By continuing to use this site, you agree to our use of cookies. Find out more
Forum sponsored by:
Forum sponsored by Allendale Jan 24th

3D CAD software - what do you use?

All Topics | Latest Posts

Search for:  in Thread Title in  
Tony Jeffree18/05/2020 14:47:57
393 forum posts
8 photos

Time to bite the bullet and learn how to draw stuff for printing. What (preferably free!) software do people use/recommend?

SillyOldDuffer18/05/2020 15:18:23
5932 forum posts
1282 photos

FreeCAD (available for Mac, Windows and Linux), no charges, runs locally not on the cloud. It's good for simple parts, main shortcoming is it doesn't do joints or assemblies.

As 3D CAD is challenging to get into I wrote a 'get you started' thread, which develops a few simple examples in detail to show how FreeCAD works.

When I need to model an assembly, like a complete engine, I switch to Fusion360. The personal licence is free, but it runs on the cloud (potential privacy issue) and there's a risk it might be charged for in the future. Although Fusion is still being aggressively developed, it's reliable, but it frequently upgrades. Lots of interesting goodies, including advanced features! Fusion360 is an AutoCAD product and it appears they are targetting rival high-end CAD products with it.

A warning! Learning a new 3D CAD package when you already know another, including 2D CAD, or have preconceived ideas about how it should work can be agonisingly difficult. Unlearning is really hard work and it may be essential!


Brian H18/05/2020 15:28:57
1676 forum posts
109 photos

Fusion 360 is the one. It's free for hobbyists. There are lots of videos on getting started but the program is ofter updated so you need the later videos.

Having said that, older videos by Lars Christiansen are really good.

The warning above is very valid, you really need to completely forget anything you thourght you knew previously.


Edited By Brian H on 18/05/2020 15:30:30

mgnbuk18/05/2020 15:39:13
781 forum posts
61 photos

I'm another FreeCad user.

I can't use Fusion 360 without buying a new PC & FreeCad has a 32 bit version that is running fine on my 32 bit Win 7 machine. A series of useful YouTube tutorials "Learn FreeCad" by Invent Box Tutorials helped me a lot on the steep learning curve :

A warning! Learning a new 3D CAD package when you already know another, including 2D CAD, or have preconceived ideas about how it should work can be agonisingly difficult. Unlearning is really hard work and it may be essential!

is very true ! But I have been able to design simple parts that have 3D printed fine after a couple of days of trying & re-trying and it is making more sense now - being furloughed before Easter gave me the time to play around with it.

Nigel B.

John C18/05/2020 15:54:28
258 forum posts
92 photos

Fusion 360 (free for hobby use) and cura to slice for printing.

Bandersnatch18/05/2020 16:14:44
1656 forum posts
60 photos
Posted by SillyOldDuffer on 18/05/2020 15:18:23:

A warning! Learning a new 3D CAD package when you already know another, including 2D CAD, or have preconceived ideas about how it should work can be agonisingly difficult. Unlearning is really hard work and it may be essential!


Steve F18/05/2020 16:21:19
78 forum posts
22 photos


Fusion 360 for drawing

Fusion 360 for slicing (now) if you can understand it



Phil P18/05/2020 16:42:01
631 forum posts
166 photos

I use Solidworks Premium, but it certainly isn't free, I have it at work and use it all day every day, but I can also use it at home as well.

If you can get hold of a copy it really is the dogs whotsits.


Edited By Phil P on 18/05/2020 16:42:40

Barrie Lever18/05/2020 16:51:52
653 forum posts
75 photos
Posted by Tony Jeffree on 18/05/2020 14:47:57:

Time to bite the bullet and learn how to draw stuff for printing. What (preferably free!) software do people use/recommend?


I am quite capable in 3D CAD but was looking for a package to be able to feature in a few planned workshop sessions for the BMFA.

I came across Siemens Solid Edge Community Edition, a very mature and highly stable product.

Solid Edge has some features that Fusion 360 does not have and vise versa.

