AutoCAD is a software tool that allows people to create computer-aided designs and drawings. CAD stands for Computer-Aided Design.
Many people use AutoCAD, from engineers to architects to students to contractors. Landscapers and other construction professionals rely on it heavily as well.
Using AutoCAD, you can draft and design both 3D and 2D models. You can create solids, surfaces, and more, and you can automate many tasks as well, such as model comparisons.
However, AutoCAD is far from cheap. As of now, an annual subscription costs $1,598, while a monthly subscription costs $220/month (always check the purchase page for updated pricing information, as the price is subject to change).
That, among other reasons, causes many people to look for AutoCAD alternatives. If you are one of those people, you’re in luck – there are many AutoCAD alternatives that are cheaper and even free.
Today, I will be going over the 10 best AutoCAD alternatives you can use to draft and annotate drawings and model designs. Regardless of why you need to use AutoCAD, you should be able to find a suitable alternative on this list.
All of the AutoCAD alternatives on this list have one common denominator – they can be obtained for free.
Let us get into it.
FreeCAD, found at freecadweb.org, is one of the best free alternatives to AutoCAD. Not only is it free to use, but it is open source, which means that its source code is public and available to all to view, edit, copy, and distribute.
FreeCAD is an excellent parametric 3D modeler that allows you to create 2D drawings and use them as a basis for creating 3D models. You can also work the opposite way around: extract 2D models from 3D models.
FreeCAD supports many file types, such as:
- Many others
It also works on Windows, Mac, and Linux devices.
Here are some of the features of FreeCAD that make it so great:
- A geometry kernel based on Open CASCADE Technology, allowing for complex 3D operations
- A constraint solver built into the sketcher, allowing you to work on geometry constrained shapes and use 2D models as bases for 3D models
- Modular architecture allowing for plugins and add-ons for additional functionality
- The ability to study robot movements in a graphical environment with the use of the Robot simulation mode
- Finite Element Analysis tools
- Many others!
There is an amazing community behind FreeCAD. Since it is open-source, the community of developers volunteers to find bugs and improve the software.
To download the free software for your Windows, Mac, or Linux machine, go to the download page. The tutorial page can help you figure out how to use the software, and you can also go to StackExchange to ask questions and get help from others.
You can also browse the documentation.
LibreCAD is an excellent free alternative to AutoCAD for those working on 2D models. Since it is open-source, like FreeCAD, it has a large community of developers and users behind it, who donate and contribute fixes.
LibreCAD was once known as CADuntu, but only for a few months – it was renamed as LibreCAD pretty quickly. Still, sometimes you may see it referred to as CADuntu on some older blogs and forums.
It is entirely free to use LibreCAD – you don’t need to pay or subscribe to anything. Since it is open-source, you are free to copy and distribute it.
LibreCAD works on Windows, Mac, and Linux devices, and it is available in 30 languages.
Again. LibreCAD is for 2D modeling. To download it for free, go to the download section.
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BRL-CAD is yet another free and open-source alternative to AutoCAD. Actually, they collaborate closely with LibreCAD, the previous AutoCAD alternative on this list.
For example, LibreCAD operates under the umbrella of BRL-CAD in Google Summer of Code and Google Code-In.
BRL-CAD boasts 30 years of deployment. It is a cross-platform solid modeling system with features like:
- Hybrid CSG and B-rep kernel
- High-performance ray-tracing
- Extensive geometry libraries
BRL-CAD can boast of something that not many other alternatives can lay claim to: It is used by the US Military. Yes, the US Military uses the BRL-CAD platform for weapon system modeling.
Using BRL-CAD, the US Military is able to test the lethality and potential vulnerabilities of various weapons.
As mentioned, BRL-CAD has been around for three decades. It was first released in 1984, and it first became open source in 2004, but it was first started all the way back in 1979.
BRL-CAD is cross-platform, as mentioned. Not only is it available for Windows, Mac, and Linux machines, but it can be used on BSD, Solaris, and other platforms.
You can download the different versions of BRL-CAD for different platforms, as well as external plugins, here on SourceForge.
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NanoCAD is a free CAD software alternative to AutoCAD, with a catch – if you use the free version, you can only use it for educational and evaluation purposes. That will be enough for many people searching for a free AutoCAD alternative.
You don’t need to register an account to use the free version. However, using the free version, you can’t use it for profit or commercial purposes.
