DesignSpark Mechanical – The Gift Of Invention

Ever heard of DesignSpark? They are releasing a powerful CAD package on September 16th — for free!

The company is owned by RS Components, a distributor of electronics and maintenance products. They offer a large library of 3D models of parts that they sell, dubbed the ModelSource. So if you are wondering how they are giving out software for free, that’s how. They also have free PCB designing software, and something called DesignShare which hosts open-source project collaboration, sharing and discussions.

By the looks of the demo video, DesignSpark Mechanical is a well laid out CAD package that is rich in features. The software allows for the import and export of several file types, and it looks like ECAD, OBJ, Sketchup, STEP, DXF and STL are all there, as well as the native file types. While it looks like you can import any files, we are willing to bet adding ModelSource files are by far the easiest and most convenient because of the integrated ModelSource library. But we think that’s a small price to pay for an alternative to SketchUp. After all, the component models will be useful for assemblies, even if you don’t order through them. Oh, and it’s perfect for making free models for 3D printing as it includes the ability to export STL files.

Watch the software demo after the break.

What do you think? Will you try it, or do you want us to do a review once it is released?

58 thoughts on “DesignSpark Mechanical – The Gift Of Invention

  1. Just curious, is this post a paid advertisement / placement? It seems to be a little ebullient for an article on software that you have ostensibly not seen/used yet. “We are willing to bet,” … “that’s a small price to pay…” You go out on a limb to “bet” that it is easier to use their model library than other sources, then you go on to assign a “small price” to that feature/inconvenience. How strange. Clearly, there’s more here than the article lets on, yet you feign third-party independence.

    Look, it’s your site. You are free to do with it as you wish. I hope you can make money on the site which, hopefully, will allow you to make the site even better. However, if you want people to frequent the site, advertising disguised as breathless articles is not the way to go. If you want to offer sponsored articles, that’s cool. But be up front about it. Articles that shill for undisclosed advertisers will only serve to run people off.

    1. Nope, this wasn’t a paid placement – if it was I wouldn’t have even mentioned the “catch” although it’s really not even a catch, you really can use it without ever paying them a dime.

      I’m sorry for the confusion, but I shared it because I think it could be very handy – I use professional CAD packages at my work that I can’t afford to use at home for my personal projects, so I’m interested in any and all newcomers to the free category, and I think many other people would be as well.

    2. You know what the most ironic thing about RS with their DesignSpark community is? Even though RS pushes and brags about their DesignSpark software, in the Netherlands they only take orders from companies. They refuse orders from hobbyists without a VAT number. They are probably the most ignorant electronics distributor out there.

      1. Here in NZ, RS sell to anybody with a credit card, they ship it for free too, with no minimum. It can only be a loss leader for them, they certainly can’t make any money selling $5 of chips and couriering them free.

          1. Ordered a couple of times in Australia and had no issues. Of course you have to factor in the free shipping when comparing to say Element 14 for when you only need a few bits

          2. Who do you prefer to use? I use RS and element14; element14 isn’t always ideal because of the expensive shipping (unless you spend more than $NZ45 or so, which isn’t always the case for small prototypes), and RS are often cheaper than element14 as well. To be honest I don’t really know any other electronics suppliers in NZ…?

            RS are mad with their shipping though, definitely making a loss there… I have made single orders, with items needing to be shipped from the UK or Australia etc., and they seem to put items in a courier parcel as soon as they get them in locally. My most recent order for 10 items (reflow toaster oven bits :P) came in no less than 6 courier parcels across in the space of 4 days or so. The order total was $NZ19! Either they’re getting a great courier rate or somebody’s not really paying attention to where their money is being spent; I would have settled to wait another day and receive my whole order together!

      2. That’s sounds to me like that in the Netherlands is acting as a wholesale distributor not as a retail outlet. In the event that’s the case not selling to individual may be a function of VAT regulations. For a time I had a sales tax ID from the state of Kansas. There’s nothing ignorant about a wholesale outlet from selling directly to the end user. that sales volume in all likelihood wouldn’t generate enough profit to cover the cost of acting as the respective governments tax collection agent. The sales volume through the service businesses are re going to be higher. Yea I’d(we) make fraction of a cent on reselling service part although the the size of that fraction varies & we have to charge a bit as acting as the state’s tax collection agent, but together they are a major part of the final bill.

