13 Best CAD Software of 2021 (Ranked and Compared)
CAD or computer-aided design software programs have replaced manual drafting.
They hold a large market share in the software industry, valued at $389.86 billion in 2020. With packaging machines becoming more complex, more designers and mechanical engineers are turning to 3D CAD software to improve their overall design efficiency.
CAD software goes hand in hand with 3D printing software because when you combine both tools you are able to create almost anything that you want.
However, don’t confuse CAD software with something as simple as graphic design software. If you have experience with computer-aided design then this is obvious for you, but if you are new to CAD, keep that in mind.
Today, I’ll be introducing you to the most widely used CAD software platforms. I’ll be highlighting what these programs are best for, their tools and features, and pricing.
Then I’ll move on to briefly explaining the concept of CAD or computer-aided design to help you make an informed decision.
Here are my top picks for the best CAD software on the market.
Table of Contents
Autodesk Fusion 360 is an all-in-one cloud-based CAD, CAE, PCB, and CAM platform for the 3D modeling and manufacturing of products. It allows you to explore creativity and design effortlessly while creating multiple design iterations.
You may test these designs in the early stages of the development process to determine performance and identify potential flaws. Consequently, you can model and edit existing features and fixtures using its integrated CAD and CAM software tool.
Fusion 360 can also convert 3D models into 2D drawings. This helps annotate, measure dimensions, and document with precision for manufacturing accuracy.
With Fusion 360’s generative design and simulation tools, you can reduce the design and engineering impact to ensure manufacturability. Accordingly, it’s possible to design and manufacture products that provide form, fit, function, and aesthetics.
I’ll now be highlighting some of the features Autodesk Fusion 360 offers:
- Accelerated 2D drawings
- Flexibility for effortless design and 3D modeling
- Integrated CAD+CAM software
- Full-featured PCB design software
- Single product data management software
- Real-time collaboration with other designers
- Ability to set up manufacturing and material constraints
From generative design to cloud rendering, Fusion 360 can do it all. Just select a suitable subscription plan to get started. It offers a 30-day money-back guarantee on annual plans, so you never have to think twice.
Here’s a quick breakdown of its payment plans:
- Monthly Plan at $60
- Yearly Plan at $495 ($42/month)
- Three-Year Plan at $1,335 ($38/month)
2. Autodesk AutoCAD.
Architects, mechanical engineers, and construction professionals trust AutoCAD for both 2D and 3D printing. It helps annotate, design, and draft 2D geometry and 3D models using mesh objects, surface, and solid modeling.
Additionally, it improves productivity owing to its specialized mechanical, architecture, electrical, and MEP toolsets. They help automate tasks like creating schedules, counting, comparing drawings, and adding blocks.
You can enjoy a connected design experience with all of AutoCAD’s features and tools on any device. Simply download the AutoCAD mobile app or use your computer to go to its web browser.
Here are a few other features Autodesk AutoCAD has to offer:
- Add-on apps and API for customization
- Sends feedback directly to a DWG file
- Automates counting blocks
- 3D navigation and rendering
- 2D drafting, annotation, and drawing
AutoCAD offers subscription plans for organizations of various sizes. You may also upgrade to an annual premium subscription at an additional $300. Additionally, you get a ten percent discount on a three-year standard or premium subscription.
Here is a breakdown of its payment plans:
- Standard Plan at $220 per month or $1,775 paid annually
- Premium Plan (for medium to large teams)
- Enterprise Plan (for extra-large teams)
- Education Plan (for eligible educators and students)
You can try out any of AutoCAD’s products by downloading its free trial plan of 30 days.
TinkerCAD is a web app with an intuitive user interface that can help beginner designers and engineers develop the foundation skills for innovation. Be it electronics, 3D design, or coding; it helps build blocks of creative thinking and convert them into reality.
Just place a pre-existing or your own shape on the work plane to add or remove materials. You can adjust it by rotating or moving the work plane to try different angles and views. Additionally, TinkerCAD allows you to combine shapes to create custom and detailed 3D models.
TinkerCAD is fast and easy to use. Of course, that’s why educators widely use it to teach students without limitations.
I’ll now list a few features of TinkerCAD:
- Offers 3D printing services
- Easy tutorial videos
- Can add light and movement to design with electric circuits
- Supports drag and drop for code blocking
Another interesting aspect of TinkerCAD is that it’s absolutely free. This makes it a popular choice among the new generation of designers and engineers. All you need to do is sign in and join a class.
