50 Excellent Tools for Freelance Industrial Designers and Engineers

50 Excellent Tools for Freelance Industrial Designers and Engineers

No one will argue that 3D CAD is one of the most complex categories of software to use. Some programs may take weeks (if not months) to learn, and you’ll need to spend a lot of time to become the best. The following CAD modeling tools are among the most widely used in the community of professional CAD designers and engineers. Some are popular for their ease of use while others are preferable simply for their sophisticated capabilities. The good thing is that there is always something for anybody to try, whether they are novices or experts in the 3D modeling industry.

3D Slash


If you’re still new to the world of computer-aided design, 3D Slash is an excellent place to start. It is relatively simple that you can immediately focus on creating a 3D model right away without getting lost studying the interface. When it comes to quality, the model can be as simple or as elaborate as you want.

Key features:

  • Available as desktop and mobile (web) versions
  • Easy-to-understand interface requiring no extensive training to understand
  • 3D printing ready

Cost: Free

Visit: 3D Slash



There is nothing particularly special about 3DCrafter modeling and animation tool, except for the promise of intuitive drag-and-drop control. Unfortunately, in this case, being intuitive is not quite synonymous with easy. To use the software to its full potential, you need a serious artistic talent and working knowledge of engineering. Some say using 3DCrafter is like building Lego bricks set with a pair of chopsticks, without any instructions.

Key features:

  • Simple drag-and-drop control
  • Import and export features
  • Built-in tutorials to get you started

Cost: The standard version is free, while the pro version is available for $39.95.

Visit: 3DCrafter

Adobe Illustrator

adobe illustrator

It has been more than 30 years since Adobe Illustrator first came to the market. Alongside InDesign and Photoshop, the three have become the industry standard for graphic design software market regarding both functionality and user interface. Some of the latest additions to the already-powerful software include the Puppet Warp tool and Properties panel.

Key features:

  • Customizable toolbar
  • Adobe Stock Templates
  • Simultaneous editing

Cost: Adobe Illustrator CC is available for $26 per month. The Creative Cloud All Apps package is $66 per month. Students and educators are eligible for discounts.

Visit: Adobe Illustrator

Adobe Photoshop CC

adobe photoshop

Photoshop is excellent at what it promises to do; this is exactly what you want in graphic design software. What most people do not realize is that there are lots of things Photoshop cannot do. It is exceptional for processing and editing individual images including technical adjustments and details enhancements. It lacks an organizational tool for pictures, but it is just a small issue you actually can (and should) overlook.

Key features:

  • 360-panorama workflow
  • Access to lightroom photos
  • Curvature Pen

Cost: The lowest-priced plan for individual licenses starts at $9.90 per month (photography package). The most comprehensive package with All Apps and Adobe Stock is available for $82.98. Students and educators are eligible for discounts.

Visit: Adobe Photoshop



It is an open-source prototyping platform for anybody who wants to develop creative electronic engineering projects. Arduino is not only about software, but also hardware (Arduino board) you can purchase or build and develop it further for personal and commercial purposes. To make things easier, the official Arduino product page lists the available boards by categories or applications. For example: wearable, Internet of Things, education, enhanced features, and entry level.

Key features:

  • Compatible with Windows, Mac, and Linux
  • Easy enough for beginners but with advanced features suitable for the experienced
  • Downloadable and online tools

Cost: Free software (open-source); ready-made boards are available for purchase.

Visit: Arduino

Autodesk 3DS MAX

3ds Max

Formerly marketed as 3D Studio and 3D Studio Max, the Autodesk 3ds Max is a professional CAD software for the more advanced users. It comes with a wide range of features to cater to 3D modelers and game developers alike. The modeling capabilities can be further improved by installing various plugins, making an already-powerful software even better. 3ds Max is one of the most popular names in movie and architectural visualization industries.

Key features:

  • Rigging tools
  • General animation tools
  • Character animation

Cost: The stand-alone 3ds Max software is available for $1,505 per year. The complete package including Arnold and entertainment software collection comes at $2,095 per year.

Visit: Autodesk 3DS MAX

RELATED: Top 100 Sites for Free 3D Models and CAD Block Libraries

Autodesk Alias

autodesk alias

Unlike most software of its kind, Autodesk Alias is marketed specifically as CAID (computer-aided industrial design) instead of CAD. When it comes to functionality, Alias mainly deals with the aesthetic aspects of the model, the product’s housing, and overall appearance. It doesn’t have the features for you to tinker with the mechanical details of it.

