6 of the Best Alternatives to AutoCAD

AutoCAD is a flagship product by Autodesk, the drafting industry’s juggernaut, designed to help its users with product or building design, manufacturing planning, construction, and civil infrastructure. The sleek, three-dimensional, computer-aided design software is fully-featured and a go-to for professionals, studens, and hobbyists but costs a lot more than other programs that match its capabilities. For this reason, we are sharing this list of the best alternatives to AutoCAD.

What Makes a Good AutoCAD Alternative?

If you’re an average student or hobbyist working on a lean budget, you don’t have to always pick AutoCAD. There are some worthy contenders with similar supporting infrastructure and critical functionality.

The challenge is in deciding which AutoCAD alternatives are worth your time, as the market is awash with ghastly knockoffs. You’ll obviously want more affordable alternatives to AutoCAD that offer similar features and read similar files, easily integrate with AutoCAD, and are intuitive to learn.

The most important factors to consider include:

  • Cost – Free drafting software is always a great option, but even lower-cost premium options are still better than the more than $1,700/year you’ll pay in subscription fees with AutoCAD.
  • Compatibility – If you used to use AutoCAD or need to view and edit AutoCAD files, you’ll want to choose an alternative that’s compatible. It’s important to note there is an official free AutoCAD file viewer available if you just need to view files.
  • Cross-platform compatibility – Even though AutoCAD is available for Windows, macOS, iOS, and Android, a Linux version still doesn’t exist.
  • Built-in toolsets – AutoCAD contains built-in toolsets to get you started quickly with common tasks, such as architecture and electrical.
  • Intuitive interface – Despite all the complex tools and features, AutoCAD is still incredibly intuitive. The best alternatives are easy to learn and use and will ideally have ample documentation.

1. FreeCAD (Free)

While LibreCAD works great for 2D models, FreeCAD is one of the best open-source alternatives to AutoCAD for 3D modeling, though it supports 2D as well. Plus, it’s designed for Windows, macOS, and Linux environments.

The Best Alternatives To Autocad Freecad

Parametric modeling is a core feature, allowing you to go back through various changes to build upon them. Dozens of file types are supported, included DWG. Grouped workbenches make it easy to find the tools you need for specific tasks. More are being added regularly.

The large variety of tools in this free architectural design software can easily rival those in premium alternatives and AutoCAD itself. Plus, it’s completely free.

What we like

  • Free
  • Cross platform
  • Support for dozens of file types
  • Uses minimal resources to run on even older systems
  • Active community for support
  • Parametric 2D sketcher
  • Workbenches for ease of use

What we don’t like

  • Steep learning curve
  • Some features may be outdated, depending on community development

2. SolidWorks

For a while, AutoCAD has had pretty good support for 3D modelling, but its greatest strengths remain as a 2D-design and drafting architectural software.

The Best Alternatives To Autocad Solidworks

Solidworks is a parametric solid modeler focused mainly around 3D designs. That means you’ll need to have some knowledge of engineering terms rather than just geometric ones.

The latest edition of SolidWorks has excellent features, like the ability to do freehand sketches on touch-screens. Despite being primarily focused around 3D modelling, its 2D sketching tool still remains functional, even though it’s much lighter than what you find in AutoCAD.

Pricing details

You have to request a quote for exact pricing, but the starting price is around $4,000/year along with an annual maintenance fee of over $1,000. Students can pay as little as $60/year and qualifying startups and entrepreneurs can even get it for free initially. The reason it’s so expensive is because it is so similar to AutoCAD.

What we like

  • Excellent 3D modeling functionality
  • Unbeatable in the fields of engineering and automation
  • Compatible with DXF files
  • Assesses weak points in designs
  • Good 3D-printing compatibility
  • Touchscreen-based sketching
  • Some command-line functionality

What we don’t like

  • Windows only
  • Limited 2D sketching
  • Expensive

3. BricsCAD

This CAD platform is known for its reach features and has several familiar features, including native .dwg applications.

Best Autocad Alternatives Bricscad

If you’re familiar with AutoCAD’s 2008 version, BricsCAD has a somewhat similar interface plus rich features in 2D design and 3D direct modeling. You can use it with the major operating systems, such as macOS, Windows, and Linux, and hundreds of third-party apps from across the world, which are based on .dwg.

Despite being a paid software like AutoCAD, BricsCAD is more affordable with four editions: Lite, Pro, BIM, and Mechanical. The latter two are feature-packed with tools that aren’t found in AutoCAD, such as Sheet metal, 3D Compare, and BIM.

BricsCAD also integrates with the cloud, has a robust rendering engine, recognizes XREFS, and is customizable.

If you just need a basic 3D modeling solution, BricsCAD Shape is completely free. While it doesn’t have the same powerful features, it’s still an impressive offering for free architectural design software.

Pricing details

One great thing about BricsCAD is that you can try it for free for 30 days without a credit card. After that, you’ll have several options, including:

  • Lite pricing – $350/year or $560/lifetime
  • Pro pricing – $720/year or $960/lifetime
  • BIM pricing – $1,360/year or $1,800/lifetime
  • Mechanical pricing – $1,290/year or $1,700/lifetime
  • Ultimate pricing (bundle of all editions) – $1,500/year or $2,000/lifetime

As you can tell, lifetime licenses make this significantly more affordable overall.

What we like

  • Easy to use if you’re familiar with AutoCAD
  • Faster LISP execution
  • Perpetual licenses available
  • Broad customization and development capability
  • Built-in tools such as IFC import/export, architectural direct modeler with BIM database and SketchUp SKP
  • Opens complex drawings faster
  • You can read, edit, save AutoCAD files to .dwg
  • Can use AutoCAD customization
  • AI-enhanced predictive QUAD cursor works faster on large drawings

What we don’t like

  • Has a difficult document management tool
  • Limited scope

4. DraftSight

Draftsight is a professional-grade alternative to AutoCAD, designed for users looking for better ways to read, write, and share .dwg files.

