AutoCAD vs. SolidWorks: Asking CAD Service Companies for Options

AutoCAD vs. SolidWorks_ Asking CAD Service Companies for Options

When hiring any professional service, it helps to have at least a basic knowledge of the most important concepts related to the service you’re hiring for and the tools professionals use.

Say you’re looking to hire 3D design services and you responsibly decide to start by doing a bit of research. You may be reading here and there about computer-aided design (CAD), 3D modeling, prototyping, rendering, and so on.

You’ll see that along with the principles of 3D design, most people talk or write about the many different software packages they use as well, and you’ll also quickly realize that most of those programs can be used to do the same things – modeling, simulating, rendering, animating, etc.

Plenty of CAD Software Options for Freelance Designers

Unlike the tools you’ll find at a woodshop, each of which has a particular use, almost all CAD software tools have the same basic functionalities built into them. This is the cause of much confusion when choosing the right software for your project.

Despite this fact, some software tools are better at specific tasks than others, and some have features which others lack. The saying “you gotta have the right tools for the job” still holds true. You’ll want to look for the right designer coupled with the right software.

You may think that, as long as your designer or design firm gets the job done, it doesn’t matter what program was used. However, there are several reasons why you might prefer the use of one software tool over another.

The key points you want to take into consideration when asking a design company for software options, and for choosing the right designer, are:

  • The specific industry a CAD program was originally designed for
  • The included design features and functionalities of the program
  • Collaborative and business features
  • File type compatibility and import/export functionalities
  • Cross-platform compatibility

As you read on, you’ll learn how to weigh these criteria one after the other to make your decision.

In the world of CAD software, a war is waged between diehard Autodesk fans and 3DS (Dassault Systèmes) lovers. These are two of the biggest names in CAD software. In the present article, you’ll learn the key differences and similarities between Autodesk’s classic AutoCAD software and 3DS’ most popular program SolidWorks.

Read below to find out about the most important pros and cons of commissioning a design in the said programs, and get all the information needed to make the choice that best suits your needs.

Let’s begin!

The Intended CAD Service Industry

One of the critical factors to take into account when choosing the software you want your designer to use is your industry. In other words, what type of design do you plan to commission: is it a new product, the floor plans for a house or building, a complex assembly of moving mechanical parts, or a new character for your next online game? The answer to this first question will short-list your designers and their software.

Most 3D design software tools were initially developed to perform specific tasks in a particular industry like architectural design, product design, aerospace, fashion design, etc. Most of them were later enhanced with other functions and features that made them more versatile and eliminated the need for the use of other programs to generate the final output files.

RELATED: 8 Great Options for 3D Modeling Software

Instead of devoting immense amounts of time and effort into polishing and enhancing these secondary functions, the developers usually limited those functions to essential uses they would have in the industry the program was initially created for. This means that, even though two programs intended for different industries may have similar sets of features, those features tend to be different, as they were developed with varying industries in mind.

To give you a quick idea, all CAD programs carry material libraries for basic or complex rendering and/or simulation. However, those materials tend to be different if the software tool was designed for the construction industry, in which case you’ll probably see materials like concrete, different types of tiles, granite, etc. The product development industry contains different elements as well, like different kinds of plastics, rubbers, metals, and composites, to name a few.

When comparing SolidWorks and AutoCAD drafting services regarding their intended industries, it’s important to mention that AutoCAD was initially conceived for 2D architectural and construction design and later developed 3D design capabilities. SolidWorks was initially created for 3D solid modeling and product development, but includes features useful in other fields as well, including architectural design and engineering.

autocad workspace
AutoCAD used for 2D architectural design

Most expert SolidWorks users belong to the mechanical or industrial engineering and design industries, as well as to highly specialized product design industries like medical devices and machinery.

Moving on, it’s worth mentioning that since AutoCAD has been around for over three decades, it has been used in virtually every industry that relies on CAD software. Despite this fact, more than half the professional AutoCAD users belong to the architectural and construction design and civil engineering industries. A good number of them are also mechanical engineers and some provide industrial design services.

