Open Source CAD? No. Free CAD? Yes.


If you’re looking for a really great open source CAD program, you’re going to be disappointed. Many people, individually and in groups, have tried to build quality open source CAD programs. And none have come close to succeeding. At least, at the level where they challenge the capabilities of commercial products.

CAD software is complex in a way that few other applications are. To build a commercial quality CAD system, you’re looking at a lot of work, by a lot of experienced (and expensive) software developers.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t free CAD software.

I wrote about Three Free CAD Programs for Engineers and Designers in the July issue of Design World. In the article, I talked about IronCAD Compose, Autodesk Inventor Fusion, and Siemens PLM Solid Edge 2D Drafting. Each of these programs is being made available, for free, by commercial software developers.

The companies all have their own reasons for giving away software. Ultimately, they hope to get you to buy some other software, but their path there is different.

IronCAD Compose can be used to as a tool to manage catalogs for configure-to-order products. It just happens that the best way to make the components for those catalogs is to use IronCAD (the CAD program, not the company.)

Inventor Fusion is a direct modeling CAD program. It’s a really good program. If Autodesk can get you to use it, and if you like it, you’re probably going to be interested in looking at their main Inventor CAD program—which isn’t free.

Solid Edge 2D Drafting is a wonderfully good mechanical drafting program. Siemens PLM gives it away because they’d rather have their customers spend money on their 3D CAD products than on competitors’ 2D CAD products.

Another free 2D program I didn’t mention in the magazine article, DraftSight, has that same goal. Dassault Systemes gives it away so that their 3D customers don’t need to spend money on 2D CAD software from competitors. (And, in both cases, with Siemens PLM and Dassault Systemes, the product they’re targeting is AutoCAD.)

Actually, there are quite a number of interesting free CAD programs out there. The fact that they’re not open source doesn’t make them any less useful.

4 Comments on “Open Source CAD? No. Free CAD? Yes.

  1. I’ve used a few of these, and didn’t find them acceptable for my use.

    But, I’ll reconsider, and say that they’re probably just fine for some people.  And, to that extent, I’m unfair in not recognizing their value.

  2. Pingback: Open Source CAD: Another perspective | 3D CAD Tips

  3. The problem with your free CAD programs is that, except for DraftSight (limited in 3D functionality), they are only available for Windows. And some users might find those EULAs morally objectionable (as one who was introduced to open source software I certainly do). So, if it’s true open source CAD programs are few and can’t compete with commercial ones (free or not), they may be useful to hobbyists or small shops that don’t require all the bells and whistles.

    Of note, FreeCAD’s development even with a tiny team is really fast. You might remember it as the one chosen by the Cloud Invent startup to showcase their Cheetah geometric solver. FreeCAD’s original geometric solver is less than 2 years old and already pretty nice even if it still lacks tools. The final release of v0.13 will be published in a few weeks and will add a ton of new features.

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