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Looking to learn CAD

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Packmule18/02/2021 20:05:07
115 forum posts
6 photos

OK Guys,

here's todays challenge. I'm looking to try and learn Cad .I do not have a engineering or design background so have never even ventured near this subject.

The thought is to perhaps move onto 3d printing if I manage to get my head around it. What software would you suggest for a absolute novice?



HOWARDT18/02/2021 20:25:28
777 forum posts
28 photos

Good luck. Everyone has their own reason for their choice so you will have to make yours. I am a CAD user professional for the last nearly thirty years of my working life and grew up using Autodesk products, now using Fusion 360 as well as older version of Inventor (which I prefer). It would be ideal for you to get someone close to you to give you some hands on as the questions are many for a beginner and can be easily answered by a seasoned user. There is always the question of do you want a free program or are willing to pay.

Peter Cook 618/02/2021 20:55:04
156 forum posts
50 photos

Try the free versions of some of the software. See what suits you. Like you I have no design background. There seem to (me to) be two paradigms which underlie the software. One is based on orthogonal projections which are combined to create 3D models. The other starts from 3D and offers differing views.

My brain struggles to integrate orthogonal views, so I found the first style of software hard to get to grips with. I tend to think in pictures so the second type seemed to suit me better.

I settled on MoI as I found it the most intuitive (to me), but even so the learning curve was VERY steep. MoI is not free (far from it) but as I have got to grips with it I have found it easier and easier to create models - and it links (via Cura) with my 3D printer to make the things I visualise.

fizzy18/02/2021 21:09:50
1809 forum posts
120 photos

At the most basic level there is Tinkercad - suprisingly good for 3d printing. You can 2d cad with basic Visio, I use F360 but it is far from intuative especially if you dont use it often, loads of tutorials on utube. Its not an easy thing to get into. Good luck

Bazyle18/02/2021 21:20:44
6012 forum posts
220 photos

There have been several threads on this subject over the last 2-3 years. Anything older will be well out of date.
Note that several people writing on such threads are professionals. Far from that meaning they know what they are talking about it means they are often using a system that costs a thousand pounds a year to use, praise it, but once yo are getting excited about it you suddenly find they are coming from a very different perspective to an amateur. "only £150 a month" or even a year is not really hobby friendly.
Then there are the 'evaluation' modes. They are specificaly designed to get you locked in as a student to promote it to an employer. They either lack key features or suddenly withdraw key features when they find people like you are using it for free.

So start off with FreeCad. It is genuinely free open source but becaue of that is not super duper feature packed to satisfy the rivet counters and professionals. But it is free. Costs no money. If you outgrow it then you can look at one of the others.

Also beware the 'toy' packages like Microsoft 3D Builder (or is it Designer) that may be ok for artists and kids but not really engineering oriented.

PS I have tried 'evaluation' of Onshape, Fusion 360, Alibre, which is why I wrote the above.

Edited By Bazyle on 18/02/2021 21:23:44

IanT18/02/2021 22:17:25
1882 forum posts
182 photos


When I started in 3D Print, a friend suggested that to "get going" with my own 3DP designs I first used Open SCAD for simple objects. It is script based and very easy to learn in small steps (which is not really the case in other 3D CAD systems). You can be designing and 'printing' things the same evening you start up with it (I did so). There are also a lot of SCAD designs on Thingiverse that can be modified without too much effort - indeed some come with a "customiser" that will let you very simply change key parameters. Here is one of my designs for a motor 'mount' - it's just a few line of script and I've printed several different versions of this for my various projects.


However, for my more complex modelling/engineering needs (and to replace TurboCAD 2D) I had to choose one of the modern commercial 3D systems. All the main ones have their advocates here and since they all require a high level of commitment in time and effort to learn, it's not really surprising that once you've made that investment - you might be reluctant to change.

In some ways (to my mind) I was fortunate that I finally made the 'switch' last year (a little later than many here) and was therefore able to download (the then new for Hobbyists) Solid Edge 2020 (Community Edition). It is a lifetime license and free to download (no cloud involved). It will only run on Windows and has no CAM functionality. Apart from that, it is a really wonderful tool - and importantly (at least for me) - there were also some excellent e-Tutorials provided to get me going.

