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CAD software, or computer-aided design software is used to create two-dimensional (2D) or three-dimensional (3D) objects or designs of physical components. It’s one of the most important items in any 3D printing environment or engineering design process and has become an essential element for managing complex designs and collaborating with other stakeholders.
Picking the best CAD software isn’t easy. There are dozens of solutions available these days and many different factors to consider before making a decision.
To simplify your search for the perfect program, we rounded up the top-rated CAD tools that can be used both commercially and privately this year.
What is CAD Software?
Computer-aided designs use software programs to optimize designs and document the process of creating a product, component, or system. The applications allow users to create 2D or 3D models with exact specifications. It then encodes the geometrical data of the product, making it easier to share files between various systems and devices.
CAD software has become an invaluable tool in various industries including engineering, design, architecture, and production. It allows users to quickly create highly detailed models, components, and assemblies while ensuring accuracy.
What is CAD Software Used For?
- Create a 3D Models: CAD software provides users with the necessary tools to create a 2D or 3D model from scratch. Users can customize designs to meet exact specifications, produce complex geometries that are impossible to make manually, and quickly create variations for product development. It helps move products quickly from the conceptual stage to manufacturing.
- Test For Accuracy: CAD software has built-in features to test the accuracy of a design and ensure it meets industry standards before 3D printing. Also, CAD models are often used in simulations to test the performance of a design in different environments.
- Adjust Designs: CAD software is used to adjust design parameters including size, shape, accuracy, tolerance level, and other specifications. This feature allows users to make necessary changes to their designs without starting over.
CAD Software vs. 3D Printing Software
Computer-aided design and 3D printing software are separate but equally important parts of the 3D printing process.
CAD software is used to create a 3D model while 3D printing software mainly controls the printer and the print job, ensuring that it runs smoothly. CAD software originates from the need to solve complicated manual design problems engineers face during technical hand drawing. 3D printing software is about the shapes, features, and surfaces that 3D printers can use to make a physical object.
CAD software allows users to modify existing designs or create new ones, while 3D printing software helps prepare a file for 3D printing and ensures that it prints successfully.
Thus, it is obvious that both CAD and 3D printing software are necessary to make the 3D printing process efficient. Together, they enable users to quickly create highly-detailed models while ensuring accuracy and precision.
NexaX software enables process stability and print consistency, making it easy to scale from prototyping to full scale production.
15+ Best CAD Software
Given its importance in the industrial design process, it’s essential to have CAD software that provides maximum efficiency and productivity. Professionals and beginners alike have countless options to choose from, depending on their needs and budget.
Best CAD Software for Professionals
Here are some of the best CAD software for professionals:
Autodesk Fusion 360
Autodesk Fusion 360 is one of the most popular CAD software in additive manufacturing. It offers tools for creating high-quality 3D designs and provides features such as real-time collaboration, 3D sculpting and modeling, and parametric modeling.
Autodesk Fusion 360 is compatible with different file formats for easy import/export of designs. It also works with various 3D printers and is equipped with print preparation tools. Overall, this cloud-based 3D modeling, CAM, CAE, CAD, and PCB software platform can help to sketch and model faster and efficiently.
Autodesk Fusion 360 has several pricing options:
- $70 monthly
- $545 annually
- $1555 once every three years
Best for: Autodesk Fusion 360 is best for designing 3D models and creating electronic and PCB design tools.
Rhino3D is another professional 3D modeling software for 3D printing. It has tools for creating high-precision models quickly and easily. Its user interface is highly intuitive, making it easier to learn and use. The software includes features like automated mesh healing, curve creation, geometry editing, and more.
Rhino3D is compatible with different 3D printers, allowing users to print directly from the software. It also supports various file formats and automates repetitive tasks.
- Commercial: The full-single version of Rhino 7 for Mac and Windows costs $995. An ungraded old version costs $495.
