Whatever capability and technology we witness around us wasn’t even conceived when the first commercially launched computer Univac 1,was launched in 1951. You might have heard that necessity is the mother of all invention. The performance and capabilities of computers that we enjoy today has been just a result of different necessities.
CAD was a relatively unheard terminology back in 1960 when IBM first decided to use computational power to develop a drafting system. It came out as a source and inspiration for all the developments in Computer-Aided Design software.
CAD has now become a platform to project our design ideas in front of others. Today, you can get your hands on free CAD software with enough functions to model 3D designs.
But this was not always the case.
Computer Aided Software: A Brief History
No matter how good of a sketcher you are, if you wish to launch a product or enter into any sort of manufacturing be it a pen or a supercar, you need precise and accurate design schematics. Earlier it was done by manual drafting, where professional Sketchers would take days and weeks to come up with a complete design.
Don’t even ask how difficult and cumbersome it was to make amends or add new features to a design. The sketcher had to repeat everything from the ground. But with CAD software, you need to develop a basic understanding of the features and user interface. It allows designers the capability to develop complex design structures very conveniently.
Since the early ages of product designing, we have come a long way, surpassing thousands of limitations in the development of computer technologies. It has allowed us to use computers for other than mathematical and logical operations. We are talking about designing, rendering, and modeling.
It is close to impossible to project imaginations and discuss them with others. While such a technology can be available in the future, currently we have alternate versions of computer-aided design software with different capabilities. It can enable you to create complete models of 2D, 3D, and even Virtual modelling.
CAD software is widely used by technical professionals such as architects, and engineering designers. The purpose of this software has been to provide the tools needed by designers to develop graphical and pictorial representation with pinpoint accuracy. The applications of CAD, on the other hand, are not just limited to designing. It also allows designers to perform analysis by testing different components of the design.
But mostly, CAD is used for creating surface models or 2D vector drawings of physical components. Its simulation features are a perfect replica of physical rendering.
The real-life applications of CAD software are much more diverse in Engineering and Architecture, allowing designers to rectify flaws before developing a physical prototype.
Is CAD free?
Since CAD supports all standard symbols required for technical drawingand schematics, its use in industries has grown significantly. CAD software is being widely used in any, and all sorts of designing from jewellery, auto parts, buildings, cars, vehicles, bridges, clothes, interior designing.
Since the benefit of using CAD software is humongous, every small business is searching for avenues to take advantage of its feature. But not all software is available for free.
After all, it takes months and years to come up with complete software.
The most commonly asked question being is there any hope for small businesses and students to use CAD software without paying a hefty activating fee. Well, apart from piracy, there are some Open source and free CAD software that can offer you the features of paid software without paying a hefty amount.
There is a large number of differences between fully paid software and free or Open source software in terms of services. You should understand the meaning of these terminologies.
The entire concept of using open source software is to get features provided by a paid-software for free. Despite the takeaway term being free, you may be charged for assistance or additional services. Under this circumstance, you may end up paying even while using open-source software.
At the same time, when you purchase a membership to a paid software, you receive a better product with features like full assistance and technologies. You can take advantage of software with free trials, these free trial software comes with restricted access.
When comparing software based on security, there are two sides. While the code of an OSS can be viewed or modified by the community, it means faster bug fixes, quality reviews, and even upgrades. But at the same time, it also becomes an open door for hackers to infect the code with malware, adware, or any virus.
For paid or Closed Source Software, the entire situation is just the opposite. Bug fixes and customer support may take longer to resolve. It is up to you what you wish to choose security or quick resolutions. But the restriction on accessing the source code of CSS offers better both security and reliability.
In Open Source Software development, the source code is shared under a license allowing access to other users. Sharing of source code allows users and developers to zero-in on any bugs or defects and even add more features. Hence, the user guides here are designed to provide access routes to software developers, not users.
On the other hand, user-guides in paid or Closed Source Software are developed for the end-user. These guides offer a detailed explanationof using different features and how to access them. Any modification to the source code is done solely by the owner or developer of the software.
We do not host or promote the idea of piracy and vocally protest against doing the same. Not only is it a disservice towards the developers, but it is also a common way of welcoming malware, and viruses. We recommend users to stay on this course.
Best free CAD software: Beginner’s Guide
The complete CAD software requires a generous amount of processor and GPU capability. While 2D modelling CAD software will work fine with Intel 8th gen or Ryzen third-gen processors and integrated graphics, a 3D modelling software won’t. To take full advantage of 3D CAD software, you should have at least 4 GB of dedicated graphics. This scenario fits in the case of laptops only.
