6 Best Product Design Software in 2023 (Free & Paid)
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Top quality software is key to becoming a successful product designer, but with so many options, picking one can be daunting – particularly for new designers. To make things a little easier, we’ve put together this guide where we review the best product design software.
Different product design software come with different features, compatibility, and price tags.
To help you make the right choice, we’ll take a look at:
- Programs with different and target audiences
- Some free product design software for those working on a budget
- The different factors to consider when picking the ideal product design software for you
- FAQs, including industry tips
Best Product Design Software – Full Round-Up
Best Free Product Design Software:
- Blender: Best Free Product Design Software
- SketchUp: Best Product Design Software for Beginners & Best Online Product Design Software
Best Paid Product Design Software:
What is Product Design and Industrial Design?
Product design is the process through which designers assess user and business needs to come up with a product that suits both. It involves identifying niches in the market and designing a product that addresses the needs of these people, and then manufacture and bringing the product to market.
Industrial design has a very similar meaning, although this refers to designing products that are to be mass produced in industrial settings like factories.
Is Product Design Hard?
Product design certainly isn’t easy – if it was, then everyone would be able to make lots of money from it. Think of the many people who take products on shoes like Dragon’s Den and Shark Tank only to be rejected. It takes hard work and skill, but it is of course possible to succeed in product design, and finding a top quality software is key to that.
Read more: the best shoe design CAD modeling software
Do I Need Special Software for Designing Products?
You don’t need to use software for product design – you technically still can use a pencil and paper, just like for any other type of design. However, having the right CAD (computer-aided design) software makes it exponentially easier and quicker to make higher quality, more accurate designs.
How can CAD software improve the product design process?
Here are the main ways CAD for product design can improve the process:
- Complete control over every structural and aesthetic aspect of your products.
- Create unlimited revisions, all of which are saved and reflected instantly in models.
- View designs in photorealistic renderings & simulate them in real-world conditions.
- Automate and simplify the design process to improve efficiency.
- Easily share projects and collaborate with colleagues and clients.
What Can You Do With Product Design Software?
Different product design software have different functionality, which depends only partly on your budget. I say partly because while free and cheap programs typically have more limited tools for industrial design, you also have software like Blender which is completely free and open-source, yet very advanced.
So, you need to take a deep-dive into a program’s capabilities to see if it’s suitable for what you want to do. As an example, let’s look at Blender in comparison to Solidworks, one of the most expensive and best software for product design.
While both are very high quality, there are some fundamental differences between the two (aside from price). Blender uses mesh-based 3D modeling, while Solidworks uses parametric modeling. This means Blender is better for creating organic models, while Soldiworks is better for mechanical drawing and manufacturing using defined parameters and constraints.
Product design is a very varied and wide-ranging process, and what you can do with a software isn’t solely defined by how much cash you can spend, so make sure you really explore a program’s capabilities before signing up.
Best Product Software Reviews
Now let’s take a look at the best product design software, starting with some free options.
Best Free Product Design Software
Blender – Best Free Product Design Software
- Price: Free
- Compatibility: Windows, Mac, Linux
Completely free to use
Open source and highly customizable
Advanced 3D modeling tools
Available on Mac, Windows & Linux
Complex to learn
If you’re looking for the best product design software that’s completely free and open source, it’s hard to look past Blender.
Blender is an exceptional free CAD modeling software that’s used for everything from animation and VFX to video editing and product design. Available on Windows, Mac & Linux, it provides a wide range of different designing tools, including 2D sketching and sculpting, with second-to-none renderings for bringing your models to life.
It also has some nice features for streamlining the product development process. For example, you can use automatic modifiers called operations for performing effects such as subdivision surfaces, without affecting your product’s base geometry.
Bear in mind that Blender is a powerful software, and has a steep learning curve – and this is without the support you get with some paid programs, so it can be daunting for beginners. There’s a great community though if you are stuck.
On the other hand, as this product designer software is open source, coders can use the Python API to customize scripts and even develop new tools and features, something you simply don’t get with paid software. There is also a very active user community around Blender and a marketplace through which you can purchase custom scripts.
