What is the best FREE 3D modeling software for serious use?

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I'm used to using Solidworks and I've yet to find a free modeling program that I like enough to even think about designing a complicated part with. What is your favorite free design software and why?

Avoid FreeCAD 0.16 at all cost it is needlessly complicated and isn't very advanced.
Solid edge is like Solid works but with a bit of Sketchup mixed in but it is worth a go.
However nothing compares to Solid works.


just like solidworks and its free to use

Onshape is only free if you keep your designs public, otherwise, it's $125 per month (billed annually, so $1500). If you decide to cancel your subscription, you will no longer be able to edit the models you spent time creating in private. If you lose your Internet connection, you can't continue modeling offline.

It's a good choice for engineering firms looking for agile development. However, in my opinion, there are better options for makers, hobbyists, and engineers working on their own designs at home.

I believe anyone who has used a midrange/highend CAD program will never find a "free" program that is capable and/or acceptable to make complicated designs. The interfaces, capabilities, stability and speed of "free" programs are frustrating. Most will get 1 out of 4 acceptable. The best I've seen will get 2 out of 4 acceptable. For the most part, this is done intensionally, as these "free" programs are released by companies that also sell pay versions.
From my searches and testing, the best I have come up with are inexpensive "clone" software. An example of one of these is Progecad.
Last I checked, it could be had for $400, and replicates older versions of Autocad. There are quite a few out there and they are good programs.

I consider "free" to be without cost or obligation: no Internet connection needed, not cloud based, no trial software, no limitations.

I'd be curious to hear what you think about 3D Orchard ( https://3DOrchard.com ). It's still in Beta, but three of us have spent the last few years (and our own $) building the platform to encourage the world to come together and design in the open. We're makers with engineering backgrounds who understand how empowering it is to have FREE access to these kinds of tools. The CAD tools are free for both public and private use; and not just free in terms of cost, but also in terms of model access. Anyone can download the models in our own internal format (.BREP, which is the same, I believe, as other programs like FreeCAD, openSCAD, etc). So your models can't be held hostage. The actual CAD tools are browser-based so they are readily available with the models (and on any device). Not to mention, there are no updates, downloads, installs, or licensing headaches. Once the model is loaded into the CAD interface, you can continue modeling, even if you lose a wifi connection. But you will need a connection to be able to save it back to the server.

We'd love your (and everyone else's) feedback. You can chat directly with us with the green button in the bottom right. Or access the CAD for free (and without signing up) at: https://3DOrchard.com/app/CAD

There are built-in youtube videos in the help (?) button on the site, and written tutorials at: http://learn.3dorchard.com/tutorials

Here's the platform 3D Orchard: https://3DOrchard.com

This is not a reply for the thin skinned; If you think you can handle in, read on.

Icons were developed for use in operating systems for the purpose of being usable for the widest range of people.

This includes the mentally challenged, illiterate and foreign language users. The problem with icons, is they are not user
friendly to those who can read and understand the words specific to the program. For example: I know what the word
perpendicular means, I don't know what the squiggly lines you used the represent perpendicular mean, don't have the
patients to hover over each icon for it to tell me, and have better things to do than memorize them. Is your CAD programs
target audience the illiterate and mental challenged? If not, then you are pointlessly frustrating your users.

I don't see a command line. How am I suppose to enter coordinates? Do I set the grid to .000000000001 so I can enter

the number 54.735610317245? Are users suppose drag objects manually? The ultimate in efficiency are command shortcuts.
In my current CAD program, I can hit the "M" and then the "enter" key and the move command is active. This takes me less
than half a second to accomplish.
In short , your user interface is unacceptable. Requiring Internet access to do anything is unacceptable. Using a browser
to do anything related to cad work is unacceptable. These are just the things I noticed looking at the first page of one of the
tutorials. An acceptable user interface is adjustable: the icons can be turned off and replaced by pull-down menus.

I realize the above may sound picky. Many new CAD programs have gone this route. I believe this is the main reason people
are frustrated with CAD programs and consider them difficult to use. Even in demonstrations I've been to, they use Icons: they
do simple things very quickly, but those watching and not familiar with the programs set of icons are not sure what they have
done (clicking meaningless areas on the screen and things appear). When demonstrators using icons do more complicated
things, I realize I can do it several times faster with pull down menus and a keyboard.

I used to use AutoCAD professionally in the 90s, in an office where Microstation was also used.
Since then, but in the seemingly distant past I used Max, Maya, and a number of much more primitive mesh and map builders.
My Acad workflow involved screens of maximised display ports onto the drawings, very few icons, and mostly 2 or 3 letter keyboard entry of commands, with mouse movement limited almost entirely to moving or creating drawing elements. I was once really good at typing exclusively left-handed.
By contrast; the Microstation workflow always seemed to gravitate towards a screen, or two, crowded by VERY small, very task-specific icons, most of which were custom made or positioned by the operator, and although keyboard entry was possible it was almost never used by the operators I observed; a significant portion, perhaps the majority of their mouse movement related to hovering over and clicking icons that often had t be extensively searched for.
At the time I couldn't imagine a more hellish CAD program. The guys using it swore by it, but always seemed very remedial to me; they often took forever to do even the simplest tasks, and their workflow was limited exclusively to structural drawing... which is almost entirely putting pre-drawn templates into position with other predrawn elements. Skilled work to be sure, but nowhere near as skilled as these guys assumed they were. Their skillset related more to wrangling and recognising vast arrays of little 16x16 icons than anything else.
It's been several decades, and given a choice I would probably be using 3dstudio or maya now, but Blender is my first choice for the limited hobbyist design work i do now. At first the learning curve to know the right keyboard shortcuts seemed a little onerous, and there are still moments when i suddenly discover another one I should have known all this time, but I consider having an efficient keyboard option, as well as a GUI/menu (that also tells you the shortcut) as essential. A good operator needs both. Any CAD program that is specifically icon-centric is literally, actually, retarded. And I find them incredibly frustrating, slow, painful, and intellectually insulting.

No worries! We've gotten all kinds of feedback at this point. Thanks for taking the time to look at the site and review the tutorials! As you are aware, these programs are difficult to build (which is why others charge so much for them lol ).

We have received a few requests for hotkeys, and this is on our roadmap. We've haven't gotten the icon feedback, but I understand where you are coming from. This could be a user preference like you suggested. Offline access is coming as well. Also, we've been able to achieve what we think is a reasonable performance for large assemblies ~100 parts. You won't be designing a car right now, but for many consumer products and things that people 3D print, the performance should be adequate.

We'd love to work with you (and anyone else with feedback) to help make this something valuable to everyone using it. If you hit us up in the chat in the bottom-right, I'd like to talk to you more about each of your points to find out how we can solve those issues.

Thanks again for your time!

I use Fusion 360, which is free for hobbyists. I didn't like it at first but after using it for a while it is very straightforward to use. I would suggest using either Fusion 360 or Inventor. Inventor is comparable to Solidworks with Fusion 360 being a Inventor light version.

Really after you use one CAD package you can use most of them. I would suggest avoiding the ones that look more like programming, I forget the name of it. The majority of programs have similar commands and interfaces, you just need to find the shortcuts and quirks.

I totally agree. fusion 360 is probably my favourite

free != straightjacket.

Orchard is free for everyone in terms of both cost and the models. Public models are not only open source, but you can even download our base internal format to use in any other CAD software--so you'll never be locked into a file format (thanks to your earlier feedback, Corona ;-) ). Private models are also free and they are secure and owned by you only.

The entire platform is browser-based (but the CAD still works with periodic internet interruptions). The three of us are makers/engineers/3D printing enthusiasts who built this (with our own $) to empower people (like in this group) to come together and design the world in the open. We'd love your feedback! You can chat directly with us using the green button in the bottom-right: https://3DOrchard.com

Not everyone has 3k-4k to drop on a CAD package. Inventor is as good as any other program out there. There might be a few features that aren't on the free package but those are functions geared towards large assemblies ext.

