Aug 22, 2018

SketchUp Alternative – Best Alternatives

Looking for an alternative to SketchUp? Although SketchUp is one of the most widely used CAD programs for beginners, plenty of great alternatives exist that may be even better-suited for your 3D modeling needs. And so, we've gathered the best of the rest and explained why you should try them out.

SketchUp

First launched in 2000, SketchUp is a popular CAD program that does its best to provide a simple, intuitive user interface. As described by their slogan “Think in 3D. Draw in 3D.”, most of the workflow is easy to grasp and can be learned in a matter of minutes.

Though primarily used for architectural rendering, people have used SketchUp to make robots, sculptures, and 3D printable objects. Perhaps the biggest reason for its popularity is SketchUp’s 3D Warehouse. This massive library of models, ranging from furniture to screws to entire buildings, can be easily imported into any project to save you the hassle of drawing them yourself.

There’s two versions of SketchUp: SketchUp Free and SketchUp Pro. The Free version is totally web-based and runs in almost any browser, while the Pro version ($695 for lifetime use) runs on Windows/Mac with added features and tools. Educator and student discounts are also available on their site.

Alternative #1: Fusion 360

Fusion 360 is a cloud-based CAD program made by Autodesk. It features a parametric modeling system with a timeline that makes it easy to view previous changes and edit as necessary. The interface may take some getting used to for beginners, but ultimately Fusion unlocks more powerful modeling capabilities than SketchUp.

Main features include:

  • Files stored on Autodesk account and can be accessed from any computer
  • Share files for collaboration with others
  • Modern interface with good documentation and tutorials

Use Fusion 360 if you’re looking for more beefy and precise modeling that can be shared with others.

Alternative #2: AutoCAD

AutoCAD is also made by Autodesk and is used professionally by architects to create plans and 3D models. It’s definitely a huge step up from SketchUp in terms of complexity, but if you’re looking to learn an industry standard, this is it. 

Main features include:

  • 2D CAD modelling
  • Create engineering or architectural building plans and drafts
  • Lots of tools to model exactly what you want

Use AutoCAD if you’re a professional (or on your way to becoming one!) that needs something more detailed than SketchUp to model buildings. 

Alternative #3: Inventor

Inventor is yet another CAD program made by Autodesk, similar to Fusion 360 but aimed more towards professionals. Its feature-rich system is built for handling enormous projects in an efficient manner.

Main features include:

  • Parametric modelling with a history tree
  • Windows-only
  • Can simulate models in a variety of situations for stress-testing, fluid dynamics, etc.

Use Inventor if you’re a professional that needs to model something complicated with many, many parts (eg. a car engine). 

Alternative #4: Blender

Blender is a totally free, open source software that can do an unbelievably wide range of things. Popular among both professionals and beginners, it’s a great all-around tool with a moderately high learning curve.

Main features include:

  • Tools for modelling, sculpting, rendering, animation, simulation, and even game creation in one program
  • Completely free with hundreds of tutorials online and a large community
  • Very fast to use if familiar with it, but can be difficult to learn initially

Use Blender if you want to go from CAD model to realistic render all in one space. It’s also great for creating both organic and non-organic shapes at the same time.

Alternative #6: Tinkercad

Tinkercad is a browser-based program specifically designed for 3D printing and CAD beginners. With a drag-and-drop interface and library of basic shapes pre-made for you, it’s great for the beginner 3D printer enthusiast.

Main features include:

  • Colorful and simple to use with many tutorials to get started
  • Import and export files to 3D print or laser cut
  • Building with basic shapes can be limiting for complicated models

Use Tinkercad for simple models or as an introduction to CAD modeling for 3D printing.

Alternative #5: SolidWorks

SolidWorks is another popular CAD software on par (and arguably above) the likes of Autodesk Inventor or Fusion 360. Though definitely harder to learn than SketchUp, SolidWorks is packed with advanced features that companies use to design and manufacture products. All this functionality certainly doesn’t come cheap, however – you’ll have to contact their site to get a quote for an annual subscription.

Main features include:

  • Used in many industrial and professional environments
  • Parametric modeling, simulation, and CAM tools all rolled in one
  • Large community to help with conquering the learning curve

If you’re looking for a career that requires CAD design, SolidWorks is a popular request in job posts and may be worth the investment.

Alternative #7: Sculptris

Pixologic’s Sculptris is essentially a simplified version of their other popular sculpting tool ZBrush. It’s a great free tool for beginners to explore the world of 3D sculpting without getting too overwhelmed, with a healthy community supporting them. From a simple blob to a bust of Julius Caesar, the 3D clay can be molded and chiseled into any shape you desire.

Main features include:

  • Easy to use interface with sculpting brushes
  • Export to ZBrush easily
  • Extra tools like customizable brushes and masks to make sculpting easier

Try out Sculptris if you want to make organic models or explore the world of 3D sculpting.

Alternative #8: Rhino

Rhino is a CAD program that sits in the middle of artistry and engineering. Unlike Fusion 360 or Inventor which are best suited for parametrically described models, Rhino allows more flexibility in the shapes you can create with curves and organic patterns. Many users prefer to model with its Grasshopper tool, which defines each model with commands and programs to create complex shapes that would be difficult via parametric modeling.

Main features include:

  • Easy to make organic shapes (earrings, sculptures, etc) 
  • Lots of plugins and other tools developed through open-source
  • Comprehensive tools to take you from first model to final render

Use Rhino if you want a flexible, advanced CAD program and don’t mind paying for it (though there is a free 90-day trial). 

Alternative #9: LibreCAD

LibreCAD is a 2D CAD software that serves as a great way to learn and practice 2D modeling. It’s completely free and open-sourced, with a healthy user base around it to boot. 

Main features include:

  • Lightweight and simple 2D CAD
  • Command line box to draw using direct commands
  • Lots of formats available for easy import/export 

Try out LibreCAD if you a free, easy way to model in 2D.

Alternative #10: Shapr3D

Shapr3D is a CAD program made especially for iPads with the Apple Pencil. With a clean user interface and all your main modeling functions, Shapr3D is a great way to create on-the-go and bring your models with you everywhere.

Main features:

  • Simple, gorgeous user experience on the iPad with sketch, extrude, revolve, booleans, and more
  • Free and Pro versions, education licenses available (more information here)
  • Easy to import and export to other CAD software for workflow integration

If you have an iPad and Apple Pencil or want to try out a surprisingly functional CAD app, try Shapr3D.

Related Articles

Want to continue the hunt for the perfect CAD and 3D modeling tool? Here are some great related articles to help you on your journey:

  1. 30 Best Free CAD Software Tools 2018 (2D/3D CAD Programs)
  2. 10 Best Free Online CAD/3D Modeling Software Tools of 2018
  3. Best CAD Software of 2018 – For Pros Only

License: The text of "SketchUp Alternative – Best Alternatives" by All3DP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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