The big advantage for Fusion is that has CAM packaged with it, but it is nowhere near as reliable on importing non native files as Solid Edge. Solid Edge is also very strong on producing 2D drawings either from a 3D model or just freely created 2D.

Solid Edge is also very strong for reverse engineering in 2D such as you would have to do for laser cutting of old plans as an example.

You really have to go for Fusion 360 (data stored on the Cloud) or Solid Edge (all data stored completely local).

I don't think any of the others can bring the power and muscle that Solid Edge or Fusion bring to the party.

I have a hunch that the FOC net might be closing on fusion 360 though and it needs to connect to the Net every so often to validate the license.

Use Cura for 3D slicing though, it comes with most printers, you may already be using it. Export STL and open in Cura, that is what happened to the part illustrated below.

There is another much easier to learn 3D CAD that can produce good models but you have to pay about £200.00 for it and it does not have all the bells and whistles of Fusion 360 or Solid Edge, depends if you want to learn a complex MCAD package and how much your sanity is worth.

Don't underestimate the mountain you are proposing to climb though with

I am free to use any of these packages, but have plumped for Solid Edge. Shout if you need help I am doing this stuff every day of the week.




Edited By Barrie Lever on 18/05/2020 16:52:34

David Jupp18/05/2020 17:28:21
734 forum posts
17 photos

Think about which 'bells and whistles' are important to YOU.

Most users don't need the high powered tools that some systems offer - but, if you do need some specific function that can be a very important factor in your choice.

For 'once in a while' cases, there are usually workarounds to not having a particular feature.

Extra buttons on the interface can slow the learning process.

SillyOldDuffer18/05/2020 18:11:36
5932 forum posts
1282 photos

Perhaps another point about CAD tools is how wide a range they cover and how much that's likely to baffle beginners.

At the moment FreeCAD supports 28 different 'Workbenches' of which only two or three are likely to useful for Mechanical Design. That FreeCAD supports Ship and Building Architecture is great if you need it, otherwise abundance of tools is unwanted noise. The first problem is knowing to start with 'Part Design' and it's OK to ignore the others.

Fusion360 is strongly focussed on Mechanical Engineering, which for 'our' purposes is a good thing. Electronic circuit design is a recent addition, but other than that, Fusion is well tuned to personal use, and has many professional features too.

Big money CAD packages have many features that amateurs and small professionals might never use. Expensive CAD doesn't deliver simplicity or ease of operation, it provides more tools, more options, and support for high-end design work, typically teams of engineers and managers collaborating on complex projects requiring version control and all the other bells and whistles. A chap at his dining table will probably only need the basics - perhaps less than 5% of what's available. The other 95% of big CAD unctionality is learning curve that might never pay back. Not good to pay a fortune for superfluous features, or even to get them free.

So there's a strong argument for selecting the simplest possible software - old versions lacking modern complexities, or new but straightforwardly minimalist software. For many purposes these are fine, but there's a booby trap. It's that as the user develops skills, he becomes ever more likely to smack hard into a basic software tool's limitations. And when he does, he's stuffed! The only fix is to upgrade or switch to a different package and either choice is likely to cause severe culture shock or hurt one's wallet. Otherwise simple CAD is a reasonable choice provided one is confident their limitations won't matter.

Unless you have a brain the size of a planet it's unwise to experiment with several different CAD packages in hope of finding an easy one that suits you. The awful truth is they are all hard and switching between them is going to confuse. In the early stages better to choose one and stick with it - they all work. But the effort needs to be put in.


Dick H18/05/2020 18:26:12
87 forum posts
1 photos

Try TinkerCad. For creating simple solids and assembling blocks and putting holes in them to create an .stl file it does what I want for 3D printing.

Neil Wyatt18/05/2020 19:03:02
17970 forum posts
709 photos
77 articles

turret.jpgp1110.jpgI'm very happy with Alibre Atom, I use it regularly.

lewis gun.jpg

Barrie Lever18/05/2020 19:41:36
653 forum posts
75 photos
Posted by Neil Wyatt on 18/05/2020 19:03:02:

I'm very happy with Alibre Atom, I use it regularly.


