As a CAD user, you rely heavily on your pointing device to interact with your software and get the job done. The wrong mouse can cause frustration, inefficiency, and repetitive stress injuries, but it can be a challenge to find the perfect combination of ergonomics, power source, programmability, and other features.
To help you in your search, Cadalyst readers have offered up their opinions about which pointing hardware is best suited to CAD work. Be sure to check that any mouse or other device you're considering is compatible with your operating system and software before making a purchase.
If you'd like to share additional suggestions or feedback on this subject, please post in the Comments section of this tip (use requires registration).
Dan Bellotte keeps it simple; he says a three-button wheel mouse is "best for panning and zooming!"
Chris Bell, on the other hand, advocates using a mouse with a minimum of five buttons. "I program the back thumb button (closest to the wrist) for Enter and the front thumb button (closest to the tip of the thumb) for Escape ... it is a huge time saver."
Engineer Alex Apostoli's favorite pointing device is the evolution MOUSE-TRAK. "Its ergonomic shape allows me to work for many hours without fatigue or cramping in my hand ... action is very smooth, controllable, and precise."
Jack Foster, a 3D CAD design consultant and "AutoCAD Legend," uses a Contour three-button mouse. "I can program the middle button to be Enter, which eliminates a whole lot of double-clicking. ... The one complaint I have is the shape does not allow me to easily pick it up when I have to move it on the mouse pad."
Steve Pettey is one of many users who's adopted a mouse marketed for gaming. "The Razer Naga is not absolute-position, requires the use of the thumb to select buttons instead of the index finger, and is only available (as far as I know) in a right-handed model, but is a very satisfactory substitute for [my] now-defunct digitizer." With the Naga, Steve uses AutoHotkey — a free, open-source utility for Windows — "to re-program virtually any key, button, or combination to run virtually any command."
Greg Rich, an electrical CAD technician, favors Logitech's mice for use with AutoCAD. He started with the Logitech MX Revolution, then upgraded to the Logitech Wireless Wave keyboard and mouse combo because the mouse is bigger and has one more button. Mike V. says the MX Revolution is comfortable, it provides full-day battery life, and the programmable buttons speed up his drafting.
Another longtime Logitech fan, Senior Mechanical Designer Ken Bailey, applauds the Logitech MX518 optical gaming mouse. "It fits my right hand perfectly. It smoothly glides across the desktop, has on-the-fly sensitivity switching, and it's extremely accurate."
Senior Survey Technician Travis Nelson recommends the comfort and quick search button of the Logitech MX620 cordless laser mouse, but he is "not overly happy with the response of the wheel when using it as a middle button for pan."
Steve Weichel is devoted to the corded, five-button Logitech MX500. "I like the additional thumb control buttons that I have set up as ortho and osnap. I use the mouse wheel click to bring up an osnap menu, and the wheel to zoom."
Designer and Senior Technician Adam Luko thinks the Logitech Marathon wireless mouse with eight programmable buttons is the best. "The free wheel setting takes some time to get used to, but you can scroll in or out very fast; you can also scroll through multiple pages of documents very quickly and easily."
Alex Foreshew, a custom home designer, uses the Logitech Performance Mouse MX with Darkfield Laser Tracking technology. "This mouse is super responsive and is very ergonomic. Your hand fits very nicely and does not cramp at all when you do prolonged CAD work."
Senior Architectural Technician Jim Anderson says his Microsoft Laser Mouse 6000 is comfortable and has "a light click action, which is a problem with some mice; a stiff button can give you repetitive strain injury problems when clicking all day long." Jim prefers a cable over a wireless connection, because the mouse "doesn't get lost or hidden by colleagues!"
Richard Farlow relies on a Microsoft Explorer five-button mouse; his side buttons toggle ortho and osnap.
Mechanical engineer Perry Pattiz pre-programs the Microsoft SideWinder X5 mouse with three different movement velocities, then changes them with the click of a button. Perry reports, however, that none of the five buttons can be programmed as Escape.
Richard Potts finds the Microsoft IntelliMouse Optical to be inexpensive and comfortable. He programs the extra left (thumb) button as Escape, and the extra right button as Enter.
Dave Witso, who operates a residential design firm, finds his Microsoft IntelliMouse and ergonomic keyboard to be "adequate," but he really wants is a pointing device he can use without taking his fingers off the keyboard. "Perhaps a trackball and buttons near the center of the spacebar to assist in issuing typed commands, and another as a thumball next to the numeric keypad to assist in direct distance input, would be an improvement."
Keeping on Track
AutoCAD Senior Technician Claire Spong and Paul Grabowski, engineering technician II, both like the Logitech TrackMan Wheel. "When I get the pointer where I want it, I lift my thumb and the pointer will not move no matter how much I hit the buttons," Paul says.
Phil Gorman overcomes medical problems with his hands and wrists by using two trackballs at the same time, including a cordless optical TrackMan. Phil uses the left trackball for clicking, double-clicking, and right mouse button functions; the right is used mainly for pointing, but can used for all functions.
Engineering Specialist Allen Jessup lauds the Microsoft Trackball Explorer, but readers will have to shop outlets such as online auctions because it is no longer produced. "I've found nothing that matches the Microsoft Trackball Explorer for ergonomics and increased production ... [it] makes operating the program and navigating through the drawing a very intuitive process."
Another fan of the discontinued Trackball Explorer, CAD Lead Owen Whitehouse, has found the Kensington SlimBlade Trackball to be a useful substitute. "I've found that if you often have dialogs open that need you to move the cursor to, it can get a little tedious to go back and forth from the workspace to the dialog, but for most other CAD functions, the trackball is as fast as a mouse, if not a bit faster."
The Joy of Joysticks
Mike Martin suffered ergonomic difficulties with both a three-button mouse and a trackball, before switching to a pistol-grip 3M Ergonomic Mouse with two programmable buttons. "No more aches and pains in the hands, wrist, elbow, or shoulder," he reports.
Ed Galicki's favorite pointing device is a digitizer tablet. "It makes me faster than I could ever be without it, and keeps more area of my screen free for drawing. ... The tablet has a 16-button puck, so I can do maybe 90% of the commands you do all day long over and over without looking away from the objects I am working on."
Michael Gilroy uses a CalComp 12" x 12" digitizing tablet with a 16-button puck, citing two advantages: "First, I can stay focused on the screen and work without having to divert my eyes (and attention) to a screen menu, or worse yet, navigate a pull-down menu. Secondly, the digitizer maps the screen to an absolute position on the tablet."
Engineering Technologist Richard Klepper also uses a 16-button puck, in combination with a 12" x 18" tablet. "It's really nice having zooms and osnaps programmed on the puck (plus a few other common commands), and then having all those custom LISP routines as selections on our custom Tablet Menu."
Fillmore likes to use a tablet with a 16-button puck with the left hand, leaving the right hand free to use the number pad or take notes while navigating around the drawing.
Arlette Wiege reports that all the designers in her office use a Wacom stylus and pad. "My learning curve was two days and I'd never go back," she says.
Give Yourself a Break
Regardless of which brands or styles you choose, staying healthy is essential. Designer Carol McKeough advocates using a variety of mousing devices, thoroughly customizing each one, and learning to mouse ambidextrously. "Start by playing a few games of solitaire, then continue mousing left-handed through some easy, repetitive CAD tasks. Give yourself time, and forgive yourself for adapting slowly, but stick with it. Work left-handed for at least a couple of hours, without giving in to the temptation to switch back. It will feel like trying to sign your name with a jackhammer at first, but will get easier each day."