CAD Software

The Best 8 Free and Open Source CAD Software Solutions

The Best 8 Free and Open Source CAD Software Solutions

The global CAD market forecasts a rise of 11.2 billion U.S. dollars in size for the year 2023. The 3D CAD is at its dominance today with more than 7.1 billion U.S. dollars accounted in the late innings of 2018.

The escalating demands clearly show that the generation of designing is expecting something great after 2D and 3D design technologies and Computer-Aided Design techniques seem supporting massively to fill this gap.

The following sections will discuss in detail about CAD and its impact on product design and manufacturing and how different industries can take advantage of this technology. The article will also take you through some of the best free open source CAD software programs.

Computer-Aided Design Software

Every product development lifecycle is attached with a deadline to complete the task. This pressure is huge in this competitively growing market. Everyday new products are coming into the market making the older ones obsolete. Certain products comprise long development lifecycle times; for example, aircrafts and automobiles.

Manually drawing and matching becomes very tedious and is time-consuming. Technological obsolescence becomes the major reason with different kinds of products. Using computer systems on the other hand, saves product development time. Hence, the drawing and design become the primary concern of the designers.

Simply, when the design and drawing is promptly available during the utility, the product alterations become easier with the changing trends and rising demands. This is forcing several companies to use advanced CAD software tools.

How CAD Originated for Industrial Goodness?

The word CAD came into existence during early 1960s in terms of automating the drafting process. It was the time when computer-modeling technology started overrating the traditional drafting methods as they are of time-saving nature. Also, the computer-based models are found easy-to-correct or manipulative by changing their parameters.

‘Designs by simulation’ testing undertaken by high-tech industries became another reason behind the emergence of CAD. These industries , for example, building aerospace and semiconductors started using computer modelling phenomenon to test their products.

Numerical control technologies included in the 'design to manufacturing process' became the third reason behind the evolution of CAD. The most significant trend in the Computer-Aided Design technology is the extremely tight or close integration between design and manufacturing stages of their production process.

Many uses of CAD Software in Various Industries

It is a known fact that CAD software is widely used in the engineering-based industries and manufacturing & industrial design processes. These high-tech industries manufacture products with a heavy price tag of millions of dollars. Hence, initial design process plays an integral role to perform which, best CAD software is used. Every detail is thoroughly planned using this design software to build the final product.

Here are some of the many industrial spheres where the CAD software belongs to.

Types of CAD Industries

Benefits of Using the CAD Software

In comparison to manual drafting options, computer-aided designs are much quicker, more comfortable, better and less expensive, especially for the larger or complex projects. There are many more things you can get the advantage of, by using this kind of design technique. Let us explore more benefits of using CAD software.

Benefits of CAD

How does CAD Software work?

New technology brings immense excitement but is not always affordable. However, the enrichment of traditional manual design process associated with CAD made it unavoidable for the designers and the availability of the best free open source CAD software programs presented an ever-economical solution to them. So, before you know about these economic solutions, let us check how they work.

  • Initially, a graphics card or a CAD software package will be installed in your computer to enable your typical CAD system work.
  • The graphics kernel is the heart of the CAD software package.
  • GUI is an essential part of the CAD packages. The usage of GUI involves obtaining user input by displaying the CAD geometry.
  • The mouse and the keyboards are mostly used as the input devices. However, digitizer, tracker ball, etc are also used sometimes.

Working of CAD

As the above-given diagram displays, the input devices transfer the input to the GUI. Then, GUI transfers it to the graphics kernel in the suitable form. The graphics kernel then generates the signals and geometric entities to the graphics card to display it using the GUI. This covers the most straightforward explanation of how the CAD system works.

Types of CAD Software Programs

As the expert suggest, five types of CAD software programs exist in the market and you can choose any of the best suitable according to your needs.

Types of CAD

Free and Open Source CAD Software Solutions

As stated above, free and open source CAD software does exist. They are easy to use, downloadable and one can easily modify their source code. They are the best economic solutions if you don’t want to go with the premium ones. After all, they serve the purpose best.

Over the last few decades, the open source community is growing significantly, especially after the success of ‘Linux’ – the very first open source OS. Now, the internet users have become proficient and more acquainted with the advantages of open source software as they can easily get changed or implemented in the way you want. The internet makes the coding of such software solutions readily available to the users, and that is modifiable as well depending upon the user requirements.

The free versions of these software solutions with some basic additions are in trend these days. They allow the users to run these versions on their browser without even downloading the software. Hence, they have become a popular choice among the new age developers and designers.

Now let us check some of the best open source CAD software solutions that are freely available in the market:

  1. FreeCAD
  2. LibreCAD
  3. SolveSpace
  4. QCAD
  5. BRL-CAD
  6. Salome
  7. HeeksCAD
  8. OnShape

Just check out the chart given below comparing all the listed free and open source CAD software so that you can know them better and that too in detail.