If you have decided to build a PC using CAD software. Be aware that the manufacturer has different GPUs for gaming and 3D design rendering. Factors like Base Clock, VRAM, and Memory Type will come in to play while choosing a GPU for 3D rendering.
When using a full package CAD software, go with a processor with base clock speeds of above quad-core 2 GHz and 8 GB of RAM. Devices with GDDR SDRAM in graphics will perform better than system RAM. Hence a mix of 4 GB system RAM and 4 GB GDDR SDRAM will offer optimum performance.
Choosing CAD software doesn’t need to involve too many parameters. Instead, just going over these primary aspects will ensure that you have the perfect software.
The most significant aspect is ascertaining your level of expertise and familiarity with features. Every user must identify their professional expertise before choosing software. You will have to identify, whether you need 2D, or 3D, or simulation CAD software.
For example, in case you intend to work with 2D modeling, getting a powerful free CAD software capable of 3D designing and rendering will slow down the operations. Higher system requirement software takes a longer time to load and process information.
But if you’re good with 3D modeling and analysis, choosing a top of line software becomes very important to realize your complete potential.
Best Free CAD Software: User Reviewed
For the ease of new users in choosing a CAD software after they have identified their requirements, we have reviewed a lot of Open Source Software and free versions to identify the best free CAD software for beginners to advance.
So, let us begin our review.
LibreCAD is a decent CAD software but comes with limited stable release and lesser users. This software and its features are only suitable for the needs of a beginner. It provides an alternate option for CNC routing operations.
While it was launched as CADuntu, after many community suggestions, its name was changed to LibreCAD. The best thing is that LibreCAD is available in over 30 languages and supports all their major computer operating systems.
LibreCAD allows Custom menus, Import and Export of design files, Drawing, Editing, Annotation, 3D modeling, and DWG support.
LibreCAD is among a few free 2D CAD software with multi-platform support including, Windows, Apple, and Linux. There is no requirement for dedicated graphics, users need to have at least 4 GB of RAM for optimum performance.
Apart from design and modelling, LibreCAD is a good opportunity for aspirants interested in furthering C++ programming, documentation writing, or translations as it requires a lot of such professionals. LibreCAD is the best free CAD software for beginners to start their familiarity with using CAD software.
Being an Open Source Software FreeCAD offers a parametric 3D CAD with finite element method support. Developed using Python architecture, FreeCAD allows users to modify its features and make personalized versions. Its features are developed to tame the requirements of professionals using technical drawings such as an engineer.
It also offers the features needed by architects and electrical engineers in structural and PCB designing.
Perhaps the benefit of Open source software is its ease of modifications and range of operating system support. FreeCAD supports Windows, Linux, Mac, and Unix OS. FreeCAD has been on the market for the past 18 years, with the last stable release launched in November 2019.
The user interface of this application takes inspiration from Solidworks, both share a strong resemblance. The parametric design support will allow you to make changes in history mode.
FreeCAD also comes with added features for converting 2D into 3D and vice versa. You can integrate a lot of other file formats with your final drawing to increase your productivity.
Users can support the developer by donating to him or bug bounty programs for other developers to secure. The best feature is the Finite Element Analysis tool that allows for engineering analysis. FreeCAD recommends minimum RAM storage of 4 GB for designing and 8 GB for assembling.
A dedicated graphic card will improve its graphics rendering speed.
4. AUTODESK TinkerCAD
The user interface of TinkerCAD takes things to new heights with an intuitive web-based CAD design. So, if you are interested in working on CAD without compromising on computer performance, this free CAD online will do the trick for you. Despite being a website, the features and responses are quick and smooth.
TinkerCAD was developed, keeping in mind the aspirations of content creators and hobbyists with no access to performance computers. This application, just like Fusion 360, is also owned by Autodesk. You will have to sign-up and login on to the website. It makes use of both STL and OBJ file formats supporting both stereolithography and 3D geometry.
Autodesk TinkerCAD web version has exceptional support for creating educational videos or graphical youtube videos. But as of late TinkerCAD has released dedicated options for downloading designs for either 3D printing or Minecraft.
It also offers several 3D designs, Electronics and Codeblocks. Whether it is assembling or simulating, TinkerCAD offers a stable cloud-based service. You can even export the 3D models to Minecraft Java edition and continue designing stuff using Lego bricks.