Tony did say he preferred the CAD to be free, I am a fully paid up Alibre Design license holder and it is with some regret that I am migrating to Solid Edge.

I have the following CAD packages, they are all bought and paid for over the years

  • Autodesk Autocad and Mechanical desktop 2004 (license lapsed)
  • Autodesk Inventor 2004 (license lapsed)
  • Bricscad V14, had license's since V8
  • Alibre Design had licenses since about 2007
  • MOI V3 licensed since about 2011
  • Draftsite lapsed license
  • BobCAD-Cam V30 fully licensed
  • Solid Edge fully licensed and free !!

I can use which ever I want to but I am migrating to Solid Edge.


blowlamp18/05/2020 20:03:27
1374 forum posts
85 photos

Out of Barrie's list, I would say MoI is the easiest to use by a fair distance.

It's not free, but it is very powerful and makes probably the cleanest meshes in the business and so is good for producing clean stl files.


IanT18/05/2020 20:06:36
1547 forum posts
144 photos

Hi Tony,

Since I've only just started to learn Solid Edge - my opinion has to be very subjective and is based on limited knowledge of 3D CAD. It's most certainly not based on detailed evaluation (or informed comparison with other 3D CAD products) - although I have briefly 'dabbled' with Fusion 360.

All I can tell you is that Solid Edge (3D Community Edition) appears to be free (a "lifetime license" ) which downloads locally and also stores my drawings locally. It has a very elegant User Interface (that I am still learning to use fluently) and is clearly not only extremely powerful but also well designed. Siemens has clearly invested a great deal of time and money in this 3D CAD product (and you get the full featured product - nothing is missing).

I am currently moving some of my 2D (TurboCAD) drawings into SE and it has imported everything without issues thus far. I have also 'manually' converted some simple TC 2D parts into SE 3D objects and have recently watched several YouTubes showing how SE can help automate this process. So I am aware that this can be done (I have to learn to walk before I can run though). It may well just be simpler to redraw some parts directly in SE as I'm getting quicker with practice.

Whichever 3D CAD system you choose, it will undoubtedly require some time for you to learn it well. I guess all I can really tell you is that I'm enjoying working with Solid Edge. When I cannot get things to work (as shown in the videos) I've managed to go over things again and understand what I'm doing wrong - the user interface is powerful but will take time to understand. Just the fact that I'm sticking with SE is (to me) a very good sign indeed - I didn't manage to get this far with Fusion 360 I'm afraid.



Edited By IanT on 18/05/2020 20:06:59

Barrie Lever18/05/2020 20:21:48
653 forum posts
75 photos


Whilst your advice has some merit, certainly with regard to learning any CAD system either 2D or 3D, I would like to temper your advice.

Whilst the high end CAD systems that are now allowing free access to hobby and low turn over commercial users have features that are unlikely to be used by denizens of this forum, each user will have different requirements and can pick which they use as you described with Freecad.

I cannot speak about the GUI in Fusion as my feed back on that it is coming from my competition partner, but in Solid Edge it is very easy to customise the GUI to suit the user's requirements, so in effect you can dial in and out what you want to see.

Also the help system has a feature that I have never see in any programme before and it works like this, say you are a raw beginner and you want to now about something simple like drawing a line or a circle, when you type that into the help box at the bottom of the screen suggestions come up in a box on the right hand side of the screen, then when you hover the mouse over which command you think is relevant, that icon then flashes up in the ribbon bar to help you locate it, when you go to the icon in the ribbon bar there is often a simple animation to illustrate how the command works.

The level of assistance and hand holding can also be selected according to the users requirements.

The simplest and purest 3D CAD by some margin is MOI (Moment Of Inspiration) I have done some pretty serious 3D surface models with that little CAD package that can even run from a USB stick but you have to buy a license that costs about £200.00.