- Student and Faculty: The full-single version of Rhino 7 for Mac and Windows costs $195. An ungraded old version costs $95.
- School: The full-30-user lab of Rhino 7 for Mac and Windows costs $975. An ungraded old version costs $295.
Rhino is ideal for creating, editing, analyzing, documenting, rendering, animating, and translating NURBS curves, point clouds, subdivision geometry (SubD), polygon meshes, surfaces, and solids.
Shapr3D is a 3D modeling software specifically designed for 3D printing. The software includes features such as multi-axis machining, advanced editing tools, and more. Shapr3D works with different 3D printers, supports various file formats, and is compatible with Windows and macOS. It also has tools for 3D printing, such as print preparation and preview.
- Basic: $0/month. It offers limited modeling essentials.
- Pro plan: $38/month or $299/year. This plan offers a 14-day trial and is free for students and educators.
- Team plan: This plan is usually available on request, but sources say it costs $59/month or $499/year.
Shapr3D is ideal for industrial designs, drawing, and sketching manufacturable 3D models.
Best CAD Software for Beginners
Beginners often look for CAD software that is easy to use and provides simple features. Here are some of the best beginner-friendly CAD software:
TinkerCAD is a free web app for 3D designs, coding, and electronics that’s specifically designed for beginners. It provides users with easy-to-use tools and a drag-and-drop interface. TinkerCAD works with different 3D printers, supports various file formats and is compatible with Windows, macOS, Linux, Chrome OS, iOS, and Android. It also has tools for 3D printing, such as print preparation and preview.
TinkerCAD is free to use.
TinkerCAD is ideal for learning the basic knowledge of 3D modeling, electronics, and coding.
SelfCAD is another beginner-friendly 3D modeling software with an intuitive user interface. The software helps users create simple designs and full-fledged projects with its features and tools. The software also supports various 3D printers and file formats.
- Free Plan: The free plan is for beginners and hobbyists.
- Pro Plan: SelfCAD pro plan costs $14.99/ monthly or $139.99/annually.
- Perpetual License: SelfCAD Perpetual License goes for $599.99.
SelfCAD is good for sketching and rendering 3D models. It’s an ideal software for beginners who are getting into 3D modeling for the first time.
Best CAD Software for Students
Students and educators, especially in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM), often need advanced CAD software for their projects and assignments. Here are a few of the best CAD software for students:
Solidworks provides users with a comprehensive range of 3D design, simulation, and visualization tools. The software has features such as 3D sculptor, DraftSight, and Mold creator.
Solidworks is highly involved with academia by providing students, researchers, and educators with professional software, local support, and a large user community that helps solve any queries.
Solidworks has different pricing plans for students, educators, and researchers that are available on request. Sources say the SolidWorks Premium license is $7995 with an annual maintenance cost of $1995.
Solidworks is ideal for design, engineering, simulation, data management, and collaboration.
BlocksCAD is a cloud-based 3D modeling software for beginners, students, and educators. It offers an intuitive coding interface to design 3D models that can be exported as STL files for 3D printing. The software provides a range of tools including a blocks library, geometry explorer, mathematical functions, and more.
BlocksCAD is a free software.
BlocksCAD is ideal for students, educators, and beginners who are just getting into 3D printing and engineering. It also teaches mathematics, coding, and computational thinking.
Best CAD Software for Engineers
Engineers need CAD software that is suitable for designing and creating sophisticated 3D models. The industrial-grade CAD software can manage large data sets, simulate complex products, and help optimize designs. Here are some of the best CAD software for engineers:
Autodesk Fusion 360
Autodesk Fusion 360, listed previously under “CAD Software for Professionals” is also a powerful 3D modeling software for engineers and designers. It integrates industrial and mechanical design with collaboration in one platform. The software includes features such as 3D sculpting, sheet metal design, and product visualization tools.
Fusion 360 helps reduce printing time with its multi-threaded slicing engine that can slice models in minutes.