These step you through various exercises but the actual work is done in SE2020 itself - so after each learning exercise you will have a finished model/drawing in SE. I am far from proficient yet but I am already producing useful work, such as the control box below. I'm sure others will have more impressive work but from nothing to this in about 8 months occasional use is really good for me - much better than I ever managed in Fusion.

DC Motor Control Box

So, I would very highly recommend Solid Edge to you or anyone else needing a modern (commercial power & quality) 3D CAD system.



Brian H18/02/2021 22:22:38
2218 forum posts
113 photos

I have been learning to use Fusion 369 as it's free for hobbyists. If you decide to try it, have a look first at the Youtube videos by Lars Christiansen, they will get you started.


Emgee18/02/2021 22:58:27
2148 forum posts
265 photos

Agree Lars offers some excellent tutorials but you can learn at your own pace by using the pages found at the following link.



Nigel Graham 218/02/2021 23:07:47
1686 forum posts
20 photos

I use TurboCAD, which certainly was available by a single purchase rather than the open-ended, costly rental systems some software publishers now use.. I don't know if this is still the case.

The edition I have lets you draw in either orthogonal or in 3D - useful to me as I want workshop drawings (and find the more advanced 3D "modelling" hard to learn) - whereas many CAD programmes assume or force 3D-primarily. Its publishers do not give you much help tpo learn it, and its on-line "Help" pdf "book" is anything but "Help"-ful. However, some of the professionals on its User's Forum sell tutorial videos, and my copy, bought from Paul 'The CAD' Tracy, came with a step-by-step CD-based tutorial far easier to use than a video.

I do not know if the more recent editions offer CAM-file functions. I think they all do but it's something to enquire of if you intend it driving any machine-tool.


Some use Fusion360. It is a 3D-model programme that is or was free for private use, but last time I looked its own web-site was a bit ambiguous on that point. I tried it for a while but was deterred by its blaring approach. It is based on the Internet and unless you are careful to select otherwise will save your data files there, too, by default.

A good many here use Alibre, probably thanks to an MEW tutorial a couple of years ago around a short-term free licence. Once that six months was up you had to buy the software - I don't know if one-off purchase or rented (potentially totalling much more than straight purchase). I tried it briefly but stayed with the TurboCAD I'd fully paid for. Although I closed my Alibre "account" I received unsolicited advertising from its publisher for about a year afterwards.

There are one or two users of Solid Works or Solid Edge here. The full set is an industrial programme and probably costs thousands (its web-site was implicitly trade-only), so I was surprised to see IanT's contribution above - that is a new development.


Orthographic or Isometric (3D) first? It depends on your draughting background and intended use. If you are entering technical-drawing completely anew you might prefer the 3D-first approach. Try both and see which you prefer. I'd guess if using a 3D-printer you'd draw in 3D anyway.

One thing I would advise, is see what if any teaching materials the publishers offer. The idea of clear instructions in a printed instruction-book you can use easily and efficiently at your own pace is anathema to the IT trade! Most who offer anything at all, use videos but not everyone can learn from videos. I can't! You might find the software has a flourishing users' forum (TC does) on which you can ask advice.


Beware the assorted "free" CAD programmes floating around the Internet. Most have little engineering contents, or do but are heavily stripped-down "trial" versions to attract customers whilst lacking the honesty to state the price for a proper version up-front. Some on inspection, offer things like managerial flow-charts and shubbery-planning - fine I suppose if you are Head Gardener for a string of stately homes.

IanT18/02/2021 23:47:34
1882 forum posts
182 photos

Nigel/Bob - these days it's a bit easier to find out about this kind of thing than it was just from the printed word a few years ago. The problem is that there is so much stuff out there in the 'Interweb' and not all of it is very good. I found this when first trying to learn Solid Edge - there were some fairly good videos but also some really terrible ones. Some of them were very hard to follow, had no obvious structure and were far too fast paced. Absolutely useless for learning.