          1. From the system requirements:
            “DesignSpark Mechanical is not supported on virtual platforms.
            Intel-based Apple hardware running native Windows using Boot Camp is subject to the same hardware requirements as other Intel-based hardware and will require special licensing.”
            I’ve never used Wine, but is it not a “virtual platform”?

    1. No native Linux support is a killer for me as well.

      I know it’s not cool to complain because someone’s free software doesn’t work on your preferred operating system, but I do. :-)

      I’ll stick with FreeCAD. Hopefully it’ll keep improving.

          1. I don’t use the metric system because it lacks useful fractional scales. I don’t know how the metric using world gets by without a sixty fourths drill index. Savages I swear!

  2. Definitely do a review. I’d also be interested in seeing a review of their PCB design package. I can’t live within Eagle’s limitations (the free version), and managing the library in KiCad is a real pain.

    1. Sure thing Bob! I’ll probably tag team out with another contributor for the PCB software though, as PCB design isn’t my forte – mechanical design however… hopefully DS Mechanical is as good as it sounds!

      1. Hey James,
        i do all my (hobby) designs in DesignSpark PCB so if have any questions I will be happy to help you out.. It has its quirks but if you get around them it’s really nice. the ModelSource has not been good enough yet to be of any help to me but component creation is very easy. Also, eagle libraries can be imported (along with schematics and layout).

    2. What are you making that you need more board area than Eagle allows? If you’re making something that big then break it down into sub-assemblies. I mean use two boards. I honestly don’t want to make a board any bigger than the free Eagle allows. Sometimes I thought I did, but it just turned out my design needed more work.

      1. Sometimes you need a bigger temporary work space (as in out of board) to
        move the blocks around when you are optimizing placement that is close
        to that limit.

        It was awkward in older version of EagleCAD without the ability of
        copy/pasting across designs.

        1. It took me a while to get so so at grouping in Eagle, but it is a skill well worth developing. Grouping still doesn’t work for me 100% but I can mostly get Eagle to do what I mean. Overall I’ve found the free Eagle’s board size limit a feature that has forced me to develop better boards. If the limit wasn’t there I’m sure I could come up with big sloppy boards much faster, and settle for them often too.

        2. I can get EagleCAD do what I want it to do as I hand route my boards and
          doesn’t let it do a lot. I have no hesitations in ripping out my tracks
          and play with my layout if they are suboptimal. For that, I need workspace.

          The only part I have issues is their polygon fills. Sometimes it does
          pretty stupid/bad things. I usually subdivide, overlap the fills and on
          the rare occasions to use area restrict to get what I want.

          e.g. It doesn’t handle separations of side by side fills of different

          1. It had to did it? I suppose I’d need to see that before I could believe it. But if what you say is true then Eagle’s physical design limitations would make using Eagle for such a project inconvenient. As you actually can make boards bigger than Eagle allows by stitching screenshots together. I did it once myself. Then I redesigned that board to make everything fit. But I did make one “long” version of that circuit with my stitched together art too.

          2. You can stitch together layout/plots in postscript by using the X/Y
            offset in CAM, then merging the actual plotting part at the bottom of
            the files with a text editor.

            I do that a lot to get the top / bottom plots from CAM side by side.

          3. My large front panel was for a mini-ITX case that resembles an Altair 8800. You can see it at galacticstudios dot org slash mini-altair-8800-pc

            Could I have stitched a large board together from smaller Eagle layouts? Maybe. But why would I want to? Is Eagle so wonderful that, even with the stitching, it’s better than KiCad?

          4. No. To make a board that size, you’ll need the Pro version which gets
            pretty expensive and is not worth for a one off project. Unless you are
            etching your own, it gets expensive to get a board made that size too.

            I would rather use Visio to draw my layout than to stitch a board in the
            first place. I have used Visio for board outline, floor planning,
            thermal design and mech design, so that what I am comfortable with.

          5. @Bob the last time I used KiCAD yeah, Eagle is that much better. Maybe in a few years I’ll see if KiCAD has gotten any better, but my time isn’t completely valueless to me, so I don’t really check on a regular basis. The last time I ran KiCAD it crashed on me while I was trying to work through the tutorial, on like the third action. So I was like F_ this! I’m patient, but I have my limits.

