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What I'm looking for is a program or website/webapp that allows "virtual" building of a LEGO model, step-by-step, and allows you to save these single steps to get a complete building plan in the end. Like the original manuals, this should include:

  • An image of each step
  • A list of pieces needed for each step
  • Optionally "detailed" views for very tricky parts
  • Possibility to download/save or link to a plan (as PDF, for example)
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8 Answers 8

up vote 25 down vote accepted

The Lego Digital Designer is ideal for this job. Avalible for Mac and PC it allows you to build models from scatch, order them, and get them delivered. Or, if you've got the bits already it can make instructions for you. It has a range of technic items (see image below).enter image description here.

Importing a model will also enable you to view the part number and details which could be very useful for finding out exact pieces/parts. enter image description here

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I haven't used it, but I've seen LDraw:

http://www.ldraw.org/

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We're looking for long answers that provide some explanation and context. Don't just give a one-line answer; explain why your answer is right, ideally with citations. Answers that don't include explanations may be removed.

1  
This has the advantage that it has many more elements available than LDD, which is good if you're using your existing collection. –  Zhaph - Ben Duguid Nov 2 '11 at 8:18
    
Now that there are other answers that mention LDraw I suggest deleting this as "not an answer". –  Mσᶎ Mar 13 at 7:21

See AlternativeTo's list.

  • LEGO Digital Designer (official; most popular)
  • LDraw (2nd most popular)
  • Konstruktor
  • MLCAD

You can do all this in Google Sketchup with SketchyPhysics simulation, of course! And the pieces are easier to fit in, and GS is generally more flexible and easier to use, unlike LDD. The disadvantage is, you don't get LDD's Building Instruction Generation capabilities.

(You can download bricks for Sketchup from the online gallery. For example, LEGO Mindstorms NXT parts.)

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+1 for MLCAD and LDRAW together –  Grandpappy Oct 26 '11 at 14:29

If you want to pay some money for professional software, I'm pretty sure that SolidWorks has a complete set of LEGO parts that you can use.

http://www.solidworks.com/

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1  
+1 nice idea, but looks a bit overpowered - the LDD seems to be axactly what i was looking for. –  oezi Oct 27 '11 at 14:39
    
Are there any LEGO part libraries compatible with Solidworks? –  Ambo100 Feb 23 '13 at 20:00
    
I found this site with at least some info on LEGO in SolidWorks. I heard about using SolidWorks with LEGO from someone else, and I don't actually have any experience with SolidWorks. Neverthereless, here's the site: solidworks.com/sw/education/10039_ENU_HTML.htm –  Zonedabone Feb 24 '13 at 5:14

You should look at LPub4. This is an OpenSource (GPL) tool that can create high quality instructions from LDRAW compatible files. It runs on Windows and OS X and with my patches on Linux as well.

Note that the LDD license states "Any commercial use of the software is strictly prohibited" so keep that in mind if you are intending to do anything commercial with your instructions (such as selling them). GPL software such as LPub can be used commercially, though you do need to make sure to understand the license obligations it carries

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LPub

enter image description here

LPub is a program that allows you to produces step by step instructions for models. It's an alternative to the built-in Building Guide Mode featured in Lego Digital Designer which produces a set of instructions automatically (although not necessarily in the most logical way).

LDD model instructions can be created in LPub provided that the parts in the LDD model are also available in the LDraw library (cf. this related question). An .lxf file can be opened in LDD and exported as an LDraw file (.ldr). The LDraw file you exported using LDD can be opened in LPub.

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The LDRAW package contains a tool called LPUB.

If you design your LDR files with various "step" instructions, you can have it generate a PDF with one page per step.

Some tools, such as BrickSmith (http://bricksmith.sourceforge.net) present steps in a hierarchical fashion so that you can step through them. Others, such as MLCAD, show them as breaks between the various steps.

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I tried LDD at first, but frankly, the order in which it adds the parts is often quite nonsensical:

Nonsensical LDD instructions

I also tried a bunch of other tools, some of which are mentioned elsewhere on this page, with mixed results.

So what I ended up using, with great success, is LIC (LEGO Instruction Creator). It's beta, somewhat buggy, and for all I can see it was written by just one AFOL in his spare time, and the development has stopped. But it's very easy to use, quite versatile, and I am more than happy with the results. Here's what it looks like:

LIC

(Scroll down for sample images of the final instructions for two models.)

Basically it's a WYSIWYG editor that takes an LDraw model as input. And a surprisingly powerful one at that. Some of the things you can do with it are:

  • switch between vertical and horizontal layout;
  • add, delete, or merge steps;
  • move individual parts between the steps;
  • move everything around the page freely;
  • rotate individual parts or the entire model, automatically adding rotation icons if you wish;
  • "displace parts with arrows" (just like in TLG's instructions, where the part has not been connected to the model yet, but an arrow shows where it's supposed to go and which way around) — this can be done in any direction, up or down, left and right, top and bottom, and for several parts, too;
  • make a template for your instructions (things like fonts, font sizes, background color, and so on and so forth), so instructions for different models have the same, your very personal, look and feel;
  • add text labels such as part counts, your name, really anything.

LIC will also automatically create a parts list as the last page of the instructions. Allegedly it can also export to PDF, and integrates with POV-Ray for higher-quality images, but sadly neither of these options works for me (as I said, there are some bugs). Might work on a different machine, though, or a more recent OS. I don't know.

So anyway, my complete toolchain looks as follows:

  1. MLCAD/LDraw for modelling. It has a steep learning curve, but once you have figured it out, it's a breeze.
  2. Then I feed the LDraw model into LIC, which generates a draft of the instructions and allows me to fine-tune them interactively.
  3. Then I save the instructions as images and do some final retouching in GIMP — moving stuff around a couple pixels, adding photos, stitching pages together, etc.

The final result can be seen on my Brickshelf. Here are just two sample pages:

LEGO crocodile


LEGO donkey

All tools I mentioned are free and available for download. Follow the links.

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1  
Many thanks for this RegDwight - hopefully more people will see this answer and learn about a great tool. –  Zhaph - Ben Duguid Oct 29 '13 at 10:39

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