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10 Best Fusion 360 Alternatives in 2019

Niall Mobsby
Oct 6, 2019

Bad internet? Linux user? Just not happy with Fusion 360's interface? Dig into this guide to discover the best Fusion 360 alternatives.

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Fusion 360 Alternatives Introducing Fusion 360

A Raspberry Pi case designed in Fusion 360.
A Raspberry Pi case designed in Fusion 360. (Source: Niall Mobsby / All3DP)

Fusion 360 is one of the go-to programs for product design, CAD, and CAM. Since Autodesk announced the software would be free for hobbyists (that’s anyone making less than $100,000/year using Fusion 360), the program has dominated the hobbyist CAD market.

But it’s not just modeling, Fusion 360 offers a range of simulation, fluid dynamics, stress testing, animation, and rendering features to perfectly illustrate what a product looks like, how it works, and whether it will withstand practical use. This makes it a truly potent package at the glorious price point of $0 for most of us hobbyists.

But it’s also a cloud-based modeling tool, which makes it great for collaboration and easy access to files. Unfortunately, this means that to use Fusion 360, you need a reliable internet connection. That’s one its biggest drawbacks

For this cost and ease of use, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better tool. While other programs offer more features, they come at a greater cost and with a steeper learning curve. On the other hand, some programs might be more similar to Fusion 360 in terms of usability but lack more advanced features. Hence there’s no “true” alternative, but let’s see what you think of these tools, anyway.

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Fusion 360 Alternatives Criteria

Fusion 360's extrude feature.
Fusion 360's extrude feature. (Source: Niall Mobsby / All3DP)

So what makes a CAD/CAM/CAE platform a good alternative to Fusion 360?

From a hobbyist point of view, you have to be sure you’re getting your money’s worth with a feature set that corresponds to your budget. We’ve highlighted some of the main criteria we’ll be looking at.

  • Cost: Fusion 360 is free for users earning under $100,000. This is going to be hard to beat in terms of an alternative, but some programs have deals or tiered pricing that we’ll look into.
  • Learning curve: How user-friendly is the software? From a hobbyist perspective, we don’t want to be put off by a complicated user-interface or go through hours of training to create simple objects. On the other hand, we need enough functionality to bring our designs to life.
  • Features: We’ll be looking for cloud-support, 2D sketching tools, STL export for 3D printing, parametric modeling tools, and more.
  • CAM/CAE/simulations: A defining feature of Fusion 360 is the option to run simulations and stress-tests for engineering and advanced users. CAM integration allows you to quickly allocate jobs and set up tool paths for efficient machining with mills, laser cutters, waterjets and more.
  • Animations and renders: Rather than verbally describing how your product or idea works, animations and renders can do the hard work for you. A good Fusion 360 alternative should at least have basic animation tools and visually pleasing renders.
  • Operating system and requirements: Probably the biggest reason you’d be looking for an alternative to Fusion 360. The software is only available on Windows and Mac. For Linux-users, or users with low-spec computers, you’ll need something more flexible.
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1

Fusion 360 Alternatives SolidWorks

Stress-testing in SolidWorks.
Stress-testing in SolidWorks. (Source: SolidWorks Blog)

For years, SolidWorks has been the industry leader in 3D modeling and engineering design software. Alongside Autodesk’s products, SolidWorks is one of the standards for mechanical and electronic engineering used across the world.

SolidWorks features a multiple-tier pricing structure starting at $3,995 and ending at $17,914 for commercial use. Alternatively, you could “hack it” and utilize a free trial or take advantage of a student discount.

SolidWorks is assembly-driven software, making it great for documenting individual parts and creating parts used in other assemblies. If you’re developing large, multi-part systems, then SolidWorks is well worth the price tag.

Fusion 360 touches the tip of the iceberg when it comes to CAM tools and simulations. SolidWorks offers extensive stress-testing tools and enhanced machining workflows. Rendering and animation tools are available as add-ons.

The range of features makes SolidWorks more difficult to use than Fusion 360, especially for new designers. Overall, SolidWorks is a bit clunkier than Fusion 360 and takes longer to hash out simple ideas. There’s no sculpt mode, for example. But for highly detailed models and simulations, SolidWorks is one of the best tools out there. If you’re keen on finding out how exactly these two similar tools stack up, check out the following article:

Price: $3,995

Operating System: Windows

Learning Curve/Skill Level: Intermediate

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Fusion 360 Alternatives AutoCAD

3D modeling in AutoCAD.
3D modeling in AutoCAD. (Source: Karajko CAD / GrabCAD)

If SolidWorks is the godmother of CAM, then AutoCAD is the godfather of CAD. It’s widely considered the industry standard for drafting, design and 3D modeling. If you want a career in the industry, then this is the program for you.

