AutoCAD is a flagship product by Autodesk, the drafting industry’s juggernaut, designed to help its users with product or building design, manufacturing planning, construction, and civil infrastructure. It also costs much more than other programs that match its capabilities. For this reason, we are sharing this list of the best alternatives to AutoCAD.
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What Makes a Good AutoCAD Alternative?
If you’re an average student or hobbyist working on a lean budget, you don’t have to always pick AutoCAD. There are some worthy contenders with similar supporting infrastructure and critical functionality.
The challenge is in deciding which AutoCAD alternatives are worth your time, as the market is awash with ghastly knockoffs. You’ll obviously want more affordable alternatives to AutoCAD that offer similar features and read similar files, easily integrate with AutoCAD, and are intuitive to learn.
The most important factors to consider include:
- Cost – free drafting software is always a great option, but even lower-cost premium options are still better than the more than $1,700/year you’ll pay in subscription fees with AutoCAD.
- Compatibility – if you previously used AutoCAD or need to view and edit AutoCAD files, you’ll want to choose an alternative that’s compatible. It’s important to note that there is an official free AutoCAD file viewer available if you just need to view files.
- Cross-platform compatibility – even though AutoCAD is available for Windows, macOS, iOS, and Android, a Linux version still doesn’t exist.
- Built-in toolsets – AutoCAD contains built-in toolsets to get you started quickly with common tasks, such as architecture and electrical.
- Intuitive interface – despite all the complex tools and features, AutoCAD is still incredibly intuitive. The best alternatives are easy to learn and use and will ideally have ample documentation.
While LibreCAD works great for 2D models, FreeCAD is one of the best open-source alternatives to AutoCAD for 3D modeling, though it supports 2D as well. Plus, it’s designed for Windows, macOS, and Linux environments.
Parametric modeling is a core feature, allowing you to go back through various changes to build upon them. Dozens of file types are supported, included DWG. Grouped workbenches make it easy to find the tools you need for specific tasks, and more are being added regularly.
The large variety of tools in this free architectural design software can easily rival those in premium alternatives and AutoCAD itself. Plus, it’s free.
- Cross platform
- Support for dozens of file types
- Uses minimal resources to run on older systems
- Active community for support
- Parametric 2D sketcher
- Workbenches make it easier to use
- Steep learning curve
- Some features may be outdated, depending on community development
AutoCAD has had pretty good support for 3D modelling, but its greatest strengths remain as a 2D-design and drafting architectural software.
Solidworks is a parametric solid modeler focused mainly around 3D designs, so you’ll need to have some knowledge of engineering terms rather than just geometric ones.
The latest edition of SolidWorks has excellent features, like the ability to do freehand sketches on touchscreens. Despite being primarily focused around 3D modelling, its 2D sketching tool still remains functional, even though it’s much lighter than what you find in AutoCAD.
You have to request a quote for exact pricing, but the starting price is around $4,000 a year, along with an annual maintenance fee of over $1,000. Students can pay as little as $60 a year, and qualifying startups and entrepreneurs can even get it for free initially. The reason it’s so expensive is that it is so similar to AutoCAD. There’s also a cloud-based version, but once again, you have to request a quote.
- Excellent 3D modeling functionality
- Unbeatable in the fields of engineering and automation
- Compatible with DXF files
- Assesses weak points in designs
- Good 3D-printing compatibility
- Touchscreen-based sketching
- Some command-line functionality
- Windows only
- Limited 2D sketching
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This CAD platform is known for its reach features and has several familiar features, including native .dwg applications.
If you’re familiar with AutoCAD’s 2008 version, BricsCAD has a somewhat similar interface, plus rich features in 2D design and 3D direct modeling. You can use it with the major operating systems, such as macOS, Windows, and Linux, and hundreds of third-party apps from across the world that are based on .dwg.
Despite being a paid software like AutoCAD, BricsCAD is more affordable with four editions: Lite, Pro, BIM, and Mechanical. The latter two are feature-packed with tools that aren’t found in AutoCAD, such as Sheet Metal, 3D Compare, and BIM.
BricsCAD also integrates with the cloud, has a robust rendering engine, recognizes XREFS, and is customizable.
If you just need a basic 3D modeling solution, BricsCAD Shape is free. While it doesn’t have the same powerful features, it’s still an impressive offering for free architectural design software.
One great thing about BricsCAD is that you can try it for free for 30 days without a credit card. After that, you’ll have several options, including:
- Lite – $314/year or $560/lifetime
- Pro – $615/year or $1150/lifetime
- BIM – $1,010/year or $1,890/lifetime
- Mechanical – $950/year or $1,780/lifetime
- Ultimate (bundle of all editions) – $1,120/year or $2,100/lifetime
As you can tell, lifetime licenses make this significantly more affordable overall.
