The Prasad Report: LEGO CAD!

The Manifesto is proud to present the first installment of The Prasad Report, by frequent contributor Achintya Prasad.  This highly irregular series will cover anything and everthing that falls outside the scope of his (Great Debates!) feature.  Without further ado, take it away Mr. Prasad!

Hello everyone!  After the quite literal great debate over the minifigure, I thought it would be a good idea to present a more…calming review of a few LEGO CAD software programs I’ve recently used, to allow everyone a nice breather before I find something else to throw the comments section into chaos. Here we go, the first ever review, by yours truly, an enthusiast who has never built using software, ever.

Today, constant reader, I do have a special treat for you. Not only will I be bringing you a more-or-less (un)comprehensive review of Bricklink’s new program,, and LDD, I will also be showing you sneak peaks into a massive new build I’ve been teasing on this blog and on Flickr. I assure you (or well, I mostly assure the editorial overlords of The Manifesto) that this isn’t a shameless plug for my builds, but rather, an example of taking the program to the ragged edge. Or at least, that’s what I’m telling myself. I should explain, that I have used CAD programs before, such as Microstation Powerdraft, and Model Smart. I’m actually quite good at technology, but LEGO CAD has been a mystery to me. So, while I’m not a total idiot in this field, I’m not exactly Steve Wozniak either.

So, let’s first do some background. While the traditional LEGO brick has been around for decades, the new century has brought about a new and very exciting form of building, via various CAD software. Now, while there is a debate about whether or not these electronic elements are on par with “real” LEGO creations (whatever that means), there is no doubt that there is a fair amount of skill and patience necessary to create anything meaningful in these programs.

Arguably, the most wildly known program is the LEGO group’s offering, Lego Digital Designer, or LDD for short. This program was amazing, it offered an advanced program that allowed even some more complex creations to be built within the program. While it was supported by LEGO, the program quickly became the favorite tool for LEGO’s CAD enthusiasts, from beginner-novices to advanced experts. Perhaps the most amazing feature of the program came from its Design By Me program, which allowed you to upload your creations to the LEGO website, create a box design for your creation, and have it shipped to your front door. Of course, such models weren’t cheap, and the program was often plagued with quality control issues. This eventually resulted in the company pulling the plug on the subsection, ending one of the most convenient tools in the pocket of the LEGO builder. The program, as a whole, soldiered on until 2016, when the Denmark headquarters officially terminated support for LDD. While you can still download and use the program, the elements guides are no longer updated by the LEGO company, and there are no planned bug fixes or updates.

Now, when I decided to embark on my insane nine baseplate large project, I initially turned to LDD as the method for keeping a tally of the number of elements I would have to buy. See, my idea is build an island, a complex undertaking that would require me to learn techniques in everything from rockwork to waterfall building, not to mention stretch my capabilities as microscale builder. LDD seemed like the cheapest way to try out all sorts of different ideas without having to invest time and effort into failed prototypes. Also, I was really attracted to the idea of having an instruction manual that could guide the entire building process, though the instructions I eventually generated made little sense and weren’t physically possible in our universe.

During the construction process, I did feel the program was lagging a little in features. For instance (and perhaps I’m a bit thick in figuring this sort of stuff out) I ran into massive issues when trying to duplicate rows of tiles to cover the baseplate. This was a huge problem: at the time of writing, the project consisted of 3,100 trans-light blue tiles. Every single last one of them was manually cloned and individually placed. Yes, it was as terrible as you can possibly imagine. Another issue that consistently plagued me was the camera movement. It was hopelessly difficult to try and move the viewing angle, leaving me to just guess and hope that I was placing elements in the right place.

By the time I finished with the general outline of the island, I was really starting to look for alternatives to the program. The relatively limited element cache was hampering my attempts at utilizing every possible technique and element available. Furthermore, the sheer number of elements in my project (number at over 3,000 at that moment) were blending into each other, making it difficult to differentiate between elements.

LDD image 1

One day, as I was scrolling through the money trap that is Bricklink, I discovered a new software: I decided to give it a shot, mainly because I was so woefully out of touch with the LEGO digital crowd that I actually believed that LDD and LDraw were the same thing (and to be honest, I’m still not 100% sure of all the differences). Not bothering to read any of the web page, I went straight into the download stage, completely unaware of what I was getting myself into.

Studio image 1

Thankfully, my LDD file imported quickly into Instantly, I have to say, the camera angles and flexibility was lightyears ahead of the LEGO group’s offering. The expansive Bricklink library was at my fingertips. Each element was easy to search up, and each search would result in beautiful renderings of the part, complete with 360-degree rotation. Basically, it was heaven. also banked quite a bit from LDD. As far as I can work out, the placement options for elements is about the same (or again, I’m being really thick, and some smart commenter is going to telling me something that will actually enrage me) but the connections were oh so much clearer. also showed when an element was connected impossibly, as in the element could not exist in that connection in our dimension, and when a piece had clicked with another. These two features alone saved me hours of troubleshooting and hair pulling.

Studio image 4.png

Also, unlike LDD, the program recognized that LEGO’s illegal connections aren’t actually all that awful, and usually allow such odd combination to exist. also began to show up LDD in its model analysis. It was very easy to get a break down of the entire elements list and associated costs from the Model Info Section. These valuable information points are difficult to gain access to from LDD, and requires the model to be exported into other software, such as BrickSmith or LDraw (unless LDraw is actually LDD in which case I’ve completely lost it). This all sounds like a positive, but unfortunately, I have a very sad story to tell you.

At around the 5,200-element mark, I realized that significant portions of my build (especially the support structure) were now submerged in hundreds of detailed rocks and trees and other elements. While I was nowhere near completion, I tore a page out of the US defense industry’s playbook, and started the dangerous game of concurrency.

To those innocently unaware of what concurrency is, think of the impossible proverb “building an airplane while it’s flying.” Effectively, I started construction of the model before finishing the entire CAD file. It’s a terrible idea, but the time savings are honestly astounding. Of course, if the method didn’t work for Lockheed Martin and its F-35 program, what chance would a middling TFOL have with such an advanced concept? After all, I still didn’t know how to use to its fullest.