          6. &pcf11, OK I can see why you’re sour on KiCad. But I’ve designed several boards with it, including boards too big for the free Eagle, and I’ve never had a crash. So for me, the thought of using Eagle and stitching together the results when I want a large board has zero appeal.

            BTW, one thing I like about KiCad is the way it divorces the schematic component (e.g. a PIC 18) from the physical footprint (e.g. DIP, SOIC, QFP, etc.). When you’re making the schematic, you’re not making any statement about what footprints you’re using. You only assign footprints to components later. This appeals to my software engineering, object oriented side. It appears to be unique to KiCad, though (and I can understand that some people wouldn’t be used to it and wouldn’t like it).

          7. Hey I gave it a shot. It just didn’t work for me when I did. Maybe I’ll download it, and try it again. But the fact still remains that I never want to etch a board bigger than Eagle allows. The tank I etch boards in wouldn’t even fit a bigger board. I use one of those black microwave dishes frozen entrees come in. Stouffers lasagne I believe.

            I think this is the board with the most parts I’ve ever made.


            8 ICs on one board is about my limit.

        1. Y’know, if all the boards I ever wanted to make fit within Eagle’s limits, I probably never would’ve even tried KiCad. I just would’ve used the industry leader and never tried anything else. (Are you listening, CadSoft?) And I’ll note that my PCBs are really no more complex than yours, pcf11. Physically larger, yes, but only for esthetic or ergonomic reasons.

          Would it really hurt CadSoft to eliminate the physical size restriction? How many corporations are there that want to make large, sparsely populated boards without paying for a CAD package? (Are you still not listening, CadSoft?)

          1. I have used the combination of FreePCB and TinyCAD to do several boards. That combo works well and has the by product of the KiCAD like “feature” of leaving the foot print assignment to later if you want. Next board I am going to bite it and go with KiCAD, but the change should be easy considering the FreePCB and TInyCAD background.

  3. One thing to consider if/when you do a review: I tried AutoDesk 123D and quickly became frustrated. I needed to place one object on another at an exact position. I couldn’t find any way to set an object’s x, y, and z coords explicitly. I finally concluded (rightly or wrongly) that there is no way.

    I switched to using OpenSCAD. My first impression of OpenSCAD had been “no way I’m writing code in OpenSCAD when I can can just drag & drop in 123D”. But after my 123D fail, OpenSCAD seemed wonderfully precise and not really so difficult.

    So when you’re looking at DesignSpark, please let us know if it’s suitable for precise design. Thanks.

  4. I’m not in a position to review it yet – but precise it is!! Seriously, this is free??? Sketchup is not a proper modeller, if you’ve ever actually tried to use 123D you wouldn’t have a good word to say about it. This looks like a serious package, there are millions of models at trace parts for it, it can import anything from sketch up, it imports and exports stl, and is fast and PRECISE. I’m gobsmacked, I’ll report more later.

    Their pcb package kicks ass, I ditched eagle for it a couple of years ago – it has no limitations, and I can do things in half the time it took me (and I used eagle for years) in eagle. Eagle is not bad, in fact it is great – but designsparks pcb is supremely better IMHO

    Tom Ed

  5. I have no problems with RS delivering, mind you I do have an RS account which is easy to get. I order things and pay at then end of the month…. they have started slapping prices on low priced orders.

    I shop I worked as an engineer,On a Saturday you can guarantee it, folks parting with good money to buy electronic items – you always get a bunch….. ” 2, 1K resistors please” or someone dithering over the price of Mylar capacitors – you can see the ‘time wasters’ that’s why RS slapped a handling charge on. They have to get the part, do the paperwork then the package and then the postage!

    Right now I use Proteus, and looking towards trying Spark because, I need copper pour/power planes for RF use, my Proteus won’t do it – they want £195 for one that will.

  6. I use inventor and solidworks for work. I downloaded and really like how easy it was to navigate. If they would allow STEP import and export files that you can modify they would capture allot of people . The price of the add on modules is about the same as inventor , a more practical establish cad . If the price was half I would jump ship and give it a shot. With that said I kept it because it does let you work on STL files , and I like it.

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