So, you’re ready to dive into the exciting world of 3D printing, and your journey begins with choosing the right CAD (Computer-Aided Design) application. With a plethora of options available, it can be overwhelming for beginners. Fear not, as we’ve got you covered. In this article, we’ll explore the top five FREE CAD applications tailored for those just starting their 3D printing adventure.
1. Autodesk Fusion 360 – The All-Rounder
At the top of our list is Autodesk Fusion 360, an industry-grade CAD suite known for its versatility. Fusion 360’s strength lies in its ability to handle various tasks within your workshop, from 3D printing to laser cutting and CNC machining. With Fusion 360, you can easily export DXF files and create CNC tool paths for three-axis machines.
However, it’s important to note that Autodesk made some changes to its licensing structure in 2020. While a personal license still provides free access, some features have limitations, including file formats and the number of open files in the workspace. Additionally, CNC capabilities are restricted to three-axis machines. Keep an eye on Autodesk’s future changes in licensing and availability, but for now, Fusion 360 remains a top choice for many makers.
2. FreeCAD – The Open-Source Option
For those who prefer open-source solutions, FreeCAD is an excellent choice. Available on Mac, Linux, and Windows, FreeCAD utilizes a sketch-based approach, allowing you to draw objects in orthographic views and then extrude them into 3D space. It’s feature-rich, making it a solid option for various design projects.
Despite its capabilities, some users find the user interface a bit cumbersome, which is why it narrowly missed the top spot on our list. Nonetheless, FreeCAD is a powerful CAD application for those who value open-source software.
3. Tinkercad – User-Friendly and Versatile
Tinkercad, part of Autodesk’s suite of tools, offers a user-friendly approach to 3D modelling. This web-based application provides tools for 3D modelling, circuit simulation (including Arduino hardware and programming), and even drag-and-drop code blocks for programming tutorials. It’s an excellent choice for beginners who want a comprehensive yet accessible CAD solution.
While Tinkercad performs admirably, it may experience a bit of sluggishness when handling complex Arduino code or extensive projects. Nevertheless, its combination of 3D CAD, circuit simulation, and programming capabilities makes it a strong contender.
4. SketchUp – The Architect’s Choice
SketchUp, traditionally used in architectural design, also finds its place in the 3D printing world. It’s versatile, offering multiple interfaces, including PC, iPad, and browser-based options. The free version provides access to SketchUp for the web, a mobile viewer, cloud storage, and basic model library access. There are also paid tiers with additional features.
SketchUp’s roots in architecture may not make it the most intuitive choice for all 3D printing tasks, but its adaptability and widespread use make it worth considering, especially if you’re already familiar with the platform.
5. OpenSCAD – The Script-Based Powerhouse
Rounding off our list is OpenSCAD, a script-based CAD application. This unique approach allows you to define objects using a text-based editor. With just a few lines of code, you can create complex designs, making OpenSCAD incredibly powerful and flexible.
However, OpenSCAD’s script-based nature can be challenging for newcomers to CAD. Still, it’s worth mentioning that you can easily modify objects downloaded from libraries like Thingiverse or Printables by tweaking the code to fit your needs.
The world of 3D printing offers a range of CAD applications to suit your needs and preferences. Whether you value versatility, open-source options, user-friendliness, or script-based power, there’s a FREE CAD application out there to kickstart your maker journey. So, which CAD application from our list will you choose, or do you have a personal favorite that didn’t make the cut? Share your thoughts in the comments!