Key features:

  • Canvas pivot function
  • Illustration and sketching tools
  • Surface from mesh workflow

Cost: Eligible students and educators can download Alias AutoStudio for free; Alias Design is available for $2,540 per year.

Visit: Autodesk Alias

Autodesk AutoCAD


CAD software used to be exclusive for big businesses or the wealthy in general as this kind of program was only possible to install and run on mainframe computers. AutoCAD changed the paradigm and forced others to follow suit in the process. While it is still relatively resource-demanding software, more people and professionals can use it on home computers and even mobile devices.

Key features:

  • Complete range of 3D modeling techniques (solid, surface, and mesh)
  • Rendering engine
  • 2D drafting, drawing, and annotation

Cost: The latest version of AutoCAD comes with various specialized tools, web app, and mobile app. The package is available for $1,575 per year.

Visit: Autodesk AutoCAD

Autodesk Fusion 360

autodesk fusion

It is a combination of 3D CAD, CAM (computer-aided manufacturing), and CAE (computer-aided engineering) powered by cloud computing. Fusion 360 is compatible with Windows and Mac operating systems. The main advantage is that the software is capable of bringing an entire design team together using a single platform in a streamlined simultaneous workflow. Users can take advantage of a cloud-platform as well as local resources whenever possible.

Key features:

  • CAM – create tool paths to machine various components or utilize 3D printing to build a prototype
  • Design – sculpting tools to quickly visualize concepts and product ideas
  • Modeling tools to introduce features into the concept

Cost: $495 per year

Visit: Autodesk Fusion 360

Autodesk Inventor

autodesk inventor

One of the most significant selling points of Autodesk Inventor is the way it allows integration between 2D and 3D data in a single platform. With Autodesk Inventor, you’ll be able to see a detailed visual representation of the design/product even when it is still in the conceptual stage. Thanks to direct edit and free-form modeling tools, you can test and validate a design before it reaches the production phase.

Key features:

  • Parametric modeling
  • Automated frame design
  • Assembly modeling

Cost: $1,935 per year

Visit: Autodesk Inventor

Autodesk Meshmixer

Autodesk Meshmixer

In the 3D CAD software market, Meshmixer – another program by Autodesk – is sometimes described by users as the “Swiss Army Knife” for 3D meshes. Despite the fact that it has a clear emphasis on the mechanical functionality of the 3D models, the software is fully-loaded with features to accomplish just about anything. This is not a software for a beginner, but those who master it have all the potentials to come up with impressively sophisticated good-looking 3D models.

Key features:

  • A set of 3D modeling tools that can blend easily with anything from Autodesk family
  • 3D surface stamping and sculpting
  • Advanced selection tools

Cost: Free, compatible with Windows and Mac operating systems

 Visit: Autodesk Meshmixer

Autodesk Mudbox


The direct competitor of ZBrush is Mudbox, another CAD program from Autodesk. Exploiting the same concept popularly known as clay sculpting, Autodesk Mudbox gives you the chance to build details step-by-step instead of creating high-resolution meshes from the start. In practice, you will use a template of a generic design and work out the details from that.

Key features:

  • Direct painting on 3D models
  • Re-topology tools to create meshes from imported data
  • Dynamic tessellation

Cost: Monthly subscription costs $10; you can opt for an annual subscription for $80 instead.

Visit: Autodesk Mudbox

Autodesk Product Design Manufacturing Collection

autodesk package

For a full-blown professional CAD tool for industrial engineering and designing purposes, Autodesk offers an assortment of software in a package called Product Design Manufacturing Collection, which includes a number of powerful tools such as HSM, NASTRAN IN-CAD, Nesting Utility, Inventor, Vault Basic, AutoCAD (along with its range of specialized tools), Fusion 360, and more. Some of the included software, unfortunately, is not available for stand-alone purchase.

Key features:

  • Design, test, and validate designs both in 2D and 3D
  • More inclusive software license management
  • Analysis of heat transfer, nonlinear stress, and dynamics

Cost: $2,525 per year for single-user access. A network license is required for team access.

Visit: Autodesk Product Design Manufacturing Collection

Autodesk SketchBook


Originally developed by Alias Systems Corporation and now owned by Autodesk, SketchBook is mostly intended to help you create concept sketching and more expressive – rather than technical – drawings. SketchBook started as commercial software, but now it is available free of charge for personal use. It comes in desktop and mobile versions.