NanoCAD is a great alternative to AutoCAD because it has many of the same features, in addition to some features that AutoCAD does not have. Here are some examples of AutoCAD features that NanoCAD has as well:
- Multiple document mode
- Command syntax
- File tabs
- Auto recover drawings
- External references
- Many others
Some features that NanoCAD has that AutoCAD does not include:
- The ability to create a viewport from model space
- A line-type editor
- The ability to preview undos and redos (only the premium version of NanoCAD offers this feature)
Since NanoCAD supports DWG files, you can use drawings from NanoCAD in other CAD software without doing any tricky conversions. DWG is the industry standard, after all.
The Excel-style table editor and comprehensive command set are two more reasons why I think NanoCAD makes a great AutoCAD alternative. Also, NanoCAD has different API types, which allow you to build applications and add-ons for additional functionality and more features.
Again, although NanoCAD is free to use without a purchase or subscription, it does require a license to be used for commercial purposes. However, it is much cheaper than AutoCAD, with licenses and plans starting at just $180/year compared to AutoCAD’s $220/month – check the NanoCAD purchase page for updated pricing information, as prices are subject to change.
To download NanoCAD for free, go to the NanoCAD download page.
For a full list of NanoCAD tools and products, go to the products page – however, keep in mind that those other products only offer a free trial.
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OpenSCAD is an excellent, free alternative to AutoCAD. It is free software you can use to create solid computer-aided design objects.
It is a cross-platform software, being that it is available on Windows, Mac, and Linux devices. The website might not look the fanciest, but it is free to use, so you can’t really complain.
In addition, it is being maintained and updated regularly, so it is not like you have to download an old version. The latest version was released just a few months ago (January 2021 – check the download page to see the latest version, or check the news page to see other updates that might interest you).
Generally, there are two main ways to use OpenSCAD. One modeling technique you can use is constructive solid geometry, while another technique is the extrusion of 2D outlines.
You can go to the download page to download the latest version and check system requirements – for example, the latest version as of this writing requires a Mac OS X 10.9 or higher or a Windows 7 or higher.
In addition to Windows and Mac, you can download OpenSCAD for:
- Arch Linux
- Any other platform if certain system requirements are met
The source code is public and available on GitHub.
I really liked the Cheat Sheet, which can help you get started.
You can browse books on OpenSCAD with titles such as:
- Mastering OpenSCAD
- Understanding OpenSCAD
- Technical Modeling With OpenSCAD
Comprehensive OpenSCAD tutorials are also available for those just getting started.
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6. QCAD (2D)
Like LibreCAD, QCAD is a free and open-source software for two-dimension modeling. So, if you are looking for a free alternative to AutoCAD for 2D modeling only, consider using QCAD.
One of the things I love about QCAD is how simple and easy it is to use. The interface might not look the most modern or be the fanciest, but it is incredibly intuitive and easy to figure out, even if you have never used QCAD before.
Some of the awesome features you can take advantage of when using QCAD include:
- Print to scale
- Print on multiple pages
- Group with blocks
- Use up to 35 CAD fonts
- Use up to 4,800 CAD parts from the library
- Many more features
QCAD is available on Windows, Mac, and Linux devices.
You can go to the download page to download the free version of QCAD. By default, that comes with a free trial of the Professional version as well – the free trial allows you to work using the Professional version for up to 15 minutes at a time.
In other words, you can use the Professional version for free as many times as you want – but you can’t use it for more than 15 minutes. If you can complete your work in 15 minutes, you will have no problem; you can restart the Professional version every 15 minutes.
However, if you want, you can only download the free version and not deal with the Professional version or its free trial at all. Remember, QCAD is not only free but it is open-source, meaning the source code of the free version is public and available to all.
I will mention that the Professional version of QCAD is incredibly cheap. It costs just €33 for a single license, which includes free updates for a year.
You can go to the online QCAD shop to see updated pricing information.
Draft It is a free CAD software package created and distributed by Cadlogic. Draft It is free forever, making it a great alternative to AutoCAD, and it allows you to create CAD models using professional tools and save or print your work.
Some of the features you can benefit from when using Draft It by Cadlogic include:
- Drawing tools – create lines, circles, arcs, and more
- Various dimension tools
- Dynamic editing
I will mention that while Draft It is forever free, there are premium versions as well. Using the premium versions, you can benefit from additional features.
For example, the Plus version, which costs just £20, adds additional drawing tools, like:
- Build fit
- And more
Also, the Plus version allows you to create and save symbols to insert in other drawings and take advantage of the layer management tool. The Pro version, which costs £99, gives you access to a symbol library with hundreds of ready-made symbols you can insert into drawings.
The Pro version also gives you more dimension tools and allows you to upload AutoCAD DWG & DXF files. Finally, the Architectural version, at £199, gives you access to features like hundreds of architectural symbols and a 3D model viewer.
The good news is that if you want, you can keep the free version forever and never pay anything. If you do decide to upgrade, Draft It is still a lot cheaper than AutoCAD.
