CAD Software Review

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Why Use CAD Software?

Computer-aided design (CAD) software refers to a computer application used to design digital 2D drawings or 3D models – from buildings to machinery, toys to furniture and virtually everything in between. While CAD software is used extensively in complex, design-centric industries such as architectural design and mechanical engineering, it can also be used by consumers and hobbyists to create basic designs and objects.

The term CAD software can encompass a vast array of diverse modeling software applications, but most computer design applications fall under one of two broad classifications: professional-grade software and consumer-grade applications. Professional CAD services boasts robust functionality and intricate features specially designed for commercial use. Autodesk, the maker of AutoCAD, is arguably the most well-known manufacturer of professional computer-aided design software in the world. Its state-of-the-art AutoCAD applications offer a depth of functionality and innovation that few competitors can match. Our reviews focus on more consumer-grade applications ideal for hobbyists, home users and small to mid-sized businesses. AutoCAD is unquestionably an industry leader but its purchase price, vast functionality, and subsequent steep learning curve make it more suitable for professional use.

While they may not have all the bells and whistles of their commercial counterparts, these lighter design applications offer the same basic CAD functionality at a fraction of the cost - you'll save money because they are relatively cheap. To help determine the best CAD drawing program that's right for you and your design needs, be sure to read our helpful articles on CAD software and check out our best CAD software comparisons and reviews including DesignCAD 3D Max, TurboCAD Deluxe and Punch! ViaCAD 2D/3D.

There are many advantages to using CAD software, but perhaps one of its biggest benefits is it enables you to conceptualize a design or object in full before bringing it about tangibly. This not only saves ample time but can help minimize errors and streamline the entire design process. The traditional drawing process with pencil and paper requires immense time and specialized drawing skills, and correcting errors can be difficult and time-consuming. To the contrary, though it may have a learning curve, CAD software can be used by anyone. It also helps you easily determine the proper dimensions of your design, undo errors and replicate redundant design components with a single click of the mouse. Overall, the software makes a once laborious and lengthy design process easier and quicker to accomplish.

CAD Software: What to Look For

When it comes to finding the right application for your needs, it’s important to assess the features and design tools included to ensure the application offers the functionality you are looking for. Here are the criteria we used for our CAD software reviews to determine the best consumer applications on the market.

Features – This category encompasses features that enhance the usability of computer-assisted design software and make it a bit easier and more convenient to use. Look for simple and easy drag-and-drop functionality, a command history to show previous actions, and the ability to create custom tool palettes to show only the tools you want to use for a specific project.

Design Tools & Methods – CAD software should offer a wide range of versatile design tools and methods that allow you to create any type of design. Many design applications offer both 2D drawing tools and 3D modeling tools, though some only have 2D capabilities. 2D tools allow you to draw flat designs that show length and width, such as floor plans. 3D tools allow you to build multi-dimensional designs that show depth in addition to length and width.

You should also look for design tools and methods that allow you to add visual interest to a design, yield a more realistic view of an object, or make it easier to read or understand. For instance, transparency options allow you to adjust the transparency of different layers in a design, and a color editor allows you to color the design. Other tools and methods to look for include snap tools, lighting effects and the ability to add textures to your designs.

File Compatibility – DWG (drawing) is a binary file format for both 2D and 3D designs and the native format for most CAD software. Most applications also support DXF files, a file format developed by Autodesk to enable data compatibility between its AutoCAD software and other design applications.

While DWG and DXF files are the most commonly supported file types, we also looked for other file types such as PDF, WMF and WPG as well as image files including JPEG and PNG. Greater file compatibility means you’re more likely to be able to import existing designs into an application and export in a file type that can be read by other applications.

Ease of Use – Given its implicit functionality, CAD software is inherently more complex than most design or multimedia computer software. However, light (personal) applications should still be intuitive, polished and well organized for easy navigation.

Help & Support – Questions and technical issues are likely to arise even with the most intuitive CAD software. Subsequently, it’s important to seek an application that’s supplemented with comprehensive help and support options designed to help you learn how to properly and fully use the software. To that end, we sought applications with a built-in help section accessible directly from the interface. This way, if you are using a feature you don’t know how to use, you can click on the help section to receive information relevant to that feature. We also looked for direct technical support via email or telephone and supplementary FAQs, user guides or training videos from the software’s manufacturer.

Whether you want to design your dream house or a piece of furniture you want to build by hand, our side-by-side comparison and consumer CAD software reviews can help you find the application that’s right for your project.

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Rank #1#2#3#4#5#6#7#8#9#10
10-9  Excellent
8-6    Good
5-4    Average
3-2    Poor
1-0    Bad
DesignCAD 3D Max TurboCAD Deluxe Punch! ViaCAD 2D/3D ZWCAD TurboCAD LTE SmartDraw Alibre Design AnvilCAD Lite progeCAD Standard DeltaCAD
DesignCAD 3D Max TurboCAD Deluxe Punch! ViaCAD 2D/3D ZWCAD TurboCAD LTE SmartDraw Alibre Design AnvilCAD Lite progeCAD Standard DeltaCAD
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Lowest Price
Visit DesignCAD 3D Max 21
$99.99
Visit TurboCAD Deluxe 18
$129.99
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$99.99
Visit ZWCAD 2012
$799.00
Visit TurboCAD LTE v3
$107.99
Visit SmartDraw VP
$197.00
Visit Alibre Design PE
$199.00
Visit AnvilCAD Lite
$595.00
Visit progeCAD Standard 2010
$499.00
Visit DeltaCAD
$39.99
Ratings
9.50
9.05
8.25
7.90
7.48
7.13
6.85
6.18
5.98
5.58
10
9
8
7
6
5
4
3
2
1
10.00
8.75
10.00
8.75
10.00
9.38
8.75
10.00
8.75
8.13
8.13
7.50
10.00
8.13
7.50
8.13
7.50
8.75
7.50
7.50
8.13
5.00
8.75
7.50
8.75
7.50
5.63
7.50
7.50
8.13
7.50
6.25
6.25
6.88
7.50
6.25
5.00
7.50
7.50
5.00
7.50
5.00
4.38
5.63
7.50
6.25
5.00
6.25
7.63
2.50
 
Features
Custom Tool Palette
  
 
Drag-and-Drop Functionality
  
  
Import Existing Designts
Text Editing
 
Command History
 
 
 
Measure Command
Macros
  
 
 
Point Marker Tool  
        
Design Tools & Methods
2D Drawing Tools
3D Modeling Tools
  
  
Cross Hatching
  
Parametric Design
Textures
 
 
    
Snap Tools
Color Editor
Transparency Options
 
 
 
Lighting Effects
 
 
 
Photorealistic Rendering
      
Design Wizard
 
 
  
Wall Tool
    
Extrude 3D Models from 2D Designs
   
   
Generate 2D Drawings from 3D Models
       
Animations
  
    
 
House Wizard  
   
    
Help & Support
Training Videos
 
Tutorials/User Guide
   
 
Email Support
Telephone Support
 
  
User Forums
  
 
Built-in Help Section
 
 
FAQs    
 
  
Supported Configurations
Windows 8
 
Windows 7
Windows Vista
Windows XP
Mac OS X