SketchUp – Best Product Design Software for Beginners & Best Online Product Design Software
- Price: Free/Paid
- Compatibility (Desktop Version): Windows, MacOS
Unlimited free version
Free version is online
Cloud-based for easy sharing
Available on iPad
Less advanced than other product design software
Picking a design product software for the first time as a beginner can be hard, due to many of the most popular programs being expensive and complex to learn. One program that is more beginner-friendly, however, is SketchUp.
It’s a 2D and 3D CAD software that’s more basic than, for example, Blender, but is very well designed and simple-to-use, so it’s easier to learn.
There is an unlimited free version of SketchUp which has more limited storage and features than the paid options, but if you try it and like it the paid options are also affordable, starting from $95 a year.
Subscribers to paid licenses get access to more advanced capabilities such as experience reality headset viewing of your models and 360° panoramic renderings. All paid versions are compatible with iPad, Windows, and Chromebook.
Another major advantage of SketchUp is that unlike most 3D software for product design, the free version is online-only.
This means you can quickly and easily access it from anywhere without needing to download anything, and you can even view your designs on mobile using the SketchUp Viewer app. Though bear in mind this does mean you require a strong WiFi connection to use the software.
SketchUp is also available on Mac and iPad. The iPad app is a good option if you want to use a stylus for product designing, as few other programs have this functionality.
Best Paid Product Design Software
Fusion 360 – Best Product Design App for iPhone & iPad, Best for Chromebook & Best for Mac
- Price: from $56 monthly
- Compatibility: Windows, MacOS, iOS, Android, Chrome OS
Intuitive and well designed user-interface
Advanced product design extension
Cloud-based so is great for collaborating
Simulates 3D products in real world conditions
CAD, CAM, CAE & PCB in one suite
Available on Mac, Windows, Chromebook, iPhone, iPad
Have to pay extra for full product design tools
Autodesk’s Fusion 360 is another of the most popular and best 3D product design software on the market.
As is typical of Autodesk software, Fusion 360 is fantastically well designed and very intuitive – more so than numerous other programs – which makes it a favorite of both hobbyists and professionals alike. There are also loads of tutorials and guides online to help you get started.
Plus, as it’s cloud-based it’s one of the best product design software for collaboration. It also offers a high quality iOS app that supports over 50 2D & 3D CAD formats, so it’s perfect for designing on your mobile or iPad.
It’s a multi-functional program built for CAD, CAM, CAE, and PCB modeling operations within a single design suite, usable for every step in the product design and manufacturing workflow.
Fusion 360’s base version offers a wide range of advanced design and 3D modeling tools that allow you to create high quality, precise products and then simulate them in 3D to test against real world conditions. However, if you’re really serious about product design, you should also consider the Fusion 360 Product Design Extension.
This is fairly costly at $72 a month, but offers a variety of features designed to automate and simplify the product design process, so it can help to improve both the efficiency and accuracy of your work.
Autodesk Inventor – Best for Mechanical Product Design
- Price: from $318 a month
- Compatibility: Windows
Specialized for mechanical product design
Blends a mix of design techniques for increased flexibility
Real world simulations
Collaborative and automation features
Integrate with other Autodesk products
Not ideal for general product design tasks
Complex to learn
Another one of the best product design software from the Autodesk suite is Inventor. While Fusion 360 is a more of a general purpose CAD/CAM software, Inventor is specifically tailored to mechanical design, so it’s a popular option among professional engineering designers and is one of the best industrial design software.
This is a powerful and flexible software that offers a mix of parametric, direct, freeform and rules-based design, so it’s perfect for designing complex shapes for mechanical parts.
One top of that, it has a range of integrated tools for designing things like sheet metal, cables, and piping. Thanks to the DWG compatibility and model-based definition capabilities, manufacturing information is embedded directly onto your designs.
Inventor allows you to simulate your designs in real-world conditions and optimize accordingly, and it has built-in collaboration tools allowing for easy feedback from colleagues and stakeholders.
There are also a variety of tools designed to streamline workflows and improve efficiency. For example, you can use the iLogic feature to automate tasks, and you can use the Forge Design Automation API for processing jobs in the cloud.
Another benefit of using Autodesk software like Investor is that it’s integrated with other Autodesk programs, like Fusion 360 and AutoCAD, so you can combine the capabilities of each.
