How to Choose CAD Software

Computer-aided design (CAD) software is indispensable in the architecture and design fields. It also has a number of uses for private consumers. CAD software varies widely in terms of cost and functionality, so learning how to choose the appropriate software for your needs can be challenging. Fortunately, you can learn how to choose CAD software that suits your needs by following a few simple steps.


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    Assess your needs. CAD software varies enormously in terms of both functionality and cost. The various programs available can be roughly classified using 2 different criteria: 2D versus 3D modeling, and polygonal mesh versus NURBS modeling.
    • 2D CAD programs provide an interface for designing in 2 dimensions. You can use a variety of shapes and tools to construct floor plans, elevations, and sections. You will not be able to create perspective drawings or renderings, and you will not be able to rotate your design and view it from additional angles. 2D CAD software usually falls on the lower end of the price range, and offers relatively high ease of use.
    • 3D CAD programs provide a fully 3-dimensional interface. These programs allow you to design complex buildings and objects as solids; you can also pan, zoom, and rotate the design environment to view your model any way you need to. 3D CAD applications will often have a built-in function for rendering drawings, and they also provide support for exporting models to more sophisticated rendering applications. 3D CAD programs are generally more expensive than 2D applications.
    • Some CAD programs model solid objects using polygons (in a process known as polygonal mesh modeling). To model a sphere, for example, the program approximates the sphere's surface using many small polygons, such as squares or triangles. Modeling using polygonal tools can often be easy, but the results aren't capable of producing fine detail in intricately curved surfaces.
    • Other CAD programs model solid objects using NURBS (Non-Uniform Rational Basis Spline) modeling. A NURBS is a curve which is handled through a variety of "knot" points - points located near the curve which allow the user to pull and adjust the curve's shape minutely. NURBS modeling is capable of producing smooth, fine detail in the most intricately curved objects. Many CAD programs (such as AutoCAD) will provide support for both polygon and NURBS modeling.
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    Determine your budget. The functionality of different CAD programs corresponds to their price tags. The array of software available ranges from cheap and simple home remodeling software (aimed at private consumers) to full-featured, professional-quality design suites sporting an inaccessibly high price tag (these programs are marketed to design firms). Plan a budget that reflects how much you require from your CAD software.
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    Search online for some of the most popular CAD software. Read reviews and visit the manufacturer's website to compare cost, functionality, and ease of use. Take your operating system into account - some applications will only run on Windows, while some are designed exclusively for Linux or Mac. AutoCAD (produced by AutoDesk) is the industry standard, and at the other end of the spectrum Google SketchUp provides a free 3D modeling tool aimed at students.
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    Download trial versions. Nearly all CAD programs are offered as a trial version. These versions offer limited functionality and can usually be downloaded for free from the manufacturer's website. Use the trial software and decide if the program is right for your needs.
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    Consider any future costs. If you are buying CAD software for a company, remember that you will need to budget for training your employees on the software, maintaining the software, and upgrading to new versions when necessary. If you are a private consumer, you will be more likely to be able to use an outdated version of the software without problems.


  • All universities with an architecture or design program will generally have high-end CAD software installed on their computers. Enroll as a non-matriculated student (meaning you aren't seeking a degree), and you will have access to top-shelf design software at a fraction of the price.

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