Why Use CAD Software?
The top performers in our review are TurboCAD Deluxe, the Gold Award winner; DesignCAD 3D Max, the Silver Award winner; and SketchUp Pro, the Bronze Award winner. Here’s more on choosing a program to meet your needs, along with details on how we arrived at our ranking of 10 systems.
Computer-aided design software can help you turn 2D and 3D designs into useful models and prototypes for a variety of fields. From floor plans and landscaping to kitchen remodels and 3D printing, CAD software has the tools to help you build and customize designs from the ground up. Whether you're a hobbyist beginner, a professional engineer or an architecture student, you'll want a CAD program tailored to your needs.
CAD programs range from consumer-based packages, like the ones in our lineup, to professional applications, like AutoCAD. Consumer-based CAD software, while offering much of the same functionality as professional applications, doesn't require the same steep learning curve and costly licensing.
While it’s commonly known that CAD software is a staple for engineers, that is only one of its many uses. Other designs it can be used for include architecture, auto design, map charting, fashion, interior design and landscaping. You can also use it to design musical instruments, toys, household tools and appliances – and the list goes on. This is incredibly diverse software. With the advent of 3D printing, you can create 3D CAD designs that can be transformed into real-life models before your eyes. When compared with professional CAD software, this software is simplified, easier to use and more affordable, but extremely effective in creating professional-looking designs. As such, it is well suited for novice and experienced designers alike.
If you want to learn more about how CAD software can help you create tangible designs, read some of our latest CAD software articles. Finding the right CAD program for your unique projects can reduce heavy lifting and leave you free to exercise your creativity.
CAD Software: What to Look For
When shopping for computer-aided design software, a few features and tools stand out as key indicators of good software. During our CAD software review research, we found that tools like a command line, house wizard, comprehensive video tutorials and a few others were all included with the best CAD software.
You should look for CAD tools that facilitates your specific interests. If you want to create architectural designs, for instance, you will want the best 3D modeling tools you can find. You should have the ability to create textures for different floor plans as well as a high-functioning wall tool that makes creating walls an intuitive process. If you don’t have a lot of experience, the house wizard is an invaluable tool that walks you through the process of building a virtual structure. Here are some things to look for when deciding on the right program for you:
Designing 2D and 3D models is the essence of any good CAD program, so you'll want to be sure your choice has all the right tools. Some programs are only for 2D drawings or 3D modeling, but the best software has a range of feature for both. For architectural designs, look for a wall tool and house wizard to do some of the work for you. The wizard will guide you through a step-by-step process to design a house. It takes the information you provide and creates a preliminary design that you can then revise to your liking. Photorealistic rendering is another important feature that enables you to see what your finished designs will really look like.
CAD packages should come with many different editing tools. Point markers and layer managers can help you keep your designs organized. Text and color editing allow you to keep notes and distinguish between different elements and pieces of your project. A snap tool allows the shapes and lines that you draw to be snapped to a specific point on your drawing so that they are placed exactly where you need them. Many programs also come with 2D and 3D symbols and included models so you won't have to create each small element individually from scratch.
Whether you're working with a team or by yourself, you'll need to be able to present and utilize your designs. File compatibility is one aspect of CAD drawing software you don't want to overlook. DWG (a file format used in 2D and 3D drawings), DXF (Drawing Interchange Format), DWF (Design Web Format) and DGN (used for large scale projects and similar to DWG) are the most important formats to look for if you're working with AutoCAD. For 3D printing, an STL export feature is handy. For printing or emailing read-only files, look for PDF and various image file formats for easy transfer.
Easy CAD software might sound like a contradiction, but in truth many programs have resources and features to make the software easier to use. The best programs have customizable tool palettes, a command line – where you type in a command like “symbol” and the program will pull the appropriate menu or dialogue box in response – and the ability to import existing designs from another location. The best programs also have a setup manager that lets you change the settings on your document, and macro recordings, which let you consolidate and easily access frequently used command strings, to save you even more time.
Help & Support
Both 3D and 2D CAD software can be hard to learn, so it’s nice to have a support network to walk you through the process. Email is the main source of direct contact with many CAD software manufacturers, but the best companies will offer phone support as well. Also, some technical support is only included for free for a limited time, so be sure to read the fine print before you install your software. Video tutorials, an in-program manual and community forums are also convenient sources for additional help. Many of the websites have video tutorials and PDF manuals you can download. You can find a wealth of helpful instructional videos on YouTube that will help you refine your skills in using the software.
CAD Software: Our Verdict and Recommendations
We identified the best CAD software on the market. The best options are TurboCAD Deluxe, SketchUp Pro and BricsCAD Classic. Each has a strong set of individual strengths that make it worthy of being called the best on the market.
TurboCAD Deluxe has equally strong 2D and 3D features to facilitate a wide variety of projects that range in complexity. You can design something as simple as a chair or as complex as a house. This program has great custom tool palette functionality. You can create custom tool menus that you can easily access from your desktop, giving you easy access to the tools you use the most. You can easily update them as you phase new tools into your set or delete palettes that you don’t use anymore.
DesignCAD 3D Max is easy to navigate and includes a lot of time-saving tools. It has customizable features and is one of the best software packages for creating 3D and 2D architectural designs. You have 600 complimentary models to extract features from so you don’t have to start from scratch. The wall tool will allow you to easily separate areas of the house.
SketchUp Pro is one of the easiest programs to use in our lineup thanks to a virtual warehouse with thousands of models that you can extract features from. It has an extremely intuitive interface. You can customize and arrange the tool palettes any way you like with this software. You can find the tools you are looking for quickly because each feature is marked with large icons instead of a list of features.
The best 3D CAD software has a wide range of features, including custom tool palettes and 2D and 3D template models, and an easy-to-use interface. Whether you're looking for top-of-the-line or inexpensive CAD software, be sure the program you choose has the right tools for your line of work.