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 software 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 software 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. Beginners and those on a budget can look to free CAD software.

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, Tinkercad, and LabVIEW
  • High Performers are highly rated by their users, but have not yet achieved the Market Presence of the Leaders.
  • 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
Market Presence

What You Should Know About CAD Software

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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Compare General-Purpose CAD Software
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    General-Purpose CAD reviews by real, verified users. Find unbiased ratings on user satisfaction, features, and price based on the most reviews available anywhere.

    Subscribe to Autodesk® AutoCAD® including specialized toolsets and get access to industry-specific functionality, greater mobility with the new web and mobile apps, and the latest feature updates. Speed up your work with specialized features & libraries for mechanical design, architecture, 3D mapping, and more while working in a familiar AutoCAD interface. Only AutoCAD, with the new web and mobile apps, gives you the freedom and flexibility to work on anything, anywhere, at any time. Design and draft using the latest features and functionality included in subscriber-only updates.

    SketchUp is one of the most popular 3D modeling and design tools in the world. Here at Trimble, our mission is to help make our users better, smarter, and more successful through the use of state of the art software and hardware. Trimble is an exciting, entrepreneurial company, with a history of exceptional growth coupled with a disciplined and strategic focus on being the best. While GPS is at our core, we have grown beyond this technology to embrace other sophisticated positioning technologies and, in doing so; we are changing the way the world works. Our solutions are used in over 140 countries and we have incredibly diverse lines of business. Our employees represent this diversity and can be found in over 30 countries, working closely with their colleagues around the world. SketchUp, part of Trimble’s Construction sector, is 3D modeling software that's easy to learn and incredibly fun to use. Today, hundreds of thousands of architects, engineers, contractors, woodworkers, artists, and other creatives use SketchUp Pro, LayOut, Extension Warehouse and the 3D Warehouse to design everything from transit centers to tree-houses and everything in between.

    MicroStation’s advanced parametric 3D modeling capabilities enable infrastructure professionals of any discipline to collaborate on and deliver projects of any scale and complexity. Your team can aggregate their work on MicroStation, including designs and models created with Bentley’s discipline specific modeling applications. As a result, you can create comprehensive, multi-discipline BIM models, documentation, and other deliverables. MicroStation and all Bentley BIM applications are built on the same comprehensive modeling platform. You therefore can easily progress your MicroStation work into discipline specific workflows with Bentley’s design and analytical modeling applications. With this flexibility, each member of your project team has exactly the right application for the work they need to do.

    Create precise 2D drawings faster with the easy-to-use drafting tools in Autodesk® AutoCAD LT® software. Share your work with confidence using TrustedDWG™ technology, the original and most accurate way to store and exchange design data. Simplified 2D drafting and documentation tools help you produce detailed technical drawings that you can easily edit and repurpose. Collaborate with colleagues using connected desktop, cloud, and mobile Autodesk® AutoCAD® solutions. AutoCAD LT software – engineered for the future.

    LabVIEW is systems engineering software for applications that require test, measurement, and control with rapid access to hardware and data insights.

    Tinkercad is a simple, online 3D design and 3d printing tool for the masses. Whether you're a designer, hobbyist, teacher, or kid, you can use Tinkercad to make toys, prototypes, home decor, Minecraft models, jewelry – the list is truly endless!

    DraftSight lets professional CAD users, students and educators create, edit and view DWG files. DraftSight runs on Windows®, Mac® and Linux.