How to Choose Based on Your Industry

There are many other CAD software tools out there, and some may be better for certain industries than both AutoCAD and SolidWorks. But if you have to choose between these two options, you can use the following table as a guide:

Industry/Type of Design Choice
2D and 3D architectural and construction design AutoCAD
Civil engineering design and simulation AutoCAD
2D and 3D mechanical and industrial design and engineering Depending on other factors you could choose either AutoCAD or SolidWorks, with a preference for the latter
High-tech and electronic industry designs. SolidWorks
Parts design and assembly simulation SolidWorks
Automotive design SolidWorks

These are only a few of the many industries that take advantage of the features offered by both AutoCAD and SolidWorks. However, the intended industry is just one criterion, so if you still have doubts as to which program to choose, you may also want to look at the other ones down below.

Design Features and Functionality

The features and toolsets included in each software program or package are closely related to the specific industry they were originally intended for.

Regarding AutoCAD and SolidWorks, your designer will be able to perform many similar tasks using both platforms. As said before, most CAD software tools share a core set of functions. However, since we’re trying to decide between both software options, we won’t focus our attention on the similarities but rather on the differences. In this respect, we should start off by establishing that there are functions that work better in one program, others that work better in the other, and there are some features included in one but not in the other.

As an example, both AutoCAD and SolidWorks can be used to create 2D drawings, but since AutoCAD has its main focus in 2D design, its 2D drawing tools easily outrun SolidWorks. It also beats SolidWorks in the ease of access and use of basic editing tools and text editing tools, as well as in design annotation and documentation.

Both programs can be used for 3D modeling, but SolidWorks takes the gold when compared with AutoCAD. Even though both are equipped to do solid, polygon, and mesh modeling, those tools are better, more efficient, easier to use, and more intuitive in SolidWorks than in AutoCAD.

3d model helicopter solidworks

Direct digital manufacturing is used to go from the virtual 3D model or design to the real constructed object, all by means of computers and specialized equipment. Both SolidWorks and AutoCAD are equipped with software tools to control CNC machines like 3D printers, laser cutters, and so on. But the list of compatible printers and CNC machines are more extensive in SolidWorks than in AutoCAD. This is another reason why you should go for SolidWorks if you’re into prototyping and/or product development.

One very important feature absent in AutoCAD, but that is included in SolidWorks, is a set of simulation tools that calculate how the designs will behave in real-world scenarios. These tools include computer-aided engineering algorithms such as finite element analysis and fluid dynamics simulation tools, which are essential to test the designs before building a prototype.

This feature integrates the design and simulation processes in one seamless workflow that reduces costs and shortens the overall idea-to-market process. This is yet another reason why SolidWorks is so popular among engineers and product developers, as well as in the automotive and aerospace industries.

Collaborative and Business Tools

Modern CAD software programs include an extensive array of tools useful for tasks other than design and simulation, but which add a lot of value for companies and their clients.

Collaborative tools allow designers, engineers, managers, manufacturers, and even clients to work together on the different project files at the same time, from anywhere in the world, generating valuable real-time feedback that makes work more efficient.

Regarding collaboration, AutoCAD has an online version in which any one of the stakeholders can access, view, work on and, in general, collaborate on any project file. It’s a browser app that can be opened in any computer running any OS, anywhere in the world.

autocad web app 1
AutoCAD web app

SolidWorks doesn’t have an online, web-based app, but it does include an online collaboration tool called SolidWorks connection. With this tool, stakeholders can access the 3DExperience platform, which is in itself a ccompletelyonline, cloud-based design solution. The difference with the online AutoCAD app is that 3DExperience is not a browser app, so you need to have a working, licensed copy of SolidWorks to access the platform.

Moving ahead, both programs also include important business and administrative tools used to calculate material quantities, quickly estimate production costs, and generate quotes for potential clients.

SolidWorks takes one step ahead of AutoCAD by also providing tools to help companies better present their products to customers; help with sales and advertising; help with social media management, and much more. In terms of collaboration and business tools, you could say that SolidWorks takes the lead, which is excellent for clients like you, looking to hire a CAD service company.