- $70 monthly
- $545 annually
- $1555 once in three years
Autodesk Fusion 360 offers engineers the ideal tools for designing 3D models and creating electronic and PCB designs.
Onshape is a cloud-based 3D modeling platform that enables users to design, simulate, analyze, and manufacture products in one place. The software works with different types of hardware, such as tablets, laptops, and smartphones.
Onshape provides a library for 3D printing and has features such as dimensioning tools, sketch constraints, render studio, and more.
- Free plan for one user
- Standard for $1500 per user (annually)
- Professional for $2500 per user (annually)
- Enterprise for $4500 per month per user (annually)
Onshape is ideal for product design, data management, simulation, PCB design, and manufacturing. It is suitable for large teams collaborating on a single product design.
Autodesk AutoCAD is an ideal CAD software for engineers, architects, and designers.. Autodesk AutoCAD also enables users to import existing designs from other CAD software and export them in different file formats such as STL, DWG, and PDF.
- Monthly: $235
- Annually: $1865
- 3-year Plan: Users can also pay $5315 once in three years.
Autodesk AutoCAD is suitable for engineers, architects, and designers who need to design 2D or 3D models and automate tasks.
PTC Creo is a 3D CAD software for designing, engineering, and manufacturing products. Users can create digital models of their designs and simulate the product’s performance before it goes into production.
The software offers various features including motion control systems, layer-based editing tools, design process automation, animation modes, and more.. PTC Creo has a use case across several industries like oil and gas, automotive, aerospace & defense, and life sciences.
- Subscription Plans: Creo 9.0 student edition premium license ($257/year), Creo View Lite registered user license ($270/year), Creo View MCAD registered user license ($535/year).
- Locked License Price: $2,780.
PTC Creo is suitable for engineers and product designers to design, simulate, and manufacture products.
Solidworks, also listed under “CAD Software for Professionals.” is also a great option for engineers. Solidworks also offers different features like automatic animation generation tools, surface modeling tools, photo rendering capabilities, and more to design, simulate and analyze products.
Sources also say the SolidWorks Premium license is $7995 with an annual maintenance cost of $1995.
Solidworks is best used for design, engineering, simulation, data management, and collaboration.
Best Free CAD Software
Several CAD software programs enable users to build 3D models for free. These are the best free CAD software programs available in the market:
FreeCAD is an open-source 3D CAD program suitable for product design, engineering, and animation. It has various features such as motion simulation tools, assembly modeling tools, FEM analysis, and more.
OpenSCAD is a free software for creating 3D models from text-based programming codes. It offers constructive solid geometry, matrix operations, color scheme customization, and more. OpenSCAD is available for Linux, Windows, and Mac OS.
LibreCAD is another open-source CAD program for designing 2D models. It has all the features that a professional CAD software would have, such as drafting tools, annotation tools, and layers support. The software is available for Windows, Mac OS, and Linux systems.
CAD Software Benefits
Some of the benefits of using CAD software include:
Streamlined Design Process
2D and 3D models previously required manual drafting and engineering which often resulted in longer design and production times. With CAD software, the design process can be completed faster since users can easily create and edit 3D models.
CAD software also provides better communication between users and teams. With the help of tools like collaboration, version control, and online sharing, CAD software makes it easier for users to communicate with each other about the design process without having to be in the same physical space.
Documentation & Database Creation
CAD software allows users to create detailed documentation of their 3D models. This helps standardize workflows for more efficient product development.
Complete Your 3D Printing Process
CAD software is a vital component of 3D printing and other manufacturing and engineering processes. Whether you’re a professional engineer, designer, student, or manufacturer, there are several CAD software programs on this list to choose from.
Read to learn more about the 3D printing process?
- What is 3D Printing with Polymers?
- Ultimate Review of SLA 3D Printing
- A Buyer’s Guide to Industrial 3D Printers
Or, learn about the latest ultrafast 3D printing materials in 2023 in our latest material guide.