Studio image 3.png

Anyways, as I began to try to ascertain some of the hidden elements in my project, I thought it would be a good idea to get a copy of the building instruction. Except for one thing: doesn’t have that feature. See, when I didn’t bother to read the website before downloading, I didn’t realize that the program is still in BETA, and was missing some key features. I desperately attempted to contact Bricklink, who graciously never returned my emails. I attempted to export the model into the mysterious LDraw, only to have the program fail at creating instructions. At this stage, my laptop had been working extremely hard, and, after dedicating the entire processing power to running the intensive program, began to expel hot exhaust from its heatsink, very painfully burning my hands. This was especially worrisome, as my computer, a relatively new MacBook Pro, rarely behaved in such a way. Any further jaunts with the program were limited to 20 minute installments, usually ending with burned fingertips and realizations of the fruitlessness of the instruction less CAD model I had created.

Studio image 2.png

This leads us to today, where I have decided that CAD software is absolutely rubbish (for me) and the rest of my model will be built the old-fashioned way: using hands, Bricklink orders, brick separators, teeth, paper and pencil (so I can do my scaling calculations because I’m pedantic), a baseplate, various random snacks and drink, and bucket of unorganized LEGO elements.


In my opinion, has quite a bit of potential. The ability to upload creation to Bricklink and interface with its massive database is a quantum leap for the community. Recognizing the full potential of LEGO, from the expanded database, to the illegal connections, is nothing short of amazing. BUT FOR GOD’S SAKE read the directions before you begin. Anyways, there you have it, all I can think of about Have you used the program, or another LEGO CAD software? Tell us your experiences in the comments down below.

64 thoughts on “The Prasad Report: LEGO CAD!

  1. The thing with LDD is it’s a love hate relationship.

    I’ve put an ungodly amount of time into that program, and its all about getting the efficiency down. One thing I think LDD does well is make you feel like you’re “building” a Lego model. It’s the closest I’ve gotten to have an authentic building experience on the computer. The program makes it so hard for it to be an enjoyable experience though.

    Take your example with the trans tile. Trans in LDD sucks. Just don’t use it. It makes the program unnecessarily slow while doing everything. Just use a stand in color entirely (my personal favorite is using Legacy color 11 – Pastel Blue for normal transparent) and build like normal. If you absolutely need to have the correct color, just wait till you’re as close to being complete with the model as you can, and then use the “select by color,” pick your stand in, and transform all the bricks to that color. Good luck panning around the model though, your computer will chug harder than a freshman at a frat party.

    I guess what I’m getting at is that LDD is unique in that it gives you as close to an authentic Lego experience that you can get without having to slice your cuticles on a stack of 2x4s. Which if I’m being honest, is the only reason I use digital programs over actual bricks now, my mother says that the way to a woman’s heart is through a well manicured hand. Unfortunately, to be timely and efficient with LDD you have to move away from the traditional Lego style of building. Copy+Paste is your best friend. Stand in colors are the way to go. Literally group everything you can. The more of your model you hide, the more pieces you can add before the program starts to slow down. Moving the camera angle can help snap bricks into exactly the right spot, but it will still take you 20 minutes. Over time the small things add up to make it a smoother process, but there are definitely growing pains.

    TLDR: LDD Is a cruel mistress that doesn’t appreciate my perfect cuticles. I may start seeing on the weekends.


    1. I have to agree with your point that LDD feels a lot more like actual Lego building than other CAD options.

      Myself I’ve been using the LDraw format and specifically MLCAD for virtual Lego building. I use it when I want to archive a MOC that is important to me, or when I want to produce instructions. Sometimes I’ve even used it to make instructions for somebody else’s MOC. Only very rarely have I used MLCAD to design a MOC. On one occasion I didn’t have the right parts to try out an idea. Another time I wanted to see how an idea would play out on a larger scale, without having to order a couple thousand bricks just to find out the end result might suck. Which it didn’t and then I made the order for those bricks.

      I guess the reason that I don’t design using a CAD program is that I like to work with restrictions, knowing what parts I have available in my collection, and physically interacting with them to figure out what can be done. In virtual building, there are so many possibilities that I don’t know where to start.


      1. I’ve never really liked LDD for instruction creation, what program do you recommend for that?


      2. I use a combination of MLCAD and LPub for instructions, with some additional editing. How many pieces go into each step and how the model should be rotated in the instructions is part of my build process in MLCAD. Then in LPub I just decide how many steps go on one page. Then I usually take the output of LPub and apply some photo editing.

        LPub isn’t very intuitive and sometimes the GUI doesn’t want to cooperate, so more often than not I have to take the LDraw file to a text editor and tweak the LPub commands in there by hand. But I do think the end result is worth the hassle. Here’s an example:

        Micro R3000 Instructions

        The individual boxes were individual pages in the output from LPub.


      3. Pascal,
        did you try the new LPub3D. It is a very good evolution from LPub. I think it’s a rebuild using the original sources and algorithms. But it’s way more a nowadays software. I found it more stable and intuitive to use.


      4. Thanks for the tip, I had not heard about LPub3D before. I will need to check that out the next time I want to make instructions for something.


    2. Agreed. Especially when I want to change something and I need to pry off a tile in the middle of a sea of other elements, LDD and are life savers. IRL, on the other hand, that would be a death sentence.


  2. It’s just strange that LEGO company has video games with latest graphic, but its building software stuck in the ’90s.


  3. A good first look, but there are a number of points I can add:

    First, I’ll address your problem of not being able to see elements that are “submerged” under hundreds of other elements. LDD actually has a pretty good solution for this problem — hidden bricks. You can hide any number of bricks in a model. Once hidden, a brick is essentially not there for all purposes other than determining whether a new brick can be placed in its proximity. You can’t see hidden bricks, and you can click to select them. Once your done working on an internal area, you can unhide all of the hidden bricks with a single click. I’m not familiar enough with to know whether it has a similar feature, but my guess would be that it does.

    Second, regarding your problem of copying repeated patterns of bricks, there are definitely good ways to do that in LDD. You can create a repeated pattern module aside from the main model, select the whole thing, and just keep pasting it as often as you want. If the pattern is already part of the main model, you can use Ctrl+click to select just the bricks you want to replicate and go from there. What I’d really like to see, though, is the capability to replicate a groups of bricks with reflection across an axis. It’s a somewhat difficult problem, since it doesn’t just involve reshuffling the relative position of bricks. It also requires substitution of bricks, e.g. a left-handed wedge for a right-handed wedge. It’s not an insurmountable problem from a programming point of view, but it would probably require that someone painstakingly go through the entire parts catalog to identify which parts are reflections of other parts.

