Top 7 CAD Modelling Software Programs

We explored some of the best free CAD software for beginners in a previous post, but now we are going to look at some of the top professional CAD software programs. These programs have powerful capabilities and are used for product design by professional engineers and artists around the world. They provide the best capabilities and the most efficient workflows, but unlike our post on free CAD software they come with a price tag. There are a multitude of paid CAD programs, so we have researched and identified the 7 best CAD modelling software programs.

The main factor in determining the best CAD modelling software was the resume of products, games, architecture, and films that they have been used to create. Movies like Spider-Man, Transformers, Lord of the Rings, and countless others would not have been possible without some of the capabilities of these CAD modeling software programs. We also looked at a compilation of product reviews from customers and first hand-knowledge of the CAD modelling software programs. Our list provides a guide to multiple categories of CAD modelling software programs including parametric modeling, sculpting, and programs that offer a mix of the two.

Autodesk Inventor

Autodesk Inventor, first released in 1999 is a direct modeling and parametric CAD modeling software that is a cousin of Fusion 360, also a parametric modelling program offered by Autodesk. Inventor and Fusion have many similar capabilities; however, Inventor, in contrast to Fusion, is more powerful when it comes to building larger assemblies requiring thousands of parts such as cars, appliances, etc. Inventor requires at least 8 GB of RAM, but Autodesk recommends 20 GB of RAM for optimal performance due to the shear volume of calculations required by some of the larger assemblies.

Fusion 360

Fusion 360, released in 2013 by Autodesk, is a parametric, freeform, and direct modelling CAD software program. It is the cousin of Autodesk inventor, but it is scaled down for those who do not need to create assemblies with thousands of components. It has a more intuitive workflow and sleeker user interface. Autodesk only recommends 4 GB of RAM to use Fusion 360 as it is geared primarily towards product designers who only need to model assemblies with a few dozen components. All files are stored in the cloud, enabling better collaboration between teams and the ability to access fusion documents on multiple machines in multiple locations.

SolidWorks

SolidWorks has been a blockbuster CAD product since its release in 1995, which fundamentally changed the way people design products. Like Inventor, SolidWorks is built for very large assemblies with many thousands of parts and advanced simulation. Stress, motion cycles and thermal loads can all be tested within SolidWorks. SolidWorks also has a feature that allows design firms to obtain the costs for components as they are designing to keep track of cost as they are creating products.

AutoCAD

AutoCAD is a 2D drafting program released by Autodesk in 1982. It is one of the oldest CAD modelling software programs and it still provides incredible features to architects and engineers around the world. AutoCAD has multiple toolsets that can be added on to increase its functionality depending on the specific needs of the user including civil engineering, architecture, electrical, mechanical, and many others. These add-ons enable the ability to create 3D sketches with parameters, constraints and relationships that are easy to document and present.

SketchUp

SkechUp blends the line between engineering and art. Designers utilize sketching and parametric modelling tools but have more options to dictate the style and aesthetic qualities of their creations. Sketchup is great for interior design, landscaping, architecture and many other applications that require both fixed constraints and artistic craft. Models are easily exported to fit a variety of presentation needs.

Cinema 4D

Cinema 4D is a sculpting software used for animation, motion graphics, and rendering applications. It is a competitor to MAYA in that it is widely used by the entertainment industry for animated films and video game graphics. In comparison, Cinema has less of the powerful features that MAYA offers but provides an intuitive user interface and an easier workflow. Movies made with Cinema 4D include Spider-Man, War of the Worlds, the Polar Express, Open Season and many others.

MAYA

MAYA is another product by Autodesk that offers motion graphics and animation software for films and video games. It has a steeper learning curve than cinema 4D but offers more capabilities that may or may not be required for each individual application. MAYA has been used to make movies such as Avaatar, Lord of the Rings, Transformers, and video games like Halo and Call of Duty. There are endless possibilities for 3D artists to create unique characters that can be brought to life with technologies like 3D printing.

Comparison Guide

CAD ProgramAuthorTypeYear ReleasedPrice per Year
InventorAutodeskParametric1999$1,935
Fusion 360AutodeskParametric2013$495
SolidWorksDassault SystèmesParametric1995$5,290
AutoCADAutodeskDrafting1982$1,260
SketchUpTrimbleRendering2000$1,199
Cinema 4DMAXONSculpting & Rendering1993$3,510
MAYAAutodeskSculpting & Rendering1998$1,505

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