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3 Best 3D Architecture Software Tools You Should Use

Picture of Max Gicklhorn
by Max Gicklhorn
Sep 6, 2017

3 Best 3D Architecture Software Tools You Should Use

Table of Contents

Are you looking for an architectural software? Here is a list of the best 3D architecture software to choose from.

 As an architect, you design for the present, with an awareness of the past, for a future which is essentially unknown. (Sir Norman Foster)

By the middle of the nineties, architects had mainly drawn up their plans with a pencil and ink pencil. This has changed completely. The computer is an integral part of architecture offices, with 3D architecture software, the planning of projects became easier and faster. Drawing with computers allows faster changes. Masses and dimensions can automatically be generated from the plans and used in programs for calculation and billing. The possibilities of architectural software spread from the visualization of a big building to a design study of a small chair.

What You Need To Know Before You Buy 3D Architecture Software

Whether you are having trouble choosing your first Software to learn CAD or just want to learn about the features of other programs, we hope to give you a clear overview of the best architectural software to choose from.

Since it can be a very challenging task to choose an architectural software, often you orientate yourself on others and use the software that they are most familiar with. A closer look, however, can really be worthwhile, because not only the prices vary, but also the interests on which the respective systems have specialized on. For example, if you are very fond of designing furniture, Rhino 3D would definitely be the best. However, for the detailed planning of traditionally planned buildings, you’d want to resort to Vectorworks or Archicad.

However, you can not generalize this: All of these computer programs can create all necessary plans for the most complicated architectural projects. The architectural software packages, however, often differ in price, compatibility with different operating systems, and rendering capabilities.

It is also important to be aware that most architectural software require a certain system performance, which is especially necessary to know when thinking about buying a new computer. A certain system requirement also means that only certain laptops can cope with these. Here is a list of the best laptops for architects on the market:

Recommended Macintosh Laptops for 3D Architecture Software

If you really want an Apple computer but are afraid you can’t use some Windows programs you need for your work, there is always a way to run Windows on your Mac. Some say, running architectural softwares on Windows will increase the speed and the possibilities of connecting your CAD Plan to other softwares:

Check out these different possibilities to get Windows on a Mac:

  1. Virtual Machine such as Parallels : allows you to run Windows in the background of Mac OS
  2. Boot Camp: on most of the Apple Computer it possible to run Windows, simply open Bootcamp Assistant on your Mac

Recommended Windows Laptops for 3D Architecture Software

If you want to run CAD on a Windows computer, you want some “punch” behind it. Here are Windows-based laptops which are great for 3D architecture software:

We also compared the prices to each other and gave you a quick look at the possibility every architectural software has.

Based on these different criteria, we presented the different 3D architecture software to help you ease the struggle of choosing one.


Best 3D Architecture Software Tools Vectorworks

This 3D Architecture Software is very graphically oriented. Therefore, it is well suited for presentations and competitions. You are also able to create simple 2D and 3D CAD drawings with it.

Through annual updates, the software has evolved a lot. You are now able to plan from small to very large 3D projects and also use the BIM (Building information modeling) feature. Vectorworks consists of a basic module and extensions for architecture, interior design and landscape architecture.

The fact that Vectorworks is taught in many architectural schools results in many offices using this architectural software.

Great Offices such as Bearth & Deplazes Architekten AG use the architectural software Vectorworks and due to BIM the possibilities are endless.

By controlling CAM and CNC, it is also possible to prepare various parts for manufacturing in a machine. Furniture or complex structures can be created in that way.

A great advantage of Vectorworks is that among many large architectural offices, there are also carpenters, craftsmen and especially landscape architects using this architectural software, which makes it a great interchangeable format to work with.

System Requirements Vectorworks:

  • Operating System: from Mac OS X 10.10, Windows 7 SP 1 (64-bit) and up
  • Processor: 64-bit Intel Core i5 (or AMD equivalent) clocked at 2Ghz or better
  • RAM: 4GB minimum, 8 GB recommended, > 8GB – 16GB recommended for large files and complex renderings.
  • Graphics Card: OpenGL 2.1 compatible graphics card. A dedicated graphics card is highly recommended. VRAM: 1GB (minimum), 2GB-4GB (recommended)
  • For use of Vectorworks with Vision: OpenGL 3.0 compatible graphics card, a dedicated graphics card is required. VRAM: 1GB (minimum), 2GB – 4GB (recommended)
  • Screen Resolution: 1440 x 900 minimum, 1920 x 1080 or higher recommended

For more information click here.

Cost of the 3D Architectural Software Vectorworks

Vectorworks offers a free 30 Day trial their architectural software: get it here. 

How to get the architectural software free:

  1. register here and apply for Free Educational Software
  2. download the latest version: Vectorworks 2017
  3. Install the architectural software and add your license key sent to you by Email.

The full version of the architectural software: In order to actually plan your building you need a license which cost 2945 $ a year. Click here to get your full version architectural software license. There an annual service update for the architectural software available.

