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CAD-tastrophic Time with SolidWorks?

2019 Best SolidWorks Alternatives

Picture of Alex Haysler
by Alex Haysler
Sep 18, 2019
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SolidWorks is a highly popular CAD program, but it's not for everyone. Check out this collection of the best SolidWorks alternatives available right now.

SolidWorks Alternatives What's SolidWorks, Again?

Drone designed in SolidWorks.
Drone designed in SolidWorks. (Source: SolidWorks)

SolidWorks is a solid modeling computer-aided design (CAD) software program running on Windows. It’s well-known and widely used for engineering and design, among the many other fields requiring 3D CAD software platforms.

Originally created in December 1993 by M.I.T. graduate Jon Hirschtick, SolidWorks is now a globally-recognized CAD software, first published by Dassault Systèmes in 1997 after acquiring the company for $310 million in stock and keeping Hirschtick on in a variety of roles for the next 14 years.

SolidWorks uses the same parametric feature-based approach to solid modeling originally developed by PTC for the ProEngineer/Creo CAD software systems, where parameters relate to constraints and values determine the shape or geometry of the model or assembly.

The SolidWorks Standard system requires a permanent license purchase of $3,995 and an ongoing annual subscription of $1,295, with a 30-day trial available as well as discounts for educational use. Online features available through SolidWorks include a forum, a CAD library of parts (3D Content Central), as well as support from resellers in the form of tutorials and courses in simulation, surfacing, and other areas important to successful component and assembly design.

Despite being an extremely useful and popular tool, certain aspects of the SolidWorks suite simply do not appeal to some, the cost being foremost among them. That’s where this article comes in. Join as as we dive into some of the best SolidWorks alternatives!

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SolidWorks Alternatives Selection Criteria

Simulating CNC movement in SolidWorks CAM.
Simulating CNC movement in SolidWorks CAM. (Source: blogs.solidworks.com)

Note that, when searching for alternative CAD software, it is important to keep your specific needs in mind. There is no point paying for software that has a USP of power surfacing when you’ll never use it! We’ve picked out a few key criteria for selecting a SolidWorks alternative:

  • Price: Is the software cheaper or more expensive? Does the pricing structure allow for a greater number of users at a cheaper cost?
  • User-friendliness: Is it easy to create simple geometry and solid models?
  • Capability: Are there more or fewer tools on offer than SolidWorks? Are there specific tools for functions like surfacing, welding, sheet metal, or injection molding?
  • Support: Is there a good online community and access to videos and tutorials?
  • Compatibility: Can SolidWorks files (as well as files from other modeling software) be opened and imported?
  • Operating systems (OS): Can the software be used on Microsoft Windows only or is it available on multiple platforms?
  • Trial period: Is there a trial period available to get used to the software?

In addition to addressing the above points, it is important to realize that many of the following alternatives will fundamentally differ from SolidWorks based on the intended focuses of their design.

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1

SolidWorks Alternatives Creo

Electric shaver modeled in Creo 4.0.
Electric shaver modeled in Creo 4.0. (Source: i.materialise)

Creo was developed by a company called PTC and, since 2009, has superseded their other packages such as Pro/ENGINEER, CoCreate, and ProductView. The most recent version, Creo 6.0, was released in March 2019 and is the first version of Creo to be released precisely one year after its predecessor. This brings Creo in line with SolidWorks on the software development front.

  • Price: Creo offers five tiered packages, with Tier 1 starting at $2,200 for the Essentials bundle.
  • User-friendliness: Core modeling strengths including model-based definition (MBD) allowing for geometric dimensioning and tolerances (GD&T) as well as a bill of materials to be easily lifted from the initial part design.
  • Capability: 3D solid modeling, direct modeling, detailed documentation, 2D and 3D drawings, technical surfacing, freestyle surfacing, sheet metal, weld modeling, structural framework design, analysis features, integrated design animation, and design for 3D printing.
  • Support: Community forums and blogs, resource center, development tools, and education services via PTC University.
  • Compatibility: SolidWorks part and assembly files as well as files for many other software types (STEP, IGES, and DXF included) can be directly imported and modified.
  • OS: Available on Windows only.
  • Trial period: Free 30-day trial available.
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SolidWorks Alternatives FreeCAD

Modeling a building in FreeCAD.
Modeling a building in FreeCAD. (Source: GitHub)

FreeCAD is a free and open-source parametric modeling and building information modeling (BIM) software, which includes finite element analysis (FEA) tools. The main design intent for FreeCAD is mechanical engineering product design, but it has been expanded in its use to other areas of product design, such as architecture or electrical engineering.

