CAD software is where the magic happens.
From idea to draft to sleek 3D design model, free CAD software is a crucial tool for professional designers and hobbyists for various applications, from 3D modeling and printing to mechanical engineering, architecture, and product design.
But, many of the top professional software used in industry languishes behind pricey paywalls, out of reach of the average designer.
Thanks to the proliferation of free CAD software, with little in the way of compromises compared to paid CAD programs, even cash-strapped budding bedroom designers can get their hands on one.
To help you out, we’ve pulled together the top free CAD software tools so you can create professional-level pieces, without the cost.
You’ll find accessible user-friendly picks, feature-rich options for advanced designers, programs better suited to technical ends, and ones with a more artist-friendly seasoning.
We’re employing the term ‘free’ fairly loosely here – so you’ll find 100% free open-source options, pared-down free versions, and everything in between.
Best Free CAD Software for Beginners
- Price: Free
- Operating System Compatibility: Windows, macOS, Linux
- Supported File Formats: STL, OBJ, DXF, and more
FreeCAD is as free as they come.
The fruit of a collaborative community open-source project, FreeCAD is available to download and use to all and any with no financial strings attached and will remain so forever.
FreeCAD doesn’t impose any commercial limits, and all designs or data remain solely the property of the user.
FreeCAD is developed around the idea of parametric modeling and the creation of solid, full-precision objects and designs suited to the real world.
All tools and manipulations in FreeCAD depend on real-world units, such as kilometers and microns, meaning objects can be tweaked based on properties, elements, or constraints (text, numeric values, etc.) and they’ll adapt accordingly.
It also allows users to chain together custom objects using the properties of one to shape the others with on-demand recalculations and a precise undo/redo modeling history stack.
FreeCAD also integrates a 2D sketcher to quickly draft complex 2D shapes as a foundation for a full model.
Furthermore, the community aspect of FreeCAD means there are countless plugins and add ons available to level-up your toolkit as required, along with an archive of tips, tricks, and general advice to sweeten up your time with FreeCAD.
While FreeCAD isn’t the most accessible free CAD software out there, it’s sufficiently intuitive and well-thought-out that beginners can conquer the learning curve without too much frustration.
- Price: Free
- Operating System Compatibility: Browser-based
- Supported File Formats: STL, OBJ, GLB, SVG
Designed by Autodesk, the software developer responsible for AutoCAD, Maya, and Fusion 360, TinkerCAD aims to offer a free and undaunting introduction to 3D modeling.
The only hoop-jumping you’ll need to contend with is creating a free account, useful for saving your designs on the free provided cloud storage space. Otherwise, there’s no cap on features and use.
Better yet, TinkerCAD is browser-based, so no local installation is required.
TinkerCAD revolves around placing basic geometric shapes and rotating, adjusting, and moving these to generate designs.
Tooltips framed as quick lessons accompany your initial time with TinkerCAD, walking you through all the most essential features and controls. For beginners, TinkerCAD offers quick lessons to run you through the basics and guided free projects to hone your skills.
The bright and cheerful interface, toolbar, and navigation are as intuitive as they come, simple enough that it’s the CAD software of choice for young learners, green beginners, and classrooms.
As TinkerCAD runs from all browsers, there are no operating system compatibility limitations. You could even use it on your phone, although a larger screen is recommended for a better experience.
While elegant in its simplicity, TinkerCAD is a light offering and very much a beginner tool lacking advanced features for professional applications.
Anyone with any design experience will likely find the block-based design too time-consuming for creating complex models and should instead look to AutoDesk’s big-hitters like Fusion 360.
Best Free CAD Software for More Experienced Designers
- Price: Free non-commercial license for personal use and full commercial license for startups meeting certain criteria
- Operating System Support: Windows, macOS
- Supported 3D Printing File Formats: 3DM, ASM, DWG, DXF, IAM, IPT, OBJ, STL, STEP, and more
Fusion 360 is a professional CAD program developed by Autodesk that combines CAD, CAM, CAE, and PCB design into one unified suite.
While you’ll need to hand over $500 a year for the full-fat version, a pared-down but still powerful version of Fusion 360 is free for hobby, home-based, and non-commercial projects.
We’d usually balk at using CAD software with limited features, but all the essential ones are here.
Only the most advanced are pay-walled and active projects are limited to just ten. Hobbyists, especially those designing for 3D printing ends, are unlikely to notice what’s missing, given the depth of what’s on offer in the free version.
It features standard design and 3D modeling tools, CAM functions such as 2 and 3-axis milling, compatibility with water jets, laser, plasmas cutters, and limited two-layer PCB designs.
The software also includes a dizzying range of design methods, including:
- Mesh modeling
Although stacked with functionality, Fusion 360 remains accessible and easy to use, even if you’ve not poured hundreds of hours into CAD software.
The UI and menus are stacked but clear, and, as you’d expect, most aspects are customizable.
If you’re part of a fledgling startup that earns less than $100k a year, has been in business for fewer than three years, and has no more than ten employees, Autodesk offers the full, commercial version of Fusion 360 for free.