    I’ll agree that camera angles in LDD are a royal pain in the ass, especially since LDD doesn’t have the capability to pan the camera. It only allows you to rotate around the center of the model ( thankfully added the camera panning feature). However, it is possible to get the effect of a pan with a little bit of extra work, once you realize how LDD’s re-centering algorithm works. What you need to do to achieve a pan is to zoom way out, place a random, extra brick far out in the direction you want to pan, re-center the camera, and, voila!, you’ve essentially panned halfway toward that “extra brick.” Definitely not as convenient as the keyboard/mouse shortcuts for doing it in, though.

    Some illegal connections are possible within LDD as well, with some clever coaxing. I won’t go into the details here, but there are some good tutorials on youtube. Here a quick tutorial on Flickr.

    You’re absolutely right about the load on your computer. Usually at around 5,000 elements, things start to slow down, even if you are not using trans-clear parts, which make things worse. I know some folks have pushed it much further, though, to close to 20,000 elements.

    All that being said, both LDD and allow you to do things that are impossible in real life (including some things that might surprise even a seasoned builder, like this). They are useful tools, but need to be coupled with understanding of the “engineering realities” of the bricks that can only be gained through building physical models.


      1. FYI – you can easily recenter the LDD camera on any part you want. All you need to do is right-click on the part in question, and wahlah! (don’t need to do that brick in a distance thing… )

        The mirror image option would be a great enhancement.


      2. That’s good to know. I have accidentally done that a number of times and not realized what was going on.


    1. I’m sorry, maybe I’m misunderstanding the term, but can’t you pan in LDD by holding SHIFT and then dragging a right-click?


    2. Ah see, this is why I love the comments section. Now I can peer right through the side of a mountain. I’m definitely going to use that feature.

      I tried using that panning technique in LDD, but the size of my model is simply too big to really use that technique regularly.

      I know a few other people mentioned the transparent elements. It’s not really that being an issue, just placement took way too long.


      1. I would suggest grouping parts of your model that you don’t need visible at all times (think quadrants, or different model elements like water, mountains, etc). You can hide groups, so when you don’t need specific aspects you can just hide them and make the camera movement and piece loading times a lot faster.

        Also, the selection tools are super handy for creating groups. Say you’re hiding all your mountains, you could use the color selection tool to select everything of Dk. Bley, or you could use the color&part selection tool to grab all the the bley slopes, etc then just group them all.


  4. I hit a computer with a 14 pound sledge once.

    I would say that I am way too hands on to venture into LDD or I am not remotely opposed to it or think it’s NOT Lego, but I am an odd duck in that I have been buying Lego sets for forty years now. I have elements that no longer exist, were only available in one set back in 1984, or were just so abstract and reviled that they were the first to get handed down to younger siblings to gnaw on. They are at my fingertips so I just grab for them.

    The two major flaws in programs are gravity and consistency. Building a seven foot long spaceship in real life forces engineering to counter physics (a uniquely satisfying stretch of imagination, inspiration, and perspiration.) On a screen, it is completely discounted. The pieces on the screen are perfect color and size. In reality, Lego ain’t all that let alone any wear over the years. Additionally, “illegal” connections have always been impossible in a computer. Even though there are connections now that fall in that stigma that are actually possible in, brick bending likely will never be. Partial connections too. Even if they were, I doubt that there would be any computer that survives from the infinite calculations. I can smell the electronic smoke already. Delicious.

    But I think the greater aspect for me not to utilize the programs is that my brain takes great pleasure from watching pieces click together, hearing elements snap into place, feel the connection take form. The tactile/sensory quality is so much more an element of the fun I have with Lego that I can’t have with the disconnect of a keyboard. And there really is no greater sound than the plastic rustle of a sweep through a bin trying to find that perfect element you KNOW is at the bottom. Unless it’s the sound of a 14 pound sledge savagely kissing the innards of a computer.

    Error 404 this, bitch!


    1. Man, I would love to hit a computer with a 14 pound sledge. I’ll put that on my bucket list.

      Brick bending is possible in LDraw, it’s just extremely painful because you would have to rotate each individual piece ever so slightly by hand. Now of course someone could automate this… for flex tubes there actually is a helper program that allows you to include bent flex tubes in an LDraw model. That too is not for the faint of heart, it breaks my brain for example, I can’t handle that tool.

      You’re obviously totally correct that LDraw and other virtual building tools defy physics. LDraw for example will totally allow two pieces to occupy the same space, so not only does it allow “illegal” connections but in fact also some that are impossible in the real world.

      Me, I just like having something that I can actually hold in my hand and tinker with more than the equivalent on a computer screen. So we agree on that point… cue in Mike to lecture us about too much consensus…


    2. Tactile feedback is definitely one of the big draws LEGO has, even today. I think it’s like the comparison between CGI and real models. I mean, one is more practical than the other, but hey, a model is so much more versatile, at least in my opinion.


    3. That sledgehammer comment jogged a memory for me: Years ago, I guy I worked with had a cartoon posted outside his cube. The cartoon had two frames. The first one was captioned “Computer Whiz” and showed a guy with an evil grin taking a leak on a PC. The second frame was captioned “Computer Hacker” and showed a guy with a crazed look working over a PC with an axe. I haven’t been able to find a copy of that cartoon since I left that place, but it always gave me a good chuckle.


  5. I’ve recently started dabbling in LDD because of how much downtime I have at work. I started out trying to build some things I’ve already made IRL just to get used to the program but quickly realized hardly any of my builds are possible in LDD and I assume the same goes for other programs like A few illegal connections are one thing, but weird friction connections are out of the question. I doubt there will ever be a program that can recognize that a minifig hand will wedge into the eye of a rahkshi mask or a 1×1 round plate will fit the triangular holes of Bionicle shoulder armor. Stuff like that is discovered on a weekly basis and I don’t see CAD programs keeping up. If someone can replicate one of Mike Nieves’s builds digitally I’ll be impressed.

