Science and technology

three open supply CAD packages

Editor’s observe: This article was initially printed in May 2016, and has been up to date to incorporate a number of extra choices.

CAD—computer-aided design or computer-aided drafting, relying on who you ask—is know-how created to make it simpler to create specs for real-world objects. Whether the item you are constructing is a home, automotive, bridge, or spaceship, likelihood is it acquired its begin in a CAD program of 1 kind or one other.

Among the best-known CAD packages is AutoDesk’s AutoCAD, however there are numerous others, proprietary or open supply, on the market. So how do the open supply alternate options to AutoCAD stack up? The reply is determined by how you propose to make use of them.

Let’s begin by being trustworthy and upfront about one thing: If you are in search of a drop-in substitute in your current CAD program that may present equivalent performance and workflow with out making any adjustments to your processes, you are going to be disenchanted. But I might argue that the rationale in your disappointment has nothing to do with the licensing of the product—drop-in replacements for advanced packages with long-time customers who’ve particular wants and expectations for his or her software program are arduous.

The trick for deciding whether or not a substitute piece of software program, whether or not open or closed, is an efficient alternative for you is to tease out precisely what your wants are. The scenario isn’t any completely different than discovering that the one that insists that they “need” Photoshop is simply utilizing it to attract a number of geometric shapes and take away red-eye from pictures; what they actually need is a graphics modifying instrument that may substitute these particular capabilities. Whether it has the entire bells and whistles of the unique is irrelevant if these options sit paid for however unused.

My private journey via open supply CAD packages was no completely different. I labored with AutoCAD briefly in grad faculty, so once I wished to play with drawing three-dimensional plans for one thing, it was just about all I knew. But that alone did not make AutoCAD your best option.

As I’ve strived to interchange increasingly more software program in my life with open supply choices, Blender turned out to be simply nearly as good for my 3D modeling wants, whether or not I used to be enjoying with fashions created for a 3D printer or taking a look at landscapes exported from different packages. And for the comparatively easy process of planning out my house landscaping initiatives, Sweet Home 3D has been a superb open supply various.

If your wants are a bit of extra particular and you really want a devoted CAD program, listed here are nice open supply selections to contemplate:


BRL-CAD is a cross-platform CAD instrument that dates again to 1979, though it could take 25 years for the supply code to be launched underneath an open supply license. In reality, BRL-CAD is so outdated that it has been credited with being the oldest supply code repository of an software at present in lively improvement.

Originally developed by Mike Muuss on the Army Research Laboratory, BRL-CAD is been used for many years by the United States navy for modeling weapon programs, however it additionally has been used for rather more on a regular basis design duties, from educational to industrial design to well being purposes.

So what does greater than 35 years of improvement carry you? BRL-CAD is made up of greater than 400 completely different constituent instruments and purposes unfold throughout greater than 1,000,000 traces of supply code. Not all components are underneath the identical license, with licenses starting from BSD to LGPL to easy public area; the COPYING file throughout the challenge’s source code on SourceForge has extra particulars.


FreeCAD is a parametric open supply CAD program that was created to have the ability to design “real-life objects of any size,” and though it is clear that lots of the showcased examples created by customers are smaller objects, there isn’t any particular purpose it could not be used for architectural purposes as effectively. FreeCAD is written primarily in C++, and for those who’re a Python coder you will wish to benefit from the power to increase and automate FreeCAD utilizing its Python interface.

FreeCAD can import and export from quite a lot of frequent codecs for 3D objects, and its modular structure makes it simple to increase the essential performance with varied plugins. The program has many built-in interface choices, from a sketcher to renderer to even a robotic simulation potential. Currently in beta, FreeCAD is being actively developed with common releases, however the builders warn that it might not but be appropriate for manufacturing use.

FreeCAD’s source code is hosted on GitHub and is made out there as open supply underneath an LGPL license.


LibreCAD is one other CAD program that’s designed to work throughout Windows, Mac, and Linux alike. A fork of QCAD (talked about beneath), LibreCAD has an interface that may look acquainted to AutoCAD customers, and by default it makes use of the AutoCAD DXF format for importing and saving, although it will possibly use different codecs as effectively. LibreCAD is 2D solely, although, so it makes extra sense in case your meant use is a web site plan or one thing equally, err, flat.

LibreCAD is licensed underneath the GPL and you will discover its full source code on GitHub.

These aren’t the one choices. Other good selections which can be value your time to take a look at embody:

  • OpenSCAD, which is billed as “the programmer’s solid 3D CAD modeller,” owing to the truth that it isn’t an interactive modeler, however one the place modeling is finished with a script file.
  • QCAD, which is cross-platform however restricted to two-dimensional purposes.
  • SolveSpace, which is a parametric two- and three-dimensional CAD program.
  •, which is an up to date frontend for OpenJsCad. Both are JavaScript-based 2D and 3D modeling instruments that run within the browser and are made out there underneath the MIT license.

Since we will not embody the entire choices right here, when you have a favourite, tell us within the feedback beneath.

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