Autodesk’s flagship product, AutoCAD, has been available since 1982 and is undeniably the granddaddy of CAD. To word it better, AutoCAD is to CAD what Photoshop is to photo editing.
The program comes packed with an array of features that make it a versatile tool for several industries, including graphic design, engineering, architecture, and project management. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that AutoCAD is the go-to product for professionals, hobbyists, and students.
Unfortunately, Autodesk no longer offers a perpetual license for this popular tool. Instead, they are pushing consumers into subscription-based licensing. This has forced hundreds of users to seek AutoCAD alternatives as many users believe the switch is costlier in the long-run.
Paying more than $1,500 per year may seem worthwhile if you are a CAD pro with no budget restrictions, but it’s pretty staggering when you’re an average hobbyist working on a budget.
Anyways, you don’t always have to pick AutoCAD, especially when it has some worthy contenders with the same critical functionality and supporting infrastructure. But be warned: The market is filled with horrible AutoCAD knockoffs, so it’s your duty (and ours) to distill which products are worth your time, especially if you’re a newcomer.
We’ve done the legwork to bring you seven of the best AutoCAD alternatives in 2019. Two of them have made an appearance in our articles on the top professional CAD tools and 30 best free CAD software tools.
Picking alternatives to AutoCAD is no easy task. While there may be several solutions out there, the answer can start and end with your industry, or how you want to use a CAD program. Therefore, we made our selection based on a few key factors:
We also wanted to ensure that the cheapest versions of the options below were priced under $1000 per year, the default cost of AutoCAD.
Finally, we acknowledge that some alternatives differ from AutoCAD, as different solutions provide different functions and focus on different application areas. That said, the purpose of this article is to present all the best alternatives, not just the ones restricted to 3D printing.
Formerly known as Google SketchUp, this 3D modeling platform is an excellent choice for both enthusiastic hobbyists and CAD experts. It’s a capable and easy-to-use tool, which is very inexpensive when compared to AutoCAD.
The slimmed-down version, SketchUp Free, runs entirely in the cloud. Depending on how you use it, that could be a good thing, but you won’t be able to use any plugins. SkethUp Pro runs on both Windows and MacOS.
Looking for inspiration? Check out the 3D Warehouse, where users can upload or download designs.
Another supporting platform is the Extension Warehouse. This repository of plugins allows users to tweak SketchUp to meet their needs. In fact, Trimble (the developers of SketchUp) encourages users to contribute extensions, many of which are free. If you choose to use this platform, be sure to check out the best plugins.
Where to Download: SketchUp
Fusion 360, by Autodesk, is a powerful 3D CAD, CAM, and CAE platform. It comes with a wide array of features that make it a versatile tool for designers and engineers across a wide range of industries. Its usability enables it to cover the entire process of planning, testing, and realizing a 3D design.
Interested in designing parts for assembly? Fusion 360’s modeling tools make it easy. Simulation and optimization tools will help in validating the design, while CAM enables the user to manufacture the final parts. You’ll enjoy its highly intuitive user interface, complete with a condensed toolbar and recognizable Autodesk keys.
The platform, which runs on both Windows and MacOS, is partially cloud-based, though it does not require an internet connection for you to perform modeling. Nevertheless, working online will come in handy when you need to save and sync your CAD designs. Furthermore, compute-intensive tasks are relegated to the cloud to avoid overworking your hardware. Renders and simulations give you an extra edge, as complex tasks will be performed quickly.
Trial versions are also available, and qualifying hobbyists can get Fusion 360 for free through a simple three-step activation process. There are even a handful of free Fusion 360 apps (available for both Android and iOS platforms) that let users leverage the full potential of Fusion 360.
Where to Download:
DraftSight is a CAD platform focusing on technical 2D drawings. It allows for accurate revisions since the elements of designs are usually stored in layers, and it has a clear user interface that makes it easy to learn. With this tool, a user can create G-code directly in the program as well as save and open DWG and DXF files. On the other hand, it doesn’t run LSIP routines and provides no express tools.