    I’ve gotten some utility out of LDD from planning out some bigger scale builds that aren’t so dependent on those odd techniques. It’s annoying to place things in 3D since your mouse moves in 2D, but currently I’ve been working on something large and flat that’s only one brick thick and LDD is a really good tool for the job. I can see how Bricks Noir gets so much use out of CAD programs with the thin layers he works in and how fast and easy it is to experiment with different snot techniques and curves/shaping in that specific context. But I dunno how people like Cagerrin do what they do.


    1. MLCAD for example doesn’t have a concept of where parts fit, you can place them anywhere. This also means parts don’t click together, not even basic bricks, you have to exactly place them where they need to go. This is very different from LDD which tries to help you by knowing what parts can connect to other parts. So with MLCAD you can pretty represent any technique but it also does not tell you whether your virtual model would lead to parts colliding with each other in a real build.

      I’ve been fairly succesful with reproducing other people’s builds with MLCAD from breakdown photos. For example, consider this MOC by tpcowan:


      My MLCAD version, then rendered in PovRay:

      Blue Griffon


  6. Angka, your point resonates with me. I know a lot of soccer moms who say: Oh, my kids love Legos… they play all that Lego computer games. I usually nod politely, but I think to myself: I think your kids like computer games, not Legos. Those graphic computer games sell like cocaine. The building programs are just not as popular.

    I had a building program made by Lego some years ago. I forget what it was called, but basically, it allowed you to build things, mostly in yellow and red, and then animate them. Your cars would drive in circles, and your helicopter would drive in circles. It did have one really odd feature though. If you built a dynamite tile into the model, you could set it off! There was a little plunger icon on the screen, and if you clicked it… your model would explode. In retrospect, it was really very strange… like building a Lego car bomb for use in Lego Falluja or Lego Aleppo. Not exactly in line with Legos public image. Then again, Lego did bring us the Space Pimp, and the Jokers car with a big golden cock for a hood ornament. Im not sure the boys up in the big office are always paying attention.

    Lego is a pretty big company. Large, non-responsive, slow to change. Those games are money makers, so they focus their energy on that product. The building programs don’t generate the revenue so it’s way down on their priority list.

    Heck, their web site should host the latest images of the latest products right? But frequently, I learn about new products from the printed catalogs I get in the mail! When I go to the Lego home page, I see they spend more time on stuff I consider “extra” than on actual product information. Stuff like games based on whatever theme they are pushing. (ie. Ninjago or Nexoknights. Themes they own and on which they pay no royalties) Or on absurdly data intensive moving images and semi-interactive crapola. But I don’t go there to play games! I want to know about the new products! For that, I go to their printed catalog? The printed material is more up to date than the digital information? That’s totally backwards from the way a modern company should distribute information.

    sigh… I’m old. Old and bitter.


    1. Oh that program sounds like Lego Creator (not to be confused with the set theme; this was before that). I had it on my computer as a kid along with Legoland, which was basically a tycoon-style game with the Lego theme park. Was lots of fun for the late 90’s but I never considered it a replacement for the real bricks. Their recent Lego Worlds project sort of feels like a spiritual successor to Creator, which had me excited but I don’t think they’ve done much with it beyond the beta. It could be a perfect marriage of the Lego games and LDD if they keep working at it. I remember people making Minecraft comparisons at the outset, which has always annoyed me. In college I used to get a lot of “Why don’t you just play Minecraft instead of building with Lego?”

      I think the website is set up like that for kids to enjoy. The actual buying is typically up to the parents and Lego is readily available at any local retailer so maybe most parents don’t consider ordering online where they have to pay shipping and then wait. Could be that Lego tried a more robust catalog on their site at one point but it ended up not being worth the effort and upkeep.


      1. “Why don’t you just play Minecraft instead of building with Lego?”

        Yes. Heard it, lived it. The question makes me grind my teeth. To me that question makes as much sense as asking why you don’t just draw an apple instead of eating one. It’s a question asked by a person who has never engaged in both activities and then consciously compared them. They just recognize a superficial parallel between two activities and latch onto the one they are more familiar with.

        Some soccer mom sees her kid playing Mincraft, knows that all of his friends play Mincraft, just bought some Mincraft themed curtains and bedding for little Billy… then she looks at your work bench and asks why you don’t just play Mincraft instead of Lego. I just nod politely and think about fire.

        Your right about the focus of the Lego website. It’s supposed to be a free playground where play leads leads to habitualized consumption. Still, I think a digital platform should be updated faster than printed media. Ease and speed of updates ( freshness of info) is one of the main advantages of digital over printed media. When your paper is faster than your electrons, something is out of wack. That dang site should have updates almost weekly, with the printed cataloged catching up an summarizing quarterly.


      2. Mike, I think most of us don’t just play Minecraft or build virtually because in the end you are unable to hold your creation in hands.
        Real life feels so much better than bits and bytes! Not only with LEGO 🙂


      1. Well, yeah. It’s easer to mule coke in a balloon inside your body than Legos! Legos hurt!


  7. Prasad,

    I’m not a fan of digital building, but when I was away from my bricks for a year, a co-worker and fellow AFOL, Joe Hammond tried to show me the benefits of the digital format. He could manipulate the system and build in about 15 minutes what it would take me hours to complete. I had to admit, it did allow for a type of building in a place where you could not possibly get your hands on your bricks. Frustrating, awkward, not as good as the real deal… maybe. But all you need to do it is a lap top? So you can “build” in almost any place that has power? That’s a pretty good trick really.

    Aside from that fact, the appeal of digital building has always eluded me. It’s a modders paradise. I get that. I don’t like it, but I get it. Colors and graphics that don’t exist in the real world can be conjured in digital format. Parts can be sort of smooshed together to make new parts as needed. Good for some folks, but not me. And you can build models that exist in a world without gravity. Again, neat for some folks. Not for me. By manipulating the graphics, the lines between bricks can be made to blend into a seemingly unbroken surface. I don’t need that either.

    Digital building is different from plastic. I don’t presume to ordain or debase it. It is an art form. It does require skill. It is relevant. But all that can be said of playing the bag pipes. And just as I have no interest in playing the bag pipes, and only seldom want to listen to them… I have no interest in digital building, and only rarely want to see it.

    Not hating. Not bashing. Not excluding. It’s just not my thing.

    I guess I would say though, that digital building is not basically the same thing as plastic building. This topic always seems to come up. Is it the same. A better or worse “version” of the “genuine” Lego experience.

    I say apples and oranges.