With FreeCAD, you can design real-life objects of every size. The open-source parametric 3D modeler also allows you to modify your design by returning to the model history. All you need to remember is to change the parameters.
The platform provides components to help you extract design details from 3D models and adjust dimensions. Additionally, you can sketch 2D shapes to use as a base for building other objects. As a result, you get to create high-quality production-ready drawings.
FreeCAD is a flexible and extensible multi-platform (Mac, Linux, and Windows) software. It can seamlessly integrate open file formats, such as DAE, STEP, DXF, SVG, etc., into your workflow by reading and writing.
The following are a few more features FreeCAD has to offer:
- Supports Boundary Representation (BRep) objects
- C++ coded core functionality
- Add-on workbenches
- 2D CAD drafting
- Architectural or BIM modeling
- Robot simulation model
FreeCAD is a free CAD software equipped with all of the tools for your engineering needs. Simply download it on your desired platform, be it Linux, Windows, or Max, and get started.
Solidworks is a computer-aided design program published by Dassault Systèmes. Professional 3D designers and engineers mostly use it for its wide range of mechanical design validations tools and reverse engineering.
The product design software is practical and uses the NURBS system to create more detailed curvature. It utilizes dimensional sketching to ensure more accurate resizing that is not much of a hassle.
Solidworks offers some of the best tools to help you conceptualize and transform innovative ideas into industry-level product designs. From 3D models to 2D sketches of complex parts, this CAD software comes with all that is needed to create fast and accurate designs.
Here is a list of features Solidworks offers:
- Stress analysis and data management tools
- Cloud-connected CAD
- Includes cost estimation tools
- Helps understand product performance early
- Can share real-time product development information with the marketing team
- Cross-team collaboration
Solidworks offers 3DExperience packages for students, hobbyists, and companies of all sizes. You just need to contact the sales or research sales team to get a quote.
The following is a list of plans Solidworks offers:
- Commercial: for companies of different sizes
- Academia: an all-inclusive resource for teaching 3D CAD and data management
- Research: an all-in-one solution for research projects
- Students: to help students kickstart their CAD carriers
- Entrepreneurs And Startups: offers training and co-marketing resources for free
Creo is a leading CAD platform developed more than a decade ago by Parametric Technology Corporation (PTC). It’s a complete package equipped with the tools needed to accelerate product design.
The easy-to-learn and use program helps you make your way from the earliest stages of the design process to later manufacturing phases. As such, it allows you to better quality products more efficiently.
The combination of Creo’s tools, proven powerful functionality, and the latest technologies help improve product quality and reduce costs. These transformative components give you a competitive advantage and allow you to gain a significant market share.
I’ll now highlight the features of Creo:
- 3D parametric solid modeling
- Technical illustrations
- Generative design extension for high-quality, low-cost product
- Finite Element Analysis and simulation
- Schematic design and functionality
- Offers topology optimization technologies
Creo’s payment packages start at $2,480, but for more information, you'll have to get in touch with the team. Each package ensures that you’ll have access to premium support and the latest features.
You may also get started with its 30-day trial plan and then upgrade to any one of the following plans:
- Design Essentials
- Design Advanced
- Design Advanced Plus
- Design Premium
- Design Premium Plus
Sketchup offers more than a hundred professionally-developed extensions to help customize a 3D workspace. You get to visualize innovative ideas and experience the joy of sketching by hand with this super-smart 3D modeling software.
Moreover, it understands the importance of creating designs for showcasing to clients. As such, you can use it to create 3D models and document ideas in 2D. This helps improve team productivity, making your work a lot easier and faster.
Sketchup offers the best 3D modeling and printing solutions to professionals from all fields. Be it designers, mechanical engineers, architects, or builders; anyone can use it to transform their ideas into reality.
The following is a list of features Sketchup offers:
- Documents 3D designs in 2D
- Intuitive and engaging user interface
- Suitable for both professionals and beginners
- Team collaboration across departments
- Immersive VR experience for design simulation
Sketchup offers subscription plans for all kinds of use cases. All you have to do is choose one of the following based on your computer-aided design (CAD) requirements.
1. For Personal Use
- Free Plan with ten GB cloud storage
- Shop Plan at $119/year with unlimited access to pre-built 3D models
- Pro Plan at $299/year with XR headset viewing
2. For Professional Use
- Shop Plan at $119/year
- Pro Plan at $299/year
- Studio Plan at $699/year (Windows only)
3. Higher Education
- Sketchup Studio for students and educators at $55/year
- Tiered pricing is available for universities
4. Primary And Secondary
- Sketchup for schools (free with G Suite or Microsoft education account)
- Sketchup Pro (free with state grant)
Catia is an industry leader when it comes to multi-platform product design and experience. It can meet all of your needs, be it CAM, CAD, or CAE in the automotive and aerospace industries.