Best Autocad Alternatives Draftsight

The open 2D CAD software is easy to use and is based on advanced architecture with all the tools you need to create technical 2D drawings. From professional CAD users to educators and students, DraftSight is available for a free download and activation in a few minutes. It also runs on multiple OS platforms, including Windows 10 64-bit and macOS Mojave and higher.

Through its clear user interface, which makes DraftSight easy to use and learn, you can make accurate revisions, as design elements are stored in layers. You can also create G-Code directly in the program and save and open DXF and DWG files. It also has a huge design library from which you can use existing designs, do batch-printing, and also access macro recording.

However, it only comes in a paid version, so if you’re on a low budget, you can go with the cheapest of its pricing plans. This is good for students or hobbyists. For businesses, DraftSight offers three plans: Professional, Premium, and Enterprise, with pricing varying with your needs. As you scale up, the tool begins to compete with AutoCAD, offering advanced capabilities if you’re willing to fork over more for these features.

Pricing details

A free 30-day trial is available. This is one of the most affordable professional alternatives to AutoCAD. Each plan costs:

  • Professional – $199/year
  • Premium – $499/year (adds 3D functionality)
  • Enterprise/Enterprise Plus – Pricing by quote only

What we like

  • Many features
  • Good for 2D modeling
  • Easy to run with storage space
  • Easy to learn and use
  • Perpetual license available
  • Save and open DWG and DXF files
  • Compare designs, add symbols, or append PDFs to project files

What we don’t like

  • Doesn’t run LISP routines
  • No express tools
  • Lacks 3D capability in Professional edition
  • Not useful if you want specialized solutions

5. SketchUp (Free)

Formerly Google SketchUp, this free tool is an excellent pick for CAD professionals.

Best Autocad Alternatives Sketchup

SketchUp is a 3D-modeling program used in a wide range of applications from interior design; architectural, civil, and mechanical engineering; video game and film design.

Available as a freeware version, the tool works with several types of files, including DWG, DXF, OBJ, XSI, and more, plus can export HD animations and PDFs.

Pricing details

While the architecture design software is mainly known for its free version, there are three premium plans available if you need more functionality, such as unlimited access to pre-built 3D models, unlimited cloud storage, and a desktop edition. These include:

  • Shop (Web only) – $119/year
  • Pro (desktop/Web) – $299/year
  • Studio (desktop/Web) – $1,199/year

Promo codes are often available on the site to discount the Pro and Studio plans.

What we like

  • Easy to learn and use
  • Easy to import different types of files
  • Vast library to upload or download drawings
  • Good for creating 3D models
  • Integrates with third-party plugins

What we don’t like

  • Less detailed designs owing to lesser rendering ability
  • Doesn’t let you create NURBS

6. LibreCAD (Free)

This is another free alternative program that is feature-rich and commands a large following of customers and designers.

The Best Alternatives To Autocad Librecad

LibreCAD is a high-quality open-source 2D-modeling software birthed from QCAD (later known as CADuntu) and resembles AutoCAD in concept and features.

If you’re familiar with AutoCAD, it’s easier to use LibreCAD, especially for Linux users and those who want a free CAD tool that reads DWG files too. It can also be used with Windows and Apple platforms and is based on Qt, a leading cross-platform application and UI-development framework.

What we like

  • Free
  • Easy to learn and use
  • Reads DWG files and other ytpes
  • Writes DXF files
  • Source code is available on GitHub
  • Seamless transition from AutoCAD
  • Clutter-free interface
  • Not resource-intensive
  • Multilingual (more than thirty languages)
  • Cross-platform support for Mac, Windows, and Linux OS
  • Can export JPG, SVG, PDF, PNG, and other file types

What we don’t like

  • 2D only
  • Only displays 2D views
  • Can’t work on 3D models and renderings

Honorable Mentions

While the above are some of the best drafting software alternatives to AutoCAD, they’re not the only options that deserve a mention.

The Best Alternatives To Autocad Selfcad

Some others you may want to check out that aren’t quite as feature rich,but are still great for personal use and smaller projects include:

  • nanoCAD – Offers a free basic option for educational and personal projects only. Five premium plans are available starting at $180/year. It provides all the tools you need for most drafting projects and is compatible with DWG files. For commercial use and additional features, you’ll need to upgrade to a premium plan.
  • SelfCAD – It’s easy enough for beginners to pick up quickly but advanced enough for professional designers to use. It’s perfect for both 2D and 3D models and has both a Web and desktop version (macOS/Windows). The basic version is completely free. Pro is $139/year or you can buy the Lifetime version for $599. A 10-day free trial of Pro is available.
  • Tinkercad – This is a free educational tool from Autodesk. While it’s not as feature-rich as AutoCAD, it’s an ideal alternative for beginners, hobbyists, and general personal drafting projects. While it’s made for students and educators, you can create a personal account for free to start tinkering with new designs.

Wrapping Up

From professionally-priced tools to free open-source options, there are alternatives to AutoCAD for every type of user. While most premium options are moving to a subscription-based model, some still do offer lifetime licenses, which are typically a great deal for long-term use.

Students should always consider checking for student versions, which might not always have the full set of features but are significantly cheaper. However, you may only be allowed a temporary license for the duration of your education.

Are there other great AutoCAD alternatives you use? Let us know why you prefer them in a comment below. You may also want to check out these best online diagramming software.

Image credit: SolidWorks, BricsCAD, CHIP, SketchUp, LibreCAD