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The Best Free CAD Programs for 3D Printing: TOP-20 in 2022

AutoCAD

Modeling is one of the most important skills for 3D printing. Without it, you will be unable to use your expensive equipment, which will turn soon into a useless toy to be covered with dust in a closet. In this article, we are going to review programs of both a basic and a professional level to help you acquire proficiency in the creation of models for 3D printing.

The most popular software of this kind is CAD (computer-aided design). This technology has essentially replaced freehand drawing. CAD software allows you to model an object from a headphone wire clip to a rocket launcher. The technology works on the principle of geometry. It is based on a two-dimensional technical drawing of an object. The software automatically does all mathematical calculations, making it easier for engineers, designers and developers to handle their job. The advantage of such software is in the accuracy of calculations required in mechanical engineering or in the design of technical elements where exact dimensions are important.

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The simplest computer-aided design systems are aimed at creating two-dimensional drawings and related documentation. More sophisticated programs allow you to develop a 3D object based on existing standard models.

The most time-consuming programs go beyond CAD and fall into creative 3D modeling. Here we deal initially with a three-dimensional shape, and not with a flat pattern. The use of such programs requires professionalism and at the same time gives more opportunities for solving complex problems that are not provided for by automated algorithms, but often without a clear reference to dimensions.

FreeCAD

Freecad

Price: free

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Level: beginners and professionals

What is unique about it: wide possibilities of parametric modeling

We open our rating with a free program with a simple intuitive interface available even for commercial use. Using it, we can design small parts as well as an entire building. FreeCAD will be good for beginners of 3D printing. In this software, you create a 2D sketch then export it to a 3D model. The program interface is divided into modules, such as “Drawing”, “Rendering”, “Architecture”.

We have already mentioned its user-friendly workspace featuring options, such as: zoom, change of angles, camera control. The upper toolbar has all the necessary tools for modeling. To the left, you find switchable modules. At the bottom of the screen, there are model properties. It is convenient that you can open several drawings at a time in different tabs and switch between them as necessary.

This software is not below its paid analogs in terms of the functions set. More over, this is an open-source program. Experienced users can add additional options not provided by the basic settings using the Python programing language.

www.freecadweb.org

An obvious advantage of the program is its compatibility not just with Windows and MacOS, but also with Linux.

It’s worthwhile mentioning that Freecad when saving files, Freecad uses its own extension, so when loading projects from third-party programs, errors and inaccuracies may occur.

Tinkercad

Tinkercad

Price: free

Level: beginner

What is unique about it: easy interface, perfect for learning.

If you have never built models, you will definitely cope with this software. It is created to teach kids 3D options and is suitable for designing and 3D printing at home.

You don’t need even to download Tinkercad. This Autodesk service is available online. To get started you need to sign in as a student, teacher, or personal user and use the service for free.

You can start modeling on the service workplace using the already existing forms or can create a new project from scratch. The work in the application is accompanied by reference materials developed especially for training. “Group”, “Adjustment” and “Align” are here the main tools. Moreover, there are works by other authors saved in the software, most of which you can modify and then 3D print.

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Users of this service deal with 3D shapes, but you can also convert 2D sketches to 3D models. The program saves the finished projects as stl, obj and svg files. That is very convenient as you can open them in other software, possibly more professional. The stl format allows importing the file into a third-party slicer for 3D printing.

Actually, Tinkercad is a free training service for beginners, which will become a guide to the world of more advanced CAD software.

www.tinkercad.com

 

Fusion 360

Fusion

Price: free for personal users, students and start-ups ($60/mo, $495/ for a year, $1335/ for 3 years)

Level: amateur, pro

What is unique about it: a lot of functions in 3D modeling, drawing, animation, rendering, engineering analysis.

This is a professional software from Autodesk, but it has a free license for students, personal users, and small enterprisers provided you use it for non-commercial purposes or make less than $100,000 a year as a start-up. The license is issued for a year with the possibility of extension. Notably, personal and student’s versions do not have a full range of functions available in the version for commercial use. However, their lack is not important for an average user.

