AutoCAD has been the standard for engineering and architectural drafting over the past few years. Autodesk has long been the leader in the field, but what if you want to expand your horizons past AutoCAD and try some other options? We have found what we believe are the seven best alternatives to AutoCAD out there, some are free while some are paid.
To help you familiarize yourself with the different programs, we’ll break each one down and analyze why they’re able to challenge AutoCAD.
1. SketchUp (free)
SketchUp is one of the most widely used 3D modeling programs in the world. It has a fully functional free version, and the paid version simply adds another layer of depth to the software. SketchUp is a unique 3D modeling program in that you draw shapes and then extrude them by clicking and dragging to distance. That makes it feel similar to building something in real life, and less in the virtual space.
SketchUp is also extremely versatile. You can design anything from a hotel building, a house, all the way down to tiny gears and small mechanical parts. It is great for both architectural and mechanical engineering projects. That versatility is why we suggest anyone interested in a good AutoCAD alternative start with SketchUp.
2. LibreCAD (free)
LibreCAD may be the closest competitor in the way it operates to AutoCAD. This is a 2D CAD software that looks and behaves very similar to Adobe’s option. The biggest difference? LibreCAD is totally free and open source. It is also available on Windows, Apple, and Linux, meaning you can run it on any computer platform you wish.
In addition to the platform choices, LibreCAD also has 30 different language options, allowing users from many different countries to enjoy this software. LibreCAD may be free, but it has all the tools and features you need to draw and design your next project. It can stand up to the most expensive and respected software on the market, which is quite a feat for a free option.
3. SolidWorks (free trial)
SolidWorks, much like AutoCAD, is a software that came out decades ago. While they both have a long history, they are definitely not exactly the same. SolidWorks is both a 2D and 3D capable software, but has an emphasis more on the 3D aspect. AutoCAD is a 2D CAD program, meaning it can’t do the 3D modeling on equal footing with SolidWorks.
SolildWorks is not the best program for architectural or structural work, but it excels in the engineering space. Aerospace, automotive, engineering, and design are all areas in which SolidWorks is actually a better option than AutoCAD. Figuring out exactly what you need in a CAD program is going to determine which software is better for you.
4. DraftSight (paid, $99/year)
If you’re looking for a great alternative to AutoCAD at a much more affordable price, DraftSight could be the perfect software for you. It is quite like the AutoCAD, and some would argue it’s even better. When you combine the exceptional features with the competitive price, you get a great package of tools that won’t break the bank.
The basic version of DraftSight, offers all the 2D CAD tools you need to be competitive with AutoCAD. While you can upgrade to the professional version and get more 3D capabilities, the base version gives you more than enough features. The ability to upgrade to a higher tier and performance package at a later date also gives you a way to move your skills forward in the future if you want.
5. FreeCAD (free)
FreeCAD is a great alternative to AutoCAD. As the name implies, it won’t cost you anything either. While you do have the option to donate if you enjoy the software, that’s completely optional and only there to help the developer keep the updates to the software coming. This 3D parametric CAD program is incredibly similar to AutoCAD in terms of feel and features.
While it will take those fluent in AutoCAD a little while to get the hang of the different controls in this application, once they know the shortcuts and buttons, everything becomes a breeze. If you’re a hobbyist or someone thinking of dabbling in engineering and you want free software that can get you AutoCAD levels of performance, we highly recommend checking out FreeCAD.
6. nanoCAD (freemium)
One of the main reasons many people stay away from AutoCAD is the high price point. While it is somewhat justified in the support and feature set of the program, it is simply too high of an entry point for many. That is where nanoCAD comes in. This software is just a fraction of the price of AutoCAD, and has many amazing features.
Here, you get a fully functional CAD program complete with timely updates and new features. The tools included in this program are intuitive and easy to use, and the ability to import industry standard files is a great addition. No matter what type of application you use, engineering or architectural, nanoCAD is worth your time.
7. SolveSpace (free)
We’ve mentioned AutoCAD’s cost several times already, and that’s because it is a legitimate barrier for many users. If you want something cheaper, SolveSpace, a free 3D parametric CAD program that is absolutely free, may be for you. This program will never cost you anything, and it can handle even the most complex CAD drawings.
Not only can you draw in 2D space like you can with AutoCAD, but you can model in 3D space as well. This software actually comes with the added benefit of being able to use the models for 3D printing. If you just need to fix something around the house, you can model it in SolveSpace and print it right on your 3D printer. It can also be used for architectural purposes as well.
AutoCAD is a great program, but it does have some downsides. The seven programs listed above are all viable AutoCAD alternatives and most of them are free. They each have their own interface and toolset, but they are more than capable of doing what AutoCAD does!
Have you used AutoCAD or any of the software on this list? Let us know in the comments below!
Chris is a computer geek for a decade. He loved talking to computers via codes, and now he finds it more interesting communicating with the real people. He now writes everything related to computer issues and loves helping people solve problems.