    1. I can understand that sentiment. This is something I’ve been bringing up in a few other comments, but I think your perspective as someone who has worked on larger builds in LUGs, wouldn’t LDD or be an invaluable tool in knowing quantity of parts and other more technical aspects of a build? offers everything from price estimates to projected weights of the final model. Some people are blessed with infinitely large collections of elements. My parts bin is definitely on the larger side, but I’m not exactly using 15 rows of storage bins either, and any large projects such as this one require a trip to Bricklink…


      1. I don’t know. In terms of efficiency, yes… digital programs would be helpful in generating specific data for parts orders. If I worked for a company, and they wanted to know exact numbers… for specific projects, if I was ordering with money from a special fund for example, then I suppose such a feature would be useful. But my build style has never been that formal. I don’t even sketch stuff out on paper before I build. I just build until I’m out of the parts I need, then I beg my wife for permission to go on brick link, then I order “about” what I think I will need… and wait for the parts to arrive. The whole affair is very time consuming and very trail and error driven.

        Logically I see the benefit. Operationally it’s not a draw for me.


  8. I’m all about hands on; just like I want an actual book in my hands while reading, I want the parts in my hand while building.

    I’ve only dabbled with ldd a couple of times in the past, but every aspect of it was a real chore. Building in notepad is more fun. Everything from finding the parts to trying to integrate a more complex technique is tedious as fuck. But even if this was streamlined somehow, I’d still be all about the bricks; yet I’d feel more inclined to use it to try things out before ordering expensive parts.

    As for the final builds done this way, they have to be truly impressive (or edited in such a way to trick me) to make me give it attention.

    I don’t have a problem with them per se, but there are a couple of issues here.

    Many builders use colors that aren’t available (may not seem like a big deal, but it’s the main thing that stops me from achieving what I want 90% of the time, not having part x in color y). The other one, as Matt mentioned is gravity, which doesn’t apply only to large builds; it can be a small figure posed in a certain way or an arm holding a weapon, anything goes.

    To give an example, this is the most fragile pose I’ve ever done – Every single element serves to create the pose and balance each other out. Take the bottle from her hand and it will fall. Rotate the head in the other direction or tilt it and it falls. Slightly rotate the clip brick on the knee – you guessed it – falls. And so on. Yet, in this particular position, there are no issues; it can be moved around and whatever without a problem. While gravity was the biggest challenge for me while building this, it wouldn’t have been a factor in ldd at all. And yes, I know I could have built a base and avoided all that, but where’s the fun in that? :))

    So for me this is either something that allows builds like Bricks Noir’s to happen (which alone makes it all worth it) or a borefest tool to test things out.

    Oh, and you don’t even get to display your build on the shelf even for a day. That’s just mean.


    1. I agree to an extent. Having a real life model is great, no doubt. Gravity is a tougher issue. LDD doesn’t quite follow physics, but I think that ultimately doesn’t matter. For me, anyways, this experiment with CAD was mainly so that I knew roughly how many elements I needed to order (an obscene amount, to be clear) to complete the project. Sure elements in the incorrect color is a pain, but having all the pieces you need at your disposal is also an invaluable tool, and something that is far more likely to happen if you have a parts list.


      1. It all depends on your end goal, I suppose. If you aim for a picture to post, then yeah, it doesn’t really matter. The issue comes if you want to replicate it in real life for whatever reason. What I meant about the colors is that ldd allows you to use any part in any color, even if it’s not available. You can use pink stormtrooper helmets or whatever.


    2. Like Keith, I care way less about presentation than I used to so unrendered digital builds aren’t an issue for me. There’s some powerhouse digital builders out there like Garry Rocks, Faber Mandragore, Cagerrin, Thomas of Tortuga, Matt Bace, Backward Matt, Nightmaresquid, Ian McDonald, and of course Bricks Noir. Even if gravity is an issue, the knowledge we have of the medium makes their technique and artistry hard not to appreciate.

      I build primarily by shape first, and if a part isn’t available in an appropriate color, it usually means the build stays a WIP for a while until a suitable color comes out. Alternatively, I could get my LUG buddy to paint an element for me. The limitations of the parts palette may be a fun challenge for some builders, but I see it as an annoyance more than anything else.

      The whole reason I build is because it’s the easiest way I’ve found to express my ideas. I never put the time in to learn how to draw or paint or sculpt and Lego has always been there. I’d probably build digitally if I wasn’t already set in my physical building ways and could use more illegal techniques and odd friction connections. When it comes down to it, both digital building and physical building have their own unique limitations and the digital has gone beyond a mere approximation of the physical; they’re different mediums now and the book isn’t necessarily better than the movie.

      Not being able to hold a model and swoosh it is a major bummer though.


      1. Oh, I find it an annoyance as well, don’t get me wrong. I’d love to have every part in every colors at my fingertips. But painting, modifying parts and all that stuff is a no no for me. I just don’t like it.

        I don’t need a challenge for challenge’s sake; it’s like those who worship using regular bricks and claim that it involves more creativity and difficulty to build that way – I guess it does, but why would you prefer an inferior model, just because it was harder to make? I’ll take the best with the least effort anytime.

        What building within limitations gives me is a way to gauge a builder’s talents based on what I know. Which definitely allows me to appreciate a model more, being familiar with it’s inner workings. Now with digital builds, all that is replaced by can this model exist in real life? If it can’t, then I no longer consider it Lego building. I have no problem appreciating it, but I consider it its own thing at that point, a different medium.


  9. Looking back, I guess I was one of the early adopters when LDD came out, because coming out of my Dark Age I han no parts at all. LDD and “Design by Me” were an absolute godsend (despite the severely limited parts available – luckily, I took advantage of DbM before they jacked up the prices).

    Seem like a couple core motivations for using CAD:
    – don’t have your parts with you, and want to build something
    – want to build what you envision, without limits of gravity, color, etc holding you back.
    – easier to build, change, swap colors, etc.
    – want to buy what you design to build in reality.

    Sounds like is helping fill the last bullet again, and that should be handy for both new and existing FOL alike.

    These days, I only use LDD to try out different ideas. I don’t think I need to use myself for personal use, but if I was designing something as a set/commission I could see trying it out.