You can use this website on Windows, Mac, and Chromebooks without facing any difficulty. A good internet speed is a must as there are no offline versions of this CAD website.
SketchUp has a rich history in the CAD software domain, offering services for the last 20 years. It is a freemium product, meaning a free version with powered down features is available along with a paid professional version. It helps draw new users to their platform and make them comfortable with the services.
Before we get down with the services and features, let us go into its development history. It was developed by @LastSoftware to provide pen and paper interface to professionals. But after a decent six-year run, it was acquired by Google in 2006 for an unsaid amount of money.
SketchUp now offers multiple editions and features. In free web versions, you have SketchUp Shop and SketchUp Free,which offers different functions and features specifically designed for a separate category of professionals. SketchUp is among one of the best web-based CAD software for Mac.
This version is a good option for DIY designers but is popular amongst woodworkers. It offers features such as a 3D printer interface, CNC routers, and other computer control machines for precision machining.
It was launched in 2017 to replace the SketchUp Make application. It offers users free access to 10 GB of cloud storage, which allowed ease of working on collaborative projects using its cloud feature. With the number of features on this website, 3D modelling becomes a breeze, especially when considering remote useability. A decent internet reception and you are good to use this software.
NanoCAD also comes under the segment of freemium CAD software. It simply means that while this software is free, the upper variants are available only on a subscription license. Even though the source code for NanoCAD is available for free to use and share.
Owner Nanosoft offers customized software for architects, machining. It also offers a Pro and a Plus range of software. NanoCAD, on the other hand, is a dropped-down software that allows a professional level CAD interface. You also get a lot of drafting and designing tools with OpenAPI.
With the number of features and support for creating, editing, validating, and sharing CAD models. This software provides a great user experience by providing higher performance, full capability, a classic interface, native dot DWG format support.
NanoCAD has been optimized, to cater to the needs of students and fresh CAD aspirants. The installation time is barely 5 minutes, it is up and running just after installation. There is no requirement for system file download.
It only supports Windows OS. The prime highlight of NanoCAD is the complete basic and advanced tools for creating DWG compatible files with customizable features and API. It allows users to explore automation in developing CAD application software.
1. Autodesk Fusion 260
Fusion 360 is a known CAD software, which has recently beenmade free for personal use, although businesses will have to buy a license to use it. Earlier users were required to buy a licensed version to enjoy all the features of this software. Although its free license is valid only for one year, it is great news for many Fusion 360 aspirants.
Autodesk Fusion 360 is a powerful software that combines design, engineering, and manufacturing to a single platform. You can create seamless 3D simulation models, checking stress, and strain in the object. There is a long list of features available with the Fusion 360 free version, but a lot of features have been locked to avoid commercial use on the personal license.
The liberties allowed in Fusion 360’s personal use mode are standard designing and 3D modelling tools. You can use milling operations in two and three-axis milling and turning. You get 3D printing, 2D drawing, PCB designing with an 80 square cm PCB area.
As far as support is concerned, you will only be able to take help from the forum. There is no one-to-one help desk for personal user licenses. You can now keep only ten active editing ready documents, but there is no cap on the number of free inactive documents that you can keep.
For full editing, support, and all CAM features, you will have to get a subscription. To run this software at its absolute best performance, you must have at least a 64-bit quad-core processor with clock speeds above 1.7GHz.
In addition to that, you also need at least 6 GB of RAM. Even a device with 1 GB of dedicated graphics will work. Fusion 360 is a free CAD software for Mac and Windows, with adequate support in paid versions.
Which is the best CAD software?
The number of CAD software available out there is overwhelming, and each of the software has its pros and cons. For someone fluent in CAD system terminologies, we recommend trying the Fusion 360 personal version, which is available free of cost. For users just into 2D drawing, LibreCAD offers premium performance and features.
With later versions donning a cloud computing-based designing software a good internet connection will help you connect to the software for basic designing and collaborative discussion, which is not possible even in paid-versions.
NanoCAD and its higher siblings are a must checkout software because of their professional dedicated software versions. Even if those are not available for free, you can subscribe to them after getting acquitted by the features and capabilities of NanoCAD. For 3D designers, we recommend Fusion 360 and NanoCAD.
Whether you are a painter, digital artist, or an aspirant designer/engineer, CAD software will provide you with the tools and features needed to create real-life scalable diagrams or simulations in a digital environment. FEA or Finite Element Analysis is a huge opportunity in your hands to make changes in existing designs and compare different elements.