My "go-to" guy these days is Dr Mohammed Seif - who is a Professor of Mechanical & Civil Engineering at Alabama A&M University. He is Egyptian (so has an accent) but I find the pace of his delivery very conducive to self-paced learning - and the fact that he makes the odd mistake is also kind of reassuring too. He starts with the simple and gradually works up to the more complex - all in a very structured way. I also find his videos very useful for memory jogging/revision when I've not used SE for a few months (as happened around Christmas/New Year).

Here is his first 'beginners' lesson and I think it will give you some idea about working with Solid Edge without the need to download it.

Learning Solid edge - Lab 1 - Dr M Seif

Hope this helps.



Paul Lousick19/02/2021 03:07:36
1845 forum posts
659 photos

A CAD package will require a lot of study time to master and many give up and say its too hard but great if you know how to use it. Learning the commands is like learning a new language. (How long would it take you to be fluent in Russian or Mandarin ? Learning CAD is no different.)

CAD is only a tool to help you design things and is more accurate than doing it by hand in 2D but it will not make you into a designer if you don't have the skills to start with.

I have been a professional engineer / draftsman for 50 years. Started with Autocad then ProEngineer and Solidworks. Learning is much easier now that we have access to the internet tutorials. With ProE, I was sent on a 1 week training course to learn the basics for modeling parts. Then a month later, another week to learn advanced drawing techniques and finally another weeks training to learn advanced modelling. It was estimated that it took a qualified 2D draftsman 3 to 6 months to be as efficient as they were on a drawing board. But after that time you were way ahead. The big advantage is the accuracy achieved and the time and cost saving when drawings have to be changed. Learning Solidworks was a bit quicker. The software was more user friendly and I already had an understanding of modelling in 3D.



Edited By Paul Lousick on 19/02/2021 03:12:44

David Jupp19/02/2021 07:52:52
784 forum posts
17 photos

Take a look at thread

Learning CAD with Alibre Atom3D | Model Engineer (

and perhaps also

Alibre Atom3D - Processes (

Atom3D is one of several options you could consider.

Before you invest lots of your time into any one software choice, think about what you might want to do in the future - is it important to be able to produce 2D drawings of your 3D designs? Will you be working with Assemblies or just Parts? Check that your future needs are catered for.

Take a look at learning and support options - tutorials, videos, is there an active user forum. This will be particularly important for free/inexpensive options.

Some of the less used systems have approaches to modelling that are quite different from the more mainstream products - not necessarily 'bad' or 'wrong' - but there might be less people who are able to assist you with problems.

Whatever option you go for - do take the time to work through the basic level tutorials. If you don't you'll probably trip up when you try to model something real.

Brian H19/02/2021 08:55:39
2218 forum posts
113 photos

Rather than 'just' learning CAD, I found it useful to start using it on an actual project. Many years ago I designed and built a 3" inch traction engine and have all the paper drawings for it.

I decided to build another one in 1 1/2" inch and am using my original drawings to design the 1 1/2" inch version using Fusion 360.

There's a long way to go but I'm learning (slowly). The help available on the Fusion 360 website is outstanding.


Hollowpoint19/02/2021 09:12:56
433 forum posts
53 photos

I use Fusion 360 which is free in a limited sense for hobby users.

It isn't too difficult to learn once you get your head around how it works. If you ever used google sketchup back when that was free you will already have some knowledge.

Ady119/02/2021 10:13:22
4693 forum posts
713 photos

Welcome to the rabbithole

SillyOldDuffer19/02/2021 10:30:33
7487 forum posts
1658 photos

I did a thread called Making a start with FreeCAD a couple of years ago, so it should still all work! It's designed to take a beginner step by step through a number of common 3D processes with practical examples and pictures. As FreeCAD is free, there's no cost if you don't like it! FreeCAD parts can be 3D printed.

Though I find FreeCAD useful I'm not banging the drum for it in particular. Though it's a good introduction to 3D and might do all you need, it's also a stepping stone to one of the more advanced products like Alibre etc. Knowing FreeCAD made it a lot easier for me to understand and appreciate Fusion360.


Journeyman19/02/2021 11:16:14
1022 forum posts
193 photos

My CAD tool of choice is Alibre, been using it for years. Not very good at it because I don't use it often enough. The Alibre Atom 3D referred to above might be a good choice, fitting between the seriously expensive paid for software and the 'free' software which may or may not remain free. Only drawback with many of these programs is they only work on Windows (how annoying is that) I think FreeCAD is one of the few exceptions.


