Computer-aided design (CAD) software is an essential tool for student and professional architects, animators, engineers, and graphic designers who want to be able to create designs and easily document their work process. If you’ve ever searched online for CAD software you’ll see that there are almost too many to keep track of and they also vary in prices with some costing nothing and others costing as much as $4,495.
Today’s article focuses on the best CAD software available for free with some having options for a one-time purchase or subscription plan. And whether you’re running Mac, Windows, or Linux, you’re sure to find an option suitable for your latest 2D and 3D modeling projects.
FreeCAD is a free and open-source modeling software that is aimed at product designers and mechanical engineers but still packs tools useful for architectural projects and other projects that rely on a parametric 3D modeler. It is easily capable of creating 2D drafts, meshes, and 3D solids, to name a few. It also has extensive support for plugins on all desktop platforms.
Sculptris is a free professional 3D modeling application created by the infamous 3D expert, Pixologic. It exists to enable users to easily manipulate different types of geometric shapes into meaningful objects and creatures e..g dragons using a rich sculpting toolset.
Its features include an immersive interface with navigation controls, sculpting brushes, projection painting, automatic UV creation, dynamic tessellation, symmetry mode, etc. It is available on Mac and Windows.
3. SketchUp Make
SketchUp Make is among the most popular 3D modeling applications featuring a seemingly unlimited set of design tools for architectural projects and several tools for other 3D modeling markets. It is free for beginners is available for personal use in web browsers but if you want to download its macOS or Windows app you’ll need to shell out $299/year.
DraftSight is a free 2D and 3D CAD software that enables students, educators, hobbyists, and professionals to create, edit, and view modeling projects in the DWG format. With tools built for creating professional-looking polylines and dimensions, DraftSight is a good choice for engineers on Windows, Mac, and Linux platforms.
LibreCAD is an open-source 2D CAD modeling application for Linux, Windows, and Mac operating systems. Formerly known as QCad CE when it was ported to Qt4, LibreCAD is a community-project capable of handling virtually any type of 2D modeling project.
KiCAD is a cross-platform and open-source electronics design automation suite. It features a schematic editor for creating limitless designs using an official library of symbols with a built-in schematic editor. It is open-source and completely free.
OpenSCAD is a free and open-source cross-platform modeling application nicknamed “the programmers’ solid 3D CAD modeler”. Unlike some other apps in this list, it relies on user-defined parameters through scripts since it doesn’t have an interactive modeling user interface. If you’re looking to build mechanical components and not animated characters then this might be an ideal pick for you. It runs on Mac, Linux, and Windows.
QCAD is a free and open-source 2D CAD for creating technical drawings such as mechanical parts or schematics, diagrams, interiors, and buildings. It is designed with modularity, portability, and extensibility in mind and is filled with several work-ready features including a part library with 4800 CAD parts, command-line tools, 40+ construction tools, etc.
NanoCAD is a freemium professional-grade CAD tool developed by engineering and design experts who have been in the field for several years. It has been designed to be intuitive and practically easy enough for even beginners to get up and running with it and it packs a ton of features that are ready for use straight out of the box. Users who want to enjoy advanced features such as SNAP and ONSAP, command-line tools, etc. can check out the pricing plan.
Blender is a free and open-source advanced CAD software for creating 2D and 3D models. It supports projects in STL, 3ds, dae, fbx, dxf, obj, x, lwo, SVG, ply, VRML, and blend file formats and is available for Linux, macOS, and Windows platforms. It is one CAD software that can stand should-to-should with any commercial alternative in terms of feature set, community, and user interface. Unlike the others, though, it has a steep learning curve.
As you may have noticed, most of the listed applications are for beginners because they’re relatively easier to learn. I saved Blender for last because although it is the app with the steepest learning curve, it is the most versatile on this list (with the exception of SketchUp Make).
There are a few more free advanced design software for engineers that can be on this list but I want them to reach another round number. In the meantime, let us know about your experience with any of the above-mentioned applications. And as usual, your suggestions are always welcome.
Martins is a developer with over 300 listicles on FOSS software. While studying for an MSc in Cybersecurity, his passion for technology keeps him covering different tech topics especially about the best software for readers to use.
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