  • Price: FreeCAD (as the name suggests) is completely free.
  • User-friendliness: Constructive, solid geometry facilitates easy part creation. The workbench concept allows for the display of tools required to complete certain tasks as well as other key CAD tools, such as mesh repair and graphical modification operations. One negative: The assembly module is still in the planning stage and is fairly basic, for now.
  • Capability: Offers FEA tools, BIM, geodata workbenches, path workbenches, as well as experimental CFD. Also included is a robot simulation tool allowing the study and simulation of robot movements and exporting of the trajectory to a program file as well as other useful features.
  • Support: The homepage offers multiple support links via the drop-down menu to the FreeCAD forum as well as 10 other forums, including Reddit, Facebook, and GitHub.
  • Compatibility: Native SolidWorks files can’t be opened and imported, but associated files, such as DXF, STEP, IGES, and STL can be imported. The Autodesk Inventor file type (IV) can also be imported, but DWG file support has been an issue due to software license compatibility problems.
  • OS: Available on Windows, Linux, Unix, and macOS.
  • Trial period: No need, since it’s free!
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SolidWorks Alternatives Autodesk AutoCAD

The AutoCAD 2019 user interface.
The AutoCAD 2019 user interface. (Source: Autodesk)

AutoCAD is a commercial CAD and drafting application, with the first version released in 1982. It’s a well-established tool in the industry, so the community support is fantastic.

  • Price: A one-year subscription costs $1,610, but monthly subscriptions for short term usage ($200 per month) are also available.
  • User-friendliness: Included in your subscription is the AutoCAD mobile app and the AutoCAD web app.
  • Capability: AutoCAD now offers industry-specific features, such as toolsets for architecture and mechanical engineering, with the associated parts libraries allowing the rapid design of piping, ducting, and circuiting.
  • Support: Additional knowledge networks for each of the AutoCAD toolsets, providing videos, tutorials, and articles for learning as well as downloadable service packs, troubleshooting common issues, and forums containing groups and idea boards.
  • Compatibility: Part models can be imported and modified via the AnyCAD convert model tool, which supports SolidWorks, Creo, NX, and many other software types. Assembly models can be imported in the same way but the imported geometry can’t be modified.
  • OS: Available on Windows and macOS.
  • Trial period: Free trial available.
Autodesk AutoCAD
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4

SolidWorks Alternatives Rhino

Splitting components using layers in Rhino.
Splitting components using layers in Rhino. (Source: mrservices.it)

Rhino is a commercial NURBS-based 3D modeling software primarily targeted at industrial design and architecture, with branches to automotive and marine design as well as reverse engineering. NURBS-based modeling allows the user to achieve much more organic shapes, as every surface can be edited via control points (but this makes it harder than SolidWorks to re-modify once completed).

  • Price: Rhino 6 is available from $995.
  • User-friendliness: Simple to create complex, accurate surfaces and solid bodies with a wide range of model creation and editing tools, though not as easy to create parts that are ready for fabrication or manufacture.
  • Capability: Offers uninhibited freeform modeling tools with the ability to easily read and repair meshes on imported files. Included in Rhino is Grasshopper, a visual programming language providing the foundation for everything from environmental analysis to robotic control.
  • Support: Community area called Serengeti, offering tutorials and support, including video guides and events available through the forum. For example, summer workshops exist in different locations around the world.
  • Compatibility: Rhino is compatible with many file formats, including SolidWorks part files and the more general 3D modeling file types IGES and STEP.
  • OS: Available on Windows and macOS.
  • Trial period: Free 90-day trial available.
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SolidWorks Alternatives Solid Edge

Designing parts in Solid Edge.
Designing parts in Solid Edge. (Source: g2.com)

Solid Edge was developed by Siemens and is a product development CAD software focused on mechanical and electrical design, using synchronous technology to accelerate product design and improve design data re-use. Solid Edge allows easy access across a range of devices to cloud-enabled design, supporting sharing of design data with suppliers and manufacturers.

  • Price: Solid Edge starts at $130 per seat per month ($1,560 for one year) for the basic “Design and Drafting” CAD package.
  • User-friendliness: Many users have noted that a good workflow can be achieved with familiarity with basic tools and modification of parts within an overall assembly. Solid Edge does, however, require some formal training from a reseller to become proficient in the initial design of components.
  • Capability: Latest features include augmented reality (AR), allowing users to experience full-scale digital prototypes in real-world environments along with direct MBD and dedicated sheet metal design tools.
  • Support: Offers solutions organized for a wide variety of users, from designers and engineers to students, hobbyists, and makers.
  • Compatibility: SolidWorks part files are compatible with Solid Edge, as are other 3D modeling file types, such as STL, OBJ, IGES, and STEP.
  • OS: Available for Windows only for local design, but viewing is also possible (in particular with the AR features) on iPad.
  • Trial period: 45-day free trial available.
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SolidWorks Alternatives Onshape

Complex assemblies can be created with ease.
Complex assemblies can be created with ease. (Source: Onshape / YouTube)

Onshape is the first fully cloud-based 3D CAD system with built-in version control and collaboration. The key obstacle that is overcome with this is there are no downloads required and no updates. Onshape was voted in the Forbes list of World Top 100 Cloud-Based Companies for 2018.

