AutoCAD Raster Design

What Is It?

There was a time when CAD systems worked with strictly vector (line) objects. You drew the outline of the objects you were designing, added some text, and you were done. As the systems advanced, the line work became more complex, eventually even incorporating 3D solid models but at the end of the day, it was all just vector lines. Unfortunately, modern design practices don’t allow for simple line drafting anymore. We need to be able to incorporate all types of raster imagery into our drawings. Whether it’s as simple as a scanned detail from a catalog or as complex as high-resolution aerial photogrammetry, the modern CAD design needs to incorporate pictures directly into the drawing and to do it with extreme detail.

The problem is most CAD packages don’t do a great job of this right out of the box. They are still vector based programs and while many (such as AutoCAD) do have integrated tools for inserting and performing basic image editing functions, they are very limited. What you really need is a program that focuses entirely on inserting, manipulating and editing raster images for use in your CAD drawings. That’s where Raster Design from Autodesk comes in. AutoCAD Raster Design can be run as a stand-alone package or as a plug-in to any AutoCAD vertical product such as Civil 3D or AutoCAD Architecture. It has powerful tools for sizing, cleaning up and orienting your raster images so they can be better integrated into your design and plot cleanly for presentation.

What Does It Do?

For starters, Raster Design allows you to insert images from anywhere on your network directly into any drawing. It will allow you to insert and scale the image as needed or it has wizards to help you insert the image into specific coordinate locations and size. Raster Design works tightly with programs like ​Map 3D to insert aerial and GIS images to geo-referenced locations via a simple dialog box.

Raster also has really great tools for editing and cleaning up your raster images. Tools like deskew, despeckle and invert allow you to take poor scans and make the readable when they plot. Raster Design also had tools for image cropping and masking to help reduce file sizes as well as utilities for converting your images between black and white, greyscale and color for the best presentation output. You can use Raster Design to help you scale, rotate, and match points in your images to drawn items within your plan. For example, if you have a building drawn in CAD and you want to insert an aerial image at the same size and location you can pick the corners of the building in your image and map them to the corners of your drawn building and Raster moves, sizes, and orients the image to match.

Raster Design includes tools for directly manipulating your image files. You can erase text and lines right from the image, even select regions within the image and move them. Imagine a scan of a tax map that you need to put some text on top of but there’s a lot and block callout right where you want to type your new note. With Raster Design, you can just create a region around the callout and move it to another location and re-incorporate it into the image, leaving you a clean spot to place your note. You can also convert any vector lines you draw on top of the image to become part of the raster imagery. In other words, if you use AutoCAD to draw a hatched area on top of your image, Raster Design will convert it to actually be part of that image so you don’t have to worry about it being moved or edited by mistake.

This program even contains a set of vectorization tools for automatically converting raster lines into vector lines. This is really useful if you have scanned images of an older plan and no access to the original CAD file. You can pick on a line in the image and Raster traces over it with a vector line, polyline, or 3D polyline and erases the raster data underneath so that you can track what’s be re-drawn more easily. It even incorporates Optical Character Recognition so that it can convert text inside your image directly to editable AutoCAD text entities. The vectorization tools are great but they do require a bit of training or, at least, a few hours of playing around with to fully understand how to use them. Don’t use them for the first time on a project with a tight deadline.

What Does It Cost?

Raster Design sells for $2,095.00 for a stand-alone seat, with an annual subscription running an additional $300.00 or so. I strongly recommend getting networked licenses which do cost a bit more (contact your reseller for a quote) because while Raster Design may not be a tool that you’re going to need on a regular basis, it is a tool that all your users will need periodically and a pooled network license structure allows you to keep fewer licenses that can be shared across all users. I keep a number of Raster Design licenses (pooled) equivalent to twenty percent of my total AutoCAD licenses. That gives me more than enough licenses for multiple users to access it at once without the cost of holding a license for everyone. You can install Raster Design on all your computers with no concerns and it will only draw a license when it’s actively in use.

Who Should Use It?

I’ll answer this simply: everyone. In this day and age, all industries make regular use of images in their designs. Whether you’re an architectural firm using manufacturer cut sheets or an infrastructure company using Mr. Sid imagery for site planning, you need a package like Raster Design to handle all the myriad images you will need to work with. Whether it’s as a stand alone or with its integrated ribbon bar right in your primary design package, AutoCAD Raster Design will quickly become one of your favorite design tools and you’ll wonder how you survived for so long without it.