is the way it should be. The software makes it easier to keep up with vessels as they are being built, instead of delivering drawings to owners after boats are shipped.

The program has improved the quality of our work. For instance, it’s helpful to print out drawings that help other electricians perform installations independently. Previously, a supervisor was always required to oversee projects.

After seeing SmartDraw in action, coworkers asked me to draw different diagrams, such as for fuel and piping. So I started everyone on it, with almost no instruction. The software has become the tool of choice, and saves hours of work. And here’s another benefit -- the boat owners love the visually attractive drawings. Download a free, 30-day trial version from the developer’s Web site at

The software comes from SmartDraw, 9909 Mira Mesa Blvd., Suite 300, San Diego, CA 92131

— Billy Gill

Gill is a marine electrician at American Custom Yachts in Stuart, Fla.

A SmartDraw antenna template provides the basis of an electricalengineering drawing.

A wiring diagram template contains additional symbols and graphics that were dragged and dropped from the template library.

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