Key features:

  • Flipbook animation
  • Custom canvas size
  • Customizable, synthetic, and blending brushes

Cost: Autodesk SketchBook is free (trial for seven days) after which it requires an Autodesk account

Visit: Autodesk SketchBook

Autodesk Tinkercad


Used by people of all backgrounds from hobbyists to educators, Tinkercad is a prime example of how 3D CAD can be an application designed for all. It is user-friendly, accessible, and loaded with features. It is not the typical software that comes with a digital installer, but a collection of free online 3D CAD tools intended to be a fun introduction to Autodesk.

Key features:

  • Browser-based 3D CAD software anybody can use without downloading anything
  • Import STL files to the platform for further modifications
  • Use 3D assets available on the platform and use them for your model

Cost: Free

Visit: Autodesk Tinkercad

Autodesk VRED


VRED comes in four different versions including Design, Professional, Presenter, and Server. Its primary target markets are high-precision visualizers, for example, automotive designers. They have excellent features for jobs such as the direct rendering of NURBS and the ability to measure materials to deliver hyper-realistic visual designs. If your line of work involves the creation of highly accurate product visualization or virtual prototypes, Autodesk VRED should be at the top of your CAD software list.

Key features:

  • Precise visualization
  • Virtual simulation
  • Improved geometry behavior

Cost: The most affordable version is VRED Design, available for $2,800 per year. VRED Professional is a big jump at $11,470 per year.

Visit: Autodesk VRED



The power of open-source software is how it is continuously improved by a vast community of actual users of all skill levels. Blender is an excellent example of how 3D CAD software can be as powerful as it should without breaking the bank. It offers almost the entirety of 3D modeling functions including but not limited to animation, rigging, rendering, simulation, motion tracking, compositing, game creation, and video editing. It is an all-in-one tool for nearly all applications.

Key features:

  • Internal rendering engine with ambient occlusion, scanline rendering, and indirect lighting plus export function in various formats
  • A wide range of geometric primitives are well-supported such as polygon meshes, NURBS surfaces, digital sculpting (maps baking, dynamic topology, remeshing, decimation, and re-symmetrize), B-mesh, and outline font
  • Various animation techniques including inverse kinematics, lattice-based deformation, non-linear animation, shape animations, skeletal, curve, and more

Cost: Free

Visit: Blender



Developed by Bricsys NV, BricsCAD comes in three versions. First is BricsCAD Classic offering 2D drafting functions, native DWG read/write, and full LISP API customization. It can also automate repetitive tasks. Second is BricsCAD Pro, which carries all features from the Classic added with 2D and 3D hardware libraries, 3D direct modeling, rendering engine, and support for third-party application programs. The third and most powerful is BricsCAD Platinum consisting all features from the Pro version improved by other functionalities such as constraint system creation, automatic healing of imported geometry, surface entity creation, deformable modeling, and more.

Key features:

  • Auto-parametrize solids
  • Drawing comparison between modified and default values
  • Dimensioning tool

Cost: The Classic version comes at $312 per year. The Pro version is available for $410 per year, and the Platinum is $588 per year.

Visit: BricsCAD



Although BRL-CAD is probably not as well known as Blender, it is also another powerful open-source 3D CAD software you should consider. Equipped with high-performance ray-tracing for rendering and interactive geometry, the software certainly has its place among professionals in the industry. It also comes with geometry libraries for application developers, befitting its long 30-years of active development.

Key features:

  • Cross-platform software compatible with Windows, Mac, Linux, Solaris, and BSD
  • Geometry conversion
  • Comprehensive procedural geometry interface

Cost: Free

Visit: BRL-CAD



The power of CATIA is not limited to the ability to build 3D models of any sort, but it goes beyond that by bringing lifelike properties to the models. The software is widely used by engineers, architects, designers, and even occasional users thanks to its top-notch 3D modeling and simulation capabilities. You can even argue that CATIA helps optimize the works of the less experienced.

Key features:

  • CFM (Composites Fiber Modeler) to deliver accurate fiber simulation, particularly useful when optimizing ply shapes and to write accurate manufacturing information
  • CATIA can be used as both online and offline tools. Traveling users without an Internet connection can still use the software without issues
  • Simultaneous rendering of multiple photorealistic images in the background, while users continue working in the foreground

Cost: Pricing flexibility means you can purchase CATIA in the configuration that perfectly meets your requirement. An affordable package is the student version for $99. However, a fully-functional version comes at around $11,200 with annual maintenance of $2,000. It is one of the most expensive 3D CAD programs out there.

