Best Free CAD Software

Let’s talk about free shall we?

Throughout this site you’ll find the very best commercial CAD software for the widest range of design disciplines, but not everyone can afford the luxury of a commercial grade software. For some people free CAD software may just be perfect for what they need to design, a one-off project on a zero budget.

How is it possible that FREE CAD software can even exist? There are several reasons…

1. The free CAD software is ‘open source‘, meaning that no one person or entity owns the code and therefore the source code is open for anyone to adopt and develop. Usually they must share in what they develop and let everyone else also use it. The problem with this approach is that rather than ‘many hands make light work it makes spaghetti’. Disparate code from multiple sources. But heck its free so who is going to complain right?. An example of open source CAD is ‘FREECAD’. Yes that’s its name and it is very capable but it is also very complex and of course unsupported. Others include, QCAD, LibreCAD, NanoCAD, HeeksCAD, BlockCAD, LeoCAD and many more.

2. The free CAD software is a very old version, meaning that is no longer supported by the developer and they are simply allowing people to use the software for free in the hope the users will want to upgrade at some time in the future. This can be a great idea if you can still get license numbers to run it and if it works correctly on newer operating systems and computers that the software was never designed for. An example of this is TriCAD which was re-released as RealCAD v5. This is great piece of software for those looking to do basic 2D but it has an old interface, won’t run on Mac and can be a slow on large files.

3. The free CAD software is a trial version. This is great for a one-off project if you can get your learning and project done within the time, size or printing limitations of the trial software. Usually once you have loaded and used your trial you can’t do it again without reformatting your entire computer. Examples of this exist for almost all CAD programs on the market including IronCAD (for product design and engineering/machine design), ARCHLine.XP (for building design and interior design), LANDWorksCAD (for landscape design) RealCAD (for advanced 2D design) ARES Commander (for general drafting) etc.

4. The free CAD software is a student or educational version. This is cool if you are a student but generally these have limits on them such as they only work for a year or the files you create in them can’t be shared or they have a watermark on the output so you know they are not commercial drawings etc. You must prove yourself to be a full time student at a known place of education doing a known design course. All CAD software have educational versions available, and they are generally the latest versions too.

5. The free CAD software is a marketing version designed to get you ‘hooked’ on the software and encourage you to eventually purchase a more capable version at some time in the future. These products are usually ‘time-bombed’ to stop working after a set period or they have other file size or functional limitations that you may encounter and want to have removed. An example of this was the original versions of AutoCAD that were easily ‘cracked’ as a clever way to get more users. In more recent times Draftsight released a good 2d drawing package as a means to swing users from AutoCAD and Autodesk software to Dassault’s SolidWorks alternative. RealCAD Draft is also available as a free version for 2D drafting. This being a stepping stone to the full version with more features and easily the editors pick for free CAD drafting software.

If you have the budget to purchase good CAD software we would encourage you to do so. You can even rent software if your budget is tight and your projects are not ongoing, but if your budget is zero and you have plenty of time to learn to use and fix problems along the way then free CAD software is a great option. What we don’t encourage is for you to avail yourself of cracked versions of CAD software. The legal implications can be crippling, especially if use commercially and we have witnessed the collapse of companies that have used software illegally and been taken through a very expensive court process as a result.

Questions? Ask an expert