As for the program interface, it is user-friendly, but since the software is full of different options, the beginner will find it difficult to figure it out right away. The software has wide possibilities for solid modeling. The tools here do not differ from the classical ones, but there’s a timeline, thanks to which you can return to any stage of modeling and make changes to it. Here you can also get to spline modeling, manually controling the parameters of the 3D curves or setting the dimensions automatically.

Fusion 360 is perfect for the work with drawings, which justifies its rating in our top CAD software review. You can set the necessary parameters for drawing. It is also possible to create specific models using mathematical functions. In this case, all the elements associated with the given value will change. Thus, you can create, for example,a gear by specifying the module and number of teeth.

This software has a gallery of templates of the most popular engineering parts and an option to import and edit a 3D scanned object.

Fusion 360 supports over 50 file formats, such as sldprt, sat, iges, step, stl and obj, but it saves the project as f3d files.

This software does rendering and animation and supports the function of engineering analysis where you can see weak points of the model in use.

For 3D printing this CAD software has its own slicer, that is, it slices the model to prepare it for printing. Here, it also adds support for printing protruding elements.

https://www.autodesk.com/products/fusion-360/overview

Sketchup

Sketchup

Price: free for non-commercial use. SketchUp Pro – $299 per year, SketchUp Studio – $699 per year.

Level: beginner and amateur

What is unique about it: a clear interface, access to the library of models created by other users.

This is a simple software, popular among architects. People use it to design buildings and even towns. This software used to belong to the Google company; most of Google Earth constructions had been designed with its help.

This software has a free version for non-commercial use. The manufacturer offers the option-reduced version SketchUp Make and the complete but expensive one SketchUp Pro.

All 3D objects in Sketchup are built on the basis of drawings, which, in their turn, are made of simple elements: lines, arcs, rectangles, etc.

It is important, that every step is accompanied by educational materials, which makes it easier to master the software. The virtual assistant tells you what to do next. The user-friendly interface makes the work in this software easy.

The resulting projects are saved as skp files. The software users can import and export files with dwg, ddf, jpg, png, psd, obj extensions.

This software, just like its analogs, has a library of popular models that you can download for free. It supports additional plugins for export, rendering and creation of physical effects. There are free Ruby extensions for Sketchup, but this is a closed-source software.

Notably, this software is not compatible with Linux, and its modern versions are not suitable for 32-bit systems.

www.sketchup.com

Blender

Blender

Price: free

Level: amateur and pro

What is unique about it: wide possibilities of sculpting, 3D animation, rendering.

This free 3D editor is used not only for 3D modeling and rendering but also for making animation, sculpting and computer games. Yes, it has a game engine, as well as brushes for painting and tools for animation, skeletal including; it also has textured, renders for visualization, a basic video editor, and, of course, great possibilities for 3D modeling, otherwise, Blender would not be found on our list. As long as we are discussing here CAD software for 3D modeling, we won’t go into details of the software possibilities concerning rendering and animation.

This is open-source software, so if you know the Python language you can modify and adapt it.

This software has a rather complicated interface. No wonder, as it combines a vast amount of options. But you can work faster if you set up hot keys. The software runs smoothly in Windows, GNU/Linux and MacOS. The installation file weighs about 200 MB.

Blender goes beyond the frames of CAD software. Here we can work with 3D models right away. Among its options, you will find the designing of objects on the basis of primitives. It is also possible to work with polygons or NURBS- and Besier curves, as well as the basis of metaspheres, Boolean operations and the Subdivision Surface. Basic tool for sculpting are also available. The software galery has a lot of various modifiers. These options make it possible to perform actions on an object or assign properties to it.

It is important to point out that when you deal with polygonal modeling don’t forget to ensure that your object has a closed geometry.