- Price: Free to students/educators
- Operating System Support: Windows, macOS, and browser-based version available
- Supported 3D Printing File Formats: DWG, DXF, 3DS, SAT, IPT, DGN, DXB, IJ, PDF, 3DM, WMF, STEP, and more
Launched back in 1982 before many of us were even born, AutoCAD is one of the most recognized CAD programs. It’s largely responsible for establishing the design standards and file formats present in almost all other competing software.
AutoCAD is geared towards professional applications such as electronics, construction, engineering, and architecture, including tool sets with features tuned to specific industries.
It also features a host of drafting, annotating, automation, and collaboration functions regardless of whether you’re working with 3D or 2D designing, or modeling solids, surfaces, mesh objects, and more.
Widespread compatibility with other AutoDesk products and thousands of third-party plugins means AutoCAD can keep pace with your design needs as they evolve.
The complexity and depth of AutoCAD require a learning curve, but a trove of tutorials provides all the guidance you’ll need regardless of your initial skill level, although beginners may find it overwhelming.
AutoCAD is only available free to students via a non-commercial one-year license, renewable as long as you meet the eligibility requirements.
Educators are thrown into the freebie mix, too. Typical hobbyists will need to shell out the hefty $450 a year for AutoCAD LT, a version limited to 2D design and drafting. Those imperatively looking for 3D modeling will want to turn to the full paid version.
- Price: Free non-commercial version
- Operating System Support: Browser-based
- Supported 3D Printing File Formats: STL, SKP, JPG, PNG
Another hulking professional CAD software downsized for the frugally-minded designers out there, SketchUp Free rubs shoulders with the likes of Fusion 360 in terms of features and design power.
SketchUp Free veers off the beaten path by bridging a highly-intuitive, simple UI with fairly advanced functionality suitable for 3D printing and a host of professional applications such as product design, interior design, and floor planning.
It’s perfect for beginners put off by busy layouts, but also experienced designers who want solid basics without any unnecessary bells and whistles.
Aside from the CAD software itself, SketchUp Free also comes with 3D Warehouse, a massive repository of user and manufactured-generated models to remix and explore, or even spice up your existing projects.
Alongside, developer Trimble lends users 10 GB of free cloud storage with easy collaborative sharing tools.
It’s browser-based, too, so firing up a design is quick and easy on all devices.
The SketchUp Free version is a non-commercial deal, so the full SketchUp software is a better bet if you want to cash in on your work.
At $120 a year for the lowest-priced SketchUp Shop subscription, it’s considerably more affordable than the likes of Fusion 360 and AutoCAD, for example.
- Price: Free, open-source
- Operating System Support: Windows, macOS, Linux
- Supported 3D Printing File Formats: BVH, SVG, PDF, STL, DXF, OBJ, and more
Using a similar open-source model to FreeCAD, Blender is a comprehensive, professional-grade CAD software chiefly designed for creative applications.
It’s completely free, including no limits on commercial use, unhindered tailoring and customization, and full ownership of any models or data made in Blender.
The CAD software of choice for game design, animation, 3D modeling, and VFX, Blender’s functions are extensive and include:
- UV unwrapping
- Simulation (smoke, fire, fluids, hair, cloth, particles)
- Visual effects
- Camera tracking
- Video editing
- and more…
Blender also has an extensive Python API, allowing users to shape and mold every tool, layout, UI, and shortcut to their preference.
It supports a robust set of import/export file formats, too.
The accompanying community proposes plugins for various applications, including more practical ones such as product design and architecture.
Blender’s learning curve isn’t for the faint of heart due to the wealth of tools. Getting to grips with so many possibilities requires a substantial time investment despite a sharp UI and community guidance, restricting use to seasoned designers, game developers, and 3D artists.
- Price: Free, open-source
- Operating System Support: Windows, macOS, Linux
- Supported 3D Printing File Formats: DXF, DWG, JWW, LFF, CXF, SVG, BMP, CUR, GIF, ICNS, ICO, JPEG, JPG, PBM, PGM, PNG, PPM, TGA, TIF, TIFF, WBMP, WEBP, XBM, XPM, and more
LibreCAD is a CAD software for 2D design.
An open-source project, LibreCAD is 100% free to all and can be tweaked, hacked, and modified with no restrictions. If anything, it’s encouraged. There are no limitations on using models for commercial ends, either.
LibreCAD’s focus is 2D sketching, a potential turn-off for those set on 3D modeling.
The limits might look restrictive, don’t let this put you off. LibreCAD houses all the 2D sketching tools you’ll likely ever need to create complex drawings, outclassing those found on premium paid alternatives.
LibreCAD also throws in a few unique tricks, such as hatching patterns and multi-layer drawing.
With an interface that feels like a simplified take on the AutoCAD layout, LibreCAD won’t overwhelm beginners, while advanced users should find depth in the features.
Regular updates and a vibrant community of contributors mean new features appear reasonably regularly, expanding what LibreCAD can offer designers in various fields, from architecture to product design and engineering.
Other articles you may be interested in:
- Best 3D CAD software
- Cura vs Slic3r
- The best free 3D modeling software
- Best 3D animation software
- Best 3D rendering software
- Best 3D sculpting software
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