Visit: CATIA

Cinema 4D

 cinema 4d

Powered by OpenGL, Cinema 4D comes with a mindboggling depth of field and screen space reflections. Generally, the models built and rendered in the software look very good that you can simply export the preview renders for presentations or client approval. Cinema 4D is also famous for being intuitive to use as an additional advantage. To improve overall rendering performance, the software is equipped with LOD tool to help simplify objects based on various factors such as distance to the camera.

Key features:

  • Scene Reconstruction to create colored clouds and geometry based on tracked features for precise synchronization of the two components
  • Free service packs released on a regular basis
  • The latest release of Cinema 4D has an improved painting workflow to mirror character design from one side to another

Cost: Cinema 4D comes in four different versions including Prime ($995), Broadcast ($1,695), Visualize ($2,295), and Studio ($3,695). Cinema 4D also has a “Competitive Sidegrade” offering, with which you can get any of the software mentioned above for a lower price as long as you have proof of ownership of competitive software.

Visit: Cinema 4D

DesignCAD 3D Max 2018

DesignCAD 3D Max 2018

The latest version of the software supports AutoCAD 2018 drawing files, NURBS curves, multiple 3D display modes, and scalable icons for high-resolution monitors. DesignCAD 3D Max 2018 is one of the easier tools for beginners to use. Despite its simplicity, it has enough power to help you build professional-looking designs including animation and rendering. It is an overall versatile 2D/3D CAD solution for starters or the generally less experienced enthusiasts.

Key features:

  • User-friendly 2D design and drafting
  • 3D model content for quicker creation of architectural design
  • Built-in 2D/3D symbol

Cost: $99.99

Visit: DesignCAD 3D Max 2018

DesignSpark Mechanical


It is a solid modeling software to create files for 3D printing purposes. As far as functionality is concerned, DesignSpark Mechanical has a lot of similarities with many other programs of its kind; even the interface is quite similar to that of AutoCAD. The software is an excellent alternative to premium programs without sacrificing too much of usability and functionality.

Key features:

  • Seamless integration with other tools from DesignSpark
  • Library of 3D models to hasten the design process
  • Compatibility with various popular formats (SKP, STL, DXF, OBJ, and more)

Cost: Free

Visit: DesignSpark Mechanical



Two-dimensional CAD software still has its significance in various design fields, especially in architectural and mechanical industries. DraftSight is built to provide an easier quicker approach to create 2D drawings in a much more accurate and organized manner for designers. A lot of features are aimed at improving productivity such as batch printing, easy-to-understand command prompts, as well as various formatting and editing tools.

Key features:

  • Drawing compare
  • Design library
  • DGN file support

Cost: Standard version is free. Professional version comes at $299 (one-time purchase). Subscription-based price is $149. To get most of the features, you will need to get the Professional version.

Visit: DraftSight

Form-Z Pro


There are plenty of textures, lighting, and transparency effects on AutoDesSys’s Form-Z Pro. With a powerful palette of editing tools, the software is relatively easy to use even for novice modelers. The more experienced will also appreciate its ability to create photorealistic rendering, although for that, they need to purchase plug-ins separately. A complete package is also available, which includes the RenderZone program.

Key features:

  • Interactive drawing tools to get into direct creation of essentially every shape imaginable such as splines, lines, NURBS, arcs, polygons, curves, and circles ellipses
  • Sculpting tools with real-time Booleans
  • Internal data representation including surfaces, 3D solids, trimmed surfaces, NURBS, and parametric

Cost: Family plan annual subscription costs $300; a single-user license is available for $995

Visit: Form-Z Pro



This parametric 3D CAD program is developed mainly to design models based on real-life objects. Parametric modeling allows you to go back into the model history and change its parameters to alter any part of it. FreeCAD encourages you to start creating a model as a geometry sketch in constrained 2D shape and then use the sketch as the base to build the model. The software comes with a lot of tools for easier dimension adjustment and details extraction so you can create high-quality, usable drawings.

Key features:

  • Capable of complex 3D operations thanks to Open CASCADE Technology
  • Native support for NURBS surfaces and curves as well as IGES and STEP formats
  • Support for Boolean operations and fillets

Cost: Free

Visit: FreeCAD



In case you need to explore the world of generative algorithms, Grasshopper is an excellent tool you cannot afford to miss. It is an integrated component of Rhinoceros 3D; you can even think of it as an add-on, although a stand-alone download is available for Rhino 5. The most significant difference between Grasshopper and RhinoScript is that you don’t need any working knowledge of scripting or programming to use the former. You can drag and drop as many components as you need into the canvas to create an algorithm.

