May 22, 2019

7 Best AutoCAD Alternatives in 2019 (4 Are Free)

Looking for an AutoCAD alternative? Check out the best options available right now. Even if AutoCAD is the top choice in the industry, there are other powerful tools that can match its capabilities.

AutoCAD Alternative AutoCAD: The CAD of Choice

Designing in AutoCAD. Source: GrabCAD

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 for 2018 and 30 best free CAD software tools for 2019.

AutoCAD Alternative About Our Selection

Not all CAD platforms "measure up". Source: FreeCAD

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:

  • Does the program have a practical feature set that can meet the needs of an obvious necessity?
  • Is the program easy to use? Does it have a smooth learning curve?
  • Does the program have good support or an active online community that can answer the common questions?
  • Is the program natively interoperable with other solutions?
  • Does the program have a free trial to give the user a chance to test the program?

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.

1

AutoCAD Alternative SketchUp (Free)

SketchUp Pro interface. Source: ArchDaily

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.

Pricing:

  • SketchUp Free: Entirely free but is online-based
  • SketchUp Shop: $119/year
  • SketchUp Pro: $299/year

Pros

  • Easy-to-use 3D modeling platform
  • Capable of handling professional use cases
  • Has a straightforward user interface
  • Supports several file types, importing XSI, OBJ, VRML, DWG, and DXF and exporting PDFs and HD animations
  • Has a vast model library: 3D Warehouse
  • Has a plugin repository: Extension Warehouse
  • Offers the same core tools in both the Free and Pro versions
  • Provides 10 GB of cloud storage for SketchUp Fre

Cons

  • Limited to modeling and texturing (i.e. hard to use for complex modeling)
  • Does not allow for the creation of NURBS (smoother surfaces compared to polygons)
  • Fiddly when modeling with high poly counts
  • Tends to crash when rendering a lot of patch and vertex surfaces

Where to Download: SketchUp

2

AutoCAD Alternative Fusion 360

A snapshot of Fusion 360 in action. Source: Autodesk

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.

Pricing:

  • Monthly: $60
  • Yearly: $495
  • Every 3 years: $1,335

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.

Pros

  • Powerful 3D CAM, CAM, and CAE platform
  • Has a robust suite of modeling tools, including parametric modeling as well as organic modeling features
  • Offers cloud-based execution, storage, sharing, and collaboration
  • Can import/export common CAD file types
  • Can be learned through Autodesk’s training courses
  • Works alongside platform-specific apps for Android and iOS
  • More affordable than AutoCAD, with trials versions available
  • Updated on a monthly basis

Cons

  • Has restricted offline functionality
  • Lacks some tools that many designers will be accustomed to
  • Has some unintuitive functions
  • Has no way of creating true revisions

Where to Download: Fusion 360

3

AutoCAD Alternative DraftSight

DraftSight interface. Source: DraftSight Blog

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.

Pricing:

  • DraftSight Standard: $99/year
  • DraftSight Professional: $199/year
  • DraftSight Premium: $499/year

Pros

  • Easy-to-use program for technical 2D drawings
  • Easy on RAM and hard disk space
  • Supports DWG and DXF files
  • Offers a perpetual license
  • Can be used to generate G-code

Cons

  • Lacks 3D capabilities
  • Less useful if you’re looking for specialized solutions
  • Presents some commands poorly
  • Lacks “power tools”, which would enable line cleanups

Where to Download: Dassault Systèmes

4

AutoCAD Alternative Solid Edge

Generative design in Solid Edge ST 10. Source: Siemens PLM / YouTube

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.

Pricing:

  • Solid Edge Design and Drafting: $75/month
  • Solid Edge Foundation: $185/month
  • Solid Edge Classic:  $230/month
  • Solid Edge Premium: $329/month

You can also get a perpetual license through one of the program’s partners.

