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Computer Aided Contenders

7 Best AutoCAD Alternatives in 2019 (5 Are Free)

Picture of Brian Obudho
by Brian Obudho
Mar 1, 2019

AutoCAD is the top choice in the drafting industry because it's sleek and comes fully featured. However, this powerful tool costs more, and this has prompted competitors to release programs that match AutoCAD's capabilities. In this piece, we list some of the best AutoCAD alternatives.

AutoCAD Alternative Platforms AutoCAD: The CAD of Choice

Designing in AutoCAD.
Designing in AutoCAD. Source: GrabCAD

Autodesk’s flagship product, AutoCAD, has been available since 1982 and is undeniably the granddaddy of CAD. To word it better, AutoCAD is to CAD what Photoshop is to photo editing.

The program comes packed with an array of features that make it a versatile tool for several industries – mainly graphic design, engineering, architecture, and project management, among others. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that AutoCAD is the go-to product for professionals, hobbyists, and students.

However, Autodesk is no longer offering a perpetual license for this popular tool. Instead, they are pushing consumers into subscription-based licensing. This has forced hundreds of users to seek AutoCAD alternatives as many users believe the switch is costlier in the long-run.

Paying more than $1,500/year may seem worthwhile if you are a CAD pro with no budget restrictions, but it’s pretty staggering when you are an average hobbyist who is working on a budget.

Anyways, you don’t always have to pick AutoCAD, and not when it has some worthy contenders with the same critical functionality and supporting infrastructure. But be warned: The market is filled with horrible AutoCAD knockoffs, so it’s your duty to distill which products are worth your time, especially if you are a newcomer.

We’ve done the legwork to bring you seven of the best AutoCAD alternatives in 2019. Two of them have made an appearance in our articles on the top professional CAD tools for 2018 and 30 best free CAD software tools for 2019.

AutoCAD Alternative Platforms 1. SketchUp (Free)

SketchUp Pro interface.
SketchUp Pro interface. Source: ArchDaily

It was formerly known as Google SketchUp, and it is an excellent pick if you are a CAD professional. SketchUp offers different packages, starting from a basic package to a more sophisticated version. This program works with several file types (including XSI, OBJ, VRML, DWG, and DXF). In addition, it can export PDFs and HD animations, and has a free version. 

SketchUp as an AutoCAD alternative:

Pros

  • Easier to use with a straightforward user interface, needing only one day of training 
  • Easy to import several different file types (e.g. 3DS files)
  • Has a vast library (named 3D Warehouse) where users can upload or download designs 
  • More useful in creating 3D models
  • Can integrate with third-party plug-ins, which can be gotten from SketchUp Extension Warehouse 

Cons

  • Does not allow for the creation of NURBS. Usually, NURBS surfaces tend to be smoother when compared to surfaces composed of polygons.
  • Designs are less detailed due to lesser rendering capabilities

Where to Download: SketchUp

AutoCAD Alternative Platforms 2. DraftSight (Free)

DraftSight interface.
DraftSight interface. Source: DraftSight Blog

DraftSight is a CAD platform that has all the tools required to create technical 2D drawings. It allows for accurate revisions since the elements of designs are usually stored in layers and it has a clear user interface that makes it easy to learn. This tool allows a user to create G-Code in the program directly and can save and open DWG and DXF files, even though it does not run LSIP routines and provides no express tools.

It comes in a free and paid version.

If you are hobbyist on a budget, or a student, the free version is your best option. On the other hand, if you want to use it for business (whether small or medium-sized), DraftSight offers two options: DraftSight Professional and DraftSight Enterprise. The prices vary for both options depending on your needs.

The paid version brings a host of features to your toolbox. For example, you get access to the design library where you can reuse assets from earlier projects. You also get the capability to compare designs, to add hardware symbols to the design, and to append PDFs to the project file.

DraftSight begins to compete with AutoCAD as you scale up, and it will offer you advanced capabilities if you are willing to pay.

