Looking for the best 2d cad software? Not sure which 3D cad is for you? Need some free cad drafting software? Look no further! I have had quite a few enquiries about cad software, drafting programs and the like. It has led me to do further research into all the different cad softwares that are available and what the benefits of the different products are. It is an extensive list, so I have tried to select the ones that would be most useful in the field of architecture. We will look at both 2D and 3D drafting software, both free and paid products.
If you are a student, I think it is important to consider what programs are most commonly used in industry, in your country/region – as from an employability point of view it is key that you are up to speed with the software most practices are using. If you are studying at university or college you should have access to free student versions of the most popular (and often expensive) softwares.
You’ll notice I have included AutoCAD in the 2d category. Obviously I am well aware that it has 3D functionality, but my argument is that if you are going to choose an Autodesk product for 3d architectural work, it is most likely you would choose Revit or AutoCAD Architecture over AutoCAD.
I have no doubt that I have missed some – if you can’t see your favourite software on the list, comment below and I can add it in.
AutoCAD is probably one of the best know drafting softwares around. Generally used for 2D drafting, drawings and documentation. It is also used for 3D modelling and visualisation.
- Create and edit 2D geometry
- Create and edit 3D models with solids, surfaces and mesh objects
- Annotate drawings with text, dimensions, tables and leaders
- Extract object data to tables
- Attach and import data from PDF files
- DWG format
DraftSight is a professional 2D design and drafting software that allows you to create, edit, view and markup any kind of 2D drawing. It is not entirely clear what the difference is between the free version and the professional version. However, the professional version is a very reasonable price. I have not used DraftSight myself but am aware that it is a popular tool amongst some of my acquaintances.
- Read and write support for DWG/DXF files
- Save DWG/DXF files to previous versions
- Attach images files, xrefs
- Save as jpeg, pdf and more
- Publish drawings
- Command line
- Blocks and reference riles
- layers and layer manager
- Viewport locking, freeze and turn off layers per viewport
- Property manager
- Drafting tools such as: snap and grid, chamfer and fillet, tracking and polar, entity grips
- Editing tools such as: move scale rotate, stretch, mirror copy offset, trim and extend, split and weld, block edit, modify hatch and fill
£83.60 Annual subscription
£252 One time purchase
Draft It features 4 different pricing options, and to be quite honest I would only really consider the Architectural (most expensive) as the others are lacking in some pretty key features.
So, focusing on the architectural version, Draft It features the following:
- Powerful drawing tools
- Additional drawing tools
- Layer management
- Import DWG and DXF files
- Dimension tools
- Symbol library
- Wall drawing functions
- Architectural Symbols
I would say the interface and functionality of Draft It seems a little basic compared to some of the other drafting softwares out there – but they do offer a trial version so give it a go! They have a vast range of lessons and support videos so you could very quickly gain a good understanding of the software.
LibreCAD is a free open source CAD application for Windows, Apple and Linux.
- Various line and drafting tools
- Command line
- Snap options
- Cad toolbar
- Saving in formats such as DXF
- Import DWG
- Blocks hatches, layers, templates, dimensioning
QCAD is another free open source 2d drafting software. It is available on Windows, Mac and Linux. Main features include:
- Various font support
- DXF and DWG input and output
- Printing to scale
- Over 40 construction tools
- Over 20 modification tools
- Construction and modification of points, lines, arcs, circles, ellipses, splines, polylines, texts, dimensions, hatches, fills, raster images
- Object snaps
- Part library
NanoCAD is available in a free version a Plus version and a Pro version.
- Layers, blocks and linetypes
- Object snapping, tracking and polar
- command line
- associative dimensions
- creation of mesh objects
- object transparency
- print to pdf
The paid version features:
- All the free features plus
- PDF underlay
- tool pallets
- additional raster tools
- batch plotting
- dynamic input
- additional layer commands
There is also a handy comparison chart on the NanoCAD website which looks at the features compared to AutoCAD and AutoCAD LT.
FREE for the basic version
PLUS: $180 for 1 year subscription
3D / BIM
SketchUp is a great 3D modelling software that can do SO much! Not only can you use it to create really simple massing models, or mess around with your design ideas. You can produce full drawing sets using LayOut, create incredible architectural visualisations using a third party render system, and a multitude of things in-between. It also has a vast community uploaded object library which can really speed up your modelling time, along with a wide range of extensions and plugins to take your 3D modelling to the next level.
The Pro version features dwg importing, which is really useful, along with LayOut for producing your presentation drawings, but also now with a DWG exporter which is pretty cool.