I can see how Onshape could be restricting though.

Why don't you consider investing in a good software? SpaceClaim has a 3D geometry editing software that is an open platform. Meaning, it allows you to revise models created say in Solidworks without having to worry with the history tree. Modifying in SpaceClaim is as if you created the model there. You can also export in native file formats such as SLDPRT so you can share with others who only use a certain format. Creating designs in this software is also very easy. A node-locked license will run $3,260. You should check it out. If you decide to buy, contact me as we are a reseller. We also offer services for CAD design, 3D scanning for RE or inspection, 3D printing, scanners from Creaform and printers from 3D Systems. We are located in Orlando but service customers nationwide. I'd be happy to help you, if interested. SpaceClaim's website - www.spaceclaim.com. There are a ton of videos which will introduce you easily.

I have been using Shapr3D on my iPad Pro. So far it has met all my needs for design. However I am pretty new at all this and I am sure there are many use cases I have not run into yet.

I have been able to fully model a Hexabot from start to finish. I am now working on a humanoid as well as an R/C Helicopter. So far the most challenging project has been the R/C Helicopter as there are far more complex parts than anything else I have modeled. Check my profile if you are interested in some of the things I mention.

I use Fusion360 which is free if you're a hobbyist.

I've been using DesignSpark Mechanical for a little while now. It's free, fairly feature rich, and relatively easy to learn. I think they might have some premium option with extra features. But, if so, they don't shove ads for it in your face like a lot of free software versions.

I don't think it's a great option for things like, free form sculpture. But for making parts that fit neatly together, it's amazing. I do kinda wish it had a simple, built in tool for mirroring objects.

I really like to use Onshape. Its free and its supper easy to use.

i would use onshape (despite being a little laggy) if my files/work wasn't all made public.

So it is fusion360 for me

"cloud program which holds your models hostage" != "free"

You can get a 3-year free copy of inventor professional. That is what I use.

Blender is workable. However you can't think of being exactly parametric as you would with CAD. What you have to do is consider that it's more geared to a polygonal mesh based modeling workflow, then anticipate what Catmull-Clark subdivision will do and the amount of error allowable in tolerances. It's a bit trickier if you don't have what's needed to do proof runs, but it's very possible to get damn close. If you're doing test proofs (and knowing where you need to correct and make adjustments), then it's no longer a limitation of Blender but of the 3D printer being used, materials, and your own know-how. It has 8 digits of usable accuracy, less than what would be expected of CAD, but at the scales typically in use it still exceeds the resolution of most consumer level 3D printers.

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Why do people keep posting pay-for products in the free thread? I suppose a topic like this was just begging for spammers.

spammer |ˈspamər|
a person or organization that sends irrelevant or unsolicited messages over the Internet, typically to large numbers of users, for the purposes of advertising, phishing, spreading malware, etc: common traps that spammers use to acquire email addresses.

I know exactly what it means.

Unsolicited: Yes. This topic is about free 3d modelers.
Large numbers of users: Yes, thingiverse, the engineering group, and this thread all qualify.
Advertising: There's no other word for what you're doing.

I sincerely apologize to everyone I may have angered by mentioning CAD software that I have found useful, even though it is not free. I don't get paid or compensated in any way for sharing that information. It was not posted with the intent to be spam or advertising. I took the time to post because I thought it would be helpful to some of you. Again, I apologize to all the people angered by my post. I promise it won't happen again! Also, I deleted the original post to remove any trace of what at least one person considered to be advertising.

Blender is alright. Wish i had Solid Works used it in College amazing program. I've also tried Onshape it's very much like Solid Works, but i don't see where i can import or export models. Blender is what i'll stick with since it's free and can't afford to use Solid Works. Another mention is Sketch up never really got into it, but i'm sure they have trial versions.

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I would again point out freecad, just insure you grab the stable release and not the nightly. It has a couple bugs, but it is overall extremely powerful and easy to use.

I use tinkercad but I don't know if that would be used for serious use

Onshape is the best free modeling software. It is basically Solidworks, but free.

Sure if you want to make all of your designs public--but if you want to have ANY private models, Onshape is $1200/year billed annually, or $1500/year billed monthly. Their enterprise-level support begins at $2400/year--per person! If you're an engineering firm, Onshape may be right for you. If you're a maker, there are cheaper solutions.

ONSHAPE Hands down. It was developed by ex-Solidworks employees and it's cloud based. You can access your files on any browser. FREE account - unlimited public documents. https://www.onshape.com/

Yet again I refer you to the opening post and the word "Free". By definition, cloud based is not. At any time your models could be lost or held for ransom.

Agreed. Free=without cost or OBLIGATION. In every cloud based application I've seen, you are forced to leave your work in the cloud. Not to mention an INTERNET connection (my design/crunching system does not and will not).

3D Orchard is not only free for everyone (for both public and private models) but you can download our own internal base format (.BREP). Although you need a connection to download the model, once you're in the CAD it can run w/o a connection. Of course, you need to connect to publish the model to the site.
It's just three of us building this platform with our own $. We're not trying to lock in anyone. We just think it's important to make these useful tools more accessible to the world.

Heres the URL: https://3DOrchard.com
Edited to add the URL.

how do you even get solidworks for free?

Fusion 360 is your best bet. 3D modeling for 3D printing as well as integrated CAD/CAM. FREE for hobbyists and start-ups.

Onshape it's online and good

I know it's basically a lost battle trying to get people to read the thread title, but, "free"?

I've been using TurboCAD since 1997. The base version is called Deluxe. I'm using the 2015 release, and it supports STL edit, import, and export. The version/release I use supports more than 20 different file type exports and imports. http://www.cadandgraphics.com/ sells older versions at a discount. I paid around $100USD for the download version, which is a far cry from the Solidworks or AutoCAD price tags. They also have an AutoCAD clone for a bargain. Although, I've never used the clone. There is parametric functionality with the PRO and Platinum versions, but depending on the release, they are $325~$1295 as of the date of this post.

TurboCAD software has its glitches, but I've learned to work around most of them. This is still a hobby for me, so spending extra money on this is not justifiable. TurboCAD Deluxe 2015 satisfies about 95% of my CAD needs, the other %5 is done with OpenSCAD.

I know the question was about FREE software, and this is not free. However, with the time, effort, and love that we put in to our designs, sometimes the thought of spending some money on something affordable for the sake of ease is worth it. I feel like I'm doing a PLUG for TurboCAD right now, and honestly, I'm not getting anything for this.

Hope this is useful.

It's okay. Not even the original poster managed to stay on topic.

I want to share a couple unique 'modeling' softwares in this mega thread because they have not been mentioned yet but each have something special to offer:
*Sculptris & PrintShop are free MakerBot creations that have been out for over a year and Ive only just heard about them. One is for sculpting models like clay, and the other is for using your ipad to turn hand drawings into models. (There was a big kickstarter on something else that does about the same thing recently...lol)

*And finally I think TinkerCAD hasn't gotten enough love. As simple as it is, Tinkercad is one of VERY few softwares out there free OR paid that allow you to edit STL files. And it does so smoothly at that.

All are linked here: http://www.thingiverse.com/jumpstart

Hi Mike :)
I am unsatisfied with some aspects of "all of the design softwares" i have examined. But the most closest designing program to Solidworks is Autodesk Fusion360. It is not free if you are not a student or instructor. It requires internet connection (very disappointed at this stage). But in addition to Solidworks features, you will be able to model waaay faster PLUS surfacing abilities are really satisfiying. Ofcourse dont expect to surface like 3Ds Max or Maya style. They are programs mainly created for deep detailed surfacing :) But Autodesk Fusion360 will satisfy you sufficiently with surfacing + designing.

