From Beginners to Professionals

21 Best Free CAD Software Tools (2D/3D CAD Programs)

free CAD software

Here are the best free CAD software tools (2D/3D CAD programs) for beginners, intermediates, and advanced users.

Do you need free CAD software? But you’re not sure quite what you need? Here you can learn the basic terms to make a smart choice. And then we have compiled a comprehensive list of free CAD programs.

CAD software is an important tool for professional architects, engineers, animators, and graphic designers. With the proliferation of Open Source projects, free CAD software is in many cases no less sophisticated than its commercial counterparts. But given the many differences between the programs, it can be difficult to choose the right one.

All3DP is here to help. First, learn about the basic terms of computer-aided design. Second, you can search and browse our list of the best free CAD software.

Best Free CAD Software Tools (2D/3D CAD Programs)

CAD Software Level OS Type Formats
123D Design Beginner Windows, Mac and Linux 3D CAD 123x, step, stl, x3d, vrml
3D Slash Beginner Windows, Mac, Linux, Raspberry Pi or Browser 3D CAD 3dslash, obj, stl
LibreCAD Beginner Windows, Mac and Linux 2D CAD dxf, dwg
SculptGL Beginner Browser 3D CAD obj, ply, sql, stl
TinkerCAD Beginner Browser 3D CAD 123dx, 3ds, c4d, mb, obj, svg, stl
Wings 3D Beginner Windows, Mac and Linux 2D/3D CAD 3ds, fbx, obj, dae, lwo, wrl, rwx, stl, wrl, x, xml
DraftSight Intermediate Windows, Mac and Linux 2D CAD dxf, dwg
FreeCAD Intermediate Windows, Mac and Linux 2D/3D CAD step, iges, obj, stl, dxf, svg, dae, ifc, off, nastran, vrml, Fcstd
HeeksCAD Intermediate Windows, Mac and Linux 3D CAD dxf, heeks, iges, stl, stp, svg
Meshmixer Intermediate Windows, Mac and Linux 3D CAD amf, mix, obj, off, stl
QCAD Intermediate Windows, Mac and Linux 2D CAD dwg, dxf, dwf, pdf, svg
Sculptris Intermediate Windows, Mac 3D CAD obj, goz
SketchUp Intermediate Windows, Mac 3D CAD dwg, dxf, 3ds, dae, dem, def, ifc, kmz, stl
SolveSpace Intermediate Windows, Mac and Linux 2D/3D CAD dxf, eps, pdf, svg, hpgl, obj, step, stl
Fusion 360 Advanced Windows, Mac 3D CAD catpart, dwg, dxf, f3d, igs, obj, pdf, sat, sldprt, stl, stp
Blender Advanced Windows, Mac and Linux 2D/3D CAD 3ds, dae, fbx, dxf, obj, x, lwo, svg, ply, stl, vrml, vrml97, x3d
BRL-CAD Advanced Windows, Mac and Linux 2D/3D CAD dxf, iges, stl vrml, x3d
DesignSpark Advanced Windows 2D/3D CAD rsdoc, dxf, ecad, idf, idb, emn, obj, skp, stl, iges, step
nanoCAD Advanced Windows 2D CAD sat, step, igs, iges, sldprt, stl, 3dm, dae, dfx, dwg, dwt, pdf, x_t, x_b, xxm_txt, ssm_bin
OnShape Advanced Windows, Mac, Linux and Browser 2D/3D CAD sat, step, igs, iges, sldprt, stl, 3dm, dae, dfx, dwg, dwt, pdf, x_t, x_b, xxm_txt, ssm_bin
OpenSCAD Advanced Windows, Mac and Linux 3D CAD dxf, off, st

Best Free CAD Software for Beginners

Best Free CAD Software/Programs #1: 123D Design

Autodesk 123D Design is a free CAD software created by Autodesk. It is similar in scope to SketchUp, and inspired by Autodesk’s Inventor. It is a powerful, yet relatively simple to use 3D creation and editing tool that can work seamlessly with most 3D printer models in the market.