This software is not suitable for professional engineers and architects but it is good for home 3D printing.

www.blender.org

 

LibreCAD

6. LibreCAD

Price: free

Level: amateur and pro

What is unique about it: work with 2D drawings only

This simple computer-aided design system built on the basis of the already existing Qcad software for draughting is a free, open-source program. It is distributed under the GPLv2 license.

This software works only with two-dimensional technical drawings, schemes and plans. It is as close as possible to free-hand technical drawing. For users of this software, a library of thousands of standard parts is collected.

LibreCAD is a cross-platform software that runs on the most popular systems: Windows, MacOS, Linux. 32- and 64-bit versions are supported. The software is available in 30 languages.

It works mostly with dxf files, which are supported for work with 2D data in AutoCAD and can convert the projects to pdf and svg files.

Opening the software, the user sees a limitless drawing sheet with a coordinate system. Here you create a drawing using primitives, such as segments, arcs, circles, texts, etc.

This software will not prepare a full-fledged model for printing but will help develop its accurate technical drawing, for example, on Linux and then convert it to another program for 3D modeling and subsequent printing.

https://librecad.org

OpenSCAD

OpenSCAD

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Price: free

Level: amateur and pro

What is unique about it: modeling using a program code

OpenSCAD is a free open-source CAD software for programming fans. Here, commands are set by code, which is inserted in a special window in the left part of the screen. Thanks to script control, the software has a minimalistic interface.

A beginner most likely will have trouble figuring out where and what tools are hidden. On the right-hand side there is a window with a model visualization in the coordinate system with a console below. And no clues at all. For example, if you want to model a cube you need to enter the cube() command in the code window inserting in the brackets the cube face size. Complex shapes can be created using math functions.

If you don’t know the code, you can use a small set of tools on the control panel and create several primitive geometric shapes: a sphere, parallelepiped, cylinder. The standard operations also include scale, translation, rotation and combination, creation of solids of rotation and extension.

This software does not support the visualization of dimensions. More than that, the element, the code of which is being edited, is not marked in any way. That is why you have to keep a lot of things in your head in the process of work.

For a beginner, this software is very inconvenient. However, it is lightweight (under 20 MB) and runs on Windows, MacOS and Linux without installation.

https://openscad.org

ZbrushCoreMini (former Sculptris)

ZbrushCoreMini (former Sculptris)

Price: free

Level: amateur

What is unique about it: modeling on the basis of the sculpting

This free reduced version of the popular CAD Zbrush software from Pixologic is intended for non-commercial use. This software can be used for 3D modeling, though it was initially developed for sculpting, which is similar, to some extent, to clay modeling.

As compared to the full version, here we have a simplified interface and a fixed limit of 750,000 polygons. The detailing will not come out very realistic but it does not matter if your goal is 3D printing.

ZBrushCoreMini has a basic set of tools for sculpting: Standard, ClayBuildup, Inflate, Pinch, Move, SnakeHook and Smooth. Eight imitation materials are available to users, including base, red wax, gray MatCaps, plastic, metal and leather. The full version has 36 of them.

The finished project can be converted to obj, iMage3D, png, and gif files. It is notable that when you upload such png or gif file to the editor, the 3D mesh will restore and you will be able to modify the object.

The software has a button to prepare the model for 3D printing. With this option, the project is automatically optimized and converted to an obj file. After this, you can safely send it to the slicer.

The software has versions for Windows and MacOS.

https://zbrushcore.com/mini

AutoCAD

AutoCAD

Price: $220 /mo, $1775 /year, $4795 for 3 years

Level: amateur, pro

What is unique about it: a complex platform for 2D and 3D design.

This is one of the most popular software for 2D and 3D design from our familiar Autodesk company. The software takes the 8th place in our rating because only students can use it and only for training purposes. Other users can download the trial version for 30 days and then buy the full version or look for its free analogs.

This software was developed in 1982. Since the basic set of its tools contained only most common primitives, it was rated as an “electronic drawing board”. Today, the software can boast of a vast variety of options.