I make things from my 3D CAD designs, they are not screen shots, just about everything ends up as physical items produced by digital manufacturing processes.



Pattern for wing designed in MOI and code produced in BobCAD, 1.4 million lines of G codes. Machined on 10' x 5' Shop Sabre 3 axis gantry router.


Finished wing pattern


Exhaust stubs designed in MOI, G code produced in BobCAD, machined on Wabeco CC-F1210


3D printed exhaust strap, designed in MOI, sliced in Cura and printed on a Dremel 3D20.


OS60 test stand. designed in and coded in BobCAD, alu parts machined on Wabeco CC-F1210, 3D printed part from Dremel 3D 20, G10 tank support machined on CNC Step High-Z S-1000T


RC pylon racer composite prop and counter balanced spinner assembly, aero parts designed in MOI, mechanical parts, mould tool design and assembly screen shot in Alibre Design, G code from BobCAD and machined on a Mazak VTC 530.




The end results.

f3d nats.jpg

Raymond Anderson18/05/2020 20:56:44
770 forum posts
152 photos

Tony Solid Edge all the way. The community edition will do all ( and more) that you ask of it. I use the licenced version and... the community edition is loosing very little on the cad side to the commercial edition. Cam module is locked, and Piping and wiring harness and Standard parts library are not installed in the free version. That's about the only difference. Solid Edge is actually more powerful than Solidworks. I have put a few pics of some Solid Edge models in an earlier thread and there are more in one of my albums.

Neil Wyatt18/05/2020 21:24:03
17970 forum posts
709 photos
77 articles
Posted by Barrie Lever on 18/05/2020 20:21:48:

I make things from my 3D CAD designs, they are not screen shots, just about everything ends up as physical items produced by digital manufacturing processes.

In case anyone thinks I only do screenshots...

Secondary spider and mount, tube rings, fully adjustable mirror cell, all 3D printed

Has since been flocked inside.

Andy Stopford18/05/2020 21:40:44
32 forum posts
1 photos

If you don't mind cloud storage, OnShape is free for non-commercial use, well featured and easy to use.

I'd love to love FreeCAD but it suffers from the all too common problem with open source stuff, that the people who develop it are coders - they like writing code, they probably do it for their day job and are doubtless very good at it, but they aren't interested in user Interface design, user workflow, producing the documentation, etc.

Furthermore, many individuals work on this kind of project, and this can mean that there is no overarching design ethos to the thing, just loads of disparate modules which all do things differently.

This is what you're paying for with commercial software - they have people who specialise in UI, they have technical writers to write the manual and so on. If there's a free version, then that's all the better.

Note - I'm not slagging FreeCAD off, I think it's good, and tremendous that people make the effort to develop it, and if OnShape went payed-for only, I'd probably go back to it. Fusion 360 isn't available for Linux so that would be out of the question, plus its produced by Autodesk, who killed Softimage XSI, the best 3D animation program ever (and a model of good interface/workflow design), so it's it out of the question on principal.

All Topics | Latest Posts

Please login to post a reply.

Magazine Locator

Want the latest issue of Model Engineer or Model Engineers' Workshop? Use our magazine locator links to find your nearest stockist!

Find Model Engineer & Model Engineers' Workshop

Latest Forum Posts
Support Our Partners
Eccentric July 5 2018
Allendale Electronics
Eccentric Engineering
Subscription Offer

Latest "For Sale" Ads
Latest "Wanted" Ads
Get In Touch!

Do you want to contact the Model Engineer and Model Engineers' Workshop team?

You can contact us by phone, mail or email about the magazines including becoming a contributor, submitting reader's letters or making queries about articles. You can also get in touch about this website, advertising or other general issues.

Click THIS LINK for full contact details.

For subscription issues please see THIS LINK.

Digital Back Issues

Social Media online

'Like' us on Facebook
Follow us on Facebook

Follow us on Twitter
 Twitter Logo

Pin us on Pinterest