On the other hand, Autodesk123D application will discontinue soon (The will be joining some of their programs to reduce their workloads and to support a single program to do all). You will find all the abilities 123D offer in the Fusion360. Also 123D cannot catch Solidworks.

Autodesk Inventor matches more or less Solidworks, free only if you are a student or instructor. But for speed of sketching Solidworks wins the price. But solid modelling after sketching, ok inventor is a bit forward. In Inventor, you will find more "live like" walk throughs easily (In Solidworks, you need to add a camera first but Inventor gives that camera view by default) Also Inventor's design views offer a better style than Solidworks.

DesignSpark could be another "Right Choice" if you are not surfacing. It offers designing abilities pretty close to Autodesk Fusion360 but lacks surfacing :( So, designing needs all the available tools in hand right? I liked the way DesignSpark works. But it needs developments to have more important tools such as 3Dmax/Maya style surfacing. If they include those i mean (or at least Fusion360 style surfacing), DesignSpark could be the number one of the market. But presently, it lacks to provide what Fusion360 gives :(
(Hey DesignSpark guys if you are reading this pls leave me your email, i m willing to send userfeed back for your software. Because it is a nice one)

So, as for me Fusion360 wins today. But tomorrow what happens who knows?

Well I would Say DesignSpark Mechanical, but I would tend to be a bit biased since I am part of the DesignSpark team!... My background goes way back to the ancient days of AutoCAD release 14, when the design world was 2D, with a hint of 3D..if you had the money.

Err.. autocad 14 has full solid modeling capability. I've been solid modeling with autocad since r11 with the advanced modeling extension. Release 13c4 also had full modeling abilities.
By the release of r14, the world was not 2d, There were enough people designing in 3d at the time of the r13 release to force autodesk to add commands people had been using (solprof equivalent +others) with the advanced modeling extension (hence the r13c4 release). Armatures may have been 2d, but the professional world was mostly designing in 3d by the early/mid nineties.

I appreciate that you acknowledged your bias.

I freaking love DesignSpark Mechanical. Being able to modify .stl files would be amazing though. Or, at least to be able to use them as cutter objects.

123D is easy to operate

Well it depends on what I am using it for. Because I am a student I can get all of AutoDesk's software for free so I using AutoDesk Inventor. But if I wasn't a student I would probably stick to openSCAD or Blender. openSCAD is probably the best free software though.

I used to use Solidworks, but I recently made the switch to Orchard. Besides it being free, I like it because there are no downloads/installs/updates etc. and how quickly I can jump in and start modeling (or editing designs). The interface was pretty easy to learn, once I understood that tools become available based on what's selected (but my background in solidworks helped). The only potential drawback is it requires chrome (but I use chrome so it's np for me): https://3DOrchard.com

Thanks, ThatCADguy! Happy to hear you enjoy the platform. The Chrome browser restriction won't always be the case (but we're a tiny company of 3, so our dev. bandwidth is somewhat limited ;-) ).

Autodesk Fusion 360

Fusion 360. Hands down, no contest. I have access to Solidworks, Catia, and NX, yet still do almost all of my personal projects in Fusion.

Autodesk 123dDesign

I know it is not free, but if you are a U.S. or Canadian service member or veteran, you can get the student edition of SolidWorks for $20.00/year. I am on my second year of it, and all I have to do is download the form and send it in a couple of weeks before the current license expires, then I am never without it.


You could give Orchard a try. It is a new online platform for crowdsourced design. The Orchard platform has built-in engineering-quality tools for creating, sharing, and 3D printing 3D models--basically everything one needs to turn a product idea into reality in one location that runs in the browser. Anyone can edit any object, causing them to evolve over time and trace out a tree of evolution. The 2D sketching has parametric constraints, and available tools/actions (extrude, revolve, fillet, etc.) are based on what you click. The platform is free and currently in an open Beta. It runs in a chrome browser. We'd love everyone's feedback: https://3DOrchard.com

Orchard looks like a suped-up SketchUp and it does look interesting, but I do not have complete faith in it as a CAD program. It is against tough competition.

We'll definitely take the comparison as a compliment! There are only three of us building the platform, so we'd love to hear any feedback you may have to improve it! Our goal since the beginning has been to build a platform that empowers anyone in the world with an internet connection to create and share design ideas with others. A platform where products can be designed and built collaboratively by people around the world--one where designs evolve like biology and constantly improve. Its really the first time in history where people around the world can come together and design the world around us, so that's really exciting. When combined with 3D printing, product design and manufacturing can be done locally, by individuals. To me, it's incredibly empowering to make my own things. There's definitely more in the space than when we first started, but our goals haven't changed!

Well I do believe you have reached that goal as it a very easy to learn software and would be great to inspire people to design their own items.
It is a very impressive outcome for a team of three.

I second this! :)

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I too would love to see a truly free package, but I'm not much of a Linux user. At work, I use SolidWorks with CAMWorks. I have used 3D Studio Max in the past, as well, and I love that software unreasonably. Neither are cheap, and I'm just not going to shell out the $6K for SolidWorks for myself, or the $185 per month for the newest 3D Studio.

Design Spark Mechanic is free. Is it worthy?

DS Mechanical is the best Free software IMO.. Been using it about 3 years now..

You should definitely check out Orchard ( https://3DOrchard.com ). It's free and requires no downloads or installs, just a chrome browser.

chrome browser or chromium browser?
some browsers other that chrome use the chromium framework or whatever it is

Ok, nice to know

Joinn1710, I remembered this thread and wanted to update you. Orchard now runs in all major browsers: Chrome, Firefox, Opera, Safari (at least on newer machines). We've also successfully run the platform in mobile--but we're still working on the controls (there are only 3 of us). Also, it's all free now--public or private use :D. https://3DOrchard.com

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Just a quick note to say that Onshape, which has been recommended by many here, now has removed any privacy unless you pay their full price. They still have the "Free Plan", but everything you create has to be public for others to see and copy. That's OK for Open source designs, but may not be OK for all of your designs.

The lack of any sort of privacy leads me to recommend against Onshape. Which is a shame, because I really like the product, and have used it a lot.

Mroek, you'd be happy to know that Orchard just recently released a private design option, with an introductory beta pricing at $7/mo or $70/year.

I too have been frustrated by this. In fact, since I couldn't find anything else to fill the following desires, I have been building my own CAD which aims to have these features:

  • Free for public use
  • Private use is very affordable to the Hobbyist / Maker
  • Closely emulates professional CAD (MVP won't be fully featured, but will work for many complicated designs)
  • Is available on the cloud in a browser (works on all platforms from any location)
  • Revision control / history is easy to manage (source format is a text based language, but closer to how professional CAD works rather than how OpenScad works)
  • You own your files and the source format (backed by GitHub or BitBucket or similar) -- access to them is granted by the user rather than to the user.

"Is available on the cloud in a browser", that will lose most businesses and quite a few private users.

All customer data will be maintained as customer data. None of it is permanently kept by the service -- only temporarily while the editing is done. In fact, I'm planning on using an API integration so that the customer uses their own bitbucket / github to store their data. They can do that in a private repo if desired. Also, I plan on releasing a local utility to handle conversion from the text-based version controlled format to other standard model formats to make the file format interchangeable and manageable offline.

Thats good, file conversion is very important.

mwu, that's very impressive that you're building your own CAD to address those frustrations! Have you seen Orchard? It's the new platform for crowdsourced design, and it has all of the features that you listed. It was built for makers, by three makers. https://3DOrchard.com

Autodesk "your a student" and its free

I would recommend Autodesk Inventor or SolidWorks. Personally, I use Inventor, but SolidWorks is an amazing software. If you want to, I know that PTC Creo is used for VERY technical stuff (NASA uses it). You can get a student version for 4 or so years. All are very self-explanatory.