AutoCAD costs $1,680 per year or $200 per month. Free educational licenses are available if you have an email address provided by a registered university.

Easy to use and intuitive, AutoCAD provides a great starting point for learning other CAD tools. A wide range of add-ons and custom plugins make AutoCAD extremely adaptable for any application. With the right skill level and customization, there’s almost no limit to what can be designed with AutoCAD. AutoCAD features powerful rendering and basic animation tools.

However, while there may be add-ons available for it, AutoCAD was not designed for direct CNC machining. You can export drawings to software that converts your drawing into G-code for a CNC machine, but Autodesk wants users to purchase Inventor or use Fusion 360 for direct machining workflows.

Overall, the software feels very similar to Fusion 360 but lacks the CAM/CAE environment. There’s also a heavier emphasis on drawing and 2D sketching.

If you can’t wait to get started, we know the perfect place you can start:

Price: $1,680/year

Operating System: Windows & Mac

Learning Curve/Skill Level: Beginner to Intermediate

Autodesk AutoCAD
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Fusion 360 Alternatives Inventor

3D modeling in Inventor.
3D modeling in Inventor. (Source: Autodesk)

Inventor is Autodesk’s professional paid 3D modeling and engineering suite, essentially the industrial version of Fusion 360. It’s similar to SolidWorks in that it provides parametric modeling for large-scale projects.

An Inventor subscription will set you back $1,935 per year, but as with most Autodesk products, educational licenses are available.

Extensive simulations are available. In fact, much more detailed and specific simulations and tests are available when compared to Fusion 360. Inventor is perfect for milling, machining, and mechanical design. It’s an all-in-one program that can be used in the office and the workshop floor.

Inventor is much more difficult for beginners than Fusion 360, though not impossible. A more natural progression would be for users to start on Fusion 360 and then upgrade to Inventor once they hit limitations. There is no cloud functionality for Inventor, but it does offer an offline work mode, unlike Fusion 360.

Price: $1,935/year

Operating System: Windows & Mac

Learning Curve/Skill Level: Intermediate

Autodesk Inventor
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4

Fusion 360 Alternatives Creo

The highly technical yet orderly Creo interface.
The highly technical yet orderly Creo interface. (Source: PTC )

Created by software company PTC, Creo provides all the features you need in a CAD package with annual updates. In terms of scope, Creo is larger than Fusion 360, especially in the design department.

Basic licenses start at $2,200 for an essentials CAD package, but if you want to include machining and simulations, you’ll need one of the more expensive packages.

The toolset featured in Creo is everything an advanced hobbyist could ever need, with parametric modeling, rendering, animations, augmented reality, ergonomic simulations, and a bill of materials easily exported from the product design.

In the more advanced packages, CAM integration becomes very powerful. For example, you can perform advanced simulations and analyses. An augmented reality integration even allows you to dive straight into testing a prototype before manufacturing.

Having said all that, the user interface can be daunting. Creo is clearly aimed at industrial manufacturing and thus might not be the perfect alternative for a recreational user of Fusion 360. Despite this, there is plenty of online support, including tutorials and forums.

Price: $2,200

Operating System: Windows

Learning Curve/Skill Level: Intermediate

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5

Fusion 360 Alternatives SolveSpace

A component modeled in SolveSpace.
A component modeled in SolveSpace. (Source: solvespace.com)

A CAD program with Linux users in mind, SolveSpace is a free, open-source 3D modeling tool with a CAM integration. SolveSpace might look a little old on the surface, but the user-interface is very easy to learn and quick to get up and running.

SolveSpace is totally free and available on a variety of platforms, including Windows, Mac, and Linux.

In terms of features, SolveSpace is remarkably similar to Fusion 360 and stands up relatively well as an open-source alternative. It’s a parametric 3D modeling package with constraints, 2D sketching, Boolean operations, and STL repair.

There is a wide range of STL testing, export options, and G-code preparation. CAM is possible with G-code toolpaths, but there is no stress-testing or physical simulations to date.

Unfortunately, SolveSpace is a little slow to process boolean operations and complex drawings. It is well-regarded for good stability and fast boot times, but online support can be hard to come by.

Price: Free

Operating System: Windows, Mac, Linux

Learning Curve/Skill Level: Beginner

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Fusion 360 Alternatives Onshape

Onshape's user interface is clean and functional.
Onshape's user interface is clean and functional. (Source: Onshape)

Onshape was the first cloud-based CAD program with version control included. By design, Onshape is very similar to Fusion 360: 100% online, easy collaboration, and version-controlled, although it does lack CAM/CAE functionality.