Chart Comparison for CAD Software Programs

*Initial/Stable Release Version

Let us discuss the above-given software in detail.

1. FreeCAD:

Developed by Jürgen Riegel, Werner Mayer, Yorik van Havre, FreeCAD is free and open source parametric 3D modeler and CAD software. It is written in C++ and Python, operates on Linux/GNU, UNIX, Mac OS, and Windows platforms and is licensed under LGPLv2+ license. The stable version 0.17 release date of this software is April 6, 2018.


(Source: FreeCAD)


  • FreeCAD features the tools similar to the category of Building Info Modeling (BIM), CAx, PLM, CAE and Mechanical Computer-Aided Design (MCAD).  
  • It has a complete Graphical User Interface based on the Qt framework and involves a 3D viewer based on Open Inventor.
  • All objects related to FreeCAD are natively parametric making it a fully parametric model.
  • The modular architecture of the software allows the modules or plug-in extensions to add functionality to the core application.
  • It makes ‘Import and Export’ facility available in different formats, i.e. STEP, IGES, OBJ, STL, DXF, SVG, STL, DAE, IFC or OFF, NASTRAN, VRML.
  • Sketcher, introduced as integrated constraint-solver allows the designers to sketch geometry-constrained 2D shapes.

2. LibreCAD:

A LibreCAD community product – LibreCAD is a 2D based computer-aided design application written in C++ language. It is operated on Linux, Mac OS, UNIX, and Windows operating systems and licensed as per GPLv2 license. The stable version 2.1.3 release date of this software is September 23, 2016.


(Source: LibreCAD)


  • LibreCAD is a mature and featured-pack 2D-CAD application.
  • It includes tool categories like line, polyline, text, spline, and dimension.
  • Type of drawing system consists of an advanced snapping system, hatches, blocks, templates, layers, 2D iso/ortho.
  • It holds a highly customized appearance.
  • It covers the advanced tangent line and circle tools.
  • It works on text editor mode.
  • It supports Ellipse tools, i.e. lines, rectangles, etc.
  • It comes with built-in tutorials.

3. SolveSpace:

Jonathan Westhues has developed SolveSpace. It is a free libre and open source 2D and 3D CAD (computer-aided design) program that runs on Windows, Linux and Mac OS. The software is written in C++ language and licensed under GNU GPL 3+ license. The stable version 2.3 release date of this software is December 24, 2016.


(Source: SolveSpace)


  • SolveSpace is a parametric 3D CAD tool.
  • In case of modeling 3D parts, these applications include drawing with extrudes, revolves and Boolean operations.
  • In the case of modeling the 2D elements, you should pull them as a single section with exporting DXF, PDF, and SVG. You can use the third assembly for verifying it.
  • The constraint solver should be used as a mechanism design to stimulate planar or spatial linkages using a ball, a pin or slide joints.
  • SolveSpace helps with replacing the hand-solved spreadsheets and trigonometry with a live dimensioned drawing.

4. QCAD:

QCAD is one of the most popular free and open source CAD software applications. It is developed by RibbonSoft, written in C++ (Qt), ECMAScript and licensed under GPLv3 and some proprietary license plug-ins. It operates on Linux, Mac OS, UNIX-like, Windows and its stable version 3.20 release date is April 12, 2018.


(Source: QCAD)


  • The QCAD GUI is based on the Qt framework.
  • QCAD software comprises complete and compelling ECMAScript scripting interface.
  • It supports more than 40 construction tools and 20 modification tools.
  • The software supports various metrical and imperial units.
  • It supports printing to scale and printing on multiple pages.             
  • It facilitates DXF and DWG input and output.
  • It offers various powerful entity selection tools.  


BRL-CAD is a constructive solid geometry (CSG) and solid modeling based computer-aided design software. Mike Muuss initially developed BRL-CAD. The software is written in C, C++, Tcl. It operates on Cross-platform (BSD, Linux, Mac OS X, Solaris, and Windows, among others) and is licensed under BSD, LGPL license. The stable version 7.26.4 release date of the software is October 2017.


(Source: BRL-CAD)


  • BRL-CAD focuses on stable modeling CAD.
  • BRL-CAD also focuses on ‘Raytracing’ as a means to perform geometric analysis and to render images for visualization purposes.
  • BRL-CAD provides a significant procedural geometry interface to create models algorithmically instead of manually.
  • BRL-CAD comprises its fundamentals in CSG modeling with implicit primitives.
  • The BRL-CAD Benchmark provides a practical metric of real-world performance. 

6. Salome:

For the pre and post-processing of numerical simulation, Salome is the best free and open source software. It is written in C++, Python languages, operated on Linux/Windows/Unix-like systems and licensed as per GNU Lesser General Public License. The stable version 9.2.0 release date of the software is December 21, 2018.