DraftSight as an AutoCAD alternative:

Pros

  • Easy to run in terms of RAM and hard disk space
  • Provides a perpetual license
  • Has an easy learning curve
  • Can be used to generate G-Code

Cons

  • Lacks 3D capabilities 
  • Less useful if you are looking for specialized solutions

Where to Download: Dassault Systèmes

AutoCAD Alternative Platforms 3. SolidWorks

SolidWorks interface.
SolidWorks interface. Source: AlternativeTo

SolidWorks is a solid modeling CAD and CAE (computer-aided Engineering) 3D tool. It was designed to be used in several industries including aerospace, shipbuilding, automotive, architecture, medical and energy sector, and industrial equipment.

SolidWorks has earned a place as one of the best industrial 3D modeling programs. However, it does require one to have extensive training before using it, as well as some advanced engineering knowledge.

The tool comes with multiple features and is a darling among 3D sketchers who want to undertake detailed design work using a CAD tool.

SolidWorks as an AutoCAD alternative:

Pros

  • Has “intelligent design” tools that let a user produce detailed designs quickly while also checking them for completeness
  • Comes with integrated training features and training programs that help a user get acquainted with the interface
  • Offers perpetual and term licenses
  • Has parametric feature-based modeling, which means designing in 3D is intuitive
  • Very proficient in 3D modeling and will create amazing designs (has extensive modeling and drafting features that make 3D modeling simplistic and intuitive)
  • Has a range of simulation packages
  • Comes with sheet metal design tools
  • Designers can collaborate on the 3DEXPERIENCE platform
  • Can carry out deviation analysis, Gaussian analysis, symmetry check analysis, mi radius analysis, thickness analysis, undercut analysis and many more advanced tasks
  • Equipped to handle electrical design tasks

Cons

  • Supports a limited number of files
  • Only compatible with Windows 
  • Less useful for building design
  • Cannot convert files from 2D drawings to 3D models

Where to Buy: Dassault Systèmes

AutoCAD Alternative Platforms 4. FreeCAD (Free)

Satnogs Rotator on FreeCAD.
Satnogs Rotator on FreeCAD. Source: Freecadweb.org

FreeCAD is a parametric CAD program that has the capability to 3D design objects of almost any size. Since FreeCAD is built around parametric modeling, the program makes it possible for a designer to go back into a model’s history and to change or modify the dimensions.

FreeCAD can import and export from various standard formats for 3D objects, and its modular architecture allows a user to extend its functionality using plugins.

FreeCAD as an AutoCAD alternative:

Pros

  • Open-source, and its source code is hosted on GitHub under an LGPL. For this reason, FreeCAD is more oriented towards the community and can be tweaked if a user wishes
  • Gives users the freedom to run large-scale python scripts or the C++ scripts structure
  • Allows for the addition of a plugin to speed up workflow
  • Has several built-in interface options
  • Is a “mashup” of all libraries like Coin3D, Qt, and open-cascade

Cons

  • Since it is an open-source parametric modeler, it is vulnerable to bugs

Where to Download: FreeCAD

AutoCAD Alternative Platforms 5. BricsCAD

BricsCAD interface.
BricsCAD interface. Source: Design Engineering

BricsCAD is best known for having rich features in both 2D drawing and 3D modeling. In fact, those who are familiar with AutoCAD (the 2008 version) have noted that the two have a similar interface even though BricsCAD’s ribbon is a bit confusing. According to the developers, BricsCAD supports “hundreds” of third-party applications. 

BricsCAD is more affordable and offers three editions: Classic, Pro, and Platinum. The Platinum edition is packed with several features (like 3D compare, BIM, and Sheet metal tools) that are unavailable in AutoCAD.