    1. I would add a few more motivations:

      automatic archiving of all of one’s builds
      ability to re-use portions of one build in a future build (i.e. the ability to build up a “library” of sub-components that can be put together in different ways in the future)
      no need to have great photographic equipment or skills to generate good-looking images (provided that one is willing to spend a little time figuring out the intricacies of one’s favorite rendering software)
      no need to sort parts!!!


      1. Man, that last post didn’t come out looking right. I guess some of the more advanced HTML tags just don’t work.


      2. Good adds. My photos are my archives, so that didn’t cross my mind. The reuse of sub-components is an interesting thought too, but since I naturally do that when I cannibalize my builds, didn’t think of that either.

        You mentioned sorting, and I’ll say part navigation in LDD is semi-clear on certain parts (where are those motorcycle handlebars again). But holy-heck are there a lot to navigate through to find them sometimes (even after applying a color filter). I’m sure there is a search field, but I’d rather not be troubled by it. The same may be true for navigation, but if it uses Bricklink’s sort lists at least there is some logic/part names that we’re used to by now.


      3. Agreed on both of you two’s points. Subassemblies are especially useful, and something real life builders have to protect more consciously. Also, on the subject of finding elements, I’d say my collection is about 50-60% sorted. In, I can literally just search up the element I want, which allows someone to focus more on the build and less of the scavenging process, though there is merit to both sides of those methods.


      4. Man, I didn’t even think of those other conveniences. We need to rope in more digital builders to this conversation cause you guys obviously have a very different perspective here.


  10. Well, first I have to say I’m quite surprised this article is gaining any traction at all. I’m currently reaching out to a few CAD builders, and hopefully we can break up some of that god forsaken consensus we have around here.

    Also, I’ve begun the construction process (I’m done with the water for all 9 baseplates) and I have to say, time wise, placing the tiles in real life is about the same, if not more time consuming, than when I attempted it in LDD. Not really sure why, but just something I noticed.


    1. I will say, as a CAD program LDD is clunky at best. It does Lego well, but AutoCAD, Rhino, Sketchup, etc do a much better job at being more useful and accessible for 3D design.


  11. *Cracks Knuckles*
    I’m going to preface this all by saying that I am primarily a digital builder, but I primarily work in Mecabricks ( and LDD. I also try to stick to available colors with my models, unless the color scheme is just an outlandish one and the whole design is just for fun.

    Why digital? Well, I’m a TFOL and I’ve never really had the available funds to bricklink everything I want to build, and my room also lacks the space for an extended build time. The only physical stuff found in my flickr photostream is a few speeders and some minfigures.

    Why Mecabricks and LDD? I use LDD for rapid prototyping and generating instructions via blueprint. Everything else is done in mecabricks to take advantage of the most extensive library of decorations and the flex tools. Rendering from Mecabricks is also an absolute breeze and the results look phenomenal, especially compared to what you can get out of Built in POV-Ray? Weak, and ancient. It also lacks export to any useful 3d formats. Mecabricks also has a near perfect LDD import. I’ve never attempted to use any of the LDraw tools, simply because in my opinion the parts are pretty crappy, especially older models. For example the 2×2 dome in the screenshot above. That looks like crap, and there’s no reason a part like that should still exist in a library as extensive as LDraw. Same thing with its minifigure hands, which look like almost a complete ring. Basically what I see in is a failed attempt to be the next gen of lego building program, except that mecabricks has already raised the bar to a point that the only things can do better is integrate with bricklink better and the collaborative building feature.


  12. Just a quick update, launched a new update today. I completed the download and tried to access my file so I can start construction. And naturally, the program is incapable of opening the file, and so the entire project file is worthless. So yeah I agree, analog is much better…


    1. Just try exporting the file to LDraw or LDD format with the old version. Then import that into the new one. Without having tried out this in particular, it often works on similar issues in may programs.


  13. Like some others mentioned before, I’m a real life builder. I need the feeling of the brick between my fingers to get inspired. I never have been able to create something new in any of the LEGO Cad programs.
    I always used MLCad and LPub to document an already finished build. Very rarely I tried out ideas virtually after building a short portion IRL just to see how it would look like in bigger proportions.

    I started using MLCad about 10 years ago and stuck to it ever since. I like the four static viewing angles it provides. In addition the fact that the LDraw format is simple formatted ASCII is very helpful. You can do fantastic things using notepad and Excel…

    LDD never made it to work for me. In fact I never invested much time on it. The impression it gave to me at the first few tryouts was too bad. The worst for me was the inability to take influence on the outcome of the instructions (maybe I didn’t search long enough).

    I see the potential has. But still there are commercial interests behind it. I loaded several of my LDraw models to without any problems and generated wanted lists. Which is a great feature. Sure I’ll give building in a try or some more. But for my needs I’m quite skilled with MLCad and LPub. So if I encounter too much resistance in adopting to I’ll probably stick to the fan created software.


  14. Out of curiosity, I’m wondering about many of the backgrounds here. Personally I have zero contact with computers at work and never had much throughout school. It sounds like many here are way more open to digital because they are programmers or utilize it heavily in work and school. Understandable. But are there any here that are disconnected from the computer EXCEPT for what they primarily do in digital building? Is that even a possibility?

    What I’m getting at is essentially a generation gap. Granted, I think those of us in our 40s and Mike 😀 (happy belated b-day, dude!) did grow up with computers; however, they were never an essential part of our diet until after college. Graphics for sure were slow and clunky until the late 90s and rendering took tragically long, but for the most part it was all relegated to movie studios with outrageous computing power and money to burn (movie night with Lawnmower Man!) But what can be done now would have likely been taken up by everyone had they grown up with computers as an extension of themselves, the tools that they were promised and supposed to be. As it is with the current FOLs automatically under the age of, say, 30 (a guess.)

    I’m not bringing this up to exacerbate any difference between them younguns and us old farts, I know many in each generation use digital OR real plastic exclusively in spite of the age. Many fluidly transition between both. But my curiosity is in the realm of personal development among us. I was introduced early on to Lego and it warped my mind into seeing everything as a construct thereof, I still see the world as such. But with me, it actually steered me into what I do. Does the digital link to the younger builders influence them in the same way and does this view drive them into physical construction of any sort for a career? Can there exist an intuitive mechanic, welder, carpenter, sculptor when they only type or move a mouse? Is it this OR that or can it, will it always now, be both? And if both, is there a compromise to digital AND real without specificity? What if C-A-T really spelled dog?

    Just curious.


