Computer-aided design software can help you turn 2D and 3D designs into useful models and prototypes for a variety of fields. From floor plans and landscaping to kitchen remodels and 3D printing, CAD software has the tools to help you build and customize designs from the ground up. Whether you're a hobbyist beginner, a professional engineer or architectural student, you'll want a CAD software program tailored to your interests.
CAD programs range from professional applications like AutoCAD to consumer-based packages such as TurboCAD Deluxe, DesignCAD 3D Max and SketchUp Pro. These three top our CAD software list due to their affordability and ease of use. Unlike AutoCAD, which is the best and most recognized CAD software for professional users, our top three offer everyday users AutoCAD functionality without the steep learning curve and costly licensing.
If you want to learn more about how CAD software can help you create tangible designs, read some of our latest CAD Software articles. Finding the right CAD program for your unique projects can reduce heavy lifting and leave you free to exercise your creativity.
When shopping for computer-aided design software programs, a few features and tools stand out as key indicators of good software. During our CAD software review research, we found that tools like a command line, house wizard, comprehensive video tutorials and a few others were all included with the best CAD software.
Designing 2D and 3D models is the essence of any good CAD program, so you'll want to be sure your choice has all the right tools. Some programs are only for 2D drawings or 3D modeling, but the best software has a range of feature for both. For architectural designs, look for a wall tool and house wizard to do some of the work for you. Photorealistic rendering is another important feature that enables you to see what your finished designs will really look like.
Easy CAD software might sound like a contradiction, but in truth many programs have resources and features to make the software itself easier to use. The best CAD programs have customizable tool palettes, a command line and the ability to import existing designs. Also, be sure to look for a setup manager and macro recording to save you even more time.
CAD packages should come with many different editing tools. Point markers and layer managers can keep your designs organized. Text and color editing help you make notes and distinctions between different elements and pieces of your project. A snap tool is absolutely necessary so you can "snap" to specific locations on your models. Many programs also come with 2D and 3D symbols and included models so you won't have to create each small element individually from scratch.
Help & Support
Both 3D and 2D CAD software can be hard to learn, so it’s nice to have a support network to walk you through the process. Email is the main source of direct contact with many CAD software manufacturers, but the best companies will offer phone support as well. Also, some technical support is only included for free for a limited time, so be sure to read the fine print before you install your software. Video tutorials, an in-program manual and community forums are also convenient sources for additional help.
Whether you're working with a team or by yourself, you'll need to be able to present and utilize your designs. File compatibility is one aspect of CAD drawing software you don't want to overlook. DWG, DXF, DWF and DGN are the most important formats to look for if you're working with AutoCAD. For 3D printing, an STL export feature is handy. For printing or emailing read-only files, look for PDF and various image file formats for easy transfer.
The best 3D CAD software not only has a wide range of features but an easy-to-use interface. Whether you're looking for top of the line or cheap CAD software, just be sure the program you choose has the right tools for your line of work.