Key features:

  • Multi-threaded components are solved much quicker with parallel computing
  • High DPI displays support
  • Interactive interface to explore design without learning to script

Cost: A stand-alone version of Grasshopper is available as an add-on for Rhino 5 (free) or bundled with Rhino 6, which is a premium software.

 Visit: Grasshopper



Part of the CATIA family by Dassault Systemes, ICEM SURF is the leading surface and curve explicit geometry modeling tool for the visualization of high-end, complex, CAD surfaces to the best quality possible. Often described as the reference system for Class-A surfaces, the software is used widely in automotive, consumer goods, press-tool, and aerospace industries. It is a robust solution for direct surface modeling, reconstruction, scan modeling, and refinement.

Key features:

  • An extensive list of surface and curve creation tools
  • Left and side views, useful for exterior and interior designing
  • A diagnostic tool with graphical and numerical approaches to make sure every specification meets the required standard

Cost: Similar to CATIA, there is pricing flexibility with ICEM SURF. No fixed pricing is listed on the official website, but you can contact Dassault Systemes to get a quote.




Mainly focusing on mechanical design, IronCAD only supports Microsoft Windows. Developed by the company of the same name based in Atlanta, the software uses solid modeling technology with drag and drop interface; you build a model by dragging and dropping various components and shapes from the available 3D catalogs to create the assemblies.

Key features:

  • Regardless of how complex the model is, IronCAD requires only one file
  • Infinitely customizable catalogs
  • TriBall visualization feature – resize and reposition tool, allowing you to drag-and-drop or stretch an object into the design scene.

Cost: There are four different versions of the software including IronCAD, IronCAD Innovate, IronCAD Draft, and IronCAD Compose. You will need to contact IronCAD to request for a quote, as the website does not list prices for those products.

Visit: IronCAD



K-3D is another free 3D CAD software with built-in animation and rendering engines compatible with Linux, Posix, and Win32 operating systems. One thing that makes K-3D worthy of your consideration is the way it was developed from scratch with one big purpose in mind: to generate motion picture-quality animation by utilizing RenderMan-compliant engines. Animation can play while you are working and interacting with the model to improve productivity.

Key features:

  • Interactive tutorials
  • Selection of visible features in great details
  • Visualization Pipeline for arbitrary dataflow

Cost: Free. GNU/Linux and Win32 versions are stable. Compatibility with other operating systems is either unstable or untested.

Visit: K-3D



A non-parametric solid modeling CAD software to create both 2D and 3D objects. First released in 1984, it was initially launched as CADKEY and was one of the first CAD programs to demand small-enough processing power that the software could run on a home personal computer. It is compatible with UNIX, DOS, and Microsoft Windows operating systems. KeyCreator is capable of drafting as well as surface and wireframe modeling.

Key features:

  • Non-parametric non-history geometry-based 2D/3D modeling approach
  • Direct modeling
  • Uncomplicated file structure, drawing, and part

Cost: Standard version of KeyCreator is available for $3,495. Pro version is $3,995 and Max version comes at $5,995.

Visit:  KeyCreator



Although the software does not have 3D modeling capabilities, there are more than enough tools to create complex designs based on a simple 2D model. LibreCAD is compatible with Windows, Mac, UNIX, and Linux operating systems. It is obvious that the interface imitates AutoCAD, and this is a good thing because some users can move more easily from the commercial software to this free platform.

Key features:

  • Advanced snapping system
  • Export to SVG, PDF, ICO, PNG, JPG, BMP, DDS
  • Extension with a plug-in system. You can even write your plug-in for the program

Cost: Free

Visit: LibreCAD



Equipped with a respectable set of editing, inspecting, texturing, mesh-converting, healing, and cleaning tools, MeshLab has earned its place in the mainstream 3D CAD modeling software among professionals. The software is also capable of processing raw data generated by digitization devices/tools for 3D printing purposes. MeshLab is open-source.

