CAD nowadays refers to a broad variety of software packages which include everything from 2D illustration to virtual electrical-component testing. From simulations to renders and animation, every package brings with it new items and features, design techniques and tips and other workarounds or tweaks, CAD packages are an array unlike any other modern day industry-specific software category.
Here we are comparing a few of the most affordable CAD software solutions which offer enough under the hood, for professional engineering designers and manufacturers to students and hobbyists alike. Even DIYers can take on these packages and do a lot with little or no help. Read on for the best economical solutions the industry has to offer.
Top Five Affordable CAD Software Packages
Number 1 on our list is SketchUp, formerly known as Google SketchUp. Any level of CAD user can take SketchUp and start drafting 2D illustrations or design 3D models and with the number of extensions and plugins available there is no match for the prowess of SketchUp’s rendering and other miscellaneous features. This is one reason why it’s #1, the lack of extended features makes it one of the most basic packages for CADing and a user can actually use the Windows version on a single core 2.0 Ghz machine with a mere 1GB of RAM.
No special GPU is required and SketchUp still manages to pull its weight when it comes to rendering or lighting. The tool set is relatively easy and the interface is made to feel homey and easing with it nitty gritty options hidden away under context menus. All in all, SketchUp has free versions, for trial and academic purposes, with its most expensive version (SketchUp Construction) costing almost USD 500. Please bear in mind, that this one-time fee can get you what USD 1500 gets you with AutoCAD and the like.
Economy, user-friendliness & a very short learning curve (not to mention the bulk of training, reference and ready to use warehouse material) make this one of the most affordable CAD packages in 2015 and beyond.
We have also covered SketchUp previously in Sketchup Tutorials and Free CAD Softwares for Beginners.
This is one CAD solution that is termed as AutoCAD's clone. It’s marketed as: “For those who want AutoCAD, but can’t afford it.” The most expensive version tops out at USD500 but has enough off-the-shelf, ready-to-use community contributions for you to think about the price difference. A lot of people will say it rightly, ProgeCAD has an interface just like AutoCAD’s but that’s the purpose it was built for. To help AutoCAD users get the same feel and work environment for almost 1/3rd the cost so as to eliminate the learning curve when moving from package to package.
This is one package that actually falls in the AutoCAD-like heavy weight category for the amount of features it offers. But only AutoCAD users will be at ease working with it, others might require the same learning span as that with AutoCAD due to their striking similarity. BricsCAD license is proprietary and has an extended base for third party application support. Cloud connectivity and the so-talked-about Quad™ Cursor are features that put BricsCAD way above SketchUp and ProgeCAD but not only is it’ Platinum license for almost USD1,000 it also has some documentation and collaborative features that are a real pain to learn. A standard package (BricsCAD Classic) license is USD500. Hence in the economical category, BricsCAD is a recommendation, just not the first one.
We have previously covered BricsCAD in BricsCAD – AutoCAD alternative.
USD100. That’s all I have to say about this package, from the developers of TurboCAD who wanted people to be able to use basic CAD functions with as little hit to the pockets as possible. It’s versatile, functional, and easy to learn and to use but also has texture-related features and photo realistic rendering modules. It comes with over 10K symbols free, to choose from with customization and support options (again free) that make you grit your teeth at the fleet of AutoCAD support personnel, whose services can be acquired after you’ve acquired the USD 1,600 license.
One of the major drawbacks, one should expect from such a software is lack of extendibility in terms of future prospects. Since STL files are not supported, 3D printing is a thing of the future just like many other file formats that are alien to the package.
Another cheap deal, starting at only USD 200. A fully featured version only for USD200 offers enough to make you want to drop AutoCAD, if your professional contributions don’t depend on it. NanoCAD lacks many features that AutoCAD is known for such as associative hatches and solid 3D object manipulations. But NanoCAD has some neat tricks up its sleeve, those which AutoCAD doesn’t know about. Raster manipulations are one thing, an Excel-styled table editor is another. A line type editor makes property operations a breeze. Check out the detailed discussion about NanoCAD.
All in all, SketchUp is one of the best, most affordable CAD software packages available. This is especially true because of first-hand experience with the above mentioned packages. Google’s innovative and intuitive feel and design nature are wildly apparent with every click opening sidelined with a hot-key or shortcut feature that allows you to enter dimensions directly after having clicked on the canvas after selecting a shape. The extendibility of SketchUp and the relative costs involved, all make SketchUp a steal.
|SketchUp||Single – USD 500||Generic||Anyone|
|ProgeCAD||Single – USD 500||Generic||Ex-AutoCAD users|
|BricsCAD||Classic – USD 500||Design & Manufacturing||Pro|
|DesignCAD 3D Max||Single – USD 100||Design & Manufacturing||Semi-pro|
|NanoCAD||Single – USD 200||Design & Manufacturing||Student to semi-pro|
Note: All prices are estimates for the kind of license mentioned. If a license type is not mentioned, please refer to the product website to see the deals available in your area. Also, prices were taken from product websites at the time of gathering information before writing this article. Please seek advice from support staff and product website in order to get the best kind of license and the best price for it.