(Source: Salome)


  • Salome supports interoperability between computation software (CAD-CAE link) and CAD modeling.
  • It facilitates easy integration of the new components on heterogeneous systems for computing numerical.
  • Its priority is to multi-physics the coupling between computer software programs.
  • It is user-friendly, efficient and provides a generic interface that helps in cost reduction and avoids delays in carrying out the studies.
  • It assures the users to access all functionalities through the integrated Python console.

7. HeeksCAD:

HeeksCAD is a popular free and open source 3D CAD/CAM software mainly developed by Dan Heeks. It is written in C++, operates on Microsoft Windows, Linux, Mac OS X and licensed as per BSD license. The stable version 0.18 release date of the software is May 11, 2011.


(Source: HeeksCAD)


  • HeeksCAD facilitates easy-to-download file that can uninterruptedly work on your computer.
  • The best facility this software provides is the ability to add a new tool or program, from the menu so that you can move on with it additionally.
  • HeeksCAD makes extensive use of local coordinate systems.
  • It supports spheres, cylinders, cones, and cuboids as 3D models.
  • It internally uses Open CASCADE Technology for modeling and wxWidgets in the form of Widget Toolkit.

8. OnShape: (Free Software)

OnShape is a free computer-aided design software system. The software delivers over the internet through Software as a Service (SaaS) model. It operates on iOS, Android OS, Microsoft Windows, Linux, OSX platforms and available in English, German, Korean, Chinese Traditional, Chinese Simplified languages. In May 2016, OnShape introduced FeatureScript as a new open source programming language for Computer-Aided Designing.


(Source: OnShape)


  • OnShape software works on fully featured mobile apps: iPhone, iPad, and Android.
  • It covers a good set of design tool.
  • The software is highly integrated with the cloud and gives opportunities for real design collaboration.
  • This modern CAD system eliminates design gridlocks, i.e. the distractions, constant waiting, hassles that refrain the engineers from their work.
  • It unites design data management and advanced modeling tools in the secure cloud workspace.
  • FeatureScript language allows the users to change the feature toolbar.
  • It also allows users to perform customised geometric modeling tasks.

Apart from the above-listed free and open source CAD software solutions, some premium and commercial ones are also popular in the market. NanoCAD software is one of the most demanding commercial CAD software that is preferred by majority of design businesses for their advanced designing requirements. Let us discuss about it in detail.


NanoCAD is a professional grade CAD tool that is used by thousands of engineers and designers around the world. NanoCAD plus comes with some additional features. Both of the versions are available at a low-cost annual subscription including timely updates and priority online support.


(Support: NanoCAD


  • NanoCAD and NanoCAD – both the versions are designed For Microsoft Windows (Vista 7, 8, and 10).
  • NanoCAD software provides great user experience as it is a multipurpose free drafting software.
  • The classic-style CAD user interface offers a command set and UI elements that are familiar and comfortable to users of many other compatible applications of CAD.
  • NanocAD software natively uses the industry-standard DWG (*.dwg) file format.
  • It has a powerful Excel-style table editor having an extensive set of capabilities.
  • ActiveX Automation and LISP to automate everyday routine tasks.
  • C++/C# API and several other types of API to build CAD applications.

In case, you have used any of these software programs earlier; you can share your reviews with us.         


From a single product to big manufacturing industry, you cannot ignore the importance of design. Even the manual operations seem limited when you have to present an advanced design of a product, a property or anything else. Hence, taking help of the machines and tools become imperative.

An advanced computer-aided design software tool can become your master-stroke when you really want to win the game of intellectual design and earn profits from your business.

Though, selecting the best suitable software from a huge range available on the internet is not easy. Still with some research, you can select the most appropriate free and open source CAD software solution according to your needs.

Free and open source software would limit your extra spending on the type of software you want and it, of course, saves you from the proprietary restrictions that are generally laid by the premium solutions.

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Sarah Rose Miller
Sarah Rose Miller

She is an IT graduate, a research enthusiast, a  gadget lover and a tech writer. Sarah loves to explore every new innovation in the field of technology to help meeting quests of the readers regarding knowing about new gadget in the market, tech news and publications as well. She is a professional Research and Tech Writer at

Responses (2)
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Bruce Stark
July 13, 2020 05:28

Hi, This is one of the most informative blogs, I read today. All the info required for the cad draftsman is written here. Currently, I'm using the Autocad for survey drafting but Sarah has shown more options to enhance our skill. Glad to read & nice work by Sarah.

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Dwayne Mcheaven
September 16, 2020 04:34

As I read the article my knowledge increased and I seemed to just review but I also found out something. I can only say thank you to the author of this.

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