Key features:

  • Automatic filters for Volumetric Obscurance and Ambient Occlusion
  • Projection of color information (even from uncalibrated images) onto the 3D model
  • Semi-manual and automatic filters to remove unnecessary geometric elements

Cost: Free

Visit: MeshLab



It did not take long for Modo to earn the reputation as the supreme polygon modeler in the industry, after it was released more than a decade ago. The latest version of Modo keeps its competitive advantage by bringing full integration with modeling and selection workflows. It offers an efficient set of built-in tools and a lot of automation tools to keep on attracting both new users and the more experienced professionals too.

Key features:

  • Integrated sculpting
  • Retopology functionality
  • MeshFushion Boolean tools

Cost: Annual subscription for Modo comes at $599 (pay in advance), or you can choose monthly installments at $59 for 12 months. A perpetual license is available for $1,799.

Visit: Modo

MoI (Moment of Inspiration)


There is no denying that most 3D CAD programs are complex. They have to be because they need to do many complex jobs too. It is refreshing when you come across 3D CAD software that offers simplified user-interface without sacrificing functionality and features. This is where MoI (Moment of Inspiration) comes in.

If you are working with polygons, you can appreciate its advanced Boolean function. In the right hands, this allows for extremely rapid creation of hard-surface 3D models. A unique polygon mesh export function is capable of generating not just N-Gon polygon meshes, but ones that are exceptionally crisp and clean.

Key features:

  • Extrude tapered and Extrude to point
  • Hidden line removal – the software is now able to produce 2D drawing even when the hidden lines are removed when exporting to DXF, PDF, and AI format
  • MoI can now utilize multiple CPU cores simultaneously in the draw engine, which translates to double (or even triple) the speed for creating complex models

Cost: $295

Visit: MoI (Moment of Inspiration)



Unlike most 3D CAD programs in this list, Onshape is run as SaaS (Software as a Service), extensively taking advantage of cloud computing. Onshape performs its processing and rendering functions via the Internet, and users can access and interact with the program via a web browser or mobile apps (iOS and Android).

Thanks to cloud services, an entire development team can work on the same file at the same time remotely. The main focus of Onshape is on mechanical CAD. It is used across many industries including industrial equipment, machine parts, machinery, consumer electronics, medical devices, and 3D printing.

Key features:

  • SaaS 3D CAD software, accessible online via a web browser and mobile devices
  • Easy collaboration among design and development team thanks to cloud service
  • Excellent technical support

Cost: The standard version of Onshape comes at $1,500 per year. The professional version is available for $2,100 and the Enterprise version for $20,000.

Visit: Onshape



OpenSCAD is a script-only solid 3D modeling. This is not interactive software, but it does not necessarily indicate any lack of features. It is compatible with UNIX/Linux, Windows, and Mac. OpenSCAD has its description language; you can also select and preview parts of the model yet you cannot interactively modify them by using a mouse. The script determines geometric primitives such as boxes, cylinders, spheres, etc.

Key features:

  • Human-readable scripts in ASCII text
  • Accurate parametric 3D models that can be easily modified by changing their parameters
  • Export function to PNG format

Cost: Free

Visit: OpenSCAD



The software allows you to create 3D models of animals and humans by manipulating a base figure. There is no need to start building the characters from the ground up as you would with most other 3D CAD programs. Using a sliding bar, you flesh out the character by controlling the arms, torso, face, arms, and other body parts. You must do this because the base figure is just plain body shape of a character. While it does seem simple, Poser has a long list of customization tools to build photorealistic 3D models.

Key features:

  • A library of ready-to-use contents such as materials, facial expressions, lights, hair pieces, and cameras
  • Place objects from a library of objects in a scene
  • Decent rendering capabilities so you don’t have to use another program to get that function

Cost: Standard version of Poser comes at $97.49. Poser Pro is available for $262.49.

Visit: Poser

PTC Creo Elements/Direct

ptc creo

As the name suggests, the software comes with a “direct modeling” approach to building 3D objects. One of the best things about such an approach is how you can quickly create a model or repurpose an already existing object. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know how those objects were made or what software was used. Thanks to the efficiency of direct modeling, a lot of companies prefer the method to anything else for the sake of speed, allowing them to come up with new products in a relatively short period. The inexperienced have better chances of learning CAD quickly with direct modeling approach too.

Key features:

  • Move from 2D to 3D more easily
  • Creo Elements/Direct is able to read, analyze, and process 3D models exported from other programs without losing legacy data
  • Rapid iteration of product design to stay ahead of competitors

Cost: PTC does not provide a price list on its official website. You need to contact the company’s sales representative to request a quote.