The software comes with the unique ability to model everyday products according to real-time behavior. Additionally, it provides system developers, designers, experienced users, and hobbyists with an instinctive 3D experience.
Its simulation and 3D modeling capabilities optimize the effectiveness of each user. And through powerful dashboards, it can drive real-time collaboration, concurrent design, and business intelligence across all skateboards.
Catia comprises 3D modeling, simulation, social, collaborative, and information intelligence applications, among others. It has even achieved a lot of popularity for being a multi-platform suite.
I’ll now list some of the features Catia has to offer:
- Online collaboration for 3D modeling and designs
- Manages data efficiently during product development
- Offers a toolset to meet needs of different companies
- Tracks the 3D model changes
You get a free demo with Catia’s free trial plan option. Or you may browse its portfolio online to buy roles and get started straight away. But you will have to get its sales team to contact you with a free quote to meet your requirements.
The sales experts will also discuss your needs and answer any questions you may have.
Solid Edge is a complete software package of product development tools with an intuitive interface that makes it easy to use. Whether technical publications, electrical and mechanical designs, simulation, or data management, it provides all of the features beginners need to create a 3D or 2D design.
Additionally, the platform combines the simplicity and speed of direct 3D modeling with the control and flexibility of parametric design. This is made possible by its synchronous technology.
Solid Edge also provides cloud-based capabilities, providing easy access across different devices. You get the instant configuration of the CAD environment as per your preferences, along with the ability to share data across design resources.
The synchronous technology of Solid Edge empowers designers, students, hobbyists, engineers, and others to innovate designs without boundaries. You get to design more intelligently and efficiently without the constraints of traditional 3D modeling.
Take a quick look at the features Solid Edge has on offer:
- Optimizes designs with the flow and structural simulation integration
- Produces high-quality illustrations efficiently
- AI-powered user interface
- Lightening-fast reverse engineering
- Cloud-based collaboration
- 2D layout of industrial control panels
- Searchable postprocessor database
You may try out the features of Solid Edge for free by signing up for its trial plan. And if you wish to upgrade, you can opt for any of its paid subscription plans.
Here is a quick breakdown of the same:
- Solid Edge Design And Drafting at $75 per month
- Solid Edge Foundation at $185 per month
- Solid Edge Classic at $230 per month
- Solid Edge Premium at $329 per month
OnShape is one of the only Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) platforms that combines built-in data management, business analytics, CAD, and real-time collaboration tools to develop products. That's why the big names in the industry, such as Synapse, Trek, and Kichler, trust its credibility.
After all, it helps modernize the product design process by allowing you to make the required configurations, customize drawings, and import/export file formats. It also comes with a set of innovative tools that supports simultaneous editing and real-time design review.
Additionally, OnShape allows you to check the design history and change the log as required. This can be released in the form of reports to help you understand the product design better.
As said by Mike White, the CTO of Fusion Biotech, OnShape is like the “Google doc file for CAD.” It is easy to use and explore for design and collaboration through live chats and comments. The secure cloud platform also comes with security and audit controls.
I’ll now highlight the features OnShape offers:
- Business and engineering integrations
- Can control and monitor data access for design
- Notifications and alerts for workflow
- Auditable and revertible change logs and history
- Simultaneous sheet metal tools
- Simultaneous editing with secure sharing
OnShape is the next-generation cloud-based software that can speed up the product development process. Simply choose any of the following subscription plans to get started.
1. Standard Plan at $1,500 per user/year
- For single-seat users requiring modern CAD tools
- Associative drawings
- Direct technical support
- Supports mobile editing on Android and iOS
2. Professional Plan at $2,100 per user/year
- For small and medium consulting businesses
- Includes standard plan features
- Standardized workflow approvals
- Guided onboarding
3. Enterprise Plan (with full and light user provisions)
- For large companies requiring the best product development tools
- Includes professional plan features
- Advanced centralized IP control
- Priority direct support
BlocksCAD is a blocks-based CAD program with an easy-to-use interface. It’s designed to help students and educators get started with 3D modeling without having to spend too much time learning the basics.
