I have espoused the glorious wonders of LeoCAD on openSUSE before. This is a fantastic application to work with Lego bricks and components in a virtual, safe for your feet, environment. Building with Lego bricks is a lot of fun, using it virtually can help to refine ideas. Although the title of this post mentions using it on openSUSE, this really should work for all modern Linux distributions.
I have, what I would call, an on and off relationship with LeoCAD. Nothing against the applications or the Lego bricks but more due to the time allowed for this sort of entertainment, maybe edutainment as I often use it along with my kids. Regardless, when I do get to playing with LeoCAD, it is a kind of time spiral that I fall into and really enjoy.
Since I am on a new computer, and I hadn’t installed it yet, I went for the Flatpak. The reason for the Flatpak is twofold. For one, the Flatpak is super easy to install and it has all the libraries bundled with it to be able to open and build whatever designs are out there in LDR or MPD format.
It should also be known that, as of 21.06, a Snap is now available.
What Tickles Me
Since I haven’t written about LeoCAD in a while, I am going to highlight the features I truly think are the most interesting. I want to pick out the significant bits that makes using it for creative digital Lego play even more compelling.
This feature came about in version 21.01 and although it may not be that important to some, I find this incredibly useful, specifically when doing the “master assemblies” where I put together the various submodels.
Improved Bricklink xml export
Although I haven’t exported anything as of late, any exports to Bricklink are of incredible importance to me. One such project of mine, an itch to scratch, is a series of “city” like buildings that I am, essentially, mimicking to put into a kind of Lunar / Space theme to complement my current 1980s space theme, Blacktron. I have all these space people but nothing to do for entertainment. It’s all work for them.
Model measurements to the Properties Dialog
This appeals to my nerdy admiration for numbers. You not only get measurements in centimeters and inches but also in LDU or Lego Dimensional Units. This, may be the most important measurement when you become a Super AFOL.
Added stud logo option
I just think this is cool. It’s not a huge thing, and I hope Lego doesn’t get their feathers in a ruffle, but this is a really cool addition, just for the sake of appearance of the parts. I don’t always keep it on because it does cost a bit in rendering time which is only important when I am running on battery. Every bit of power from that battery counts.
Navigation view sphere instead of the cube but what makes it great is the dot that highlights the view position that the mouse pointer is hovering. Clicking on that location will immediately pivot the model to that location. This is great for snapping to a specific view of the model and automatically positions the entirety of the model in the view window.
LeoCAD now supports a quick drop-down to use system colors in the preferences. This really makes LeoCAD fit into the Plasma Desktop perfectly. I can’t say for sure if it will work the same with any other Desktop, I haven’t tried that, but it does indeed look GREAT on Plasma.
Improved placement when dragging new parts to a model. Now, it still isn’t perfect, but it is much, much better. I have had issues where dragging a new part on a more complex model, parts would place the piece far from my desired location. This doesn’t seem to be an issue or at least, not as evident.
What I Like
LeoCAD is a project that continues to add features and polish to the application which makes it even more of a joy to use. If I have an idea, I can very quickly get into the application, move some parts around, very intuitively, and save it in a short period of time.
Having the Flatpak and Snap of LeoCAD makes the ease of installation an configuration nearly universal in the Linux world. I can happily use either in openSUSE but currently am using the Flatpak. I appeciate the developers making such a great effort to make the application easily accessible.
The little improvements to the interface are very welcome. The navigation sphere, the choice in the application color theme along with the ability to make further tweaks makes this a much more comfortable application to use for extended periods of time than some of the other commercial CAD offerings out there. Flexibility of the workspace is so important.
What I Don’t Like
Render feature doesn’t allow you to select the submodel to do the rendering only renders the first submodel in the list. It would be nice if there were some more options there. I really admire the works of some digital creations I see that create some very cool renderings.
I didn’t go into detail about this, but there is apparently a way to synthesize Technic pneumatic tubes but I haven’t figured out the process yet, that is going to be for another article. LeoCAD is a fun, open source CAD application that could really use more buzz. The project enjoys a lot of active development, for which I cannot stay on top of but do read as much as I can. From what I can tell, the developers all seem like nice folks that share a passion for tech and Lego.
If you like to CAD and you like to “Lego” check out LeoCAD. There are a ton of example models out there to download, spin, examine and “fork” for your own creative flair. Maybe you too will build that lunar colony your 8 year old self dreamed about.