I'd steer clear of "PTC Creo". The division of a company I use to work for was sold to another company. There were two consequences:

  1. The name on all of our business cards was changed

Onshape. All the way. Why? Pretty damn good already, but they're consistently making improvements, it's cloud based so I have access to my files from anywhare, on any machine, including my iPhone if I just really need to ... well, I don't know what I'd need to do with CAD from my phone.... but you get my point. And there are a ton of great tutorials and forums, which is excellent for a n00b like me.

I have enjoyed OnShape, but have found their non-pro limitations to be too strict for me and the cost of their pro service significantly too expensive. I'm working on my own CAD (see a few comments above: http://www.thingiverse.com/groups/engineering/topic:66#comment-1095590) to address those issues (and others).

My biggest use of OnShape to date has been working on my 3D printed Curta Calculator (http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:1943171). I found it very helpful to have the iOS and Android apps (switched to Android for Google's project fi midway though the project -- I like fi a lot and recommend it) very helpful when I want to work on a project when I don't have a computer handy. It is actually not horrible to use on a relatively small touchscreen as I would have thought. They did a lot of good things with UI/UX to make it very usable.

Curta Calculator Type I scaled at 3:1
by mwu

completely agree. I use the ipad app to help engineers get a better idea of what what I'm talking about for new product ideas. It's like an advanced 3D sketchpad on the go

delcam powershape 2016

Hi! I wanted to start by saying this thread has really helped me pick a software program to use. Thanks so much to all involved!

For free use, from what I've been able to determine in this thread thus far, we have 2 pretty solid options:

Design Spark Mechanic


For my particular purposes, I am fortunate and have both a Windows machine and a Linux machine. Design Spark (DSM) is for Windows only - and I think that is important to note in this thread. I went searching initially for my friend, whose 3D printer we just assembled, who is new to this, and he is going to use a Mac. I have yet to find Mac compatible freeware. if anyone has a linky please tell a guy in need...

But for me (3d printer to be ordered/assembled sometime in the next month) DSM should be great for my Windows 10 laptop. It also works for Windows 8, 7 and XP. That in my view is key, as I can build an XP computer from scratch in about 6 minutes out of junk in my shop.

All that being said (and I plan to test and use DSM on my windows laptop for certain applications), I'm going with OpenSCAD solely because my primary (and by far fav) computer system to use is Linux based. I'm running Ubunto 14 LTS, and its working so well on my hardware that I'm even hesitant to upgrade to 16LTS now that it's out.

I'll try to test both software packages over the next month and get a review up here. Feel free to nag me if I'm not timely.

Thanks again everyone for your excellent contributions to this thread. Especially OP MechEngineerMike. For beginners like me to 3D printing, this thread should be flagged and tagged at the top of the forum at all times IMHO.

Upon further investigation - it appears OpenSCAD is also available for Mac. The fact that I can run it on my Linux (preferred) system and that my friend learning this in parallel can run it on his Mac just gave OpenSCAD the win for me. More to come - Linux programs are always a challenge. I'll update as I discover...

Ok - first update.

Installing OpenSCAD was actually super easy. Sometimes it takes a lot of dependencies to make an application work in a Linux environment, but this was smooth as silk.

Here are the commands you need to get this program running on your system, assuming you are running Ubuntu or something similar:

$ sudo add-apt-repository ppa:openscad/releases
$ sudo apt-get update
$ sudo apt-get install openscad

That's pretty much it. Then you can launch the application from Terminal, or take the UI route of opening it through your programs. I didn't even have to reboot to get it to work.

The coding system for OpenSCAD is another story though. I did find a cheatsheet here though:

If anyone has beginner tips for OpenSCAD and wants to share them by replying to this post I'm happy to hear them too!

There is a very good forum for OpenSCAD - very helpful people. (You need to join mailing list also.)
The customiser is being built into the about-to-be-released version and allows for nice customisation of exposed variables - just like on Thingiverse.

Very good program for thinking about shapes clearly - bit harder to do fillets but some special functions for that.

Fillets are really easy for 2d shapes - try offset(2) offset(-2) square([10,10]);

Also - as there are a million Linux distributions out there - if someone is running Fedora or something exotic - check here for more detailed instructions on installing: http://www.openscad.org/downloads.html#linux

I have inventor, but I recommend SolidWorks for serious use. I'm a little late though........

Hi,There are so many software available for 3D printing and modeling. You want best and free software. I think you have to use CAD software services from Iannone 3D, who provides best FDM 3D Printing Services. in the New Jersey area. Recently I have taken the services from there.

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My favorite molding software is Onshape Its great because its cloud based and its on a website. I'm gong to upload a video soon about a part I designed in Onshape.
my channel https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCv2N_52Q6c_B6N1xhrqnKQQ

For creating industrial models i think that the best 3d software is freecad. I love the part editor , is very similar to solidworks. The program has got a lot of extra features. Additionally exist a lot of tutorials and documents for learn how to use it

Blender is alright I use it mainly for creating 3d objects and seeing them work in the same program. Some features include Logic bricks, animation, and so on. It's free software www.blender.org

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It's gotta be OpenSCAD, until it can be be customized, no thanks.

I think the app 3D Builder is good for 3D printing. It comes with every Windows 10 computer; and if you have Windows 8, you can download it on the Windows Store. I'm not sure if you can get it for Apple devices, but I would imagine that there's some 3D printing program like 3D Builder on the App Store.

Fusion 360. It should be free for most. It's both a CAD, free modeling, arkitechture, and has a lot of 3d printing support ;) I'm using solidworks right now, but i get it for free through my uni ;)

Free? Humbug! 30-day trial version. Most are not students here...

I've actually got Fusion360 free also. Free for non-commercial use, provided you re-register each year, and check the box saying you aren't using it commercially.

So far, though, I've done more in OnShape and DesignSpark Mechanical. I continue to find reasons to use both, each for a different type of work. I prefer OnShape for more parametric engineering type designs, which is most of what I do. DSM works well for quick things where I'm going to be working more in 3D, sort of "freehand", and not designing precise dimension parts. DSM is also the best tool I've found for loading an existing STL and converting it back to a solid model to change it up. Not that I recommend doing this - STL was never meant to be used that way, and the results are never as good as starting with a real model as the source. OnShape can't do that at all, and I don't think the free version of Fusion360 will either.

onshape.com -- Startup from some of the engineers at solidworks, its an excellent and robust design suite.

Sorry - this it not free. 10 private documents is ridiculous. And the the rest is public? In first, I want to design for my own. I want to decide what is going to public. This free is nothing more than a free trial. And the next step is way too much: 100 bucks for a month .

That's one of the problems with these new cloud-based applications. Fusion 360 is the same way. They claim it's for easy access to your data, but the problem is, you are forced to put most of your private intellectual property on their servers very early on...

Their philosophy of "all your data are belong to us" is unacceptable to those of us who remember a world where property rights and individual freedom were a prized part of our culture. Unfortunately, that has been slowly and steadily undermined in recent years and decades.

Thingiverse itself, owned by Makerbot, who have been assimilated by the evil empire named Stratasys, have recently become untrustworthy guardians of our intellectual property. I strongly suggest you check that out for yourself. There is a reason why some of the previous top designers who posted their works on Thingiverse have taken everything down and placed it on other sites they currently see as more trustworthy.

Hello KDan. Some very interesting information you gave me there.
During the spam flood some weeks ago I was about to pick my pack and leave.
I sure will make some serious thoughts about it a again.

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I think, it's time to discuss the principle of "free".
"Free" in my opinion is: no hidden or future costs. No light version, no trial version.
You have the same with online games.
You can play for free, but when you want to progress, you have to invest.


Student-only versions unavailable to 99% of the world aren't trustworthy.

Trial versions which will die in a limited time aren't trustworthy.

Cloudware which jealously guards access to the program and your own source files on the publisher's whim is not trustworthy.