Rhino 3D – Product Design Render Tool with Advanced 3D NURBS Modeling
- Price: from $995 for perpetual license
- Compatibility: Windows, Mac
NURBs modeling offers unlimited flexibility
Extremely precise mathematical-based 3D modeling
Large user community
Complex to learn
Not suited to 2D design
Rhino 3D is a well known product design and 3D modeling software that’s been on the market for over 20 years.
This free-form product design program is perhaps best known for its use of NURBS (non-uniform rational basis spline) modeling. This allows you to create and modify 3D models through mathematical representations, offering an unrivaled level of flexibility and control over your designs while ensuring pinpoint accuracy.
Other 3D modeling techniques used in this software include point clouds, subdivision geometry, and polygon meshes (bear in mind this means the software is not suited to 2D designing). As well as modeling, Rhino 3D can be used for high quality rendering, animations, drawing, and product documentation.
There are many examples of Rhino 3D being used for product design online, including for designing a hairdryer, computer mouse, and an iron, so you can see it in action before signing up. Due to its advanced modeling capabilities, it’s widely used in industrial design.
Rhino 3D is another design a product software with a larger and active user community, where you can engage with other users, get help and learn how to carry out different functions with the program, and check out other users’ creations.
Solidworks – Best for Industrial Design, Best for Windows & Best for 3D Rendering
- Price: from $3,995 for perpetual license
Professional industrial design software
Suitable for designing using extremely complex shapes
Best rendering software for product design
Well designed and user-friendly interface
Not available on Mac
One of the most expensive product designing software
Solidworks is one of the best-known CAD and CAE software for industrial designers and is used by professionals around the world to create everything for airplane parts to medical devices
The Solidworks manufacturing design software is part of Dassaults Systemes’ 3DExperience platform. This is a collaborative environment that aims to simplify the design process and increase innovation through a variety of ways.
It provides all the design tools you need, from conceptualization through to modeling, including easy-to-use sketching tools, integrated and free-form parametric modeling, direct editing that transforms both native and imported geometry, and unrivaled renderings that provide realistic depictions of how your products will look.
Solidworks then aims to bring teams together on its cloud platforms, so you can easily collaborate and collect stakeholder concept feedback, with all data stored securely and available anywhere.
Despite being one of the most advanced software for product design, Solidworks is also one of the best designed, with a very user-friendly interface. It also has a buzzing user community – the only downside is it’s unavailable on Mac and Chromebook.
Buying Guide – Things to consider when choosing product design software
Here are the key factors to consider when comparing different software for product design.
Different product design software are compatible with different devices. While most can run on Windows, if you’re using Mac, iOS, Android, or Chromebook, you’ll need to make sure a product development platform supports your operating system before signing up. Some programs, like SketchUp and Fusion 360, are available on all major operating systems.
Features & Functionality
The most important step is finding a product design software solution that has the capabilities you need. Are you looking for both 2D and 3D design? Do you want to use organic models, like in Blender, or parametric models, like in Solidworks? Are you looking for a program like Fusion 360 that supports CAD and CAM as well as CAE and PCB? These are the types of questions you need to ask yourself.
Every designer wants high quality 3D renderings that bring their models to life in photorealistic quality, and this is especially important to pros. However, the better the graphics and rendering, typically the higher the cost. This isn’t always the case, as Blender is free and has high quality rendering, but other top rendering programs like Solidworks come at a pretty high cost.
Software like SketchUp also offer options like panoramic and interactive augmented reality renderings which can provide different perspectives on your designs.
Usability & Training
This is especially important for beginners, as many product design software are complex and have a steep learning curve. If you’re new to product design, look for software that are designed to be user-friendly, offer support and training, and have active user communities where you can more through forums.
SketchUp is one of the most beginner-friendly product design software, while Fusion 360 is another intuitive program that can be quicker to learn than others like Rhino 3D.
Budget & Free Trial
As you can see from our reviews, the price for top product design software varies widely, and many programs have various license options with different features. Luckily, there are some free options like Blender and SketchUp, and the majority of paid programs offer free trials, so it’s always recommended to use this and thoroughly test a software before you drop a large amount of money.