AutoCAD is still very convenient for creating 2D drawings based on primitives and for parametric draughting.

As for 3D modeling, the software has extensive capabilities in this area. It supports solid, surface and polygonal modeling. Moreover, you can use it to edit a 3D scanned model. The software has a built-in slicer, that is, you don’t need to export a finished project to third-party software to print.

The biggest downside of AutoCAD is its inability to support the parametric modeling of three-dimensional objects. It means that this software is not suitable for working with products requiring accurate to millimeter sizes.

www.autodesk.ru/products/autocad/overview

 

Onshape

Onshape

Price: Standard – $1500 /year, Professional – $2100/ year

Level: amateur, pro

What is unique about it: the possibility of simultaneous working at one object from different devices.

Onshape is a CAD service, which can be connected either through a browser or through an application on the iOS and Android platforms. You can start modeling right away after registration on the website. There’s no need to download the software. Moreover, you can run it on any modern PC, tablet or smartphone. Yes, you can do modeling on your phone.

First and foremost, the editor is different from its competitors by the advanced capabilities of the cloud system: it allows several users to work together on the same project.

The service is free for students and for home, non-commercial use.

This editor has all the common tools for parametric modeling and for solid model creation. It is convenient to create objects according to clear dimensions based on drawings. When you change the dimensions or edit the elements, the geometry of the part is automatically updated, saving your time essentially.

Among the formats available for the export of a finished project, there is the stl format that allows you to freely use Onshape to 3D print a model. The service interface is intuitive. You can customize the tool panel to fit your needs.

www.onshape.com

 

CATIA

CATIA

Price: depends on the specifications, specified individually

Level: pro

What is unique about it: possibility to design technologically complex objects.

This credible pro CAD software from the French company Dassault Systèmes is used in aircraft- and motor-car construction. The first version of this software was issued back in 1981. Today, Catia V5, its most popular version, is in demand. The company keeps to classics in the software interface design, that is why the software looks old-style, to put it mildly. But the main thing here is not the design solutions in the color scheme of the dialog boxes, but the “stuff”.

The software consists of a lot of modules with tabs such as: parts, assembling, drawings, volumes for space reservation, composite design, etc. The user of a regular home 3D printer doesn’t absolutely need most of these modules.

To get CATIA V5 free is rather hard. There are special terms for students. If you wish to buy this software keep in mind that its price will depend on the number of modules included in the software configuration.

If you have this software installed, every opportunity of solid modeling on the basis of primitives and sketches is open for you. You can export files to stl. A solid part designed in this software is easy to be 3D printed.

https://www.3ds.com/ru/produkty-i-uslugi/catia/

 

Rhino

Rhino

Price: $995/ €995 depending on the country

Level: amateur and pro and pro

What is unique about it: possibilities of NURBS modeling

Rhinoceros, or Rhino 7, from Robert McNeel & Associates, suits perfectly for NURBS modeling and is good for polygonal modeling.

Notably, this software does not have free versions. For free, manufacturers offer only a trial edition for 90 days. It has all the functions of the software, but at the end of the trial period you will need to buy a license.

Since the software is intended for professionals, the work surface is surrounded by an array of tools. You can change the workspace panel if necessary according to your individual preferences.

This software options allow you to create complex models. You can do 3D modeling using the NURBS technology as well as splines and primitives. Moreover, Rhino has over 1000 plugins expanding the software potential. The finished files are saved in 3dm format to clearly transfer the geometry.

The software is compatible with different models of 3D printers and does not require any additional applications. It works in Windows and iOS.

www.rhino3d.com/

 

SolidWorks

SolidWorks

Price: depends on the configuration, specify individually.

Level: pro

What is unique about it: wide possibilities of parametric modeling

One more software from Dassault Systèmes for professionals. It was created in the middle of 1990s and is based on the parametric modeling of three-dimensional objects. The software license both for commercial amd non-commercial use is to be paid for. A trial edition is free, but you need to ask for it on the official website of the software.

