Best General-Purpose CAD Software

Computer-Aided Design (CAD) software is used by architects, engineers, artists, designers, and others to develop 2D and 3D precision drawings and models of buildings and physical objects. Architectural and construction drawings are among the most common uses for this type of software, but CAD can be used across a number of industries to produce everything from technical drawings of electrical or automotive structures, to media and film animation.

The products in the General-Purpose subcategory include CAD programs that offer a wide range of tools and functionality to their users. While products may vary in their strengths and the breadth of their capabilities, they are not designed exclusively to meet the needs of an individual industry. Instead, this category includes everything from sketching and 2D drafting programs, to 3D modeling and rendering, all of which can be used for a variety of purposes and industries.

For information about CAD products targeted toward solid modeling and product design, view G2 Crowd’s Product and Machine Design category. For information on building design and BIM products, view our Building Design and Building Information Modeling category.

General-Purpose CAD Software Grid® Overview

The best General-Purpose CAD Software products are determined by customer satisfaction (based on user reviews) and market presence (based on products’ scale, focus, and influence) and placed into four categories on the Grid®:
  • Products in the Leader quadrant are rated highly by G2 Crowd users and have substantial Market Presence scores. Leaders include: AutoCAD, SketchUp, AutoCAD LT, MicroStation, and LabVIEW
  • High Performers are highly rated by their users, but have not yet achieved the Market Presence of the Leaders. High Performers include: Tinkercad
  • Contenders have significant Market Presence and resources, but have received below average user Satisfaction ratings or have not yet received a sufficient number of reviews to validate the solution. Contenders include: DraftSight
  • Niche solutions do not have the Market Presence of the Leaders. They may have been rated positively on customer Satisfaction, but have not yet received enough reviews to validate them. Niche products include: TurboCAD, Vectorworks Fundamentals, and BricsCAD
G2 Crowd Grid® for General-Purpose CAD
High Performers
Vectorworks fundamentals
Autocad lt
Market Presence
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What do you need to know?

CAD (computer-aided design) software is used to create 2D and 3D models and drawings of buildings and other physical objects. Architectural and construction drawings are the most common outcomes of CAD tools. However, CAD can be used across many different industries to produce everything from technical drawings of electrical or automotive structures, to media and film animation.

Key Benefits of General-Purpose CAD Software

  • Increase productivity and efficiency in creating 2D and 3D drawings and models
  • Easily alter designs
  • Improve accuracy, precision, and control in drafting and design
  • Enable communication and collaboration between designers and with clients
  • Maintain essential databases for design and manufacturing

Why use CAD software?

Improve Design Quality: This software enables the creation of incredibly precise drawings. CAD products not only combine the functionality of tools such as rulers, paper, pens, and calculators, but also improve them. With manual design, it would be necessary to verify and draw objects with painstaking accuracy to capture the correct object dimensions. CAD software offers multiple ways to grab exact dimensions, the simplest method of which is to locate points on an object simply by snapping to an interval on a grid.

Decrease Errors: As CAD software creates 3D models of real objects, it allows users the ability to see the end result of objects before they are created. That means you can correct any issues before the object in question is brought to life. When it comes to buildings, CAD can assist with serious issues, such as design flaws that can compromise the structural integrity of your building. 3D printing enables users to take an even closer look issues within these objects.

Save Time: Before CAD software, the only way to draft a model of a physical object was by hand. Using these tools to design your model will save your team a considerable amount of time. And not only is CAD a time saver, but it allows users to see their creations in 3D, which manual drafting is incapable of offering.

Improve Cross-Departmental Collaboration: If the production of a physical object is a main focus of your business, this will require a lot of collaboration across different departments within your company. CAD software helps ensure that your work can easily be shared with your colleagues. Many of these tools can save your files in a variety of different formats. Having CAD files compatible with so many file formats means that data will not be lost when passing work to other colleagues.

Who uses CAD software?

While it can be utilized across many different fields, such as construction and filmmaking, CAD software is more commonly used by engineers. The introduction of this tool was revolutionary to the engineering field, as it allowed for roles such as designer and draftsman to merge with engineering. People in these fields use CAD tools to develop 2D and 3D precision drawings and models of buildings and physical objects. Engineers and other users can depend on CAD to digitally draft their designs, with its ability to convey information such as materials, processes, dimensions, and tolerance. All this data is utilized by engineers to create 2D or 3D objects.

CAD Software Features

Drawing: Drawing is the most basic and fundamental feature of a CAD platform; it is the functionality that allows you to sketch out your initial design. CAD offers the tools for you to digitally create a precise drawing of your object.

3D modeling: Professional CAD tools have the ability to modify 3D objects. Many of these tools offer different kinds of 3D modeling, and each has its own benefits. 3D wireframe modeling is useful for initial design iterations, such as reference geometry. Solid modeling offers mass properties and sectioning capabilities. Surface modeling gives users control over curved surfaces for accurate manipulation and modeling. Mesh modeling is ideal for freeform sculpting, ceasing, and smoothing.

Rendering: Rendering a 3D model creates a raster image based on the 3D objects in a designed scene. This feature is greatly beneficial, as it shows the clear vision of the object you are designing, not just a plotted drawing. A rendering of a 3D object allows you to see certain features, such as the impact of lighting and shadows.

Editing: An object designed within a CAD tool will eventually be created in reality, so this software gives designers the ability to edit their designs as much as needed. You can perform actions such as erase, trim, and undo with the drawings you create to ensure they are up to your organization’s standards.

File Options: CAD tools provide the ability to share your work with colleagues via file export through a number of different formats. The native file format for CAD software is typically compatible with many advanced design and imaging applications. These tools also support large file sizes, as to not limit the designs you are working on.

Trends Related to CAD Software

CAD and VR: Virtual Reality (VR) technology has become more and more common in our day-to-day lives. It has even begun to seep into the workplace. Virtual reality breaks the barrier on CAD’s 3D display, making it appear as though users can design a model with their own hands. VR enables CAD users to visualize how the object they are designing will appear at scale against other virtual objects.

Movement to the cloud: CAD is traditionally implemented on-premise, but many CAD vendors are considering a move to the cloud. Some CAD users are concerned that the move to cloud-based tools could leave their data unprotected. But many vendors are considering this move, as it could help to improve cross-departmental collaboration, which will ultimately benefit businesses.

Software and Services Related to CAD Software

3D Rendering: This software takes 3D models and places them into 3D environments. CAD users can take the models they drafted and render them into a scalable, navigable, and interactive object. 3D rendering tools have the capabilities to add features such as lighting and texturing to objects, so that CAD users have the most realistic version of their object possible.

PLM: You can greatly benefit from using product lifecycle management (PLM) tools alongside your CAD tool. A PLM solution manages data during the development of a product from inception through the manufacturing, servicing, and disposal processes. Using CAD and PLM together enables you to design and track the progress of your new tool in conjunction with each other.

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