    Vectorworks, Inc. is a global design and BIM software developer serving over 650,000 professionals in the architecture, landscape and entertainment industries. Since 1985, we’ve been committed to helping designers capture inspiration, nurture innovation, communicate effectively and bring their visions to life. With our cross-platform software, designers can build data-rich, visual models without sacrificing the design process, while collaborating efficiently throughout the project life-cycle. Headquartered in Columbia, Maryland, Vectorworks is a part of the Nemetschek Group. Learn how we empower designers to create experiences that transform the world

    TurboCAD Pro Platinum is a professional 2D/3D CAD application that offers a great collection of 2D/3D design tools to design, modify, present, and document in an integrated fashion. An optional AutoCAD®-like 2D drafting interface with command line and dynamic input cursor helps professionals already familiar with AutoCAD easily get up to speed. Advanced technology —a powerful drafting palette, D-Cube constraints, and ACIS® engine—enhance productivity. Advanced architectural and mechanical design tools add even greater flexibility and control, while superior rendering controls produce powerful presentations. Plus TurboCAD Pro Platinum is programmable and supports over 40 file formats including .DWG, .DXF, .SKP, 3D .PDF, and .STL for 3D printing. • Time Saving Features – 64-Bit Compatible Version, GPU-accelerated Drawing Engine, Multi-threading Support, Progressive, Ray-traced Rendering, New Redsdk 3.3 Rendering Engine, AutoCAD 2D work-alike mode, and more! • Precision Drafting & Detailing – A large selection of 2D and 3D tools, snaps modification, and drawing aids, powerful drafting palette, history tree with editor, advanced layer controls, PDF underlay, a full range of dimension types and styles, tables, text, viewports and more! • Powerful Architectural Tools – House wizard, self-healing walls & self aligning blocks, AutoCAD® Architecture (ACA) compatible architectural objects (parametric), section, elevation, and terrain tools, styles & style manager! • Robust Mechanical Tools – New ACIS® R24 engine, 3D solid and surface design and modification tools, geometric and dimensional constraints, assembly tools, a powerful parametric parts manager, and more! • Rendering & Visualization – Choose from wireframe, hidden line, or high quality photorealistic rendering with material editor as well as artistic render styles. Both a Lightworks and Redsdk engines are available with a universal manager.  • Outstanding File Compatibility – Open, import, or embed up to 35 file formats and export up to 28, including newly updated AutoCAD® 2013 .DWG, Adobe 3D .PDF, and many others making it an excellent companion product.

    BricsCAD® offers all the familiar .dwg 2D CAD features,yet it adds time saving tools and 3D Direct Modeling.Use BricsCAD to get your work done without pain – and, when you are ready, take advantage of the next generation of BIM and Direct Modeling tools - in the same product, using that common user interface. Saving your work into industry-standard .dwg makes collaboration easy, and ensures that your designs are future-proof.

    Corel DESIGNER combines technical illustration tools including the ability to manipulate 3D CAD drawings with tools to help you produce technical drawings.

    LibreCAD is a free Open Source CAD application for Windows, Apple and Linux.

    ZWSOFT is a CAD/CAM solutions provider, with over 320,000 clients across 80 countries.

    Agni Link is a advanced CAD-ERP data integration systems currently available. It is an add-in to AutoCAD, SolidWorks, Autodesk Inventor, Solid Edge and many others that offers a reliable and cost-effective way to integrate CAD/PDM/PLM applications with ERP systems.

    GeoHECRAS is an AutoCAD, MicroStation and ESRI ArcGIS compatible interactive 2D/3D graphical user interface data wrapper to the US Army Corps of Engineers HEC-RAS.

    ArcGIS for AutoCAD is a free, plug-in application for AutoCAD that allows you to access and create GIS data by connecting to services from ArcGIS for Server and ArcGIS Online.

    CADopia is a software solution that allows you to create, edit, and view professional drawings providing features to help you manage multiple drawings at once.

    CDS ModelServer is an online 3D CAD model viewer solution.