    1. It may be a factor, but not a rule in any way. I spend quite a bit of time daily around computers (both work and fun related), yet I’m not drawn to digital art. I can’t really say I’m a fan of it in any form, most of it just seems like a gateway towards the finished model (to take a digital sculpt for example, it’s nothing more than a first step towards a physical model in my eye… and until it gets there – should that ever happen – it just feels incomplete).

      I’m not including here things like video games / animated movies and the likes; I’m specifically referring to art forms that have a physical counterpart.


  15. With computers being so pervasive these days, wondering if that is even possible? If I may, I’d adjust the question to be “Are there any digital builders who use computers ONLY for personal-use/entertainment, and DON’T use them in their studies or profession?”

    From my POV, I see a second factor in the generation gap in CAD usage; the gap between the “haves and have nots”. Do they have the brick/money to build what they want or not? I’m on the +40’s side of the fence with you (obviously, with all these supposed “AFOL-sons” I have running around). As stated above, I got onto LDD because I had no brick coming out of my dark age. Engineering background here, so yet computers have been a part of my life, but that didn’t drive my interest in digital… I’d rather have bought stuff from the LEGO catalog I got in the mail, and used actual bricks.

    Where I do feel like the “old fart” is that having lived through the days of “VHS vs Beta”, I don’t want to get invested in a platform/program if it isn’t going to be sticking around (I’m kind of the same way at work; they keep coming up with these “flash in the pan” analytical software packages to try out, and I just want to get the job done. The tools I already use work fine). I’m just amazed from the comments how many people use MULTIPLE digital building tools… I guess it’s to make up for the deficiencies in rendering/instructions/parts/assembly/part ordering, etc…. not yet one “unifying-app” for them all…


    1. Good points and definitely a better way to phrase that question. I’m trying to ask without bias but I definitely have a tilt in one direction. I don’t know if it’s actually pertinent or even if it’s anything that can be gauged, but I see a lack of interest in actual manual labor and have seen over the decades that the push towards digital industries to amount to vaporous promises and dissatisfaction. It seems self perpetuating and cyclically doomed, but oddly necessary. It may also stem from my daily experiences with what is erroneously called “common” sense.

      But here is where I make the connection.

      I learned more about driving from the Technic Auto Chassis 8860 than I did from anything else. What a car does in the space it occupies was all right in front of me, physically. The geometries, the gearing, the rich Corinthian leather, all made sense and I could extrapolate everything else from that. It made sense. And maybe that’s the point I’m trying to explore: Sense. Full input. Sight, sound, feel, taste (okay, not so much of that last one) all coming together spatially. In full dimension in front of me to manipulate, alter, repair, crash, add a motor to pathetically chase the dog with. I am so disconnected from digital, but I do see the benefits. I guess my focus is if those in the digital arena can see the full benefits of the real plastic. And thus, would see the full benefits of being a welder. Or any trade of course in an age where manual labor is literally looked down upon.

      That then lends to the haves and have-nots argument. I worked at my dad’s shop from age 5 to 24 (I wasn’t on payroll until I was 12) and I got paid for the work I did, not just occupying a chair in the corner and being told to shut up and quit playing with the grease gun. I fixed engines without anyone holding my hand or telling me what to do. I was very good at it and extremely intuitive (the first thing I ever welded was cast iron, one of, if not THE most difficult metals to weld. I figured out on my own to preheat the metal to keep it from stress cracking everywhere. AT AGE 8!) Lego didn’t teach me that specifically, but it made me think outside the box about the material in front of me. IN MY HANDS. I also found that money was a real predictable way to get any Lego set I wanted rather than whining and crying for it at birthdays and Christmaseses. So in that respect, it becomes a value judgment. Does buying Lego complete the full experience or is the digital realm, for lack of a better term, a cop-out? And further, is it truly satisfying?

      I know I’m tapping at the extremes here and fully acknowledge that both can be had and equally satisfying, but there is definitely a disconnect from my point of view. I’d like to say that Lego has the ability to fix that and am fully aware that I’m definitely an odd man out on this rock, but I am just exploring an observation that I find a little sad and disturbing. Not quite to the sedentary, bloated Wall-E scenario, but heading in that direction. It’s hard to make the argument without sounding like I should be telling you to get off my lawn, but no disrespect is intended to those that use the digital medium primarily. Just a social observation and PURELY my opinion, not my beliefs. Ideas worth negating or exploring.

      And beta was better, but not as good as my Laserdiscs.


      1. No, you will not get the entire experience, it’s impossible. There’s too many factors missing. But, it can be just as satisfying for those that aren’t interested in the missing factors; some may even find them a bother. Think about playing a medieval rpg, the traveling, fighting, interacting with shady characters, assassin today; hero tomorrow and so on. I love that! But fuck me if I’d want to do that in real life. The digital gives me the opportunity to do all that without the hassle. It’s not even close to the real experience, but I wouldn’t want it to be… supposing it’d be possible. :))

        What you say is true, there’s not much desire for manual labor, the digital streamlines and hurries the process immensely. And it makes a lot of sense especially when it comes to a business.

        Manual labor will become a luxury in most areas. And only those with an affinity and love for the craft will survive. They will move towards the haute couture business model or private artisans; for everyone else there’s made in China.


      2. Excellent! That’s pretty much my observation. “Manual labor will become a luxury” has to be the most hopefully reassuring and saddest sentence I think I’ve ever heard! Thank you for that. 😀

        I guess now it becomes a level of patience. Waiting for parts, waiting to get back to one’s bricks, waiting to see if any cats will lick it up. 😉 That is another aspect I see that troubles me even more. I have to fall back on my description of Art using comic books. The real Art is the line between cells, not the artwork that bestrides it (yeah, I used the word bestrides.) Is the process lost, or just replaced with bits and bytes? I definitely do NOT discount the digital tool, but is there anything really gained that can outweigh what is lost? Am I placing too much value in the real plastic that I’m blind to the digital benefits?

        The medieval RPG aspect is interesting, but I take it completely for what it’s worth: An RPG. Is it better than D&D? My brain could ferret out some fun/gruesome/insane ideas that I have yet to come across in Dragon Age. I won’t NOT play RPGs because my imagination is certainly weirder than anything they have to offer the masses, but do I gain anything from not playing D&D anymore instead? Have I become impatient in favor of brilliant graphics? Have I dispelled with the process in favor of an immediate fix that somehow satisfies even in the most minuscule sense? Is enough fine? And what does that encourage? Should this then translate into our careers, what sort of businesses await? Six digit student loans for what? Dogs and cats living together. Mass Hysteria!