Running on Windows, MacOS, Ubuntu, or Fedora, DraftSight brings a host of features to your toolbox. For example, you’ll get access to the design library, where you can reuse assets from earlier projects. There’s also the capability to compare designs, add hardware symbols to a design, and append PDFs to the project file.
Unfortunately, DraftSight Standard is no longer available for free. However, if you’re currently using the free version of DraftSight, you can continue doing so until December 2019. Just know that, once you download the 2019 version, you’ll no longer be able to access or redownload any previous free version of the CAD program (2018 or earlier).
That said, DraftSight begins to really compete with AutoCAD as you scale up, offering advanced capabilities if you’re willing to pay.
Where to Download: Dassault Systèmes
Solid Edge, from Siemens, is a CAD solid modeling platform that uses parametric functions. The tool’s “synchronous technology” allows geometry to be created and modified on the fly, without having to be concerned with previous elements of the design.
With this platform, you’ll have no difficulty getting used to the interface. That means you’ll easily be able to make use of its many surfacing features and analysis tools to better prepare your models before they’re manufactured.
Solid Edge can only be used with Windows but allows you to work with your files on the cloud. The program can even be paired with Teamcenter to turn it into a full-blown PLM system.
You can also get a perpetual license through one of the program’s partners.
Where to Download: Siemens
FreeCAD is a free, open-source parametric CAD program offering the capability to 3D design objects of almost any size. Since the platform is built around parametric modeling, a designer can easily review the history and modify dimensions.
FreeCAD runs on Windows, MacOS, or Linux. It can import and export from various standard formats for 3D objects, and its modular architecture allows users to extend its functionality using plugins.
Pricing: Entirely free, but with options to donate
Where to Download: FreeCAD
BricsCAD is best known for having rich features in both 2D drawing and 3D modeling. In fact, those who are familiar with AutoCAD (the 2008 version) have noted that the two have similar interfaces, even though BricsCAD’s ribbon is a bit confusing. According to the developers, BricsCAD supports hundreds of third-party applications.
BricsCAD runs on Windows, MacOS, Ubuntu, or Fedora, is more affordable than AutoCAD, and offers six editions! Interestingly, starting with the Platinum edition, several advanced features (like 3D compare, BIM, and sheet metal tools) are unavailable in AutoCAD.
All these offerings have a perpetual license starting from $826 for the Classic edition up to $2,646 for Ultimate.
Where to Buy: Bricsys
LibreCAD is a free, high-quality open-source 2D modeling program that grew out of QCAD. It comes with plenty of powerful features and has a large following of designers and customers. LibreCAD resembles AutoCAD in many features and concepts. It’s particularly popular among Linux users who need a free CAD tool that can read DWG files (although it also works on Windows and MacOS).
LibreCAD’s interface is also similar to AutoCAD’s, and it uses AutoCAD’s DXF format for importing and saving. The CAD program has a large, loyal following of designers and customers, as it combines powerful features.
Pricing: Entirely free (thanks to friends and sponsors)
Where to Download: LibreCAD
NanoCAD is a CAD program that is powerful and DWG-compatible. In fact, according to Nanosoft’s CTO Dmitry Popov, it’s the first full-scale DWG CAD program available for free. The base paid version, NanoCAD Plus, goes for $180 and comes with a robust design, drafting tools, an open API, native DWG compatibility, and a familiar interface.
Some features offered by NanoCAD aren’t even available in AutoCAD, including a linetype editor, an Excel-style table editor, and raster manipulations.
Without registration and activation, the free trial version of NanoCAD can be used for educational and evaluation purposes.
Where to Download: Nanosoft
Feature image source: ArchDaily
License: The text of "2019 Best AutoCAD Alternatives (Some Are Free)" by All3DP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.