    Easy to Learn & Use 2D/3D CAD - DesignCAD 3D Max combines easy to learn and use 2D drafting with powerful and precise 3D modeling Easily design anything from complex drawings requiring precision metrics, to simple everyday projects and hobbies including furniture, decks, floor plans, architectural drawings to toys and 3D models. • Precision 2D Drafting Tools • 3D Solid Modeling Tools • Mechanical Design Tools • Architectural Design Tools • Realistic Rendering and GPU-Accelerated Drawing • Intuitive User Interface • Extensive Online Help

    GstarCAD is a CAD software featuring with efficiency, cost saving and dwg-compatible

    Live Home 3D is an intuitive home design software, created to enable users to build the house of their dreams on their Mac or Windows. The program automatically creates 3D visualisation once you’ve drawn a floor plan. Floor plans can be built using wall, room and other 2D tools, or traced from an imported image using 2D tools. Internal object library includes kitchen sets, sofas, tables, chairs, windows, stairs, and many other items. Integration with Trimble 3D Warehouse is what distinguishes the app from others, allowing users to download any missing 3D model from the online storage. Live Home 3D produces detailed 2D floor plans and 3d visualization which can be shared with clients, colleagues, friends and family. A project can be exported as a JPEG, TIFF, PNG, and BMP, 360° Panorama images, and even shoot 3D video walkthroughs.

    nanoCAD Plus is a professional grade CAD tool. It has a familiar interface, powerful drafting and design tools, native DWG compatibility, and an open API. It is available through a low-cost annual subscription, including updates and priority online support.

    progeCAD IntelliCAD, the most "AutoCAD Like" software on the market today, is built from the ground up to satisfy those who wish to work with the DWG format and has a familiar interface you are used to designing with

    SelfCAD is an all-in-one program and includes modeling, sculpting, and 3D printing online. One does not need to launch several programs to be able to design, rather everything is done under one program. It has answered the need for a user-friendly 3D Printing software. It’s browser-based, so all you need to access it is an Internet connection. Work can be saved in the cloud, although there’s also an offline mode so that you can continue working if you lose your Internet connection hence no more issues with portal devices. SelfCAD 3D software provides users with almost limitless drawing capabilities, high precision, identification of structural inadequacy, compelling imagery, and time-saving experience. Moreover, the uniqueness of our platform is explained by the user-friendly interface along with multiple functions which allow you to create advanced models. SelfCAD has partnered wit Myminifactory, hence you can now be able to download models and work on them easily and later print them. If you are eager to get a strong foundation in the field of modeling, you won’t find more comprehensible platform than SelfCAD. Our online 3D modeling software is designed to make the entire process, all functions and interface as simple as possible. SelfCAD offers 30 Day trial period and later a subscription fee of only $4.99/m after the trial period is over and you will be able to create and print unlimited models. However, if you are a student, teacher or non-profit making organization we have a good deal for you. SelfCAD is free for you! You can learn more about this software here: or visit the site:

    ZW3D is an integrated CAD/CAM solution for complete product development process, such as fastest kernel for Solid-surface Hybrid Modeling, non-solid mold parting and smart CNC Machining tactics from 2 axis to 5 axis that brings customers benefits to reduced costs, optimized design workflow and improved efficiency.

    ANSYS Discovery SpaceClaim is a multipurpose 3D modeling application providing efficient solutions to common modeling tasks. Built on the direct modeling technology, Discovery SpaceClaim removes geometry problems associated with various 3D CAD operations, such as design or concept modeling, repair of translated CAD files, general model defeaturing, and complete model editing.

    Arcon Evo is CAD software for building design and floor plan requirements.

    Much more than a cost-effective alternative for CAD in DWG, ARES Commander benefits from Graebert’s 30+ years experience in CAD for computers and mobile devices. Our CAD software will offer you the usual 2D & 3D tools you are in right to expect from any CAD software but also exclusive productivity-driven tools and a unique user-friendly licensing. The ARES CAD software will also allow you to work from all your devices. The same user can use his license from multiple computers under Windows, Mac and Linux but also use our mobile version ARES Touch on Android & iOS smartphones or tablets.