What I love about SketchUp is that it has such a wide user base, meaning there is a huge range of tutorials, warehouse models, extensions and so much more.
PRICE: Free for non commercial
Pro – $695
AutoCAD Architecture is somewhere between ordinary AutoCAD and Revit. It has increased functionality to allow 3d modelling by using objects such as walls, doors, windows and so on. It features improved documentation options and layouts, style manager. You can switch easily between the 2d plan and a 3d view of the model. The objects can be simple or quite complex. You can work with walls that have various build ups, input specific information and requirements for these objects such as sizes, materials and so on.
However, this remains a dwg format, and the elements are not always linked. This means that sometimes a change you make to an element in plan is not updated in section and so on. It is also very difficult to import an AutoCAD Architecture file into Revit and maintain its objects and elements. Basically, AutoCAD Architecture and Revit will not talk to each other. There are some processes in AutoCAD Architecture that are much easier to work with in Revit. The following video is a webinar demonstrating the features of AutoCAD Architecture, I have to say it is really interesting and worth a watch. My personal opinion however, would be to go for Revit or ArchiCAD – considering the price.
- Contains all features of AutoCAD
- Includes additional features for architects, including walls, doors and windows
- Library of detail components
- Powerful keynoting tools
Revit is a BIM software by Autodesk. It allows for efficient collaboration with workflows for architects, engineers and construction professionals. It allows you to create a single intelligent 3d model, where every change is reflected throughout the model. Revit is not available on the Mac unfortunately, and I’m not aware if they are working on this or not. So, sadly I don’t use Revit as I work on a Mac and instead use ArchiCAD. (You can use it on a Mac using bootcamp or parallels, but that’s not my cup of tea.)
It allows you to create objects with associated information and technical detail such as walls, floors, roofs, ceilings columns, site modelling, stairs and ramps. The following video gives a good overview of Revit.
This is the main software that I use, so forgive me if I am slightly biased!
Another BIM software, available on both Mac and Windows. ArchiCAD stores all the information about your project in one central database where you quickly and efficiently produce plans, sections, elevations, construction details, schedules and building management information. All your creative work and design documentation is in 3D, with all changes updating throughout the model in the projects 3D environment. The documentation side of ArchiCAD is a massive time saver and works brilliantly. It takes away all the tedious tasks, and makes it super slick. It is said that ArchiCAD can increase your productivity by up to 40% over a 2D drawing system.
ArchiCAD gives you the opportunity to create simple conceptual models right through to detailed BIM work, schedules, parametric design and much more. It also has the capacity for visualisation, and exporting to BIM X to view your design in a VR headset.
ArchiCAD incorporates renovation, refurbishment and retrofit workflows, producing demolition plans, and construction drawings in a single click. This has been a feature that I have found really useful.
Vectorworks is 2D/3D design and BIM software that allows designers to advance their ideas from concept through completion. Vectorworks is available in a few different versions includingDesigner, Landmark, Architect and Spotlight. Vectorworks Architect ticks most of the boxes that both Revit and ArchiCAD do, along with some additional features such as:
- Full Suite of 2D drafting tools
- NURBS Modeling
- Integrated graphical scripting
- Extensive Import/Export options
- Site Information Modelling (SIM) and Design
I haven’t used Vectorworks before but I really like the look of it.
The following video gives you great insight into the 2017 version of Vectorworks.
- Create project deliverables – paper plots, reports, pdfs and 3d physical models.
- Design in context
- Design with true 3D parametric modelling
- Layout and annotate drawings with a comprehensive set of drafting tools
- Produce animations and renderings
- Visualise and analyse designs
So to sum up. My opinion is that if money was no object I would get myself a copy of ArchiCAD (I am probably biased but I think it is an excellent tool). Having said that I like to use a selection of tools and sometimes dip into SketchUp and AutoCAD depending on client requirements. If you are just starting out, I would try and get to grips at a basic level with a few different softwares, and then go deep with one or two that are more commonly used in industry. I think that will make you more employable if you have a good range of understanding.
If you are a professional looking at changing from 2D to 3D BIM, I would highly recommend the change over. Once everything is set up (which will take some time) and you have got to grips with the program and all the features, BIM software such as ArchiCAD can save you massive amounts of time and is a breath of fresh air.
Finally, if money is tight and you are working on a home renovation project, there are most certainly some free options out there that will fulfil your requirements. Also, with all the software in the above list, it is possible to find great tutorials and guidance online.