For architecture professionals and digital designers, it’s previously been almost impossible to break free from the clutches of AutoDesk. They are the single largest computer aided design software developers in the world, and have cornered the market when it comes to programs used to draft, model, and even render in 3D.
And while the likes of Revit, 3DS Max, and the almighty AutoCAD certainly aren’t going away, there have never been more free, open-source alternatives that let small offices and individuals produce drafting work that lives up to the professional standards of some of the most expensive software available.
The following open-source programs won’t be replacing AutoCAD anytime soon, but they will give you a few options when weighing whether or not you’re willing to shell out thousands of dollars on licensed software.
FreeCAD is a parametric 3D drafting program that has come a long way since it was first introduced into the world in 2002. 15 Years of seasoning has done it well, transforming it into a viable alternative to other drafting programs like Revit and AutoCAD. And while it may not have the professional polish that comes with a hefty price tag, FreeCAD has all the tools necessary to create high-quality drawings and 3D models.
And while FreeCAD was designed as a tool for creators, DIYers, and inventors, it has been developed into a program that can be used by architects, designers, and 3D visualizers to great effect. And...it’s FREE!
DraftSight is a 2D drafting program like AutoCAD that is designed for personal, individual use. You won’t find all the bells and whistles that come packaged in with the big boys, but you will find a fully functional toolset that will satisfy all your drafting needs. It’s a great starter program, and one that has an intuitive user interface and a language that can be easily understood.
The only thing you need to start using DraftSight is a valid email address. The software is currently available for Windows and in beta for Mac and Ubuntu. If this is your first foray into the world of 2D drafting, you could do a lot worse.
LibreCAD is an open-source 2D drafting program that has a strong, passionate base of fans who are dedicated to not only using the software, but working to make it better. It includes most standard 2D drafting tools and a snappy, quick interface to tie it all together. It utilizes tools and concepts that are similar to AutoCAD, so those familiar with that program should feel right at home.
LibreCAD’s source code is entirely free to download, use, and manipulate at your leisure. The best thing about becoming a LibreCAD user is that it’s always changing and always being tweaked to be better, more user-friendly, and more capable.
SketchUp has exploded its user-base well beyond the industry of architecture, design, construction, and drafting, finding its way into people’s homes who might not otherwise touch a 3D modeling or drafting program. It’s easy to use, understand, and completely free. And while using SketchUp as a primary drafting tool comes with a laundry list of shortcomings, it can certainly be used as a stop-gap while you save up for proprietary software.
SketchUp does almost everything well, and any designer or visualization artist would be missing out on a great idea maker if they don’t use it on a daily basis. It’s great for developing concepts, making them better, and then showing them off to friends, clients, and builders alike.
I know, I’m cheating a bit on this one, but you should know you have the ability to download and use an almost fully-fledged version of AutoCAD. You have to claim you’re a student, however, so hopefully a little white lie won’t spoil your enjoyment too much. You should note, however, that if you try to plot, print, or export documentation with this version, it will be met with a watermark that prevents you from using them commercially or otherwise professionally.
Make no mistake, this is AutoCAD in every other facet. So, if you’re looking to flesh out your drafting chops and transform yourself into a pro before making the leap to the licensed version, this is a great avenue to make that happen.