123D Design features a simple and intuitive graphical user interface. Meshes are designed by placing primitive shapes in the design area. These shape’s properties can be refined with an array of tools, including more advanced techniques like sweep, and loft. As well as the more basic drawing, and modeling capabilities, it also has assembly and constraint support. There is also a library of premade blocks, and objects, which can be valuable timesavers. Also, the capability of importing SVG files makes 123D Design a handy 3D modeling software tool to create mechanical parts from drawings stored in that format.

Our verdict, one of the best free CAD software for beginners who want to get a solid foundation.

Review: Autodesk 123D Design Review: Powerful & Simple

Tutorials:

  • Best Free CAD Software For: Beginners who want to get a solid foundation
  • Type: 3D
  • Formats: 123x, step, STL, x3d, VRML
  • Price: Free
  • OS: Windows, Mac, and iOS

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Best Free CAD Software/Programs #2: 3D Slash

Our tutorial teaches you how to create a Star Wars lightsaber in 3D Slash.

3D Slash is not your run of the mill 3D modeling program since conventional features like extrusion, revolution or sweeps are not part of the program. Instead, this it is centered around the cuboid, a solid block that can be subdivided into smaller blocks of identical size. Just think of Minecraft, and you’ll get the idea. Users create their 3D designs by working the cuboid with an array of tools that will not be familiar with most other 3D modeling software: hammer, trowel, chisel, pulpwood, and drill. Thus, you use the hammer tool to remove individual cubes, while the trowel adds cubes and so forth.

3D designing with these tools is easy, even for beginners. With only a little training you can achieve impressive results, like a light saber (see our tutorial below). Also, you can import, and modify existing 3D designs. For your convenience, this free CAD software ties in with a range of online printing services, and model repositories. Or you can simply export your 3D design to STL, and print it on your 3D desktop printer.

The playful, hands-on approach will be especially gratifying for hobbyists who occasionally want to create their 3D designs without having to master the mysterious lore of conventional free CAD software.

Review: 3D Slash Review: 3D Modeling Made Super Easy

Tutorial:3D Slash Tutorial for Beginners: How to Use 3D Slash

  • Best Free CAD Software For: Hobbyists with an eye on quick results
  • Type: 3D
  • Formats: 3dslash, obj, STL
  • Price: Free, Premium functionality from 24€/year
  • OS: Windows, Mac, Linux, Raspberry Pi or Browser

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Best Free CAD Software/Programs #3: LibreCAD

LibreCAD is a free open source CAD program. It contains basic tools you will need to model and modify your designs. Since LibreCAD displays only 2D views, the program has a slim file size of only 30 MB. But not to worry, the program can display isometric views. Though the program satisfies common drawing needs, the functionality will not overwhelm you, unlike other free CAD software. LibreCAD’s UI is uncluttered, and overall the program is suitable for beginners.

  • Best Free CAD Software For: Beginners to intermediate users interested in technical designs
  • Type: 2D
  • Formats: dxf, dwg
  • Price: Free
  • OS: Windows, Mac, Linux

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Best Free CAD Software/Programs #4: SculptGL

Image: SculptGL

An alternative approach to traditional 3D modeling is 3D sculpting. Whereas some commercial options on the market have pretty steep learning curves, SculptGL will go easy on you. It includes only the basic tools necessary and allows you to give you a sense of the sculpting workflow. What is more, you can have all that in the comfort of your web browser.

As in more advanced sculpting tools, the main concept is that you don’t try to create a high-resolution mesh right from the start. Instead, you build up levels of details step by step. The groundwork is always to define the silhouette (arms, heads, limbs) in very broad brushes. From there you can switch to smaller brushes, and sculpt large details, pronounced muscles, fingers, and the like. Only then should you add intricate details like wrinkles or scars using finer brushes.

