AutoCAD is the go-to software solution for architects, engineers, and designers. The intuitive layout and the suite of pro-grade features make it popular with professional designers creating 3D objects, 2D drawings, technical drawings, and more.
While AutoCAD is undoubtedly popular, it’s also expensive. The cost of an annual subscription is over $1,700 annually. That puts it out of the reach of many small businesses and freelancers.
Luckily, there are some great free AutoCAD alternatives. This guide will walk you through some of the best options available at the moment. We’ll take a quick look at seven of the best free AutoCAD alternatives, discuss their pros and cons, and go over their defining features.
What to Look For From a CAD Platform
When selecting CAD software, there are some key things you should consider. Here’s a quick overview of some factors you’ll need to think about as you search for a CAD solution for your business:
Short learning curve
Many CAD platforms have a steep learning curve. If your employees are already familiar with AutoCAD, adjusting to the new CAD software’s user interface and workflow takes time. You should choose a CAD platform that has a familiar look and feel. You might want to choose something similar to AutoCAD.
In addition, the CAD software you select should have an extensive knowledge base. That support could come as part of the package or in the form of a robust online user community.
Output file compatibility
Most manufacturers use parts designed and manufactured in different parts of the world. Your CAD software should have the capability of exporting and importing both 2D and 3D models using a wide range of file types.
At the very least, your CAD platform should be able to save and open IDEF, IGES, VDA, DXF, PNG, and STEP files. The ability to use these types of files will help reduce errors. It will also allow you to have your designs fabricated by any facility that uses compatible CAD systems.
Hardware and software requirements
The recommended system specifications required to run AutoCAD’s advanced tools and 3D capabilities are pretty demanding. The current recommendations are a 3 GHz processor with 16 MB of RAM running Windows 10, a DirectX 11-compliant 4 GB GPU with 106 GB/s Bandwidth, and a monitor capable of 1920 x 1080 resolution.
Most AutoCAD alternatives have similar hardware needs. If you don’t have a powerful computer, you should seek a cloud-based computer aided design tool. There are some great options available.
Best AutoCAD Alternatives
Now that you know what to look for in a CAD platform, here are some of the best AutoCAD alternatives you can try:
FreeCAD is another 3D modeling software. It is similar to the market leader in terms of general feel and functionality.
If you are familiar with AutoCAD, you’ll find this tool familiar and easy to use. However, there is a learning curve for first-time users. You will need to familiarize yourself with the tools, shortcuts, features, and layouts.
FreeCAD is free to use. You have the option of donating to its developers, who rely on donations to support their efforts, make updates and refreshes.
FreeCAD is suitable for hobbyists, people involved in mechanical engineering, or budding professionals. It’s great for engineering and architectural design. You can check out the software and get started with it today.
SketchUp is a 3D modeling program with the backing of a global technology brand. The free software developed by Google is browser-based. You won’t have to download anything to get started. There are consequently no hardware requirements. Lastly, you can save your projects in the cloud.
You can run SketchUp on any operating system as long as you have an internet connection. It has an intuitive interface. Another advantage of SketchUp is that you always have the latest version available for use.
SketchUp has a large community of users. You will find community forums where people will answer your questions. There are lots of video tutorials online too. That can be a godsend for beginners.
You can create stunning animations, lighting effects, and textures to use with your 2D or 3D modeling projects using the software. SketchUp is one of the best free tools for animation and texturing.
LibreCAD is open source and free to use. You can only create 2D drawings with LibreCAD. AutoCAD, on the other hand, is purpose-built for 3D models.
LibreCAD is available on all three major computer operating systems: Windows, Mac, and Linux. In essence, you can run it on almost any computer that meets the minimum hardware specifications. The software supports 30 languages.
LibreCAD has inherent support file format arrays. The platform supports graphics file formats like SVG, JPG, PNG, PDF, and DXF. The file size of the software is small. That means quicker load times and the ability to run smoothly on older computers.
LibreCAD was created primarily for industrial designers. People are always adding extra features, add-ons, and support for more languages to the software.
The software has everything you need – in terms of tools and features – to fully design your next 2D project. It measures up admirably with the best-paid software tools in its class and even outclasses them in some cases.
SolveSpace is one of the more advanced software on this list. You can design and model in 2D and 3D, and it can handle the most complex parametric modeling and 3D designs. It is also free to use.
You can use SolveSpace to create design models for 3D printing projects. You can apply the 3D modeling functionality to basic things like home parts and repair components. It is possible to use SolveSpace for more complex jobs too.
3D Slash was inspired by the videogame Minecraft. The 3D modeling tool is relatively easy to use and has an intuitive, customizable interface. You can use the software to produce intricate models in the right hands.
The software is great for people who do 3D printing. The block presets in the user interface are easy for 3D printers to generate.
Many educational institutions use 3D Slash to teach young students how to do 3D modeling because it is easy to use. It is a great option for beginners looking to progress onto more complex tools.
Archimedes is an open-source CAD software created for architectural design. It was released by a gifted Brazilian design team in 2005 and last updated in 2007.
It seems unlikely that Archimedes will be updated. You can download the software from third-party websites. You can also download the source code and customize it according to your needs.
The program supports advanced features like filleting, measurement, and trimming. The software has an autosave feature, so your changes are always backed up.
Archimedes supports many languages like Italian, Portuguese, and of course, English. However, it does not have an active user support system. You won’t get software updates or access to new features with this tool.
Houdini 3D modeling and animation software was designed for advanced users. It has a steep learning curve. Once that curve is overcome, however, you can create beautiful 3D models. Houdini also has features that best most of the free tools in its class.
Alongside basic 3D design and modeling capabilities, it has features like liquid effects. You can also reuse objects in renders. Many companies in the gaming industry use Houdini. Part of its popularity is because you can quickly generate high-quality backdrops and environments.
Houdini is a cross-platform software available on Mac OS, Windows, and Linux. It supports both 2D and 3D modeling.
Adobe Substance 3D
Adobe Substance 3D is a collection of 3D design and augmented reality software. The Adobe Substance 3D Collection plan has a starting monthly cost of $49.99, but Adobe offers a free trial for their tools, which is a great way to “try before you buy. “As an architectural or environmental designer, you know that creating 3D models for design projects is an important part of the process. Creating more realistic models that you can view and utilize for different functions is something that can help any designer. Adobe offers a solution to this with 2D and 3D toolsets to create models that will impress any client or stakeholder.
Using Photoshop or Illustrator you can import 2D components like graphics and logos to add personalization and realism to your 3D environmental design models. Adding to that realism is Adobe Substance 3D Painter, which will give you more control over creating realistic materials and textures for buildings or objects. Substance comes with a robust library of assets already, or you can import custom designs to get the perfect fit. You can also export your model incomplete or completed in 2D or 3D depending on how you want to use it.
Once you are satisfied with your design, check it out in altered reality (AR) using Adobe Aero to view it from every angle. You can use Aero to take pictures or videos and send them to project collaborators for feedback.
AutoCAD is the undisputed market leader when it comes to 3D modeling and architectural design. Several CAD software alternatives can deliver many of the same features.
This guide provided a roundup of the seven best free AutoCAD alternatives. Your choice of AutoCAD alternative will depend mostly on your needs.
For instance, Houdini is an excellent option for 3D animation, while Archimedes is one of the best free software for architectural design. Defining your requirements is the first step in choosing the right free AutoCAD alternative for you.