The software has the following functions: solid modeling, automatic design, and engineering. SolidWorks is included in the list of the most popular software for 3D printing modeling. This software has its own library of model templates, which you can modify. Here, you can also edit a 3D scanned model. The software has also a variety of options for solid modeling as well as for modeling with splines and curves, and for product development. In SolidWorks it is convenient to design using sketches, then you can use rotation, squeezing, can make cross-section or path cuts, can round the model, mirror it, make thin-walled elements or cuts, chase threads. A set of options depends on the license type you buy.

There’s also a possibility to export the model to an stl file, convertible to a G-code. That is necessary for the 3D printer to recognize the model data. For 3D printing, the model should be closed.

www.solidworks.com/

 

CREO

CREO

Price: depends on the configuration, specify individually

Level: pro

What is unique about it: it is possible to use at every step of the design.

CREO Parametric from one of the pioneers of the parametric CAD companies has gained a reputation of advanced software for engineers.

It is free only for students. A trial edition is free for other users.

Modeling skills in this software will be useful if you deal with additive printing. Aside from a variety of modules in CREO, there are specialized applications for designing and assembling projects. The free version for students does not have all the options of the software.

This software has powerful possibilities for the work with surfaces, which engineers and designers will appreciate. This software is useful at all the steps of designing. It has options of solid and direct modeling. There’s a separate module for 3D printing. In CREO one can not just design models but also optimize and print them. All in the same software. What is more, materials for printing – polymers as well as metals – are also taken into account.

Visually, the software is not much different than its analogs. The classical working environment packed with tools that are clear to experienced users.

www.ptc.com/ru/products/creo

 

Blockscad

Blockscad

Price: free for personal use

Level: beginner

What is unique about it: easy to grasp, includes educational materials

From sophisticated professional software, we go back again to a simple and intuitive one. The aim if the Blockscad service is to teach kids to create three-dimensional objects and at the same time teach them the basics of maths and programming, develop logic and thinking.

As this is an online service you don’t need to download anything to work and teach. The interface looks like the one for adults except for there are much fewer options and the modules on the panel have different colors.

The designing process, here, is based on the basis of primitives. They are on the toolbar on the left-hand side. 2- and 3D objects are dragged to the working field and visualized in the right-hand window if you click the Rendering button. Shapes, such as a sphere, cube, cylinder, the torus can be sized and transformed. The fruits of one’s creativity are exported in stl or obj format.

The work in Blockscad is accompanied by training materials. This simple and clear software is a good guide to the world of professional software for novices in 3D printing.

www.blockscad3d.com/

 

Morphi

Morphi

Price: $9.99

Level: beginner and amateur

What is unique about it: application for 3D modeling, AR and VR

The application presented in 2014 by The Inventory for iOS gadgets is now available also for Mac owners and PCs with the Windows OS. The application allows you to create not just models for additive printing but also projects for augmented and virtual reality (AR and VR).

The service is fee-based. The download will cost only $ 9.99, and for educational institutions, when purchasing an application for 20 or more devices, the price will be $ 4.99. It is possible to install a trial version for 15 days for free to evaluate the capabilities of the software.

For modeling in this application, you don’t need to be a pro in 3D design. The software interface is clear even for a child. To be on the safe side, the application includes reference materials and tutorials. Here, the project is created on the basis of ready-made forms and templates. There is also an option of converting a two-dimensional drawing into 3D, as well as creating three-dimensional texts.

You can export to the application 3D models as stl and obj files created with the help of other software.

The project is needed to be exported to third-party software for further slicing. Morphi does not have any drivers for printing.

www.morphiapp.com

 

Leopoly

Leopoly

Price: free

Level: beginner, amateur

What is unique about it: an advanced and easy in operation online service.

