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What is C.A.D./C.A.M.?

“Computer Aided Design” or “Computer Aided Manufacturing” are terms used to discuss software and systems that are geared towards producing physical goods. Almost everything you see today is produced using CAD, especially if it was produced in a country like China, Vietnam, Taiwan, Germany, etc. Some examples are;

  • Aerospace
  • Naval Architecture
  • Architecture & Construction
  • Transportation
  • Consumer Products
  • Industrial Manufacturing
  • Mechanical Engineering
  • Simulations
  • Toys

…and more.

What defines CAD software?

CAD software is primarily used to design physical objects. Their outputs are usually 3D models to be used for production, 2D drawings to build from, simulation data to validate designs, databases of parts (BOM) and manufacturing assembly instructions.

Modern manufacturing processes usually work off a 3D model for almost everything except architectural drawings. However in the USA or small shops around the world you can still find people using 2D CAD or even hand-drawing their designs.

Something to note: many people use “AutoCAD” to refer to CAD modeling. This is like calling adhesive bandages “Bandaids”. AutoCAD is actually Autodesk AutoCAD and is a mostly 2D drawing tool. It’s very popular in architecture for drawing floorplans but is not typically used in other applications because it’s 3D capabilities are very limited.

CAD models are stored either as drawings, parts or assemblies. An assembly is a collection of parts and a part is a 3D model (which can sometimes contain multiple “bodies”, which are physically separate elements). Drawings are made from assemblies and parts and are 2D blueprints.

The most defining feature of CAD software is their ability to model based on precise dimensions. While you can do the same thing in DCC software

Parametric editing

What is CAM?

CAM stands for Computer Aided Manufacturing.

What are the major functions?


Modeling in DCC software usually involves grabbing edges, vertices and faces of a polygon or subdivision mesh and moving them around by hand. It is intuitive, creative and very fast.


Much like real clay, sculpting is great for creating organic shapes of any kind or adding surface detail to an existing model. In computer graphics, artists use brush-based tools to push and pull geometry. Under the hood, many DCC tools use polygon meshes and dynamically add more polygons where the artist paints their brush. However, specialized tools like ZBrush and 3DCoat use voxels to create even more flexibility.


Models can often be made with poor edge flow and/or too many polygons to render in real time or easily modify. Retopology is when you take an existing model and build a new one over top of it with a more workable mesh.

Procedural Generation/Parametric Modeling

A rapidly expanding segment of 3D, procedural generation uses parameters to create geometry on the fly that can be quickly adjusted afterwards. One example might be scattering a bunch of objects (like trees) on top of another object (hilly terrain).

Another example that is in software packages like 3ds Max and Blender are “Modifiers”; non-destructive operations that can be added to and removed to a mesh to alter its appearance without permanently modifying the base geometry.

UV Editing

UV editing is the process where a 3D model is unfolded into a flat shape so that a 2D image (a texture) can be applied to it.

It’s like taking a T-Shirt and unstitching it so that you can draw on it.

Full-fledged UV editing includes manual control over the UV map. Less advanced UV software includes standard projections like planar, cubic, spheroid, etc.

Texture Painting

Once a model is UV unwrapped, creators can paint directly onto it using texture painting. This process is similar to using Photoshop except instead of having to remember what chunk of the UV map corresponds to what chunk of the model, you can paint directly on it in the 3D viewport.


Simulation in DCC software is not the same as in CAD. Since movies and games are more concerned with looking and feeling “right”, the simulation tools they come with are much less precise and data-driven than CAD applications.

That being said, many DCC programs can simulate a wide range of materials and effects, from shattering a rock, to a waterfall to  smoke from a fire.


There are two types of rendering: precomputed and real-time

Precomputed rendering is when a scene is set up in a CG package; with lights, camera, materials, etc. and then that scene is sent to a CPU or GPU to calculate the physics, lighting and animation of the scene. Because it is not being done in real time it is possible to have much more advanced and photorealistic effects.

Real-time rendering is when the GPU of a computer is doing these calculations at almost the same time they are being displayed on a screen. In order to give the illusion of continuous motion, the computer must be able to render +15 FPS, but most gaming takes place around the 30-60 FPS mark. In order to reach these targets, models, textures, animations – everything must be optimized to be rendered as quickly as possible while sacrificing as little visual fidelity as possible.

Popular DCC Software

For a list of popular DCC software, please see “D.C.C. Software List“.

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