Crippleware which only gives you 2 projects of 5 parts each and hides export features behind the paywall is not trustworthy.

Nagware which harasses you for money is not trustworthy.

Adware which fills your work area with targeted ads to pinch a few pennies off your attention isn't trustworthy.

They are not trustworthy in the literal sense that, when you need them, they won't always be available to do what you need.

All of these can be useful temporarily, in a pinch, for one thing. But not for serious use.

I agree 100%
That's why I still use OpenSCAD.

I tried FreeCAD, but the object parameters are a bit hidden.
I shall give it a bit more focus. Looks it has some potential.
But everything I created I was able to do with OpenSCAD.

Really free and good programs are rare.

I'll check it out!

I'm using OnShape - no need to 'steal' it - it's free and fully-featured. I'm always at my workstation when I design so there's no need for it to be available to me offline (so having it web-based doesn't bother me). It's history-based and all my stuff is stored on the cloud (which has its pros and cons, of course). If I ever decide to start my own company and don't want almost all of my work to be public, I will can 'rent' an infinite amount of private storage for just 100 bucks a month. This is a drop in the bucket compared to other professional software.

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Quote: " I will can 'rent' an infinite amount of private storage for just 100 bucks a month." Aha! so not quite free : )

Nah, it's still 100% free for you and me... it's entirely up to you if you want to take your work into a private cloud. They're not a charity (AFAIK) so they need to pay their mortgages somehow, right? Otherwise, I think they meet a satisfiable definition of 'free' :)

Any software without a 'file -> save as' menu cannot be considered "free" in a reasonable definition. It's a trap. They can and will take your stuff from you to make money on a whim.

Why not take it into a private not-cloud? Or do you not have the option of controlling your own files in any way except paying?

If you are using Solidworks, you probably will like Designspark Mechanical. It's free offspring of Spaceclaim. Easy to use, user-friendly with simple tricks you can use and edit step source files. And for me best thing is amf file format witch eliminate all of irritating stl artefacts. If you like stl you can still export to stl of course.

We have small company and we are using this as our basic 3D designing software. As far it's working good for us, and in the future we probably go for full Spacelaim package.

My current choice is OnShape. I don't really like that it is cloud and browser based. I've had cases where I would like to work on a design, but have no network connection. I prefer the parametric and history based approach it uses, combined with direct modeling also. It isn't perfect, but works best for my style of design of all the free options I've tried. There are no limitations as far as features and functionality, and if you make all your documents public, you won't run out of space with the free version. I haven't tried Fusion 360, so I can't comment on that. FreeCad leaves too much lot to be desired in features, quality, and ease of use. DesignSpark Mechanical is probably the best free offline design tool, but doesn't have history, features, and version control, like OnShape. DesignSpark Mechanical may be easier for people with less engineering/cad experience, and could still be used for serious work. For the real novice, TinkerCAD is easiest to use, but not suitable for serious work. The TinkerCAD approach has serious limitations, although with enough effort pretty sophisticated designs can still be achieved. It is web only, just like OnShape, but more of a toy than a serious tool. I find it much easier for me to accurately design in OnShape vs a tool like TinkerCAD. I've also used SketchUp, and it works ok, but I find it hard to go back and change something early in a design, without causing more trouble that it is worth, and usually would just start over. It may be, that for me, I'm just more used to the OhShape style paradigm for work and design, with features, history, etc.

It's free for students... and I'm a student, I've got a special licence

Solidworks is the best for me ! Keep working on it

Sorry, where is Solidworks free? The only free download I saw is the 30 days trial...

No wonder why people say, professional software is so expensive.

We use CamWorks, for posting G-code on our Machining Centers.
CamWorks is a plug-in for SolidWorks.

We paid $35,000 for just one seat of CamWorks in 2013.
The software has paid for it's self, and was well worth it for us.

3DS MAX. You can do animations and with their new software, you can create movable objects with many .STL files. You can get 3 years of it free if you sign up using student.

Good god. Of all the strange interpretations of "free" this is the oddest yet.


You also get all of their software for free for 3 years including a dynamics program, all-in-one program called fusion. Tons of stuff.

This thread is becoming next to useless. Everyone is casting a vote for what they use - which in many cases is clearly the ONLY 3D CAD program they've used. How can that qualify anyone to claim that the program they are using is the best? The only useful comments here are from people who've used several of the packages listed here - and be able to prove it by describing some of the details of the one's they've rejected.

Just because you tried nagCAD or cloudCAD or kiddieCAD, etc, and can draw a box with a hole in it doesn't it doesn't make it the best...

The idea of "Best" is very hard to quantify anyway. For me it's the program that allows me to be able to model and interact with my design in the most direct manner. Speed and versatility of modelling tools is most important to me. The primary requirements for other people will quite possibly be different.

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"I'm used to using Solidworks and I've yet to find a free modeling program that I like enough to even think about designing a complicated part with. <<<What is your favorite free design software and why?>>>" - MechEngineerMike


Check out OnShape as it's very similar to SolidWorks and it's free!

FreeCAD is the best free CAD program (Opensource) available.
Its constraint based editing makes lining things up accurately very good. Its most CAD-like in this respect.
Version 0.15 is latest. Start in the "Part Design" workbench and check out some Youtube Videos.
I have made many respectably CAD-style engineering parts using this s/w. Also has many other useful CAD aspects.

For creating polygonal, watertight, ready-to-print models you can't beat Wings3D (Opensource, Lua based).
The winged edge based modeller guarantees watertight, topologically correct models. Sketchup uses a broken version of winged edge structure. They corrupted it so they could load in obj files made by anyone and therefore not topo correct. So they immed lost the adv of winged edge and as a result so many skp models are not usable at all.

For programming you can't go past OpenSCAD. Its basically a simple CSG modeller but works very very well at this specific task. Its still at the start of its path but does this one thing very well. Well supported by docs, cheat sheet(must have) and Youtube. And of course this very site has the Customizer (sep docs).

as usual YMMV.

I use DesignSpark free which is based on Spaceclaim, it is intuitive : means i could find my way around it without looking to the manual, i just saw some videos.

Hi there.

123D design is personal my favorite. It can be used on iOS OS X and windows.
it is free except if you want to be able to use more of the procreated objects you can use.
I awesomely like it because it is extremely easy to use and design. There are just few steps which need to be discovered before use. like some sort of lofts and others.
hers the link for download.

Found this on facebook.

Parasolid-based Mechanical CAD, for free. You read that right. Unfettered use of the entire Onshape system for up to 5GB and five private documents at a time is completely free, and a mere $1200/yr for unlimited documents. That’s right folks, the much ballyhooed Onshape just stepped into the ring swinging, and they are poised to cause a shake-up the likes of which haven’t been seen since Gangsta’s Paradise was a number one hit.

Onshape’s beginnings

Since stepping down as co-founder and CEO of SolidWorks in 2011, the venerable Jon Hirschtick (aka The J-Hirsch) has been oddly quiet. We always envisioned him living in a smoke-filled yurt two hundred miles outside Ulaanbataar milking goats and living off the land. We were way off. As it turns out, he’d been amassing an Dream Team of MCAD and cloud tech elite under the intriguingly nondescript “Belmont Technologies” moniker. Fast forward a couple of years and Belmont becomes Onshape, suddenly revealing that they’ve built a team of over forty engineers, an army of interns, and six of the eight top leadership slots filled with SolidWorks top brass from years gone by.

Their project: a collaborative, 100% browser-based, parametric MCAD system, built from the ground up to run on any platform or device. No installs, service packs or registration codes.

It’s hard to overstate what a monumental accomplishment this is. Parasolid was architected for workstation computing, not distributed cloud computing, so the mere act of adapting the kernel for efficient use across a server rack is an eye opener in itself. Add to that the fact that they’ve built a surprisingly responsive MCAD UI around it that’s cross-browser and mobile compatible from day one, and what they’ve achieved in such a comparatively short time is truly humbling. (Cue the pitter-patter of a thousand face-palms echoing across a Boston suburb.)