The platform serves as an effective, engaging, and graphical way to teach students coding. As a result, it helps improve computer science and math skills.
Additionally, BlocksCAD comes with an all-new dashboard for teachers to get started with standard aligned lesson plans. And the YouTube page provides tutorials to impart more knowledge on the field.
The cloud-based 3D modeling software package encourages students to learn coding and computational thinking through visualization. They can convert these innovative ideas and visuals into models, which are then 3D printed.
Here are a few more features BlocksCAD has to offer:
- Colored blocks represent commands
- OpenScad code compatibility
- YouTube channels provide ample tutorial videos
- Simple user interface
BlocksCAD is a free tool, meaning you don’t have to subscribe to a paid plan.
3DS Max is another flexible 3D CAD software program from AutoDesk, offering a wide range of powerful plugins. As such, you can easily customize your drawings while the CAS design platform changes and grows with you.
The modeling and rendering program is a trusted choice when it comes to games and animation. After all, it comes with a rich toolset offering artistic control to create premium designs and high-quality architectural renderings.
You can create models for detailed objects and interiors. Accordingly, it helps bring features and characters to life with VFX and animation.
3DS Max comes with intuitive controls to provide an artist-friendly user experience. You get to work faster and save time even while handling complex scenes, characters, and effects.
I’ll now list a few features of 3DS Max:
- Accessible API to extend built-in workflows
- Texture, color, and material editor
- Mesh repair
- Animation effects like motion path, 3DS Max fluids, particle flow effects, etc.
- Improved pipeline tools
- Rendering functionality
You may download the free trial plan to get started with the animation and rendering features of 3DS Max. And if you need to upgrade, simply buy any one of its payment plans.
Here is a quick breakdown of its subscription plans:
- Monthly Payment Plan at $215
- Yearly Payment Plan at $1,700
- Three-Yearly Payment Plan at $4,590 (best value)
It also offers a 30-day money-back policy so that you can invest without hesitation.
Rhino 7 is a 3D CAD software that works on Mac, Windows, and iOS, making it ideal for iPad use. You can use this powerful modeler to create curved lines and other organic shapes, including meshes, solids, and points, for a more graphical representation of the 3D model.
It also comes with better presentation tools to stream the workflow. As such, you can use it for animation, rendering, reverse engineering, CFD, and other purposes.
And with SubD (a new geometry type), it can create shapes more accurately with the provision for editing. So, you can expect the desired final product design results.
Rhino 7 offers a range of design tools and features to aid graphic designers. Users can also utilize the history recording feature to edit and update the curves and product.
Here is a brief list of a few more features Rhino 7 offers:
- Can add dimensions at the viewpoint
- Imports files from various sources, including SketchUp, STL, AutoCad, etc.
- Displays the control points of the 3D model
- Workflow documentation
- API refinement
Rhino 7 is a complete package for graphic designers. You just have to opt for a payment plan based on your use case and requirements.
Here is a list of subscription plans Rhino 7 offers for Windows and Mac:
- Commercial use at $995
- Student or faculty use at $195
- School use at $975
Computer-aided design or CAD refers to the use of digital workstations and computers to create, modify, and optimize designs. The software programs dedicated to CAD or CAE improve the productivity of designers and engineers by doing away with the cons of manual drawing.
They offer a wide range of features, real-time collaboration tools, and more to improve the design quality. Plus, you get to visualize innovative ideas by creating a more detailed, graphical representation of the same.
The 3D models and designs you create using CAD software also help speed up the product development process. That’s why it’s now a trusted platform widely used for applications in the automotive, aerospace, computer animation, and gaming industries.
If you wish to create a 3D or 2D computer-aided design to ramp up your product development process, then choose any of the following options.
- Autodesk Fusion 360: Best For Overall 3D Modeling
- Autodesk AutoCAD: Best For 2D And 3D Printing
- TinkerCAD: Best For Beginner Engineers
- FreeCAD: Best For Designing Real-Life Products
- Solidworks: Best For Professional Use
- Creo: Best For Efficient Product Development
- SketchUp: Best For 3D Drawing And Documentation
- Catia: Best For Multi-Platform Product Development
- Solid Edge: Best For Intuitive Mechanical And Electrical Design
- OnShape: Best For Real-Time Product Design
- BlocksCAD: Best For Educational Purposes
- 3DS Max: Best For Flexible Product Design And Animation
- Rhino 7: Best For Versatile 3D Modeling
I’m sure you’ll find a CAD software program that suits your product design needs from the list of options I have reviewed.
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