This free online service from a like-named Hungarian company developed especially for beginners in 3D design, printing and VR, has gradually acquired professional functions and has become interesting for experienced users and businesses. The Leopoly range of options includes LeoShape, LeoTrainer, and ShapeLab. We’ll have a closer look at the first one. It offers possibilities for product development and customization.

Leopoly is cloud software, where you can edit an existing model as well as compare the features of the original and the improved versions.

The service capabilities allow creating a model from scratches, analyzing possible errors, and sending a ready project to 3D printing. There are tools, such as sculpting, texture, brush, text, as well as, an option to create geometric shapes and upload images. The service supports stl and obj formats for both file import and export.

The software works on the principle of voxels and vertices, the smallest particles, comparable to pixels. This allows you to create accurate and complex meshes for addressing creative design challenges.

https://leopoly.com

 

Sculptris

Sculptris

Price: free

Level: amateur

What is unique about it: modeling on the basis of the sculpting

This free software developed by Swedish programmer Thomas Petterson works on the principle of “digital sculpting”. Sculptris Alpha 6 has two main modes: drawing and sculpting. It helps create realistic asymmetric models, which are impossible to obtain by themselves using just math equations.

Using the Sculpt mode, you have an impression of clay sculpting. The model mesh is edited by brush strokes. In the Paint mode, the texture is applied to the mesh.

In this software, there is a possibility to make models using standard geometric shapes, such as a sphere, cone, cube. Here, you can work both in symmetric (when similar changes take place in two parts of the object relative to the symmetry plane) and asymmetric modes.

The editor is easy to master. It has a simple and intuitive interface. It’s easier to start working in it if you know the basic tools of 3D modeling, but this is not necessary.

The software works on devices with Windows and iOS.

Pixologic, a company, we have mentioned here, purchased Sculptris and transformed the software into ZbrushCoreMini, which is ranked 8th on our top-20 best CAD programs in 2021 list. But you still can find this old version of the software under its former name on the Internet.

https://zbrushcore.com/mini

 

Vectary

Vectary

Price: $12 /mo

Level: beginner

What is unique about it: an easy service with a modern interface.

This online service is intended for new 3D designers, illustrators, and businesses. This simple user-friendly editor will help create a realistic three-dimensional image, a model for 3D printing, or augmented reality. The Slovakian developers state that the mission of their product is to make 3D design reachable for everyone.

The service with a plain modern interface is fired up directly in the browser. This is not just software for design, this is a complex 3D platform.

There is a free trial edition of Vectary. The basic kit includes all 3D modeling tools, but you can make only 25 projects. They all can be exported to obj and stl formats. After reaching the ceiling, you have to buy a paid subscription for $12 /mo.

Since Vectary is a cloud service, you can share your models and select anyone you like from the database for further editing. The libraries of models, materials, light, environment are constantly increasing. In the paid version there is an option of 3D project embedding on the site.

Despite the fact that the service looks modern and convenient, don’t forget that it is intended for non-professional users who rely on automatic settings and out-of-the-box solutions.

https://www.vectary.com

 

3D Slash

3D Slash

Price: free

Level: beginner

What is unique about it: modeling using parallelopipeds

Minecraft fans will like this unusual free online software. The service simulates working with a stonecutter. You can create a model chopping off whatever you don’t need from a whole cube, like a sculptor, or you can build your model out of small cubes choosing their dimensions. Apart from an online service, there is also an application available for download.

As you have noticed the main shape used in this service is a cube. But other geometric shapes, such as a sphere, cylinder, cone are also available here. The service tools are unusual for 3D modeling: a hammer to remove cubes, a spatula to add material, a chisel, a scraper, and a cutter.

3D Slash is a simple intuitive service allowing a beginner to grasp the principles of 3D modeling. With it you can create 3D logos and plain models for 3D printing.

The free version does not provide an opportunity to develop a high-quality project. The finished projects modeled in the online service can be exported to stl and obj formats. But the users of the free version have to wait for their turn to download. You cannot save your project in the downloaded application with a free license.

https://www.3dslash.net/index.php

 

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