Cool technology, no doubt, but the real kicker? Brass tacks.

I'm not sure you understand what "free" means. It does not mean trialware, ransomware, nagware, or crippleware, and it certainly doesn't mean $1200/year.

I can't tolerate Fusion 360 anymore. It looked very promising, but I have a slow DSL connection and it takes forever to do things. I assume that OnShape will have the same problem, since both are cloud based. I really don't want my private designs stored on "the cloud" anyway.

I'm back to DesignSpark Mechanical. It never nags, or requires monthly payment if you use it for business. It's definitely not crippled (except maybe the missing loft function). No trial period. It's FREE.

Onshape is none of these. i have around 100 designs done in onshape for free, yes they are changing their free version, but it is still free and full function and you are not limited by time or function so their is a free version. and if i was at the point that i was going to pay for any cad, i would pay the 1200/yr, I did just get fusion 360 full version completely free also. all you have to do is read and be able to understand and comprehend. (Something that seems very hard for todays americans)

https://www.tinkercad.com/. It's online so you don't have to risk damage to your computer.

I wanted to share my favorite 3D modelling software because it hasn't been mentioned yet. (Although to be fair, it isn't free). For $200 you can get a lifetime license to 3D System's "Cubify Design", seen here: http://bit.ly/1QIn3fz

This software is reminiscent of Solidworks and I've used it for professional use at a small engineering company. I liked it so much that I bought it for myself too! You can import: IGES, STEP, SAT, DXF, DWG, and export: STL. You can also make 2D drawings of your models and export those in dwg, dxf, or pdf. (It's what I used to make the drawing of the PCB vice on my page).

Also, I wanted to say thank you to everyone for the overwhelming number of other great recommendations in this thread! I hadn't heard of many of these programs, so this question has been immensely useful!

One of the things that piqued my interest in DesignSpark Mechanical was this video -
which was done by Hoffman Engineering - a long time Solidworks user.
Right up front in the video, he says what you basically said - that most of the free options just seem "lacking". DSM was the first program that made him "stop and go WOW - that is incredible". (His quote)

The people who are commenting on other programs who have never used SolidWorks, do not have a true perspective on what professional tools are.

The only other programs which are sometimes "free" that I consider to be in the same general league as SolidWorks are OnShape, and Fusion 360. From an ease of use and ease of learning perspective, I still stand by my assessment that DesignSpark Mechanical is the best choice. The only important shortcomings I've found with DSM is the intentional omission of a blend function, and the lack of a text tool. When I need text, I use Sketchup and then import the .skp file into DSM.

One other important feature that a professional tool needs is the ability import STEP files - which is the industry standard for 3D CAD geometry. DSM imports them as "locked" by default, but there is a very simple workaround that allows you to unlock them and make them fully editable. The trick is described in the comments of the video linked above. I use it all the time to make further edits on models in order to make them more 3D printing friendly when guys at work give me models they've created in SolidWorks or some other high end CAD program.

The Solidworks guys at work are always amazed at how fast I can create new parts or modify their designs for 3D printing. Clearly, DSM is not the versatile powerhouse that Solidworks is, but as a tool specifically focused on creating parts for 3D printing, it is hard to beat.

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+1 for Design Spark Mechanical. I use this software extensively for 3D printing and design.

Also re: lack of text tool mentioned, workaround is to use the dimension tool, add any dimension, then just edit/overwrite the text. Then its easy to just move the annotation layer up a bit (raise Z height) and use the "Project" tool on the text.

200 $ can buy a one up 3d printer kit

there not good but still

"What's the best free ?"

"For only $200..."

Someone didn't read the question.

i back you up completely

Thanks Corona, but I actually started this Thingiverse group with that question in mind, so let me explain.

I'm a cheapskate engineer who has been spoiled with Solidworks (a $7,000 program) at work. I wanted something affordable and 'functionally comparable' for home and side business use, so I started looking at the various free 3D modeling programs out there. I have concluded that there aren't any currently available free software's that would adequately serve light duty engineering or business purposes.

Not to say that those programs are terrible or that I wouldn't recommend them to a kid, an art student, or someone with a passing interest in 3D modelling. But this IS a group titled "Engineering", and 3D modelling software is an important tool that takes a non-trivial amount of time to learn. The program you use should be selected carefully.

For those of us looking for a high-value/low-cost tool that allows you to get the job done without dealing with I-Have-A-Crappy-Tool-Problems, I have recommended Cubify Design. I consider this program to be a good investment (even for $200) because my time is valuable. So even though it is not free, I thought it worth sharing.

did i mention that onshape is from the designers of solidworks and the stl files are always solid

Since you say "serious use", here's another voice in support of OpenSCAD for slightly different reasons.

Thingiverse is strewn with horrible(polygons missing, doubled, and 0.0 width, with polygon normals facing every which way), over-complicated(everything rounded for the sheer hell of it, making future edits impossible; or flat planes tessellated in ways to sicken Penrose himself), irreparably broken STL's made by some free visual CAD or other. I think these are a consequence of the visual method of editing -- like re-editing a jpeg, you're chopping up the same 3d mesh over and over, with every hole you cut shattering it into a messier state with no way to go back.

OpenSCAD is very very very good at subtracting without generating these errors, but also, it generates the object anew every time you hit F5 based on instructions -- which don't degrade. It's still possible to work it into a corner but treating it right will almost always avoid it. (Mostly, don't try to make anything 0.000001 mm thin.)

It also has a lot of nice features which would take far too long to go into in detail. For starters its by-the-numbers, which avoids tedious hand-editing if you need to make minor changes to the dimensions of a finished object, but everyone knows that. Two lesser-known features I greatly depend on are the hull() operator and the 2d subsystem.

When you want an irregularly shaped casing, you use hull(). Draw a small sphere everywhere you want a corner, wrap hull() around them all, and you've got a filled solid.

And the 2D subsystem is great. Ever fought with a 3d object trying to cut just one more hole through it, when its face is already shattered into 2134157 pixel-wide polygons? Does most of your object have a regular cross-section? Design that cross-section in 2D, holes and all, then extrude it into a 3d shape, and finish up. Polygons don't get generated until you extrude it, which avoids painting yourself into a corner like that. OpenSCAD can generate dxf files for 2d objects, too, I made a Y axis by printing one out on paper, pasting to wood, and drilling holes.

Oh, and of course, the quality system. Ever design an object then realize "This is going to print really chunky, I should have used more sides". In a visual editor this often means rebuilding the object from scratch. In OpenSCAD it means setting $fs and $fa to smaller numbers then hitting f5.

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Hey, thanks for the irrelevant spam!

Hi MechEngineerMike,

As some already suggest Onshape could be usefull.

Another program i've found handy to use is Autodesk Fusion 360, comes for both PC and Mac. It's totally free for educational use, aswell as for hobbyists and for start-ups ( if you stay under like $100.000 or something).


check out this program. its still in beta stages but very interesting development direction.

yeah i just heard about that. I wasn't able to get it to install on my mac though.... :( I'll have to give it another go because it seems like a pretty cool approach to parametric modelling

Here is the best tip any of you will ever get! Onshape. Cloud based and VERY capable. it is in beta so they add new features every 3 weeks and they listen to their community and prioritize accordingly. You would be crazy not to get on this bus!!!
Also you can upload and download most major file especially solidworks.

Solid Edge is okay for modeling technical piezes

Use TInkercad It is one of the best modeling software around

Freecad ( http://www.freecadweb.org/) is more than usable and is similar in many respects to Catia/Solidworks

it is good for part design but it still sucks for assemblies

I have been using Autodesk Fusion 360. It is free to use. It is versatile.