    CADWorx Plant Design Suite is an integrated, complete AutoCAD and BricsCAD-based software series for plant design that provides intelligent drawing and database connectivity, advanced levels of automation, and easy-to-use drafting tools.

    CADENAS PARTsolutions provides digital catalog solutions to drive your sales, marketing and customer support by streamlining your customers’ path-to-product through an online configurator. eCATALOGsolutions by CADENAS PARTsolutions enables manufacturers to deliver the interactive tools and data their customers need to quickly find, download and purchase products. eCATALOGsolutions digital catalogs allow for product configuration, 3D visualization, advanced search queries for finding parts, and instant part downloads with a free quote in over 100 native CAD formats. How it works: Manufacturers send CADENAS PARTsolutions their product specs, and the CADENAS PARTsolutions team creates CAD files for each product that will go into the manufacturer’s digital catalog. Once complete, the manufacturer can insert its digital product catalog on its website for customers to easily configure exact products and part numbers, see a 3D preview, get the CAD of their choice, or download a 3D Product Datasheet. CADENAS PARTsolutions will also put that ability onto our 70+ PARTcommunities where designers can discover your company and products. The manufacturer can contact their CADENAS PARTsolutions Project Manager for any changes or additions to the eCATALOGsolutions. The tool also enables the manufacturer capture and track data from the digital product catalog in real-time and integrates with the manufacturer’s existing CRM and marketing automation systems. Benefits • Catalog data which is always current and up-to date • Generate highly qualified sales leads with every download • Reach a broader audience with 80+ engineering PARTcommunities • Power your inbound marketing with rich 3D Content • Provide a great digital customer experience • Free up customer service with self-service tools Features • Interactive Configurators with 3D Product Visualization • Native CAD downloads in 100+ formats • Analytics data to drive customer engagement • Powerful CAD engine generates models on-the-fly • Branded 3D PDF Data Sheets • Product Data Syndication • Mobile Apps for industrial manufacturers

    Explore 3D is free software to view 3D CAD data, model information and metadata right inside Windows Explorer, without requiring license of any CAD system.

    Gmsh is a free 3D finite element mesh generator with a built-in CAD engine and post-processor. Its design goal is to provide a fast, light and user-friendly meshing tool with parametric input and advanced visualization capabilities. Gmsh is built around four modules: geometry, mesh, solver and post-processing. The specification of any input to these modules is done either interactively using the graphical user interface, in ASCII text files using Gmsh's own scripting language (.geo files), or using the C++, Python or C API.

    HighDesign is a computer-aided design (CAD) software for Mac OS X with a modern, intuitive interface to help you rapidly transform your visions into detailed projects. Used in architecture, engineering, interior design, landscaping, mechanical drafting, and construction, HighDesign provides sophisticated tools for general 2D drafting, architectural design, documentation, and project organization. HighDesign is available in two editions, Standard and Professional, to best suit the needs of persons and firms in different disciplinary fields.

    MicroSurvey CAD is a Complete Desktop Survey and Design Program Created for Surveyors, Contractors and Engineers.

    PunchCAD is a line of commercial and business computer-aided design (CAD) software.

    The free open source 2D CAD for Windows, Mac and Linux.

    All features and commands in SEE Electrical are designed specifically for electrical engineeris. Its intuitive interface means that you can be productive very quickly, after a short training. Creating wiring diagrams has never been so simple!

    Sketchplan is part of Photoplan ‘The Property Marketing Specialists’ who have many years experience producing professional floorplans for property professionals.

    Staircon enables you to add functionality to the software as your business grows or needs change.

    TetGen is a program to generate tetrahedral meshes of any 3D polyhedral domains. TetGen generates exact constrained Delaunay tetrahedralizations, boundary conforming Delaunay meshes, and Voronoi partitions. The following pictures respectively illustrate a 3D polyhedral domain (left), a boundary conforming Delaunay tetrahedral mesh (middle), and its dual - a Voronoi partition (right).

    Kate from G2 Crowd

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