Other Capabilities of  the architectural software Vectorworks:

  • Cloud Services: allows you to work on a project as a Team and for example continue working on a project your partner couldn’t complete.
  • Ease of use: Vectorworks is very easy to learn, either through the many online tutorial the company has or a workshop at your University
  • Easily create stairways.

Animation/ Rendering:

Auer Weber: Hafenspitze Mainz

With the add-on architectural software Renderworks, simple photorealistic rendering with materials and shadows can be created. The quality is very good as Vectorworks uses Cinema 4D’s excellent rendering engine. For more information: click here


Best 3D Architecture Software Tools ArchiCAD

The name itself says everything, ArchiCAD is a 3D architecture software specially designed for architects and interior architects. Since the beginning, walls, doors, windows, ceilings, staircases, and roofs have been two and three-dimensional.

The integration of closed ones has always been self-evident. With ArchiCAD, architects receive all tools to plan buildings.

The program has been continuously refined with annual updats. Also different store heights and sloping walls are createdArchiCAD is suitable for small buildings and interiors as well as for very large building projects

With the possibility to work in a team, several employees can be involved in a project at the same time. BIM has been integrated into ArchiCAD for several years. Data exchange with the engineers takes place via the DWG and IFC interfaces. For this, however, the corresponding settings must be made, which is not necessary with Autocad.

With ArchiCAD you can always create simple realistic renderings with materials and shadows. The program is easy to learn and easy to use. At universities and colleges, it is very much used in architecture, the distribution in architecture offices is very high.

The great advantage of ArchiCAD is that it has been specially developed for a user group where the program is very successful in competitions, design planning and execution and detail planning. ArchiCAD, like Vectorworks and Allplan, is part of the Nemetschek Group, thus ensuring a continuous improvement.

  • System Requirements
  • Operating System: Mac OSX 10.9 or later, Windows 7 or later
  • Processor: 64-bit processor
  • RAM: 2 GB
  • Graphics Card: OpenGL 2.1 compatible graphics card, a dedicated graphics card is highly recommended. VRAM: 1GB (minimum), 2GB – 4GB (recommended)
  • Screen Resolution: A resolution of 1024 x 768 or higher is required

Cost of the 3D Architecture Software ArchiCAD

How to get the architectural software for free:

  1. 1) Register here.
  2. 2) Download Archicad 21

Full version: Starting from 300 $ for beginning architects up to 6800$ for a yearly license, needs to be ordered from your local CAD Professionals. Get it here.

 Other Capabilities of ArchiCAD:

  • DWG interface: Easy data exchange with engineers
  • BIM Server: fixed part of the architectural software bundle

Animation/ Rendering

Architects have always been able to use the ArchiCAD shadows in their buildings, but through the integration of Cinema 4D it is possible to generate photorealistic rendering. With a postprocessing on Photoshop, their projects can be even more realistic.

For more information: click here.


Best 3D Architecture Software Tools Rhinoceros

Image of Best 3D Architecture Software Tools: Rhinoceros

The 3D architecture software Rhino is particularly well known for the realization of complex structures. In addition, it is also able to visualize furniture, vehicles and many other items compared to other conventional ones. Structural design in an architectural software can be used to combine the design of a building with a functioning construction.

Rhinoceros is used in a variety of work areas, whether it is machine builders or toy manufacturers. Thus, it can be an advantage to approach the architectural software since it offers an enormous number of possibilities and is much more flexible than the conventional 3D architecture software.

Due to the many possibilities, this architectural software is unfortunately not free for students.

For a guide to Rhino 5, check this good tutorial book out.

System Requirements:

  • Operating System: macOS 10.8.5 (Mountain Lion) and up, Windows 10, 8.1, 8, or 7 recommended
  • Processor: 64bit are as follows: Intel Core i5 7400 Quad Core or AMD equivalent
  • RAM: 8 GB RAM
  • Graphics Card: Open GL Graphics Card
  • Screen Resolution: 1440 x 900 minimum, 1920 x 1080 or higher recommended

Cost of the 3D Architecture Software Rhinoceros

Rhino offers a free 90-day trail for their architectural software. Although if you are at the university, ask the faculty whether there are any existing plans for architectural software before buying anything new.

Educational Version: From 230 $, download here.

Full Version: From 830 $, download here. There an annual service update available.


Rhino offers a big variety of render software. These 2 are the best for architectural designing:

Thanks to these extensions you can visualize your project. Although it is important to know that these two extensions can only run on Windows.

It’s not easy to choose the right 3D architecture software that suits your needs. Often, you are confronted with certain preferences. Also, price plays an important role for most students. Before you decide on one solution, you should check if other architects or colleagues have already chosen a particular software. The architecture schools also play an important role in the selection. Also, the optimal, smooth cooperation with specialists and BIM plays an increasingly important role.

If you can spare the time, you should have a look at all of the architectural software and assess which one fits your needs. Good luck – and start building.

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