This being a free CAD software, the number, and complexity of objects are limited to the minimum. For anyone just curious about 3D sculpting, SculptGL is a great opportunity. If you want to level up, you should give Sculptris a try.

  • Best Free CAD Software For: Beginners who want to dabble in 3D sculpting
  • Type: 3D
  • Formats: obj, ply, sql, STL
  • Price: Free
  • OS: Browser

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Best Free CAD Software/Programs #5: TinkerCAD

tinkercad_astropi

TinkerCAD is a free 3D CAD program, now owned by Autodesk. Using basic modeling operations, TinkerCAD allows you to join these primitive shapes complex objects. But there is more to TinkerCAD, the functionality extends to joining, and subtracting shapes. After mastering these basic techniques, even newbies to CAD software can produce impressive results like Raspberry Pi cases in no time.

If you are looking for a tool to get your feet wet, you will love TinkerCAD’s intuitive approach to common concepts, and tools in free CAD software. It also can be used for laser cutting.

Tutorials:

  • Best Free CAD Software For: Beginners trying to grasp the basic concepts of 3D modeling
  • Type: 3D
  • Formats: 123dx, 3ds, c4d, mb, obj, svg, stl
  • Price: Free
  • OS: Web Application

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Best Free CAD Software/Programs #6: Wings 3D

Written in Erlang, Wings 3D major strength lies in its advanced subdivision. The intuitive user interface will make anyone a 3D modeler in no time. In addition to standard tools like move, scale, extrude etc., the free CAD software features advanced tools like such as sweep, plane cut, bend, shear, and inset. The other big selling point is its AutoUV facility, that allows you to export, and an unfolded image of your model’s surface for painting, and texturing.

Wings 3D’s range of features is exactly right for beginners who don’t want to get overwhelmed, and yet get a thorough foundation in 3D modeling.

  • Best Free CAD Software For: Beginners who getting started with 3D modeling
  • Type: 2D/3D
  • Formats: 3ds, fbx, obj, dae, lwo, wrl, rwx, stl, wrl, x, xml
  • Price: Free
  • OS: Windows, Mac, Linux

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Best Free CAD Software for Intermediate Users

Best Free CAD Software/Programs #7: DraftSight

DraftSight is a free CAD software from Dassault Systèmes, the publisher of industry giants such as CATIA, and Solidworks. Thanks to its clear user interface, anyone can learn the program quickly. DraftSight has all the necessary tools to create 2D technical drawings. The elements of designs are stored in layers, enabling accurate revisions. Designs can be exported to PDF for use as construction sheets.

Dassault Systèmes offers support for users of the free CAD software. Among many other features, the professional version of DraftSight can compare designs, and display the differences, append PDFs to the project file, and add standard hardware symbols to your design.

  • Best Free CAD Software For: Intermediate to advanced users focused on technical designs
  • Type: 2D
  • Formats: dxf, dwg
  • Price: Free public version. $356 (Professional Edition)
  • OS: Windows, Mac, Linux

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Best Free CAD Software/Programs #8: FreeCAD

FreeCAD item (image: FreeCAD)

FreeCAD is a parametric solid free CAD software. It is made primarily to 3D design real-life objects of any size. Its parametric modeling capability allows you to easily modify your 3D design by going back into your model history and changing its dimensions.

Being an open source software, its feature set is oriented towards the community. So be prepared that FreeCAD can be a bit overwhelming at first. But if you make an effort to dig deeper into the free CAD software, you will be rewarded with an awesome set of features.

This free CAD software offers a modular architecture that allows plugins to be mounted to the core application. It also offers a Sketcher with constraint-solver, allowing you to sketch 2D shapes; a robot simulation to study robot movements, and a Path module dedicated to mechanical machining like milling (CAM), and can output, display, and adjust G code.

