5 of the Best Alternatives to AutoCAD

Best Autocad Alternatives Featured

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.

The sleek, three-dimensional, computer-aided design software is fully-featured but costs a lot more than other programs that match its capabilities. Since 1982, when it was made available, AutoCAD’s wide range of features and versatility for use in several industries make it the go-to product for professionals, students, and hobbyists alike.

However, Autodesk no longer offers perpetual licensing for AutoCAD and switched to a subscription-based licensing instead, which forces users to seek out alternatives. In the long run it may be costlier to make the switch, though for CAD pros who aren’t limited budget-wise, paying more than $1200 may seem worthwhile.

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. Our five AutoCAD alternatives aren’t just affordable but read similar files to those AutoCAD reads, easily integrate with AutoCAD, and are intuitive to learn.

1. SolidWorks

For a while, AutoCAD has had pretty good support for 3D modelling, but its greatest strengths remain as a 2D-design and drafting architectural software.

Autocad Alternatives Solidworks

Solidworks, as the name suggests, is a parametric solid modeller focused mainly around 3D designs. That means 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 touch-screens. 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.

What we like

  • 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

What we don’t like

  • Windows only
  • Limited 2D sketching
  • Expensive

2. BricsCAD

This CAD platform is known for its reach features and has several familiar features including native .dwg applications.

Best Autocad Alternatives Bricscad

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, which are based on .dwg.

Despite being a paid software like AutoCAD, BricsCAD is more affordable with three editions: Classic, Pro, and Platinum. The latter is feature-packed with tools that aren’t found in AutoCAD such as Sheet metal, 3D Compare, and BIM.

BricsCAD also integrates with cloud, has a robust rendering engine, recognizes XREFS, and is customizable.

What we like

  • 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

What we don’t like

  • Has a difficult document management tool (V15 Pro version)
  • Limited scope

3. DraftSight

Draftsight is a professional-grade alternative to AutoCAD, designed for users looking for better ways to read, write, and share .dwg files.

Best Autocad Alternatives Draftsight

The open 2D CAD software is easy to use and is 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 XP/Vista/7.

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 also has a huge design library from which you can use existing designs, do batch-printing, and also access macro recording.

However, it only comes in a paid version, so if you’re on a low budget, you can go with the cheapest of its pricing plans. This is good for students or hobbyists. For businesses, DraftSight offers three plans: Professional, Premium, and Enterprise, with pricing varying with your needs. 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.

What we like

  • 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

What we don’t like

  • Doesn’t run LISP routines
  • No express tools
  • Lacks 3D capability
  • Not useful if you want specialized solutions
  • Free version only good for quick drawings and calculations

4. SketchUp (Free)

Formerly Google SketchUp, this free tool is an excellent pick for CAD professionals.

Best Autocad Alternatives Sketchup

SketchUp is a 3D-modeling program used in a wide range of applications from interior design; architectural, civil, and mechanical engineering; 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, plus can export HD animations and PDFs.

What we like

  • 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

What we don’t like

  • Less detailed designs owing to lesser rendering ability
  • Doesn’t let you create NURBS

5. LibreCAD (Free)

This is another free alternative program you can use that is feature-rich and commands a large following of customers and designers.

Best Autocad Alternatives Librecad

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, it’s easier to use LibreCAD, 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.

What we like

  • Free
  • 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
  • Multi-lingual (more than thirty languages)
  • Cross-platform support for Mac, Windows, and Linux OS
  • Can export JPG, SVG, PDF, PNG, and other file types

What we don’t like

  • 2D only
  • Only displays 2D views
  • Can’t work on 3D models and renderings

Are there other great AutoCAD alternatives you use? Let us know why you prefer them in a comment below.

Image credit: BricsCAD, CHIP, SketchUp, LibreCAD

2 comments

  1. There is Autodesk Fusion360, which is free in a Student edition. Personally I don’t know the limitations of the Student edition, because I can use the full version with a campus licensing scheme.

    Pros: F360 is good for 3D and 2D, can import DWG and DXF files and is good for 3D-printing and also milling and laser cutting, provided you got the proper plugins or drivers for your machine.

    Cons: drawings reside in the Autodesk cloud, which is sometimes slow or disturbed by firewall issues in large companies, updating of the program is done during runtime but may fail or is also slow, especially if you haven’t used the program for some weeks. It might be necessary to re-install it again.

  2. With the exception of a few, most of the best AutoCAD alternatives are also moving towards the subscription based model. That includes SolidWorks, BricsCAD, and Draftsight. I’ve been tracking them for quite a while.

    For a strong CAD-a-like experience, I would also recommend CMS IntelliCAD. It has a very familiar UI, a great library for 3D and architectural design, and it also handles Microstations (and .dgn .dwg conversion) with ease.

    GstarCAD also belongs on this list.

    But I would have to say, I do think BricsCAD is the absolute closest to AutoCAD I have ever seen. And, it has a built-in IDE for scripting, LISP compatibility, is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux, and an incredible library of 3rd-party add-ons.

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