Pros

  • Professional solid modeling software
  • Includes advanced features, like flow simulation, generative design, and convergent modeling
  • Supports a number of files types, including STL, IGES, DXF, and DWG
  • Features easy-to-perform CFD analysis
  • Has easy interoperability with CAM Express
  • Comes with an impressive array of PCB design tools
  • Allows you to design freely and reuse 3D features from previous versions
  • Works well with imported geometry
  • Allows you to work and collaborate through the cloud, in real-time and from anywhere

Cons

  • No longer compatible with 32-bit machines
  • Can be heavy on the processor
  • Can be unintuitive

Where to Download: Siemens

5

AutoCAD Alternative FreeCAD (Free)

Satnogs Rotator on FreeCAD. Source: Freecadweb.org

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

Pros

  • Free 3D modeling platform
  • Easily extendible through plugins
  • Supports many file types, including STEP, IGES, OBJ, STL, DXF, SVG, and STL
  • Open-source, with its source code hosted on GitHub under an LGPL
  • Can run large-scale Python or C++ scripts
  • Is a “mash-up” of many libraries, like Coin3D, Qt, and open-cascade

Cons

  • Vulnerable to bugs
  • Can be difficult to use (if unfamiliar with parametric modeling)
  • Can be difficult to navigate

Where to Download: FreeCAD

6

AutoCAD Alternative BricsCAD

BricsCAD interface. Source: Design Engineering

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.

Pricing:

  • BricsCAD Classic: $330/year
  • BricsCAD Pro: $442/year
  • BricsCAD Platinum: $624/year
  • BricsCAD BIM: $962/year
  • BricsCAD Mechanical: $910/year
  • BricsCAD Ultimate: $1,058/year

All these offerings have a perpetual license starting from $826 for the Classic edition up to $2,646 for Ultimate.

Pros

  • Well-built 2D and 3D CAD platform
  • Zero learning curve for AutoCAD users
  • Supports DWG and DXF files
  • Has broad customization and development capabilities using ADS, SDS, BRX, .NET, VBA, DCL, and LISP
  • Comes with an AI-enhanced predictive QUAD cursor that increases speed when working on a large drawing
  • Has more than 1,000 partner add-on solutions in the Pro edition, including HVAC, AEC, GIS, mapping, survey, and landscape among others
  • Many different payment options
  • Offered through perpetual licenses

Cons

  • Has a limited scope
  • Does not support STEP, IGES, or SolidWorks file formats

Where to Buy: Bricsys

7

AutoCAD Alternative LibreCAD (Free)

LibreCAD interface. Source: cesdb.com

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)

Pros

  • Free 2D design program
  • Open-source, with its source code hosted on GitHub under a GPL
  • Provides a seamless transition from AutoCAD
  • Resource-light, able to operate on average hardware
  • Provides an uncluttered interface, which is perfect for beginners
  • Comes in over 30 languages
  • Provides cross-platform support for Windows, Linux, and MacOS

Cons

  • 2D only and can only display 2D views

Where to Download: LibreCAD

8

AutoCAD Alternative NanoCAD (Free)

3D modeling in nanoCAD. Source: nanoCAD India / YouTube

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.

Pricing:

  • NanoCAD trial: free
  • NanoCAD Plus: from $180
  • NanoCAD Pro: from $290
  • NanoCAD Mechanica: from $300
  • NanoCAD 3DSCAN: request a quote

Without registration and activation, the free trial version of NanoCAD can be used for educational and evaluation purposes.

Pros

  • Strong and affordable CAD program
  • Brings many features that AutoCAD lacks
  • Can import various image formats, including PCX, TIF, BMP, JPG, PNG, and JPEG
  • Can import and work with point clouds (including XYZ, LAS, PTS, PCD, PTX, and BIN)
  • Can import IFC file formats with BIM
  • Has an open API for developers, which is free to access

Cons

  • Lacks operations for solid 3D objects
  • Does not offer associative hatches, dynamic input, or library objects with behavioral properties

Where to Download: Nanosoft

Feature image source: ArchDaily

License: The text of "7 Best AutoCAD Alternatives in 2019 (4 Are Free)" by All3DP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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