  • Best Free CAD Software For: Enthusiasts which are willing to dig in a mighty feature set.
  • Type: 2D/3D
  • Formats: step, iges, obj, stl, dxf, svg, dae, ifc, off, nastran, vrml, and FreeCAD’s native Fcstd file format.
  • Price: Free
  • OS: Windows, Mac, and Linux

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Best Free CAD Software/Programs #9: HeeksCAD

HeeksCAD is a powerful solid modeling program built on top of OpenCASCADE. Among the usual editing tools are multiple ways to extrude, and a chamfering tool. Like many other CAD programs, this one takes its cues from AutoCAD, so switching should not be a problem.

But this not all. HeeksCAD is a modular CAD program that can be extended by installing additional plugins. So far, plugins are available for Python scripting, CNC milling, and freeform surface modeling. The later effectively transforms this free CAD software into a 3D modeler. With its active developer community, we expect more exciting features to come to HeeksCAD shortly!

  • Best Free CAD Software For: Intermediate to advanced users that want to dive deeper.
  • Type: 3D
  • Formats: dxf, heeks, iges, stl, stp, svg
  • Price: Free
  • OS: Windows, Mac, and Linux

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Best Free CAD Software/Programs #10: Meshmixer

image: MeshMixer
image: MeshMixer

The self-described “Swiss Army Knife” for 3D meshes is Meshmixer has a clear emphasis on the mechanical functionality of 3D designs. Meshmixer is designed to prepare meshes for 3D printing. For instance, Meshmixer is used to model solid prosthetics with mechanical parts. Moreover, this 3D modeling software provides some pretty sophisticated optimization techniques usually found in industrial grade programs: You can slim down unwanted mass from a 3D design, and thereby reduce the cost of printing significantly. It also allows you to automatically generate joints connecting different parts into one single device.

Also, this free CAD software has repair capabilities like hollowing, scaling, and mesh simplification making it invaluable for 3D printing.

This rich feature set makes Meshmixer a tool for advanced users, but if you are looking for one of the best free CAD software tools that seamlessly blends into the Autodesk product family, look no further.

Tutorial: MeshMixer Tutorial for 3D Printing Beginners

  • Best Free CAD Software For: Intermediate Users who want to quickly realize their 3D designs
  • Type: 3D
  • Formats: amf, mix, obj, off, STL
  • Price: Free
  • OS: Windows, Mac, and Linux

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Best Free CAD Software/Programs #11: QCAD

QCAD is an old school 2D free CAD program, that is partly inspired by AutoCAD. So it is mostly geared towards technical drawing. As the user interface is remarkably neat, and clean, even beginners will find their way around this free CAD software quickly.

The modeling tools include NURBS, and Polylines. For more intricate work, you can switch into an isometric view. Also, the QCAD Library browser brings you more than 5000 CAD parts available as free add-ons (e.g. screws, nuts). Though the free CAD software is released under Open Source license, AutoCAD DWG export is only available as a commercial plugin.

  • Best Free CAD Software For: Intermediate to advanced users focused on technical designs
  • Type: 2D
  • Formats: dwg, dxf, dwf, pdf, svg
  • Price: Free
  • OS: Windows, Mac, and Linux

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Best Free CAD Software/Programs #12: Sculptris

Image: Sculptris

Sculptris is a free 3D sculpting program by the same developers as ZBrush. It has similar, though fewer features than ZBrush. Even beginners can grasp the basic techniques of Sculptris quickly, and produce printable models.

As in more advanced sculpting tools, the main concept of this free CAD software is that you don’t try to create a high-resolution mesh right from the start. Instead, you build up levels of details step by step. The groundwork is always to define the silhouette (arms, heads, limbs) in very broad brushes. From there you can switch to smaller brushes, and sculpt large details, pronounced muscles, fingers, and the like. Only then should you add intricate details like wrinkles or scars using finer brushes.

If you want to get your feet wet in 3D sculpting, Sculptris is a great free CAD software option. For more ambitious sculpting projects take a look at ZBrush or Mudbox.

