Review Price free/subscription
Once you're finished laying everything out you can render the scene with full lighting calculations - a process that apparently results in photo realistic images of your design. However, despite our best efforts we couldn't come up with anything that looked more realistic than the basic model with a few more shadows thrown in for good measure. Regardless, you can specify time of day and sun position (well, technically house position) to see how the house can be best designed to use the available light.
You can also print out plans of the structure, for submitting to an architect or such like. However, as mentioned, Arcon makes a point of saying only printouts from the full Self Build & Development package are of planning application quality.
A number of example Grand Design projects are really the only major tie-in with the TV show, giving you the opportunity to see just how some of these great buildings were put together. However, the buildings are just simple unfurnished models of the buildings with none of the often beautiful settings these building find themselves in also rendered. This limits their impact somewhat and reduces their usefulness. Nevertheless, to be able to see exactly the proportions and innovative designs used in these buildings is quite a lesson.
Possibly the most disappointing part of this software, for someone that's new to it, at least, is the included tutorials are appallingly produced with poor quality ad hoc voiceovers that do little to actually explain what's going on - much less come close to being a step by step beginner's guide. Likewise the 300 page manual falls fowl of the classic errors, whereby it goes into some ridiculous detail in some areas then completely glosses over others and at no point does it give you a true feeling of how the heck you do anything.
And this is a big problem because the software is oh so very far from being intuitive, at least beyond the basics of putting up a few walls. Now I appreciate that reasonably powerful CAD software is going to have a certain degree of complexity, but there's something about this program that left me feeling constantly flustered. A problem that is quite clearly due to this software having gone through limited end user testing. Something that is nicely demonstrated by the fact a tool tip (the popup that appears when you hold your cursor over an icon) was written in German.
In fairness, though, with time this software's idiosyncrasies can be overcome and when they are it will be an invaluable tool for the budding self builder or DIYer. So for this reason we feel it's actually worth the money, especially as the seemingly identical but non-Grand Designs branded version of Arcon's 3D Home Designer is twice the price. Just be wary that the single user license is strictly enforced to the point where two users of the same computer with different logins won't both be able to use the software. For that you'll need to buy a second license.
Budding self-builders rejoice. For £50 you can have a reasonably powerful and relatively easy to use CAD package with which to design your latest creation. From 2D layout to fully rendered 3D model and architect's drawings you can plan and execute the vast majority of most modest building and design work with one program. Just don't expect much from the Grand Designs tie-in.
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