- Easy to use if you’re familiar with AutoCAD
- Faster LISP execution
- Perpetual licenses available
- Broad customization and development capability
- Built-in tools such as IFC import/export, architectural direct modeler with BIM database and SketchUp SKP
- Opens complex drawings faster
- You can read, edit, save AutoCAD files to .dwg
- Can use AutoCAD customization
- AI-enhanced predictive QUAD cursor works faster on large drawings
- Has a difficult document management tool
- Limited scope
Draftsight is a professional-grade alternative to AutoCAD, designed for users looking for better ways to read, write, and share .dwg files.
The open 2D CAD software is easy to use and based on advanced architecture with all the tools you need to create technical 2D drawings. From professional CAD users to educators and students, DraftSight is available for a free download and activation in a few minutes. It also runs on multiple OS platforms, including Windows 10 64-bit and macOS Mojave and higher.
Through its clear user interface, which makes DraftSight easy to use and learn, you can make accurate revisions, as design elements are stored in layers. You can also create G-Code directly in the program and save and open DXF and DWG files. It has a huge design library from which you can use existing designs, do batch-printing, and access macro recording.
However, it only comes in a paid version, but even the cheapest of its pricing plans is good for students or hobbyists. For businesses, DraftSight offers three plans: Professional, Premium, and Enterprise. As you scale up, the tool begins to compete with AutoCAD, offering advanced capabilities if you’re willing to fork over more for these features.
A free 30-day trial is available. This is one of the most affordable professional alternatives to AutoCAD. The plans are as follows:
- Professional – $199/year
- Premium – $480/year (adds 3D functionality)
- Enterprise/Enterprise Plus – pricing by quote only
- Many features
- Good for 2D modeling
- Easy to run with storage space
- Easy to learn and use
- Perpetual license available
- Save and open DWG and DXF files
- Compare designs, add symbols, or append PDFs to project files
- Doesn’t run LISP routines
- No express tools
- Not useful if you want specialized solutions
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Formerly Google SketchUp, this free tool is an excellent pick for CAD professionals.
SketchUp is a 3D-modeling program used for a wide range of uses, including interior design; architectural, civil, and mechanical engineering; and video game and film design.
Available as a freeware version, the tool works with several types of files, including DWG, DXF, OBJ, XSI, and more, and can export HD animations and PDFs.
While the architecture design software is mainly known for its free version, there are three premium plans available if you need more functionality, such as unlimited access to pre-built 3D models, unlimited cloud storage, and a desktop edition. These include:
- Shop (Web only) – $119/year
- Pro (desktop/Web) – $299/year
- Studio (desktop/Web) – $699/year
Promo codes are often available on the site to get the Pro and Studio plans on a discount.
- Easy to learn and use
- Easy to import different types of files
- Vast library to upload or download drawings
- Good for creating 3D models
- Integrates with third-party plugins
- Less detailed designs owing to lesser rendering ability
- Doesn’t let you create NURBS
- Desktop version is only compatible with Windows
This is another free alternative program that is feature-rich and commands a large following of customers and designers.
LibreCAD is a high-quality open-source 2D-modeling software birthed from QCAD (later known as CADuntu) and resembles AutoCAD in concept and features.
If you’re familiar with AutoCAD, using LibreCAD is easier, especially for Linux users and those who want a free CAD tool that reads DWG files too. It can also be used with Windows and Apple platforms and is based on Qt, a leading cross-platform application and UI-development framework.
- Easy to learn and use
- Reads DWG files and other ytpes
- Writes DXF files
- Source code is available on GitHub
- Seamless transition from AutoCAD
- Clutter-free interface
- Not resource-intensive
- Multilingual (more than 30 languages)
- Cross-platform support for Mac, Windows, and Linux OS
- Can export JPG, SVG, PDF, PNG, and other file types
- 2D only
- Only displays 2D views
- Can’t work on 3D models and rendering
If you prefer to try what LibreCAD started, check out QCAD. It’s one of the best AutoCAD alternatives for 2D models and is regularly updated.
It’s open source and cross-platform, working Linux, Mac, and Windows. If you’re new to CAD tools, it’s a good beginner-friendly option, but has ample features for more experienced users. The free version offers more than 40 construction tools and over 20 modification tools.
While the basic version is free, a Professional edition is available with a healthy dose of extra features, such as support for more file formats. However, it’s fairly inexpensive at just $39. The Professional version trial is bundled with the free version and offers a 15-minute trial per session.
