Architecture and design students are often faced with staggering CAD software prices. Thankfully, these five apps provide no-cost alternatives with impressive functionality.
AutoCAD is the most popular CAD program in the industry, and this free student version trims very little fat off the heavy-hitting program. However, it’s available only to verifiable students, military veterans and people who have worked previously in the Architecture, Engineering and Construction (AEC) industry. This is a great choice if you’re looking to learn how to use AutoCAD before you buy the full suite of CAD programs that AutoDesk offers. The only limitation of the student version is that it leaves a watermark on any plots you generate; not a concern for students first coming to grips with the software.
The free version of ThreeDify Designer comes with an intuitive user interface that makes it easy to pick up and use from scratch. This is invaluable for people trying out 3D modeling for the first time. The program also offers the nifty feature of saving not only still images but videos of your 3D models. The free version doesn’t include the entire range of ThreeDify Designer functions, but you can download a limited-time trial version, complete with all features, from the ThreeDify web site. For beginners and home users, the freeware version is a perfect place to start.
Rhino offers powerful 3D modeling through a user interface that’s very easy to learn and use. The free version allows you to save 25 projects before it asks you to pay for a license key. This gives you a chance to try the application before buying it. The program has powerful curvature analysis features. Version 5.0 includes enhanced modeling, photorealistic rendering, mesh modeling and a comprehensive range of 2D drawing tools. The program is compatible with 64-bit operating systems and has graphics coprocessor support, so your models will be rendered faster and look better than ever before.
A free alternative to AutoCAD, DoubleCAD XT v5.0 offers all the basics of a CAD program and benefits such as cross-platform .SPK compatibility with Google SketchUp programs, a 3D-to-2D flatten function, layers, a “brush” editor and automatic scaling. It’s also a good choice as a simple .DWG viewer, because newer versions of AutoCAD and AutoCAD LT don’t support the older filer format.
Google provides an excellent free CAD package with a simple interface. Its SketchUp is a fast, easy to use program perfect for creating quick 3D designs. It also lets you customize settings, for example to tweak tolerances and ensure accurate sizing. Because the application is part of the Google stable, you can place your finished designs in Google Earth to see how they look “in context”.