Fusion 360 is a good choice for someone who qualifies to use it for free. But it's not free for everyone. Quite frankly, I abhor any software that tries to charge you a recurring monthly fee. No way I'd be paying $40 per month to use it. Even the "free" license is term limited. They could cancel that option at any time. It is also cloud based, as is OnShape. It needs an internet connection.
That said, Fusion 360 is very powerful. Overkill for 3D printing models probably. I do like it, but I keep coming back to DesignSpark Mechanical for most 3D printing jobs. It is not as powerful as Fusion 360, but I find it faster to create parts with. I recently discovered the "trick" to unlocking STEP files from other programs loaded into DSM. This really opens doors for me to be able to edit files from other people that they'd like me to print.

FreeCAD and Sketchup are not in the same league as either of the above. I've tried both, and still use Sketchup on rare occasions.

OpenSCAD is awesome for what it is. It is useful for purely parametric designs. But, it doesn't allow for the same rapid interactive part creation and realtime visual feedback the way that push-pull direct modellers do.

KDan, unless they have changed Fusion 360 It is free to individuals, not business. After the 30 day trail, You simply keep using it by telling Autodesk you are a student, enthusiast, hobbyist, and start up.

I have been using Fusion for almost 5 months and have not paided 1 cent. I do not mind it is a cloud base service.

I am wondering the same thing. I dont know if you can make with m3d's software.

I talked with a co-worker today who was tasked with learning Solidworks. He really doesn't have a 3D design or even much of a CAD background. I could see that he was struggling to make what I thought were pretty simple parts. He's been playing with it on/off for a few weeks. The managers figured that because it was so expensive and so widely used, it MUST be the best program for designing prototypes for 3D printing. Plus, we have a site license, so they didn't have to buy it for him.
I invited him over to my desk to see what I could do with DesignSpark Mechanical. He was stunned - to put it mildly...

I had designed the part in less than 10 minutes that he'd been struggling with for days (and still didn't have).

He really wants to switch to DesignSpark Mechanical now, but is afraid that management / engineers will thumb their nose up at it because it's "free" and maybe even get mad at him for not completing the task assigned (learning Solidworks). They have an ego and probably won't be anxious to admit they were wrong about the selection of the best software for the job.

Interesting problem.

Just curious how that whole thing turned out...

Then tell them to invest in Spaceclaim.. It's nowhere near free.. (and the same software with all the bells and whistles) Win-Win!!!! The new version is really pointing toward 3D printing.. You can also open and modify SW and Rhino models.. (now STL modification) Show them that.. lol

Personally, I use Openscad (because it works with Customizer). Additionally, it can simplify repetitive tasks present in other cad programs. Interface is clean and simple, and there's not many weird navigation shenanigans (just F5 to preview, F6 to render accurately, and mouse to move the rendered object.

Alternatively, sketchup is pretty good/ intuitive, but it is very easy to mess up the file so it doesn't work well for 3d printing (or at least requires a pass through netfabb). Additionally, stl export requires an extension, unless you want to pay for the pro version.

I never really used blender due to its high learning curve, but it seems promising if one were to give some time into learning it.

Hey, I'm new in this group, I've made a few cool things, and I have to say my favorite software is Sketchup, for more complicated stuff, and tinkercad.com for easier stuff, that for some reason is harder in more complicated software. If you do decide to use Sketchup, you need to get an extension for making helix's. You should be able to find one in Sketchup's extension warehouse. Also, get the extension solid checker, or something like that. There are two versions, get the newest one if you can, because it has auto cleanup and repair to shapes in case of glichy 3D printing because of extra lines or faces.

I've used:
DesignSpark Mechanical: for a while my favorite. A direct modeler, so no parametric design history like you might be used to in SolidWorks. Good for what it is, but I'm skeptical of RS Components' interest in keeping it maintained. Updates are rare, and recent updates have, for example, removed the Loft extrude command, which seems more like a downgrade.
OpenSCAD: good for a certain style of mechanical design, and if you are comfortable with programming. Not by any means a SolidWorks-style CAD system. Thingiverse Customizer uses it.
Autodesk Fusion 360: free for startups and non-commercial use. My current go-to modeler. Parametric/history based, you should feel comfortable with it coming from SolidWorks. More powerful than their 123D Design, which seems more introductory. Good surfacing support with integrated T-Splines. Mac and Windows.
Onshape: very interesting web-based system created by a bunch of ex-SolidWorks guys. Similar in power to Fusion 360, but without T-Splines. In beta, but invitations arrive quickly when requested. Limited to 5 "active" models for free, but you can deactivate/activate models as needed. All platforms, since it is accessed through a browser.
Sketchup: easy to get started with, but mesh-based, so results sometimes require clean up to be manifold. A lot of people use it on Thingiverse and do some very impressive things with it, but personally I'd recommend sticking with a solid modeler.
Specifically, as someone coming from SolidWorks, I'd recommend looking at Fusion 360 and Onshape.

For those of you who have not used DesignSpark Mechanical, you might find this video eye-opening.

Only way to fly!!!! It's not just some random free software.. Downgraded version of Spaceclaim!! Not cheap software! Still very full featured!

If you're a student, you can get Inventor Pro 2015 as well as several other Autodesk programs for 3 years for free.

i recommend for fast and simple builds

Best and free for commercial use:

  • DesignSpark Mechanical - parametric modeling

  • Blender 3d 2,5+ (is currently Blender 2,73a) - cross platform suite of tools for 3D creation

  • DesignSpark PCB - electronic circuit and pcb design

Blender 3d - suitable for modifying files stl

Checkout onshape.com . It's made by the same guys that started solidworks and works very similarly. It's currently beta right now but it's looking good.

Sister topic:

Best design software/app to use on the go. Any good mobile design software out there????


Yes, there is. Onshape is actually quite good. They have an app on iPad and on Android, both of which are (nearly) fully functional. I am just assuming for Android, as I haven't tried it yet, but I actually use the iPad app in preference to my laptop. A drawback is that it is cloud based, so you need an internet connection, but that can also be an advantage. It instantly updates(and by this I mean you can watch on another computer) so multiple people can work on it simultaneously, and there is no device constraint. Only minor features are missing, like section view and derived(so far, they update frequently), but those are easy enough to sort out on a computer. The app, aside from those few things, remains almost identical in function to a laptop/browser version. It is completely free, depending on the plan you get, but the only limitations are a limited number of active private documents, the rest being inactive or public. No download is required on the computer, but a small app is required for mobile(also free) along with an account(which likely you'll get free). Honestly, if you don't mind being temporarily chained to wi-fi, this a great app for on the go CAD.

It is difficult to beat Solidworks. Im currently using the free version of Sketch up. There was a learning curve for me coming from Solid works, but one night it all just seemed to click and now I really like it. I especially like all the plugins that people write for it. I would love it if it would run under Linux. Can't stand windows.

yes i use Sketch up too, having Ubuntu i only use windows for it.
I suggest you Sketch up, is very intuitive and easy tu use.
Is there any CAD for ubuntu?

I have found Designspark Mechanical to my preferred free software.. I have Spaceclaim too which has more bell and whistles.. Very good for mechanical parts.. Not so good for organic.. Depends on what you looking to make I guess.

+1 on DesignSpark Mechanical. I tried Sketchup and FreeCad first. I was about to commit myself to FreeCAD when I found DesignSpark Mechanical. No contest. DSM is not a mesh modeller like most of the other free options, all surfaces are planes or mathematically defined curves. There are no triangles or polygon meshes in your part until you export the model as an STL. Pretty hard to make a model with flaws in it. Thingiverse is filled with bad models created by beginners using mesh modellers. Non-manifold parts with un-joined geometry, non co-planer surfaces, etc. DSM is way faster to both learn and use from my perspective.

Thankyou for bringing this to my attention. It looks promising.