  • Best Free CAD Software For: Intermediate 3D Sculptors who don’t want to commit yet to Zbrush or Mudbox
  • Type: 3D
  • Formats: obj, goz
  • Price: Free
  • OS: Windows, and Mac

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Best Free CAD Software/Programs #13: SketchUp

best 3d modeling software

What strikes first-time users of SketchUp at once is the neat, and tidy interface. There are not many buttons that can boggle beginners trying to understand the 3D modeling software. Thanks to the intuitive tools that allow navigating, and sculpting accurately in the 3D view, it is possible to create simple 3D printable models from scratch within the first few hours of learning.

Which is not say that SketchUp is only capable of simple 3D modeling. Since SketchUp encourages users, and third party companies to contribute extensions – many of them free of charge – there is virtually no limit to its potential capabilities. The free CAD software also includes drawing layout functionality, and allows surface rendering in a variety of “styles.”

SketchUp comes with its exchange repository integrated into the program itself: 3D Warehouse – a library where approximately 2.2 million SketchUp models can be downloaded directly into the program. Also, the support of this free CAD software for 3D printing is already impressive and growing every minute.

Tutorials:

  • Type: 3D
  • Formats: dwg, dxf, 3ds, dae, dem, def, ifc, kmz, stl
  • Price: Free for non-commercial use. 657 €, additional features, educational licenses are available
  • OS: Windows, and Mac

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Best Free CAD Software/Programs #14: SolveSpace

In case you always wanted to have a go at parametric 2D/3D CAD, this free CAD software may be just for you. This capability allows you to easily modify your design by going back into your model history and change its dimensions. Also, its modeling tools include Bezier curves and NURBS surfaces. Another key feature is the simulation of planar or spatial linkages, with a pin, ball, or slide joints. This is invaluable as it will show you possible blockages, and inconsistencies in your designs early in the design process, saving you time and reducing annoyance.

3D printing hobbyists will appreciate the built-in STL repair tool that will make your 3D models printable. This free CAD software is even able to prepare 2D GCode for waterjet machines or laser cutters. The website includes a series of readable tutorials that will ease you into using the program.

  • Best Free CAD Software For: Intermediate users with an eye on functional designs
  • Type: 2D/3D
  • Formats: dxf, eps, pdf, svg, hpgl, obj, step, stl
  • Price: Free
  • OS: Windows, Mac, Linux

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Best Free CAD Software for Advanced Users

Best Free CAD Software/Programs #15: Autodesk Fusion 360

best 3d modeling sofware

Fusion 360 is a professional 3D CAD software tool by software Autodesk. Unlike other professional solid-body 3D modeling software, this program is strong in usability. Still, it covers the whole process of planning, testing and executing a 3D design. It has powerful parametric tools and analytic mesh tools that are well-suited to most challenges in industrial design. Moreover, it is able to simulate both the construction of the components designed as well as the stresses they will face once they are put to their use. Fusion 360 is also set apart by its sophisticated collaborative features. It supports cloud-based file sharing, version control and import/export of common CAD file types.

As can be expected, Fusion 360 has excellent support for 3D printing. CAD files can be directly imported into the Autodesk Printing Studio. Although a commercial program, Fusion 360 is effectively free CAD software for students and educators, as you can apply for a 3 year educational license.

  • Best Free CAD Software For: Engineering and Industrial Design students/professionals
  • Type: 3D
  • Formats: catpart, dwg, dxf, f3d, igs, obj, pdf, sat, sldprt, STL, stp
  • Price: Free for students, 499.80 €/year for commercial use
  • OS: Windows and Mac

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Best Free CAD Software/Programs #16: Blender

Image: Blender
Image: Blender

Blender is a professional open-source and free CAD software for creating animated films, visual effects, art, interactive applications, video games – and 3D printed models. Blender’s dizzying array of features includes 3D modeling, UV unwrapping, texturing, raster graphics editing, rigging, and skinning, fluid, and smoke simulation, particle simulation, soft body simulation, sculpting, animating, match moving, camera tracking, rendering, video editing, and compositing. Also, this free CAD software features an integrated game engine.It is clear that such wealth of functionality comes at a price. Although Blender is free, it is by no means easy to master. Regarding modeling, it is noteworthy that 3D design software Blender includes sculpting capabilities similar to commercial options like Mudbox or ZBrush. This free CAD software provides many tools and modifiers that ease the creation of meshes intended for 3D printing – including a solution to repair meshes.

