Use the tools and processes you’re comfortable with; fighting the tools stifles creativity.

People are often surprised to learn that I don’t use Proper Real CAD Software, or even simple 3D software like Google SketchUp, when designing enclosures. Coming from a graphic design background and a bit of drafting, my preferred instrument is actually Adobe Illustrator…a 2D program. But even before that, I usually sketch things out “old school” on index cards or the back of a receipt.
As the design of these enclosures gets more sophisticated, I expect to find the 2D software becoming more a hindrance than a magical creativity-enhancing medium, and will explore 3D tools further as the need arises. But for most tasks right now, 2D is a comfortable old pair of jeans. Use what makes you happy. As long as the finished pieces fit together, that’s what’s important.
Similarly, use units you’re comfortable with, for the same reasons.

As an American, for most things my brain is attuned to imperial units like inches. And circuit board designs usually use 0.1" hole spacing and mills for placement. But when it comes to laser-cut parts, I’ve always found metric units…millimeters…quicker to work with and more “natural” for the medium. Dimensions for most of the materials and hardware can be expressed in whole units and not fussy little fractions. And decimal values carry over more easily from related tools like calculators, engineering scales and calipers. Most of these tools come in fractional versions too, if that’s your bag, but I’ve always been at ease with decimal figures.

Whatever your units, indulge in a nice set of calipers. You need these for properly fitting a case around real-world things. The Mitutoyo digital calipers are a joy to use. Robust, precise, selectable between millimeters and decimal inches.
Also get an engineer’s scale or a ruler (or two) in compatible units — metric, fractional or decimal inches, typographic, whatever your “comfortable” units are.
Pro tip: if collaborating on a design, make an exception and follow the design conventions laid down by the project lead, regardless whether they’re your personal favorites. This includes units, file formats, even stroke colors and widths. This lessens the likelihood of the design turning into a hodge-podge of incompatible fits, mistakes and improper selections. If you’re “taking ownership” of a design, that’s another matter, but while collaborating stick to the established plan.

This guide was first published on Mar 26, 2013. It was last updated on Mar 26, 2013.

This page (Tools) was last updated on Mar 25, 2013.

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