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Best CAD Software
Why Use CAD Software?
We researched nine different programs for over 40 hours and compared them in order to find out which ones offer the most tools, the most file compatibility and the easiest user interfaces. TurboCAD Deluxe is the best CAD software overall because it 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, keeping your most-used tools at arm’s reach. 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 the best budget option since it costs less than other programs but still offers one of the widest ranges of tools and features. It 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 the best program for beginners. It 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 also has an extremely intuitive interface. You can customize and arrange the tool palettes any way you like with this software. And you can find the tools you are looking for quickly because each feature is marked with large icons instead of a list of features.
How We Evaluated What We Found
We last tested CAD software a few years ago, and most of the manufacturers have released updated versions. We're working on acquiring and testing the newer versions, but we know that most version releases offer small incremental changes over previous versions, so we're still comfortable recommending TurboCAD Deluxe as one of the best options. While the reviews connected to this page are based on the versions we tested, any links will take you to information about the most recent versions available.
We downloaded and used CAD software while evaluating construction sites such as construction estimation software and home design software. We used that testing to get an idea about how CAD software works and how it interacts with other programs.
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.
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.
Other Uses for CAD Software
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.
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 facilitate 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:
Since CAD Software is a very technical and professional-level software, it doesn't come cheap. The least expensive CAD programs cost roughly $100 while the more expensive ones can be closer to $1000. Costing more doesn't always mean the program is better. Some of the more expensive options don't offer nearly as many premade symbols or tools as others and some are harder to learn and use. You'll have to take in mind what features and file compatibility you most want from your CAD software and decide which program best fits your needs.
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 plenty of features 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.
What Are the Different Types of CAD?
As you look around at various CAD software, you’ll quickly realize that some programs specialize in a specific type of CAD. You’ll want to make sure that the program you buy matches the type of work you want to do. There are two basic types of CAD: 2D CAD and 3D CAD. As the names suggest, 2D CAD mainly works with flat drawings using basic geometry like lines and shapes. According to DesignTech Systems, 2D CAD was first developed in the 1970s for automobile, aerospace and other engineering companies. This type of software is helpful when drafting architectural blueprints, product schematics and any other 2D engineering layouts.
3D CAD introduces the z-axis so you can create more realistic models of your plans. 3D CAD can be broken up into three categories: wire-frame models, surface models and solid models. For wire-frame models, think about the 3D look of the original Tron movie. Elements of your designs are displayed as lines and the background is visible through the design. This style isn’t as popular as it used to be, but it still has its uses. These days, people mostly use it for artistic effect.
Surface models allow you to add textures and surfaces like car bodies to your designs. It’s basically the skin of a 3D element. Indovance states that “it lacks the solid tight feature of solid modeling because if you would cut into the design it would be hollow.” Surface modeling is mainly used for aesthetic purposes and visualization.
Solid models apply the same attributes as surface models but also take into account weight, volume and density. This helps engineers understand how their designs would work in the real world with physics and gravity taking effect. This type of CAD is necessary when calculating any weaknesses or errors in your designs. For this reason, solid models are usually considered the most important and helpful 3D CAD.