BricsCAD as an AutoCAD alternative:

Pros

  • No learning curve for BricsCAD if you have used AutoCAD before
  • Comes with an AI-enhanced predictive QUAD cursor that increases speed when working on a large drawing
  • Has more than 1,000 partner add-on solutions in Pro edition, including HVAC, AEC, GIS, mapping, survey, and landscape among others
  • Executes LISP faster compared to AutoCAD
  • Provides perpetual licenses
  • Comes with broad customization and development capabilities using ADS, SDS, BRX, .NET, VBA, DCL, and LISP
  • Can read, edit, and save AutoCAD files (v2.5) to .DWG 2018, and can also use AutoCAD customization
  • Platinum version comes with some advanced design features like BOM, kinematic analysis, design intent, assembly modeling, and 3D constraints. The platinum package also comes with a built-in sheet metal design functionality, which is an industry leading feature
  • Comes with built-in architectural direct modeler with BIM database, IFC import and export, and SketchUp SKP
  • Fast enough when opening a complex drawing

Cons 

  • Has a limited scope

BricsCAD is a recommended AutoCAD alternative that recognizes XREFS, has a robust rendering engine, integrates with the cloud, and is customizable. It’s functionality is identical to AutoCAD.

Where to Buy: Bricsys

AutoCAD Alternative Platforms 6. LibreCAD (Free)

LibreCAD interface.
LibreCAD interface. Source: cesdb.com

LibreCAD is a high-quality open-source 2D modeling program that grew out of QCAD. It comes with plenty of powerful features and has a large following of designers and customers. LibreCAD resembles AutoCAD in features and concepts and should be easy to use once you are familiar with AutoCAD. It is mainly a perfect choice if you are using Linux and want a free CAD tool that can read DWG files.

LibreCAD is among the 12 best free AutoCAD (DWG) viewers in 2019.

LibreCAD as an AutoCAD alternative:

Pros

  • Free
  • Open-source with the source code hosted on GitHub (licensed under GPL)
  • Provides a seamless transition from AutoCAD 
  • Not resource-intensive and will work on your average hardware
  • Uncluttered interface is perfect for beginners
  • Comes in over 30 languages
  • Provides cross-platform support for Windows, Linux, and MacOS

Cons

  • LibreCAD is 2D only and can only display 2D views (it cannot work on 3D models and renderings)

Where to Download: LibreCAD

AutoCAD Alternative Platforms 7. nanoCAD (Free)

3D modeling in nanoCAD.
3D modeling in nanoCAD. Source: nanoCAD India / YouTube

nanoCAD is a free CAD program that is powerful and DWG-compatible. In fact, according to Nanosoft’s CTO Dmitry Popov, nanoCAD is the first full-scale DWG CAD program available for free. The fully-featured version, nanoCAD plus, goes for $180. nanoCAD plus is a professional CAD tool that comes with a robust design and drafting tools, an open API, native DWG compatibility, and a familiar interface.

nanoCAD as an AutoCAD alternative:

Pros

  • Brings many features that AutoCAD lacks. They include a linetype editor, an Excel-style table editor, and raster manipulations.
  • Can import various image formats, including PCX, TIF, BMP, JPG, PNG, and JPEG
  • Has built-in vectorization engine that can recognize raster objects like arcs, points, and lines
  • Has several options for cropping and aligning raster images
  • Can import and work with point clouds (including XYZ, LAS, PTS, PCD, PTX, and BIN)
  • Can import IFC (Industry Foundation Classes) file formats with BIM (Building Modeling Information)
  • Has an open API for developers, and this API is free to access. The open API lets developers write custom applications in C++, COM, NET, or LISP

Cons

  • Does not offer operations with solid 3D objects

With its advanced point cloud and raster capabilities plus complete drafting functionality, nanoCAD is a worthy AutoCAD alternative. Plus, its pricing is pocket-friendly.

Where to Download: Nanosoft

Feature image source: ArchDaily

License: The text of "7 Best AutoCAD Alternatives in 2019 (5 Are Free)" by All3DP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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