Visit: PTC Creo Elements/Direct

PTC Creo Parametric

PTC Creo Parametric

It’s only common for a 3D CAD software company to claim to be best in the industry, and PTC is no exception. Similar to its “Direct” variant, Creo Parametric offers an impressive capability of importing files created by using other programs without sacrificing the usability of the imported files. The best part is that every component of the model can be reconstructed or changed in any way without hassle.

Key features:

  • Model-based definition
  • Structural framework design
  • Weld modeling

Cost: Creo Parametric Essentials (with support) is available for $2,310 per year.

 Visit: PTC Creo Parametric



Commonly known as Rhino or Rhino 3D, this is one of the most recognizable names in the industry. Developed by Robert McNeel and Associates, Rhinoceros does everything based on NURBS mathematical model. Its main focus is to build mathematically precise curves and surfaces in computer graphics as opposed to polygon mesh programs. It has just about every function you need in a 3D CAD software: scripting, programming, import & export, add-ons and plugins, animation, rendering, model analysis, and extensive compatibility with file formats, even with native formats of other programs.

Key features:

  • Compatibility with most other programs for drafting, illustration, engineering, CAM, rendering, animation, and analysis
  • Read and modify even the most challenging IGES files
  • Rhino runs well on an ordinary computer or laptop. It does not require special hardware.

Cost: Rhino 6 for Windows is available for $995; Rhino 5 for Mac comes at $695. Upgrade from Rhino 5 to Rhino 6 (for Windows) costs $495. Eligible students and educators can apply for discounts.

Visit: Rhinoceros



The interesting thing about Sculptris is how it brings users into an interface as if they’re sculpting clay material. The modeling process starts with a big chunk of unprocessed clay. Users can then modify or build shapes by pinching, pulling, pushing, and twisting the material. The software gives familiar names for the provided tools – flatten, pinch, inflate, smooth, grab, scale, mask, rotate, etc. Developed by Pixologic, Sculptris prepares users for ZBrush, another software made by the same company.

Key features:

  • It is not just clay. Sculptris also has a good variety of base materials to sculpt
  • Projection painting, so you can use textures created with Photoshop for the model
  • Symmetry mode to get the same sculpting results and effects on left and right sides of the model

Cost: Free. Remember that Sculptris is no longer under active development and is now considered a legacy application. The latest version was launched in 2011 and it may not work on some newer computer systems. However, it’s free, so you may as well try it.

 Visit: Sculptris

Siemens NX for Design

nx for design

With NX for Design, users can use 3D model data created by other programs and continue working without issues. The synchronous technology allows for a much larger scope of utilization of 3D models from various sources. Not only does NX import the file, but it also modifies and processes the data as if it is a native format. It is an excellent option for collaborative work.

Key features:

  • Multiple windows with a tab-based layout, allowing for quick switching between parts and models
  • Assemblies are generally handled efficiently to reduce load times and memory usage
  • Lattice command

Cost: The official website does not list the price of the software. You must contact the sales team to get custom quotes depending on what package you want.

Visit: Siemens NX for Design



The simple user interface is not always a sign of the lack of features. SketchUp makes a good case of that. Despite its (overly) simplistic interface, it has a lot of features and functions as powerful as many other more expensive 3D CAD programs. It is so well-crafted that even complete beginners can learn and understand the interface within hours, not days or weeks. One of the strongest points of SketchUp is 3D Warehouse, a repository of 3D models that users can access and modify. With the repository, users don’t have to start from scratch every single time. Models in 3D Warehouse are user uploaded.

Key features:

  • 3D Warehouse, an excellent diverse repository of 3D models for users
  • 2D/3D modeling
  • Layer manager

Cost: SketchUp Pro is available for $695. There is also a web-based application available for free. Eligible students and educators may apply for discounts.

 Visit: SketchUp

Solid Edge

solid edge

It is parametric 3D CAD software with synchronous technology. Solid Edge runs on Microsoft Windows and delivers plenty of advanced tools for mechanical engineers such as assembly modeling, solid modeling, 2D view functionality, and more. The software also supports third-party applications for PLM purposes. The latest version of Solid Edge comes with a broad range of functions and features for mechanical design, simulation, electrical design, data management, manufacturing, technical publications, and cloud-based collaboration.