One of my efforts with Alibre above, this is a drawing page created from the 3D model. I also use the 'stl' output option in Alibre for 3D printing, very useful.


IanT19/02/2021 11:29:31
1882 forum posts
182 photos
Posted by Brian H on 19/02/2021 08:55:39:

Rather than 'just' learning CAD, I found it useful to start using it on an actual project. Many years ago I designed and built a 3" inch traction engine and have all the paper drawings for it.


I don't disagree with Brian with regards the need to actually work with 3D to gain proficiency but I do think it is essential to focus on getting the basics right first.

I was a TurboCAD user for well over 20 years, starting with Version 4 (free CD on a magazine cover) and three upgrades later ended up using TC 2016. I self-taught myself TC4 using a very poor "User Manual" that was little more than a list of screen commands - with no structure at all. It took me ages to understand 'snaps' and 'layers' and for many years I just used the pull-down menus. Then a few years back, I found Paul (the CADs) videos and my use of TC was completely transformed - mostly by ignoring the pull-down menus in favour of key board commands. So I'd spent 15+ years "using" TC but not doing so very well. I probably wasted a great many hours of my spare time because of this.

I did try to migrate to TC 3D but it really wasn't viable in the De Lux versions I had. I also downloaded Fusion but could not get the 'momentum' necessary to make progress with it and I had already deleted it before I came across Solid Edge.

My earlier TC experience made me determined to try and be systematic in getting the basics right. The Siemens eLearning tutorials provided are very good and made this much easier to do. I think I spent about a week doing one lesson an evening (or so) about six or seven hours all told. Not that hard to do!

This was key to my being able to move on, as I then had the basics. As mentioned earlier, I also worked through a number of Dr Seif's Labs and was pleasantly surprised to find that I could actually complete them. This new found 'confidence' has really helped to motivate further use.

Where I very much agree with Brian, is that to become proficient, you do need practice. He's drawing a 3.5" loco - and I'm currently drawing a Midland Compound in Gauge '3' (trying to do a little every week as my skills and product knowledge improve).

So my experience is that it is very worthwhile to "Just" learn the basics (of whatever system you choose) before jumping in - at least it has been for me.



Gary Wooding19/02/2021 12:23:03
866 forum posts
225 photos

I started CAD a good number of years ago with a program called EasyCAD. It was very basic, 2D only, and worked from a floppy disk on a DOS PC. It took several months to become reasonably proficient at it.

Some years later I found an early version of TurboCAD that was given away free with a computer magazine. It purported to do 3D design, but it was rather Mickey Mouse. Nevertheless, I stuck with it and, through various releases and versions, became pretty efficient at it. I tried an early version of Alibre for a time, but decided I couldn't afford it.

Then I was offered a free, 1-day intro course, to SolidWorks. I was hooked, but was no where near able to afford the astronomical price, so it remained a pipe-dream. Until I heard about the new kid on the block - Fusion 360. It was free (at the time) and appeared to be as feature-rich as SolidWorks. So I installed it.

Despite having years of experience with TCAD, I found the F360 learning curve to be extremely steep. The documentation was, and still is, appalling, but the multitude of videos from the likes of Lars Christensen etc saved the day. The videos, plus the excellently supported user-forum, are a great help.

Personally, I like F360, but understand the misgivings expressed by other people. So use the CAD system that ticks your boxes. My main reason for posting was to state that all CAD systems are complicated and require considerable effort and time to master. If you are not prepared to devote quite a lot of effort then you will be disappointed. After perusing a fair number of video tutorials I found that I made most progress by designing a personal project. It doesn't have to be complicated; it's surprising how much you learn by building something you need.

Nicholas Wheeler 119/02/2021 12:37:31
726 forum posts
51 photos

I won't argue with anyone that CAD programs are complicated, but that's also true word processors and spreadsheets.

What a prospective CAD user needs to be aware of before they start is the underlying concepts, both in general and how each program applies them, but I would suggest that they're a lot easier to understand than those needed for 2D drawing!

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