- Built-in part library with over 4,800 CAD parts
- Basic version free
- Import and export DXF and DWG files
- Support for SVG, PDF, JPG, BMP, PNG, XPM, XBM, ICO, TIFF, and more
- Detailed documentation and active community
- Some file formats are Professional edition only
- 2D only
OpenSCAD is one of the more unique free AutoCAD alternatives that focuses on 3D modeling for machinery and parts. It’s designed for Linux/Unix, macOS, and Windows.
It works a little differently than most of the alternatives to AutoCAD on this list. It’s not an interactive 3D modeler. Instead, it works more like a compiler. You’ll use the code editor to make adjustments to colors, sizes, shapes, and positions. Instead of drawing things out yourself, you import libraries (which are free) to build your creation.
Of course, you can also import DXF, STL, and OFF files from AutoCAD and other alternatives on this list. If you’re trying to create detailed 3D models for printing, this is a surprisingly advanced tool once you get used to it. There are ample tutorials on the website to help you get started.
You may want to use a mind-mapping tool like the ones on this list to plan out your design before diving into the tool.
- Everything’s free
- Numerous libraries and free resources available on the website
- Has an active Thingiverse community
- Supports DXF, STL, and OFF files
- Isn’t a true design tool
- Has a learning curve
9. JTS IntelliCAD
When you need professional features at a fraction of the cost of AutoCAD, look no further than JTS IntelliCAD. Formerly known as TrueCAD, this premium tool supports all DWG and DXF versions from R2.2 and later.
Most of the the file formats you would want are supported, such as JPG, STL, BMP, TIFF, and more. Easily import and export PDF. There are numerous 2D design tools along with 3D modeling features. You can even use LISP programs within IntelliCAD or create your own.
While the software isn’t free, it’s just $149 for a perpetual license. If you choose to upgrade to a new version (which isn’t required), it’s only $80 to upgrade.
- Offers many of the same features as AutoCAD
- Supports many file formats
- Works for both 2D and 3D modeling
- Great support for DWG and DXF file versions
- No subscription or upgrades required
- Only available for Windows Vista and later
10. CMS IntelliCAD
CMS IntelliCAD is powered by IntelliCAD, just like JTS IntelliCAD. It’s often considered one of the best AutoCAD alternatives due to the features and file support.
CMS features DWG and DGN support, PDF import/export, and 2D and 3D modeling. Control your design using a command line, toolbars, and even a ribbon UI. An advanced visual styles and materials library makes it easier to get started on projects. There’s even full LISP compatibility and BIM support.
While it may seem overwhelming to beginners, this is a tool experienced AutoCAD users could fall in love with. A free trial is available.
- Perpetual license – $250
- One-year edition – $130
- Plus perpetual license – $300
- Subscription – $150/year
- Close AutoCAD competitor
- Advanced design and editing tools
- LISP support
- Native DWG and DGN support
- Only compatible with Windows
While the above are some of the best drafting software alternatives to AutoCAD, they’re not the only options that deserve a mention.
Some others you may want to check out that aren’t quite as feature rich but still great for personal use and smaller projects include:
- nanoCAD – Offers a free basic option for educational and personal projects only. Five premium plans are available starting at $180/year. It provides all the tools you need for most drafting projects and is compatible with DWG files. For commercial use and additional features, you’ll need to upgrade to a premium plan.
- SelfCAD – It’s easy enough for beginners to pick up quickly but advanced enough for professional designers to use. It’s perfect for both 2D and 3D models and has both a Web and desktop version (macOS/Windows). The basic version is completely free. Pro is $139/year, or you can buy the Lifetime version for $599. A 10-day free trial of Pro is available.
- Tinkercad – This is a free educational tool from Autodesk. While it’s not as feature-rich as AutoCAD, it’s an ideal alternative for beginners, hobbyists, and personal drafting projects. While it’s made for students and educators, you can create a personal account for free to start tinkering with new designs.
Frequently Asked Questions
How can I get the premium AutoCAD alternatives cheaper?
Many of the premium options on this list offer free and low-cost student editions. There may also be discounts for non-profits if you contact the company directly.
Is a free alternative to AutoCAD powerful enough to compete?
Yes. While they may not be as feature-rich, you can still create detailed designs. If you’ve ever used AutoCAD and never used even half of the features, you’d be much better off with a free alternative. If one doesn’t meet all your needs, consider using two different alternatives with complementary features.
Do these tools let me sketch out designs first?
Not really. Built-in shapes and lines are used to develop your designs. If you prefer a sketching tool, try these Windows-based sketching tools. Some are cross-platform, such as GIMP.
Image credit: SolidWorks, BricsCAD, CHIP, SketchUp, LibreCAD, CMS IntelliCAD, Kumpan Electric via Unsplash
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