Replacing Sketches with CAD

I have been thinking of ways to refine my teams notebook recently and I hade the idea to replace all future sketches with CAD/drawing files because it is 3-D and has more details (I wont change previous pages only focus on Cad for the future pages and next years notebook). In a large amount of great notebooks I have seen they use both CAD and physical sketching (physical sketching typically for brainstorming) but CAD can also technically be used for brainstorming it just may take some people longer. They can both serve the same functions but CAD can be more in-depth and for some people faster (it may be helpful if you are not great at drawing). A person I know with a good amount of experience in notebook said it could work with drawing files so I’m thinking of trying it out. I am curious if anyone else has tried this and what other think about this type of outlook on the notebook.

Don’t do this. You’re missing the whole point of documenting. It sounds like you want to appeal to a judge or a rubric by having something more “technical” in your notebook, but remember that a notebook is a tool. It’s supposed to help you diagnose problems and reflect upon your work for future iterations.

All that to say is that your notebook should have a variety of everything. CAD sketches, assemblies, hand-drawn sketches, CAD drawings (yes this is different from a CAD sketch), renders, et cetera.
Here’s an example of how a CAD drawing pulls in all your sketches and even assemblies into a cohesive, readable file. This is supposed to help you understand the geometries of your parts so you can more easily manufacture and assemble them. It’s also just a good way to get a birdseye view of what is actually going on instead of what you think is going on but are unintentionally biased against (from things like parallax and measurement error to even manufacturing error).

TL;DR think of your notebook as a resource. Include what you believe to be useful but don’t be afraid to try new things. You don’t need to follow a rubric rigorously to yield effective results nor do you need to copy what another team has done.


I think the picture you pulled up of a drawing file kind of shows how it can replace phyical sketches in a way. I know there are some flaws in only using CAD but CAD can do everything a sketch can do and more. CAD only mean computer aided design so that doesn’t lessen what you can do. You don’t have to specifically use the official vex parts in CAD and you can edit the original vex parts to be more accurate to your physical version. CAD also can be 2-d and sketches can all be done on the computer and not physically. Although to be honest a lot of this goes down to preference and you definitely brought up a good point that it can be good to have variety but when used right i think it is a good way to have a notebook exact and more professional (if you like it that way). ( Ill have to add that a lot of this is opinionated so there might not really be a right or wrong here)


While this is true, it doesn’t really make sense to brainstorm general ideas in CAD, for example. And you are correct that it mostly comes down to preference, but there are some benefits to using both CAD and physical sketches that enhance your perspective.

Sketches are really effective at translating your ideas onto paper because you have direct control of your hand. You don’t need to interface with a mouse or intermediary tools that might not describe what you’re exactly thinking. Not to mention when you’re brainstorming, ideas tend to flow quickly so getting them roughly documented is key. You could probably even sketch by hand with your eyes closed with enough practice.

CAD, however, is really effective at taking your ideas from paper and allowing them to meet exact design constraints, and then optimizing those geometries for ideal performance. CAD will also ensure that your idea can be precisely translated into reality (for obvious reason).


I think you are right that there’s no real right or wrong here, but I will say as a judge that variety is appealing and can often show the process better. I know all those great ideas didn’t pop straight into a lovely CAD design or computer sketch or fancy drawing; at some point, you probably just had a vague idea that you jotted down ‘real quick’ (either to discuss with your teammates or to expand on yourself). THAT is the true start of the engineering process, imo. It is less about a professional look (although of course you don’t want to be crazy sloppy, and having a tidy display is also appealing) and more about a realistic display of the progression of your design thoughts.

I think I heard it best from an engineer I was talking about Eng NBs with last season, when someone commented on the relative messiness of the sketches in 1 NB over the elaborate drawings in another. He pointed out that the quick sketches in the first NB were, in his experience, a better display of the true engineering process as done by engineers he worked with (picture rough sketches on a napkin during lunch). In the sketch NB, there was a clear progression in words & pictures from a preliminary idea through a fine-tuning process and on to the final, completed product. In the other NB, it was basically an artistic display of a completed idea.


This is accurate and it was good you took a view from a normal perspective so I agree with your recent statements. (although i still prefer cad brainstorming slightly over physical drawing)

You bring up a very good point about the importance of physical sketching. In most cases i definitely believe that for brainstorming physical sketching is better. In the scenario I am thinking of would be when someone is faster at sketching in CAD or their drawings are illegible to the point where it cant be understood. Although my first example is very uncommon I know a couple people who are so extremely fast at sketching in CAD(or sometimes really slow at drawing like me) that it helps them more in brainstorming. This type of method to brainstorm is rarely efficient but it can specifically work better for people that are weird.

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It might be hard to believe but engineers have to learn how to draw. I’m a MECE major and I’ve already taken a designing class that was largely focused on improving drawing skills (and 3D visualization in general). The key is you need to practice –– no one starts out good at drawing but some learn faster than others


I think the best way to sum up what others have said is that you should not make the swap to cad drawings at the expense of your hand drawn sketches. As the others mentioned, judges want to see your team’s full/organic design process. That might mean still doing the hand drawn sketches and then taking the extra time to go create cad for them and refine the designs. Just don’t stop doing any element of the notebook that is helpful. More content is generally probably better than less.


I can draw ok but I cant really defend myself well here because technically what you said basically always apples in real world.

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Yea tbh I could just do both for the same design ideas so maybe I could try something like that.

I know it sounds funny but I have actually talked to quite a few judges about my notebooks in the past and they always seem to have some specific element they like/remember about the notebook, so removing one element in favor of another might make one judge happy and disappoint another. That’s why I mentioned more detail is generally better.


Why not do both sketches and cad?

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