Key features:

  • Convergent modeling to incorporate mesh models into design workflow. It is a more practical approach to create real design rather than inspirational objects.
  • Manufacturing constraints function that supports 3D printing, molding, casting, and milling
  • Cost capabilities to help keep product development within approved budget

Cost: Solid Edge and NX for Design are owned by the same company, Siemens PLM Software. There is no fixed price on the official website; the only way to know the updated price for Solid Edge is by contacting the company’s sales team.

Visit: Solid Edge



Standing among the most powerful 3D CAD programs in the market, SOLIDWORKS is a mighty force in the industry as it has nearly everything necessary for companies to send new products much more quickly to the market and reduce production cost at the same time. Many tools included in the software are intended to improve team collaboration, so everybody can keep on communicating effectively during the creation and validation steps of the design process.

Key features:

  • Easy to use but powerful software, even for sophisticated 3D models with elaborate part details
  • Use existing engineering data to come up with a new iteration of old products
  • Verification of all components before they are put into production

Cost: SOLIDWORKS 3D CAD comes in several packages including Standard, Professional, and Premium. The standard package is the least-featured version, while Premium comes with the complete set of functions and features. SOLIDWORKS does not provide a price list, similar to some other companies on this list. You must contact the sales team to get informed about how much each package costs.




Compatibility and adaptability are the strongest points of SpaceClaim. Users can retrieve files from other 3D CAD programs and immediately proceed to editing and preparing those files in SpaceClaim’s interface. It removes a lot of geometric bottlenecks in the design process, which translates to faster more streamline workflow among multiple individuals in a development team. There is a little bit of a learning curve, but not to the point where the interface becomes an irritating hindrance.

Key features:

  • Automated model reparation
  • STL file manipulation
  • Photorealistic rendering of 2D drawings and 3D models for presentation purpose

Cost: Pricing is quote-based. Contact vendors to get a quote, free trial, and demo.

Visit: SpaceClaim

TurboCAD Deluxe


It is a relatively affordable 3D CAD software with a wide variety of tools designed to be easy to use. That said, the software does not shy away on features. It has many tools you will need for 2D drafting, 3D modeling, and even rendering. Another good thing is the adjustable interface, catering to everybody’s level of expertise. Depending on what you want to do, you can configure the layout to have easier access to drawing, annotation, dimensioning, and modification tools. Rendering quality is excellent, suitable for professional presentation.

Key features:

  • Set-up wizards with context-sensitive help
  • A respectable range of 2D/3D design tools
  • Surface modeling functions including revolve, extrude, sweeps, etc

Cost: $149.99

Visit: TurboCAD Deluxe

Wings 3D


The software gets its name from Winged Edge Data Structure (WEDS), the way it handles the data structure for models created with it. More precisely, the relationships between faces, vertices, and edges of the models. It is compatible with most platforms including Windows, Mac, and Linux. Wings 3D also has a customizable interface, AutoUV mapping function, and supports for lights and materials. The software does not support animation, unfortunately.

Key features:

  • Standard modeling tools (scale, rotate, move, cut, weld, bevel, bridge, and extrude)
  • Advanced modeling tools (intersect, sweep, inset, plane cut, shear, bend, and circularize)
  • Symmetrical modeling with a virtual mirror

Cost: Wings 3D is an open source software and is available free of charge for personal and commercial projects.

Visit: Wings 3D



ZBrush was primarily used for finishing tools and the basic geometry of the models was done with another program. The software has much improved from that paradigm, with every new version providing more tools that allow users to create geometry from scratch without relying on different software. Similar to Sculptris, the sister software, ZBrush exploits the clay-sculpting approach to 3D modeling.

Its ability to create an impressive level of details has been proven over and over again by popular movies. The software played an important role such as The Incredible Hulk, The Lord of The Rings, The Amazing Spiderman, Iron Man, Pacific Rim, The Chronicles of Narnia, and more.

Key features:

  • More than two dozens of brushes; each of them has specific attributes for hardness, size, intensity, shape, pattern, etc
  • Sculpt in 2.5D or painting in depth to create the impression of 3D
  • Transpose to generate animation similar to the skeletal method, but without the need for skeletal rigging

Cost: ZBrush is compatible with Windows and Mac, available for $895.

Visit: ZBrush

Cad Crowd Is Home to 3D CAD Design Experts

If you happen to be looking for help with any of these software, Cad Crowd can help. We are home to thousands of pre-vetted, qualified CAD services and 3D modeling freelancers. They have experience working in all of the major software. Regardless of what you’re looking to have designed, we can connect you with the right help. Contact us today for a free quote.