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Viewing STEP files

Why am I interested in viewing and measuring STEP files?  Because I can make a better automation PCB if I can use STEP files.  Mechanical engineers, of course, like 3D models they can import and use in assemblies, but I am mainly concerned with PCBs.

There are a variety of standard 3D file formats, including IGES, STEP, 3D PDF, STL, VRML, ACIS, and 3D PDFs.  The most common formats for electrical components are IGES, STEP, and, recently, 3D PDFs.  My experience is that STEP files typically import with fewer problems than IGES; 3D PDFs are very nice for viewing parts, but unless the file creator took the proper steps, cannot be used for measuring.

My uses for STEP files include:

  • Viewing parts.  I can’t synthesize 3D parts in my head from a set of 2D drawings, and sometimes it’s very useful to see what a part looks like.   I really like to have real parts to play with, but that’s not always possible.
  • Sometimes the manufacturer’s 2D prints do not give all the information I want to create my PCB component shape.  I can get any dimension I want from a STEP file.
  • It’s very easy to screw up PCB connectors.  Doing a quick assembly of the PCB and components lets me verify that my drill sizes are correct, check for cable orientation, and such.

Since I am not doing any heavy duty mechanical design work, I did a bit of research into free MCAD programs that can view and measure STEP files, and preferably create small assemblies.  I found one program specifically designed as a STEP file viewer, IDA-STEP.   The free version of IDA-STEP does not measure.

However, most free MCAD programs can import and then measure STEP files.  I took a quick look at five different programs, listed below.  CoCreate PE is my favorite of the bunch; it seems the best match for a non-mechanical guy like me.

  1. CoCreate PE
  2. PowerSHAPE-e
  3. Alibre Design Xpress Note: since Alibre has dropped STEP import from Design Xpress, it is no longer a good choice.
  5. Acrobat 3D PDF
  6. CAD Exchanger (a program to convert between CAD file formats, but it also works as a viewer)
  7. CADFaster|QuickStep is another CAD file viewer with free and paid versions; when I get time, I will give it a short test.

Note that the free versions of MCAD programs exist primarily for marketing reasons, and the terms can (and have) changed at any time.

There are other free Mechanical CAD programs that might be able to read STEP files, including:


1 Petar { 08.17.09 at 11:27 pm }

CADFaster|QuickStep is great. You should check it out. It has navigating system (rotate, pan and zoom) like CATIA

2 Petar { 08.17.09 at 11:57 pm }

you could also check out SolidWorks Engineering Stimulus Package, and write something about it 🙂

3 Tony { 08.18.09 at 11:24 am }

I haven’t had time to look at CADFaster yet. IIRC, it does not support measuring, which is important to me.

Although I enjoy covering much more than automation software development, I am not a MCAD blogger; the Solidworks Engineering Stimulus Package (and a similar program from AutoCAD) has been well covered by sites such as World CAD Access and DezignStuff My time is also limited, so a three month SolidWorks license doesn’t appeal to me.

4 Harri { 10.15.09 at 4:30 am }

Hi guys,
Just letting you know that CadFaster|QuickStep now supports measuring on the Professional version. There is a free 14-days trial available.
Best regards,
CadFaster Team

5 sana { 04.07.10 at 3:59 am }

is there anybody to know if it is possible to see .stp files in PDMS software or not?

6 Tony { 04.07.10 at 11:21 am }

I don’t know — I think it would depend on the software. Typically with software development oriented version control software (e.g. Subversion) you can select the file viewer you want to use, but I have not used any PDM or PLM software. I recommend talking the the PDM vendors or asking at a PDM/PLM oriented blog.

7 Petar { 03.10.11 at 1:51 am }


There is one more tool on SourceForge – FreeCAD. It can Import-export and modify STEP files, and it is open source.


8 Tony { 03.14.11 at 2:35 pm }

Yes, FreeCAD is now an option, and sometime I need to update my STEP file viewer list.

9 Zauri { 05.07.13 at 5:27 am }

FreeCAD is now an option, and sometime I need to update my STEP file viewer list.

10 Zauri { 05.07.13 at 5:34 am }

I want to use FreeCAD is now an option. Thank You. Zaur

11 Deric { 06.08.15 at 5:29 pm }

Thank you for your kind review.

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