It is clear that such wealth of functionality comes at a price. Although Blender is free, it is by no means easy to master. Regarding modeling, it is noteworthy that 3D design software Blender includes sculpting capabilities similar to commercial options like Mudbox or ZBrush. This free CAD software provides some tools and modifiers that ease the creation of meshes intended for 3D printing – including a solution to repair meshes.Blender is not suited for beginners, but if you are not turned off by a steep learning curve, and search for one of the best open-source, free CAD software, you have found it.

Blender is not suited for beginners, but if you are not turned off by a steep learning curve, and search for one of the best open-source, free CAD software, you have found it.

Tutorial: Blender Tutorial for 3D Printing: How To 3D Print Text

  • Best Free CAD Software For: Professional 3D Modelers, and 3D Designers, Game Developers
  • Type: 2D/3D
  • Formats: 3ds, dae, fbx, dxf, obj, x, lwo, svg, ply, stl, vrml, vrml97, x3d
  • Price: Free
  • OS: Windows, Mac, and Linux

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Best Free CAD Software/Programs #17: BRL-CAD

BRL-CAD is a free open source solid modeling program. The development of BRL-CAD began in 1979 when the US Army needed a CAD system to conduct ballistic, and electromagnetic analyses. However, this free CAD software is also suitable for academic, and industrial applications including in the design, and analysis of vehicles, mechanical parts, and architecture. You can either model in a GUI or in the command line – users of OpenSCAD will appreciate this. The brilliant modeling system of this free CAD software is based on CSG. In the past BRL-CAD was run on supercomputers like the Cray – today the program can run on a wide array of desktop operating systems.

  • Best Free CAD Software For: Advanced Professionals interested in physical simulations
  • Type: 2D/3D
  • Formats: dxf, iges, stl vrml, x3d
  • Price: Free
  • OS: Windows, Mac, BSD, Linux, Solaris

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Best Free CAD Software/Programs #18: DesignSpark

DesignSpark is tailored to 3D modelers on a budget. In terms of functionality, the program keeps to the conventions of CAD software. This  CAD program features the usual CAD modeling tools. Also, the user interface is clearly inspired by AutoCAD. So, in case you’re looking for a free alternative to that program, it’s worth to take a closer look.

While the core features are free, additional functionality has to be bought. This concerns extended import/export options and rendering. Like some other programs, DesignSpark taps into online services. This allows you download 3D models directly into the free CAD software, and have your designs printed, and sent to you.

  • Best Free CAD Software For: Professionals looking for an alternative to AutoCAD
  • Formats: rsdoc, dxf, ecad, idf, idb, emn, obj, skp, stl – iges, and step require paid addon
  • Type: 2D/3D
  • Price: Free, $835 (All Addons)
  • OS: Windows

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Best Free CAD Software/Programs #19: nanoCAD

nanoCAD in its basic version is a free CAD software. It is another example that shows how one company did something right and inspired others to follow in its tracks: the user interface takes its cues from Autodesk’s AutoCAD. So switching from one to the other won’t be a problem.

nanoCAD supports parametric modeling, which is handy as you can revisit older designs, and adapt them to new tasks in a breeze. Moreover, it can automate a great many routine tasks. As AutoCAD, it comes with a useful spreadsheet editor. The program is uncluttered, making it suitable for hobbyists, and beginners. Still, users have a rich feature set at their disposal. The free CAD software’s functionality can be extended by various plugins. In case your projects are more demanding, you should take a look at the Plus version of nanoCAD.

