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
395 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
6471 forum posts
1424 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
1866 forum posts
106 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
856 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
260 forum posts
92 photos

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

Bandersnatch18/05/2020 16:14:44
1719 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
79 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
671 forum posts
168 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

Former Member18/05/2020 16:51:52

[This posting has been removed]

David Jupp18/05/2020 17:28:21
758 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
6471 forum posts
1424 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
96 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
18325 forum posts
718 photos
77 articles

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

lewis gun.jpg

Former Member18/05/2020 19:41:36

[This posting has been removed]

blowlamp18/05/2020 20:03:27
1447 forum posts
97 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
1688 forum posts
163 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

Former Member18/05/2020 20:21:48

[This posting has been removed]

Raymond Anderson18/05/2020 20:56:44
779 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
18325 forum posts
718 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
45 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
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