File Type Compatibility

When hiring a CAD service company for whatever type of design, you’ll obviously need to be able to view, use, and possibly edit and annotate the project files of the design you’re paying for. In some cases, you may also need to provide the design firm with source files, drafts, or previous project files. In both cases, it’s essential that both you and your designer work with software tools which use compatible files.

Imagine paying for a design, receiving a USB drive with the paid 3D files, and not being able to open them because they’re in the wrong format. To say that would be frustrating is a heck of an understatement! To avoid this unpleasant experience, you have to make sure your designer is using a software package that reads and outputs the correct file types. It should be capable of exporting its native files to a file type you can read with your own CAD software, if you already have a license.

AutoCAD can import more file types from more third-party design apps than SolidWorks, and users tend to agree that its ability to do so with high fidelity is better than SolidWorks.

Regarding exporting options, SolidWorks is more versatile. This implies that a SolidWorks designer will be able to produce your project files in a larger array of file formats which can then be used in multiple third-party apps.

So, with AutoCAD, you get more input options. And with SolidWorks, you get more output options. It’s up to you to decide which ones you need.

autocad lamp ed

Another issue of importance regarding file types and formats is file interoperability. This refers to the probability that your program’s native files will be compatible with other third-party software tools. In other words, it represents how easy it is to import your programs native files in other software.

In our current case, for AutoCAD, it means the probability that *.dwg files can be viewed and used by other apps, In the case of SolidWorks, the same goes for *.SLDDRW, *.SLDPRT, and *.SLDASM files.

Since AutoCAD has been around for so long and is so darn popular, its native file format has become an industry standard in CAD (by 1998, there were already BILLIONS of *.dwg project files around the world). AutoCAD’s interoperability is off the charts – it’s probably the highest you will find.

Finally, one last thing to take into consideration when analyzing file types and formats is backward compatibility, which refers to the ability of a native file format to be opened by previous versions of the same software. This could be a con for AutoDesk products, all of which have forced yearly updates, but AutoDesk has made an effort to keep files compatible, and it has paid off nicely.

Even though SolidWorks licenses are perpetual and there are no “forced” renewals, backward compatibility has become a bit of an issue and you’ll probably want to upgrade every time you get a chance.

Cross-Platform Compatibility

As computers and mobile devices keep getting better and faster, and people get more connected, cross-platform compatibility has become more and more important in software development. Many design programs have been specially written for MacOS architecture, while others are for PCs. But when working with many professionals at the same time, each one with his own preferences regarding OS, it becomes very useful to choose, from the beginning, a software tool that’s compatible with as many computer platforms as possible.

AutoDesk provides its users not only with Windows and Mac versions of the AutoCAD software, but also provides an AutoCAD mobile app for both Android and iOS, and a web or Cloud-based version which gives both you and your designer the freedom to work with AutoCAD from any computer with any OS.

SolidWorks, on the other hand, is exclusively for Windows (Why 3DS has been so reluctant to release a Mac version of the software is hard to understand). Even collaboration through SolidWorks connection has to be done between windows computers since, as mentioned earlier; it requires the use of a working copy of SolidWorks.

Now that we’ve covered everything you need to know, you’ve probably realized that the choice is not a simple one, as there are many criteria you want to consider before making your decision and asking your CAD service provider for your selected option.

If you’re not sure which way to turn jet, you can still use this article as a guide to answer most of the questions you need to ask yourself and your CAD service company in order to pick your winner:

  • What type of design are you going to commission?
  • What information does the designer or design firm need?
  • Do you need or wish to provide previous project files to be used as a base for the current design? If that is the case, what files does the designer need and in what format?
  • What is the design going to be used for? (Rendering, printing, 3D printing, animating, simulating, prototyping, advertising…)
  • What files do you need the designer to hand in once finished, and in what format? (3D model file, 2D drawings, blueprints, photo-real renders for presentations…in DWG format, SLDASM, PNG, PDF, 3DPDF…)

The bottom line is that there is no ideal CAD software tool and you’re the only one who has all the information needed to figure out which one is a better fit for your particular needs. Either way, you can rest assured that an expert designer like the ones we work with here at Cad Crowd will know how to do exactly what you want them to do with the program they use, even though it may be easier and faster to do on another one. If you’re interested, contact us for a free quote today.