  • Best Free CAD Software For: Advanced users looking for a free alternative to AutoCAD
  • Type: 2D
  • Formats: dwg, pdf, ifc, plt
  • Price: Free, $180/year (Plus 8)
  • OS: Windows

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Best Free CAD Software/Programs #20: OnShape

Onshape is a mighty enterprise-grade CAD software suite that is free for open-source projects. It is aimed at professional level users, who want version control, and collaboration built. Onshape is delivered over the cloud as a Service. It works on pretty much every system you can imagine – even on iOS, and Android phones.

One of the most interesting features of this is free CAD software is its collaborative mode. Unlike installed CAD and PDM, Onshape gives everyone on the team instant access to the same CAD workspace and same CAD data in one central place in the cloud. Another nifty feature is the ability to manage a master design without the need to save copies or keep track of numerous different file versions.

  • Best Free CAD Software For: Professional, and industrial users, especially if they work in teams.
  • Type: 2D/3D
  • Formats: sat, step, igs, iges, sldprt, stl, 3dm, dae, dfx, dwg, dwt, pdf, x_t, x_b, xxm_txt, ssm_bin
  • Price: Free public version. $100 per month (Professional Edition), $200 (Enterprise Edition)
  • OS: Windows, Mac, Linux, Chromebook, and mobile devices (iOS & Android)

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Best Free CAD Software/Programs #21: OpenSCAD

best 3d modeling software

Another approach to 3D modeling software is OpenSCAD, a free CAD software for creating solid CAD objects. It is not an interactive modeler, but rather a 3D compiler based on a textual description language.
An OpenSCAD document specifies geometric primitives, and defines how they are modified, and manipulated to render a 3D model. This allows you to create 3D designs, which are defined by configurable parameters or reuse code for other projects. OpenSCAD is centered around constructive solid geometry (CSG), and extrusion of 2D outlines.

Admittedly, OpenSCAD is not for everyone. But it’s a free CAD software for die hard modeling enthusiasts, who relish in seeing in their code come to life in the 3D printer.

  • Best Free CAD Software For: Die Hard Coders
  • Type: 3D
  • Formats: dxf, off, STL
  • Price: Free
  • OS: Windows, Mac, and Linux

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Learn the CAD Lingo!

2D CAD Software vs. 3D CAD Software

The most important distinction to keep in mind is between 2D and 3D CAD software. In the olde days when designers and architects stood pen in hand at the drawing board, they designed in 2D. Early CAD software emulated this, displaying only trite top, front, and side views in 2D, and some programs to this day only display 2D. Believe it or not, for functional designs many designers even prefer 2D CAD. As a rule of thumb, 2D CAD software is geared towards simple technical geometry. 2D is always an abstraction of the real thing. So, it is not an ideal tool to explore many alternatives of complex designs.

This is where 3D enters the picture. Only with the advances of GPUs, 3D rendering became a commonplace feature that enabled new tools that had been impossible on the drawing board. This allowed engineers and designers to create more complex geometries. The most radical development probably is 3D sculpting. 3D CAD software enables complex technical geometry, and designs since 3D representations are less prone to misinterpretation. Also, physical simulations are easier to implement and interpret.

As 3D modeling grew out of 2D technical drawing the line between the two is often blurry, as most programs feature modeling tools from both worlds. In our list, you will find the full spectrum of free CAD software!

Solid Modeling vs. Surface Modeling

Many free CAD programs boast solid modeling as a key feature. What’s so solid about a computer file?

Solid models supply information on physical properties like the center of gravity, volume, and mass. The idea behind the solid model is to represent a given object completely to be able to physically manufacture it. Usually, you will start with primitive shapes (cubes, spheres, etc.) which you can add to, and subtract from to model your design.

A surface model on the other hand only consists of a wireframe, and data describing the surface. These can be free-form surfaces like Bezier curves or NURBS surfaces, and others but it contains no information on the model’s content. Surface models are sufficient for many applications, like 3D animation, graphic design, and even 3D printing.

Of course, you’re not stuck with either one or the other. Most free CAD programs allow you to convert between solid, and surface 3D models.