Students and educators can use Onshape for free. Otherwise, the software costs $1,500 per year.

Ideal for beginners, Onshape doesn’t bombard you with superfluous features and confusing CAE simulations. One of the primary benefits of being cloud- and browser-based is that a team of designers can alter and experiment on a product in real-time, or create an individual branch for experimentation.

There’s a huge amount of online support tailored for beginners to learn Onshape. Being browser-based allows almost any computer to use Onshape, making it one of the most accessible CAD programs we’ve looked at.

If you don’t need the CAM integration, then Onshape is one of the closest alternatives to Fusion 360.

Price: $1,500/year

Operating System: Browser-based

Learning Curve/Skill Level: Beginner

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Fusion 360 Alternatives DesignSpark Mechanical

DesignSpark Mechanical uses explicit modeling.
DesignSpark Mechanical uses explicit modeling. (Source: RS-Components)

DesignSpark Mechanical is based on the 3D CAD program SpaceClaim and is owned by RS Components. It uses explicit modeling as opposed to Fusion 360’s parametric modeling, making DesignSpark Mechanical very easy to use.

DesignSpark Mechanical is totally free but does require registration to community news and promotions.

An intuitive user-interface, bill-of-materials generation, and access to a large online library of pre-made components make DesignSpark great for beginners. There is no CAM/CAE integration, although DesignSpark does export models as STL.

Price: Free (email subscription required)

Operating System: Windows

Learning Curve/Skill Level: Beginner

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Fusion 360 Alternatives Solid Edge

An assembly in Solid Edge.
An assembly in Solid Edge. (Source: Lerbach / Wikipedia)

Solid Edge is a 3D modeling and CAD program developed by Siemens. The software focuses on mechanical and electronic design with features comparable to Fusion 360, such as cloud-supported designing and collaboration.

One of the more expensive CAD packages on the market, Solid Edge starts at $130/month for the basic design and drafting package.

Generally considered to be inaccessible without formal training, Solid Edge has one of the steeper learning curves we’ve seen, although once a user is proficient with Solid Edge the software has a remarkable workflow.

A wide range of add-ons are available for Solid Edge, and the software comes with extensive simulations and CAM capabilities included. You’ll find similar features to Creo including augmented reality, STL repair, and dedicated sheet metal design tools.

Solid Edge is clearly marketed towards high-end industrial design use.

Price: $130/month ($1560/year)

Operating System: Windows

Learning Curve/Skill Level: Advanced

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Fusion 360 Alternatives Catia

Catia is a high-end program with advanced modeling and simulation capabilities.
Catia is a high-end program with advanced modeling and simulation capabilities. (Source: Catia / Wikipedia)

If SolidWorks was Fusion 360, then Catia would be Inventor. Produced by Dassault Systemes, Catia is product lifecycle management (PLM) software, as well as a fully functional CAD/CAM suite. PLM software is used for managing data and tracking version control during development.

Catia is free for students and educators, and will otherwise cost $11,200 for a one-off purchase, with annual maintenance costs of $2000. Quarterly and annual leases are also available.

As a professional program, Catia is designed with specific industries in mind (aviation, automotive, nautical). The CAM/CAE features are some of the strongest on the market, including fluid and electrical system simulation. Visual rendering is excellent, as are the animations.

Ultimately, moving from Fusion to Catia would be a huge jump. Fusion 360 is an entry- to mid-level CAD program, whilst Catia is on the higher end of the spectrum. Besides, Catia boasts a huge price-tag that most hobbyists won’t pay.

Price: $11,200, with annual maintenance costs of $2,000

Operating System: Windows

Learning Curve/Skill Level: Advanced

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10

Fusion 360 Alternatives SketchUp

A desk modeled in SketchUp.
A desk modeled in SketchUp. (Source: Sketchup.com)

One of the most famous 3D modeling programs in the world, SketchUp was originally founded in 1999, and then sold to Google in 2006. Google sold the software to Trimble in 2012. The software is free, but if you want to use the extensive range of plugins, you will have to opt for the paid option.

SketchUp uses a three-tiered pricing structure, with a free online version that cannot export STL files, a paid online version, and the professional desktop program (which does support STL export).

SketchUp is useful for hashing out a visual idea in 3D space, but when it comes to 3D printing or CNC, it is much weaker than some of the cheaper alternatives.

The software is very easy to learn and get started with. There are lots of online tutorials and guides on 3D printing with SketchUp.

Price: Free to $299/year

Operating System:  Browser-based/Windows

Learning Curve: Beginner

(Lead image source: Niall Mobsby / All3DP)

License: The text of "10 Best Fusion 360 Alternatives in 2019" by All3DP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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