  • Price: Onshape starts at $1,500 per user per year for the Standard package.
  • User-friendliness: The Onshape app allows editing and modeling on-the-go, with accelerated time-to-market as a collaborative workflow achieved through experimentation on design alterations both within a team of designers or multiple independent designs.
  • Capability: Built-in version control massively reduces the risk of costly manufacturing errors occurring.
  • Support: Learning center, video library, webinars, ebooks, whitepapers, as well as a blog with tech tips and industry perspectives.
  • Compatibility: DWG and DXF file formats are supported along with other industry-supported CAD file formats, including SolidWorks files, are importable into Onshape.
  • OS: The online nature of Onshape means that, no matter where you are or which device you are using, as long as you are online, Onshape can be accessed.
  • Trial period: A trial can be requested by filling in your contact details on their webpage.
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SolidWorks Alternatives Autodesk Inventor

Easily manage all product-relevant data in Inventor using SAP ETCR.
Easily manage all product-relevant data in Inventor using SAP ETCR. (Source: sapectr.com)

Autodesk Inventor provides engineers and designers with professional-grade 3D CAD solutions, as well as an environment to seamlessly integrate 2D and 3D CAD data and quickly create realistic and solid designs.

  • Price: $1,985 for a one-year subscription.
  • User-friendliness: 3D and 2D data are easily integrated into a single design environment, creating a useful way of validating a product in form, fit, and function prior to any manufacturing taking place.
  • Capability: Parametric and free-form modeling tools in Inventor as well as add-ons for industry-specific items available (though they may come at an additional cost).
  • Support: Additional knowledge networks for each of the AutoCAD toolsets, providing videos, tutorials, and articles for learning as well as downloadable service packs, troubleshooting common issues, and forums containing groups and idea boards.
  • Compatibility: Contains multi-CAD translation capabilities facilitating the use of SolidWorks parts (as well as others) and includes industry-standard DWG file drawings.
  • OS: Available for Windows only.
  • Trial period: Free 30-day trial available.
Autodesk Inventor
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8

SolidWorks Alternatives Siemens NX

The NX user interface is similar to that of many CAD software tools.
The NX user interface is similar to that of many CAD software tools. (Source: Siemens)

Siemens NX is a parametric solid modeler offering both feature-based and direct modeling as well as competencies in free-form surface modeling and reverse engineering of parts, applying a knowledge-based system to the entire product design life cycle.

  • Price: The entry-level version of NX costs around $7,500.
  • User-friendliness: NX provides an integrated toolset aimed at providing complete solutions throughout the design and manufacturing processes.
  • Capability: Digitally transform part production through NX for Manufacturing, which offers control of CNC machine tools, robotic cells, 3D printers, and monitoring of part quality. Tooling and fixture design are fully automated using process-based design applications, and other features aid the entire product development cycle, from tracing in initial concepts (Catchbook) to complex assembly joining validation (Syncrofit).
  • Support: Community, events & webinars, product documentation, training, and other learning services as well as Simcenter (engineering and consulting services targeted at your specific projects).
  • Compatibility: SolidWorks part and assembly files, as well as files for many other software types (STEP, IGES, and DXF included), can be directly imported and modified.
  • OS: Available on macOS, Windows, and Linux.
  • Trial period: A free 30-day trial is available.
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SolidWorks Alternatives Autodesk Fusion 360

Modeling a piston assembly in Fusion 360.
Modeling a piston assembly in Fusion 360. (Source: SolidSmack)

Fusion 360 is another offering from Autodesk aimed at designers, mechanical engineers, and machinists, unifying design, engineering, and manufacture into a single entity.

  • Price: $495 for 1 year, or $60 on a monthly basis.
  • User-friendliness: Fusion 360 aims to eliminate any previous disconnect within your product development process by offering integration between CAD, CAM, and CAE software tools.
  • Capability: Fusion 360 allows conceptualization of multiple design iterations within a single platform, with a multitude of modeling options available. In-depth simulation tools are also included, with non-linear analysis available and seamless transition between modeling, rendering, and FEA-achievable.
  • Support: Additional knowledge networks for each of the AutoCAD toolsets, providing videos, tutorials and articles for learning as well as downloadable service packs, troubleshooting common issues and forums containing groups and idea boards.
  • Compatibility: Autodesk has provided a helpful video to detail best practices to import SolidWorks files into Fusion 360. Other common file types (STEP and IGES) can be directly imported and modified.
  • OS: Available on macOS and Windows.
  • Trial period: A free 30-day trial for Fusion 360 is available.
Autodesk Fusion 360
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(Lead image source: SolidWorks)

License: The text of "2019 Best SolidWorks Alternatives" by All3DP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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