        What’s wrong with getting our hands dirty a bit?

        The business end will always devalue the worker in favor of lower costs, I can see how digitally created in ‘Murica/manufactured in China will be seen as a positive. But only to bean counters. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of bean counters and people that listen to them more than those picking the beans. Too many chiefs, not enough Indians.

        Or am I an effect looking for a cause? I may be linking tangents that are not derived from the same circle; if so, say I’m nuts. Well, more nuts than usual. I may actually be tapping into more pertinent social issues and trying to tie them back to little Lizzie killed all those people because she never got the Barbie Dream House as a kid. I just simply see, and am living proof of, the benefits of Lego, but from a perspective that is definitely out of kilter. Maybe I value the little plastic bits over the bytes of unreal plastic too much.


    2. Ted pretty much hit the nail on the head for me. While I could justify dropping a few hundred bucks on parts once in a while, time and space limitations prevent that from becoming a practical reality. Time is really the limiting factor. I’d guess that I can work four to five times faster in the digital domain, plus I can do it at times when it would be impossible otherwise, like when I’m on the road with my laptop. Separating two plates in the digital domain takes a fraction of a second. In the physical domain, it could take hours, and possibly require the aid of explosives. Actually, in the digital domain, there is no need to ever separate plates – all of your models can remain intact forever, and you’ll never have to cannibalize one build to get parts for another. So if I include the tear-down time, I can probably work about 7-8 times faster in the digital domain. That’s tough to beat. I do once in a while tinker with real parts, but it’s mostly to see whether certain types of connections will hold up in the physical domain.


      1. I’m glad you chimed in here, I was hoping to get your voice on this, Bricks. And hell, tear down, sorting, AND reorganizing storage and work space could easily triple those 7-8x estimates. It really does suck sometimes. And by “sometimes”, I mean every goddamn time!

        Having dabbled in the real plastic, do you wish that you had the collection to build the works you do in digital? I don’t mean to ask a seemingly obvious question like that, but do you feel like you are missing out on something or is it a wash? Six of one, half a dozen of the other? I’m asking with the assumption that you are involved with programming as some sort of career basis and foundation as to how you “control your environment”, you’re around it all the time as I can see through your proficiency. Would your artistic exploration have been all that different if you only had bricks? Are other mediums more intriguing or is it merely showing the adaptability of Lego to your vision? Have you swooshed? 😀 Is Lego truly just the medium? And in that respect, is it more than a novelty? Convenience is wonderful, but would you trade knowing that there were real bricks waiting? Given the funds and space of course. Do you feel that real bricks would have hindered your artistic expansion?

        Please don’t take my questions as an interrogation, you have absolutely no need with me or anyone here to justify anything. I am seriously just curious.


      2. Would I like to realize some of my works in plastic? Yes, there is definitely some satisfaction in having something “real” in front of me. Is it a deal-breaker for me? No, especially given my situation.

        Here is what I can say, though: I would never, never again want to prototype anything in real bricks. There have been too many times where I’ve reached a point on a model where I’ve realized that something isn’t going to work right (like, maybe, there’s going to be an ugly gap or discontinuity in an edge somewhere), and that to fix it I am going to have to re-work something deep in the core of the model. Pulling everything apart in real bricks would be mucho painful (both figuratively and literally). In fact, the level of pain might be high enough that I’d just abandon the project instead.

        As you suspect, my work is technical i nature, and that I pretty much have a computer of one type or another in front of me for 8+ hours of the day. Despite that, I wouldn’t consider myself that much more proficient with most apps than a typical administrative assistant – I often find myself asking for help to get some basic things done. What you might find strange, though, is that I do like to work with my hands. I like to repair mechanical things (lawnmowers, snowblowers, garage door openers, etc.) and, although I rarely get to do it, I like to work with wood. There’s something about the smell and feel of a well-sanded wooden surface that really appeals to me. Put a block of pine and a Dremel tool in front of me, and I could be occupied for hours, or until I kill the motor on the Dremel tool.

        So, to answer you last group of questions, is Lego just a novelty for me? No, I grew up with them and still enjoy building some of the official sets (Architecture, Creator, and the occasional Technic set, are some of my favorites) . I like the feel of snapping two bricks together. Yes, it would great to have a Lego man cave somewhere that I could use, but I suspect that it would mostly be a final stage in my production assembly line. Has the lack of real bricks hindered me? For the most part, no, but, as others have noted, some building techniques (e.g. brick bending) are difficult in the digital domain. For the most part, I’m not a big fan of those techniques. I think there is some deep-seated “rules follower” part of my psyche that tends to drive me away from them.


      3. So, in conclusion, the digital builders are as equally warped as the real plastic ones. 😀

        I feel with you here that there is enough coverage through the gamut to distinguish that for the most part, Lego builders, digital or real, already have a tilt in the direction of manual labor and a fearlessness (thank you Tommy) to explore structural, mechanistic, and engineered facets in real life. The other variables in the equation that explore other interests or relegate time, money, and space elsewhere are really a larger constant if the builder is not purely obsessed with Lego. I don’t think we are and it’s definitely a much healthier lifestyle to be sure.

        I think my observations are based on how I can link my drives, careers, and focuses clearly back to Lego. And I mainly wanted to see if anyone else can claim that same influence. The digital aspect seemed to exemplify a shift in play that made me think that there was a reason for a drift away from laborious work in general. It appears not to be related seeing that you, Bricks, who primarily works in the digital, still finds pleasure in the real. So, my observation is flawed in that I do not see satisfaction in the digital for myself. I saw it only as a tool without seeing it as an equally satisfying end. The process is always there, it just has a few more limitations and a few more options in comparison to the real brick.

        I think in the end, we Lego fanatics are really more well rounded individuals, in spite of the Aspy conflagration throughout, to really have any pure focus, at least one that takes away from other ventures. So Vitreolum essentially said it best, “There’s too many factors missing. But, it can be just as satisfying for those that aren’t interested in the missing factors; some may even find them a bother.” I’d only add to “bother” with “inviting challenge.”

        Thanks guys, much appreciated.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s