However, Draft It is NOT cross-platform software like many of the other AutoCAD alternatives mentioned in this list. Draft It is only compatible with Windows computers, both 32 and 64-bit.
Go to the download page to download the free version of Draft It (both 32-bit and 64-bit versions are available). When you download the free version, you will also be downloading trials of the three other versions of Draft It: Plus, Pro, and Architect.
Those three other versions can be used for up to 15 days. Once those 15 days are over, you can continue using the free version of Draft It without any limitations.
LeoCAD is a rather interesting alternative to AutoCAD. It is free and available for Windows, Mac, and Linux devices.
LeoCAD allows you to design virtual models using LEGO bricks! That’s a rather unique idea, and if that is something you might be interested in for whatever reason, it will make a great alternative to AutoCAD.
The LeoCAD software is compatible with LDraw tools, and it also makes use of the LDraw library, which has over 10,000 parts you can add to models and designs. Also, you can use both LDR and MPD files with LeoCAD.
LeoCAD is not only free, but it is also open-source. As such, everyone can contribute a fix or repair a bug.
Of course, LeoCAD has nothing to do with the LEGO company – the LEGO company is not involved with this project in any way. However, if you are a LEGO fan and you enjoy creating 3D models with the help of computer-assisted designs, consider using LeoCAD – it is free, after all.
Here are some useful related links:
- The download page to find versions for Windows, Mac, and Linux
- The documentation page to get started
- The GitHub page for the source code
SketchUp is a completely free 3D modeling software, and it allows you to import and work with CAD files, making it a great alternative to AutoCAD for working on your CAD files.
The best way to use SketchUp with your CAD files is to use the CAD geometry as a reference for creating a SketchUp model instead of creating the 3D model directly from the CAD geometry. The reason for this is that SketchUp is a much simpler tool, and CAD models can often be too complicated for SketchUp modeling, leading to various complications.
There may also be gaps in your CAD geometry, so using the CAD geometry as a reference for your new SketchUp model can be quicker, easier, and simpler.
When using CAD models in SketchUp, you can take advantage of tools like the eraser tool and the push/pull tool.
Fortunately, SketchUp has many tips and tutorials, including on using CAD files to create SketchUp models. Go to the Sketchup CAD page to learn more about using CAD geometry in SketchUp.
One thing I like about SketchUp over its alternatives is that everything is done in the cloud. In other words, you access the work area from your browser, on the web, without downloading any software.
Included is 10GB of cloud storage.
That allows you to get to work right away and save time and space on your device. There is even a mobile app that allows you to view 3D models on your phone.
To get started, and to see premium plans you can upgrade to, click on this link.
Vectorworks is not free for everyone, but if you are a student or educator, you will be able to use it for free. If you are a student, visit the Vectorworks Academic Portal to get a free academic license – if you are a professor, you can use it too.
Also, if you are looking for an AutoCAD alternative for your entire class or school, you may be able to get a free version – go to the education page to learn more.
So, what is Vectorworks?
It is a complete design, sketch, and modeling tool. While you can’t use it directly with AutoCAD, you can import files you created with AutoCAD.
However, you will need the ConnectCAD add-on. It allows for a hybrid 2D and 3D modeling environment, and it allows you to import and export DXF and DWG files.
Go to the ConnectCAD page to learn more.
In addition to these free CAD software options, there are various pirated versions of premium CAD software floating around the dark web. However, I would recommend that you stick to legal free options, including open-source options.
As you can see from this article, there are many options to choose from – there are a few others that I haven’t mentioned as well.
It is not legal to use pirated software, but the problems of using pirated software go beyond that. Many sites that offer pirated software sneak malware, adware, and viruses into the download packages, and you may be downloading some bad stuff along with the pirated software.
Also, many of the websites are somewhat sketchy and have many pop-ups and redirects, which can also lead to adware showing up on your computer. Finally, if you choose to continue using the pirated software, you won’t be eligible for updates.
If you need a better CAD software tool for one-time usage, I would recommend finding one that offers a free trial. In addition to some of the software in this list that offer trials for their premium versions, you can find many other premium CAD software that provide free trials, such as:
As you can see, there are many awesome AutoCAD alternatives, regardless of why you need one. Most of these options allow you to migrate your work from AutoCAD, depending on the types of file formats they support.
However, I wouldn’t hesitate to say that FreeCAD is the best free AutoCAD alternative. It is not only free but open-source too, and it has a really awesome community behind it.
FreeCAD has many amazing features, has been around for a long time, and can replace AutoCAD as a free option. There is a lot of documentation online, and it is also easy to get help.