Computer-aided design software is unique in many ways. It allows you to transform concepts and imagination into reality with a precision previously impossible. CAD integrates with real-world machines to aid in the fabrication process. Pricing is an area where people may not anticipate this unique nature to continue, but it does.
While most software is priced entirely dependent on features and scales in predictable ways, CAD can be strange. Students can get professional quality software entirely free, while companies will have to pay thousands. Free tools exist, as do open-source options. Armed with the quirks, costs, and benefits of these incredible software products, you can make the best decision for you. You might even save some money…
What is CAD software?
Ask users in different industries what CAD software is and you may get extremely different answers. Engineers use 3D design software. Animators and game designers use tools with a modeling focus. Fabricators need strict, detailed dimensioning.
Thankfully, none of them are wrong, and there is a CAD tool for everyone. Broadly, they fall into 2D and 3D categories, with the latter further divided into parametric and direct modeling. 2D tools are best for simple, component-based design with a focus on dimensions. 3D Direct allows for the same, with far better visualization and assembly. Parametric allows users to shape the model more like clay, into abstract, curvacious forms.
This is by no means an exhaustive summary of CAD. For those looking for a more in-depth explanation, check out the link below for our full breakdown: “CAD Software in 2022: What is it and how/when to use it”.
CAD Software Pricing
Here we will cover the most popular CAD products, and give an overview of their pricing structures. We explore alternatives and aim to give a representative picture of the market as a whole.
Free CAD Options
Without a doubt, the best possible price point is “free”. For those interested in CAD software, you are in luck. There are a wealth of options available for no cost to you.The best free CAD options are:
We have an entire piece, including a video, discussing the best free CAD options.
Click the button to view the article, and check out the video below.
Open-Source CAD Software
Open-source tools are driven by their communities, and there are few communities as diligent and dedicated as the CAD world. The tools offered below will be fantastic choices for those looking for to avoid some of the limitations in free software from vendors, but do not want to pay for premium tiers.
Open-source software is best for those with experience with the tool in most cases. In the CAD scene, there are incredible educational material for every tool on this list. While these may not have the polish of vendor software, the community has done everything it can to make the process as easy as possible
The best open-source tool for each of the categories we outline above are
- 3D modeling for Engineering- FreeCAD
- 2D modeling – LibreCAD
- 3D modeling for Games and Animation – Blender
Unsurprisingly, there is some overlap between these and the best free options. For a detailed breakdown of these tools and why they are fantastic, follow the button below for our piece on the vest open-source CAD software.
Paid CAD software Pricing
TrustRadius has 3 Top Rated award winners in the CAD sector. These are SOLIDWORKS, DraftSight, and AutoCAD. We will cover the first two individually, and then discuss the vendor of the third because of their expansive offerings. Here you will find a breakdown of the pricing of each of those, and a breakdown of the software made by their vendors.
AutoCAD by AutoDesk
AutoCAD is a formidable tool, and alone would be worth including in any CAD software list. The Vendor, AutoDesk, has expanded its product offering to include design software for nearly every single use case possible. This includes architectural design, simulation software, product design and manufacturing, and media. As a result, we will give a pricing breakdown for both Inventor and AutoCAD, two of the most popular, flexible tools in their arsenal. For those with more niche needs, click here to explore all their products.
It is vital to note that majority of AutoDesk tools are completely free to students with an institutional email address. Educators can download these onto school devices, or you can get them on personal computers. These include AutoCAD, Inventor, and all the other most popular offerings. Versions for MAC are supported for some tools as well.
A staple of the design world across industries, AutoCAD offers incredible 2D and 3D modeling with mesh objects, solids, and more. Users can automate tasks and customize the tool to better fit their needs. They offer 7 premade toolsets to fit a wide array of industries. These include Architecture, Mechanical, Map 3D, MEP, Electrical, Plant 3D, and Raster Design.
AutoCAD is not a cheap product. They offer their service charged monthly, yearly, or every 3 years, with a slight discount for commital to longer term pricing. AutoCAD will cost you $220/month, $1775/year, or $5060 every 3 years.
|$5060 every 3 years.
|100 for $300
|500, 1000 @ $3/token
|5,000 tokens for $14,625
For years, this was the only way to access this tool, but AutoDesk now offers Flex pricing. This is designed for those who are not planning on using the product that often. Users are charged based on how many tokens they need, which will broadly translate to individual projects.
The token system starts at 100 tokens for $300 dollars. Users can also buy 500 and 1,000 tokens at this price. For those looking to buy a whole heap of tokens, they can get a slight discount, with 5,000 tokens for $14,625. This flex pricing is a fantastic addition to the AutoDesk model, and will allow them to offer their products to a new audience
Inventor takes what AutoCAD can do and dials it up even further. The same modeling capabilities exist, with integrations for manufacturing and simulation as well.
Inventor allows for incredible material simulation, presentations, and machine design. Things extremely difficult in many tools, like cables, sheet metal, pipes, and more are made simpler. The tool offers built-in collaboration functionality. This is a product for engineers, custom fabricators, and more to get the best possible representation and design of their ideas.
The insane array of features, once again, does not come cheap. The pricing model is structured the same as AutoCAD. Inventor will cost $275/month, $2190/year, or $6240 every 3 years. The flex pricing is identical to AutoCAD.
|$6240 every 3 years.
|100 for $300
|500, 1000 @ $3/token
|5,000 tokens for $14,625
One of the most popular CAD offerings, Solidworks offers everything you will need in a CAD tool. This is an industry-standard level software, and just about the only direct competition for AutoDesk in terms of offerings, scale, and popularity.
The 2D and 3D modeling capabilities are comprehensive. Users can take advantage of cost estimation tools to help better budget turning their ideas into reality. The system is optimized through cloud collaboration and resources. When buying this tool, you are also buying access to this community and its cloud of materials, designs, and prefabs. They also offer similar sheet metal functionality to AutoCAD. Generally, these tools offer much of the same features, with the user experience polish to expect from the industry leaders.
Solidworks pricing is a little more complex than AutoDesk. On their website, they often want user to fill out forms to get direct quotes. Academic institutions can do the same for verification of their student programs. Doing so offers much of Solidworks features free to those who are still learning and their educators.
The standalone price has not changed since the tool was first released in 1996! For one machine, the standalone cost is $3995. Users can also get a subscription service that offers upgrades and more support for $1295 per year.
DraftSight is a far cheaper option that may be good for sixers in specific circumstances. It lacks some of the advanced features of the juggernauts above. This is, primarily, 2D software. For construction and parts manufacturing, this may well be all you need.
This base pricing of this tool is designed to work with common file types like DWG, DXF, and DNG. They offer a free trial for those interested. This Professional plan will cost users $199/year.
The Premium tier offers more advanced features for production, including laser cutting and 3D printing. For those who use these in their fabrication process, this can be a massive time saver. One notable asset is the ability to turn PDF drawings into editable DWG files. This allows paper users to draw out their ideas and go digital when ready.
Other CAD Options
Despite these being the most popular, there are a wealth of other CAD options available. Click here to check out all CAD software, and read real user reviews.
Users with more niche use cases should explore the AutoDesk website for their modeling and architecture-focused products.
Was this helpful?