AutoCAD is perhaps the most well-known CAD software out there. It can be found in high schools and colleges, and it’s usually one of the first programs people learn when getting into CAD. This is partially due to the program’s intuitive interface and its free student edition. It also happens to be one of the few CAD programs that works on Mac.
This software is meant to create 2D designs for architecture, electrical systems, mechanical parts and more. AutoCAD might not be a good fit for more complex projects, but it has a wide range of tools and can be a great introduction to CAD programs. And if you want to focus more on a specific discipline, AutoDesk offers additional complimentary programs that focus more on engineering, architecture and construction.
When you first open AutoCAD, a page will pop up to walk you through the interface and teach you how to use the various layers and command functions. You will have access to a beginner handbook, intermediate guide and advanced skills document to help you learn and improve from your skill level. Very few CAD programs offer such helpful and beginner-friendly guides in their software.
AutoCAD also includes a library of materials, to give your work a more completed look. These materials include brick, wood and various colors. Additionally, this software lets you adjust the lighting of your projects and apply photorealistic rendering to better illustrate your designs.
AutoCAD can be viewed and edited on computers, tablets and smartphones, which makes it easier to share your work with your customers, coworkers and bosses.
Like other CAD programs, this one works in layers, allowing you to keep track of your various elements and change them when needed without disturbing the entire design. You can easily add and edit text both in 2D and 3D format.
Using this software, you will be able to create 2D images like maps, exploded-views with annotations, and blueprints. You will also be able to use the 3D modeling tools to create building models, mechanical components and more. You can even convert 2D images to 3D, and vice versa, to help you save time on your projects.
Note that while this software can help you create some basic 3D models, its power really lies in 2D image creation, which makes it ideal for blueprints and architectural designs. It isn’t the best fit for large, complex designs. If you’re wanting more powerful 3D CAD software, you might be interested in SolidWorks.
AutoCAD’s user interface features large icons and a simple layout, so you can find the tools you need quickly. The command line can be toggled on and off to give you more space when not in use, and it responds to a variety of commands so you can work more efficiently. You can also set up macros in this program to speed up frequently used tools and processes.
This software is compatible with a wide range of files including DWG, DXF, DWF, DGN, SKP, STEP and STL, among others. This means you can edit and adjust designs initially created in other programs and that you can 3D print your designs.
AutoDesk’s website splits AutoCAD’s support into eight different areas, so you can get help for your specific field of work. There is also an active online forum where you can ask questions and get help from other users, and there are plenty of troubleshooting and learning tutorials to help you work through difficult projects.
If you don’t find the help you need on the knowledgebase, you can contact the company by email or phone. Technical support is included with your software at no additional fee, so you can always get the help you need. While looking around, we also found plenty of user-created YouTube tutorials so you’ll be able to find additional help outside of the company, if necessary.
Unfortunately, you must choose a subscription when purchasing AutoCAD, as there are no one-time purchase options. There are three different subscription options to choose from: one year of service for $1,575, three years of service for $4,725 or monthly payments of $195. These are the prices we found at the time of publication. It's definitely not the most economical software on the market, but it is decently priced considering all of its tools and features.
AutoCAD is one of five CAD programs in our comparison that offers free software for students, educators and schools. AutoDesk specifically states that the student edition must be used for educational purposes only. You will need to provide proof to AutoDesk that you are a student, educator or school to get access to this version.