Computer-aided design (CAD) software allows you to create models, designs and simulations in ways that would be time-consuming, more difficult, or even impossible to do without it. CAD in its simple forms can be simple tools that turn the design process digital. More expansive versions are vastly complicated rendering and modeling features using material simulation.
This piece is great for those who know what they are looking for in a CAD tool and need a little guidance, or complete novices. Here you will learn the huge array of what CAD can do, and how to make it work for you.
What is CAD software?
CAD software has a broad series of tools created to help you turn your concepts from mental image to some sort of design or representation. CAD tools were some of the first complex tools to come out of computers once they were capable of doing so. In the 60’s, IBM developed some of the earliest CAD tools, and they have only exploded in capability and popularity since.
Different types of CAD software
CAD software can fall into two categories, and be further subdivided from there. The two major types of CAD tools are 2D and 3D.
2D CAD software
2D CAD tools are the simplest types available. These operate on a 2D plane and are largely used in the same way classical design paper would be. They are intended to accelerate the design process and make it far more accessible. 2D tools are can be easier to learn than their 3D cousins.
What is 2D CAD used for?
2D CAD is less commonly used for more advanced functions today. 2D tools have become more niche as 3D software has broader functionality and can often work in 2D use cases. 2D specialized software are well suited for quick designs of mechanical parts and diagrams. They are useful for giving to a fabricator for less complicated pieces.
They can also be used for building plans (think of classic blueprints) and interiors. These types of work often do not have extremely complicated 3D structures, and the visualization is not particularly complex.
How to use 2D CAD
Learning 2D CAD is far easier than 3D, and is a great first step even if you are looking at the latter. Depending on which tool you are going to choose, the tutorial will be different. Thankfully, YouTube and even most vendor websites have a sea of incredibly well-made instructional videos for most products. For beginners, two of the best tools are LibreCAD and DraftIT. The first is totally free, and the second offers a free base level. Below you will find a tutorial for LibreCAD that will serve as a great introduction to any 2D tool.
3D CAD Software
There are two major types of 3D solid modeling that are common in CAD. Parametric Modeling and Direct or Explicit Modeling.
Parametric Modeling is fantastic for those who need detail, precision, and strict dimensioning. They allow users to make slight tweaks without breaking the whole design. Users create individual features and constraints that can be altered to adjust the part itself.
If you were modeling an apple, you would dimension the radius and define the stem as in the center of the apple. If you went back and adjusted the radius, the stem would automatically remain in the center. You can use equations to make the stem adjust its size relative to the radius, and quickly make several versions of the same apple.
Direct modeling is more free form and less defined. The classic analogy used in this method is like working with clay. You pull, push, twist, and bend the model into the shape you want.
The apple you are making would be able to be molded and maneuvered, but pulling one side of the skin would not adjust the stem automatically. This method is great for rapidly visualizing a concept, or for when exact sizes are less important.
For manufacturing, construction, and most designs that will be turned into real-world objects, parametric modeling will be used. Accurate dimensioning and constraints are simply needed to produce most objects. Direct modeling is great for animation, game design, and other more fluid creations. It is important to note that many of the more advanced tools will have both, and are often able to be used together.
What is 3D modeling used for
Short answer: nearly everything. 3D modeling has become ubiquitous in design for almost all aspects of engineering and manufacturing. Nearly any industry that creates a product that has to be made in a factory at some point will need a representation of that product. 3D modeling is also often used to create 2D blueprints or plans of objects.
How to Use 3D CAD
Most types of 3D modeling software are extremely complex in what they can do. People dedicate their careers to being proficient in the more advanced features of these incredibly powerful tools. If you are looking to get into these careers, or just looking to get into the basics, the early stages are similar.
Popular 3D modeling software includes AutoDesk and SolidWorks. These would be the tools to learn for the broadest understanding of 3D CAD.
NanoCAD and FreeCAD are some popular no-cost options if you are looking to learn the ropes. These also have similar UI to the industry-standard tools above, though there will be some cross-over training needed. If you are a student, many premium products like AutoCAD can be used in their entirety for free.
There are enough tutorials out there to answer every question you could ever have about 3D modeling. Below you will find the first in a fantastic series for AutoCAD users, which would give a great foundation for most 3D tools.
More CAD Resources
If you want to learn more about CAD software, it can be helpful to have software to actually learn on. We have assembled a list of the best free CAD options below. You can also watch our video covering the topic as well.
If you are interested in exploring more CAD tools, check out the link below to read reviews of the best CAD products around. For those interested specifically in 3D modeling, click here.
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