No problem.. I think it's way better than Sketchup.. Spaceclaim is devoted to solid modeling, Google is not.. lol DS is just a scaled down version of Spaceclaim.

I once asked a Solid works rep if they had any plans to release a watered down version of Solid works at a price hobbyists could afoard and he looked at me like I had spit on him. I told him that I thought they were overlooking a huge market and besides, you never know where the next big startup will come from. Better to get us all addicted to Solid works than to let open source get a foot hold.....not really, I am all for open source software, but I was really trying to convince him.

I think that's why they have Designspark.. Get you sucked in then hit you with the price when you need more features.. They really need to advertise more though.. I ran across them by accident. If you upgrade to Spaceclaim, the import file list is awesome though.. SW, Rhino, Catia, ect.. You can even modify and export back to Rhino and SW I believe. Lacking in DS.. lol

The trick is to make it pay for itself. I own a lot of tools and I acquired them over many years and with money made largely from the sale of craft and hobby items. While on active duty I built retirement shadow boxes. Funny thing, I don't have one myself.

I use to have access to Solid works through the company I was working for. They went through some financial stress and let about 30 of us go. It did not seem to matter that I had given them six patents. My first week on the job I solved a problem that had plagued them for at least eight years. Most of the people they kept were the ones directly responsible for their financial stress.

Because of that I no longer work for engineering companies. I am currently developing products of my own, but need to wait two more years before I can safely file for patents without fear that they will try to claim the work as theirs.

I once took a class in ceramics at a base arts and crafts center. I was the only guy sitting at a long table with about a dozen or so women all working on their projects. I was sitting there painting some details on a piggy bank that I was making for my nephew when the woman across from me suddenly got very interested in what I was doing. Hey girls, check out the detail on this guys piggy bank. Several of them got up and walked over to me. I turned the bank around to show them the details I was painting and that is when one of them asked me what kind of brush I was using. I held it up and said, its one of those .99 jobs that I use for painting model cars. One of the women said, "well I have a $25.00 sable hair brush and I can't paint like that".

I looked up from my work, held the brush out infront of me again and said, " it isn't the brush that matters, but rather the hand that holds it".

You can imagine how well that went over.

Modeling programs are a lot like paint brushes. Just pick one you can aford and practice with it until you get really good with it. Jumping from program to program will make you a Jack of all trades, master of none.

Where did you say this Art Class is with all these women?

It is now in my distant past - regretably.

For the most quick and dirty, but also for some complex items I use OpenSCAD.
When I have to edit an OBJ or 3DS file I use Hexagon.

FreeCAD supports a lot of features that SolidWorks does including constraint-based sketching. It seems to support assemblies. I think it is probably the best out there at the moment if you want "free" as in speech.

Hey Mike , I'm using Autodesk Inventor, i do not have any experience in other programs to give you a comparison but Inventor has been really great. Student edition is free to use ! Main reason for me choosing this software , first choice was Solidworks but im not selling my car for solidworks.

Solidworks is also available as a student addition, for 99 bucks last I checked. I find inventor to cluttered. The local universitie robotics lab had been using inventor, then I introduced them to Solidworks and they dropped inventor.

Inventor has a much steeper learning curve.

CNC Programmer, We use CamWorks.

I use blender for 3d CGI, it's a bit of an ungainly beast to master, and people get a bit scared about not having to use real world units, but it has a great toolset for modelling.. and I think there's an STL exporter too.

I remember back in the day I used Blender3D to animate and create movies and renders from STL files I imported.

Blender3D might be a good option for modifying STL files downloaded, I'm not sure if it allows that but importing and Exporting STLs is a good start.

I just fired up the latest version.....
and it has an STL option in the file menu under import and export :-)
it might be an addon, or possibly not activated by default.
but it's possible.
I'm used to CAD (acad, inventor, solidworks, revit et al) from work and the blender workflow is a bit...weird.
but it is an excellent program and well supported.

if you want to go nuts you can use luxrender to make unbelievably photo realistic renders of your things before actually making the thing...

not that there is much point as even the slowest printer will spit out a piece long before lux has reached an acceptable quality.

Please consider Creo Elements Personal Edition, I use that a lot now and I find it pretty usable.

It has relations like SolidWorks / ProE, its NOT history based, it is direct modeling.

It has a few quirks, most annoying is having to go online once every 48 hours for PTC to grant a license, but I am quite taken by it.

I've not used it for drawing (flatwork) or dimensioning yet.

If you download a copy you can find some example files on my Thingiverse site.

To counteract a recent statement that many commenters on this thread have only used the package they recommend I've used (in no particular order):
ProE Wildfire
ProE Creo,
3D Studio.
Creo Elements Express

I recommend Creo Elements Express as a free 3D Modelling package.

bathrobotics - you are clearly an exception. But I stand by my statement that many of the people commenting here that a particular CAD package is "the best free CAD software" when what they are recommending is clearly inferior to many of the other options.
I see you are a fan of non-history based push-pull direct modelling. I also believe that is the future of 3D modelling. DesignSpark Mechanical is also that type of modeller - being based upon SpaceClaim which uses the Spatial geometry engine. Spaceclaim and Spatial working together are the ones who invented this modelling approach. Of course, there have been numerous other CAD packages who have adopted or licensed the technology since then.

Creo Elements looks interesting - I'll give it a look-see. That is one I haven't tried.

OK.. So I sampled Creo Elements today for a few hours.. Doesn't seem like bad software, but no DS by any means.. In watching a few videos it might have a couple perks over DS so I'll keep it on the computer if I ever need it.. Just doesn't seem as intuitive as DS.. Always have to click the check mark when you are done moving or pulling something.. Just too many steps..

I use FreeCAD a lot, it is an open-source parametric CAD modeler. It is similar to AutoCAD so I've heard, and I find it very useful for working with solid designs (like .step files). FreeCAD can be a bit awkward to learn and it has some bugs, though, but otherwise it's some very nice software.
I also use OpenSCAD often for my designs, being a computer programmer myself made learning it easier.

OpenSCAD is my favorite solid modelling software. It also happens to be open source. It's a programming language so it's infinitely extensible and is always as precise as you want to be. It's got more of a learning curve to use and doesn't necessarily have all of the features that exist in other software (but you can always write a tool to create that functionality!). OpenSCAD is not just a tool for making shapes, it is also a tool for making tools for making shapes. This means that if you don't have the right tool at hand, you can create it, which is something that is harder and sometimes impossible for other 3D modelling tools. The downside is it's not a GUI interface where you can edit designs visually which can be a big barrier for some users.

One nice upside is that all designs created in OpenSCAD can be used with the Thingiverse Customizer app, making the design much more accessible to a much wider audience since it can be used/modified without any background in 3D design or access to or knowledge of a particular software package.

The OpenSCAD project is also actively developed by a group of dedicated volunteer programmers. This means that if you want a feature that can't be created by the existing tools, you can make a request and have a say in what features show up in the future. This is so much better than the proprietary tools, where features are decided on behind closed doors.

I am not in love with openscad but it suits me best, programming is easier than fidling in freecad (that one confuses me).

+1, I've done a lot of things in OpenSCAD.

I'm a fan of SketchUp primarily for precision and accuracy. Guides and learning about the inference feature brings me back each time I try to get away.

SketchUp is a bit clunky out of the box and may not the most user friendly for 3D parts. Customize the shortcut keystrokes and installing a few plugins (Curviloft, Round Corners, Solid Inspector) definitely helps the experience. Learn about the inference features... guide lines are fairly self explanatory.

123D is promising. Definitely simplifies things like lofting and fillet to generate some fairly interesting 3D projects. I couldn't figure out how to create guide lines and gain the precision... so back to SketchUp I went. :-)

Autodesk 123D Design is a pretty decent free program that preforms like a PTC Creo/Sketchup mix. Its not terrible for designs, but being able to incorporate the Meshmixer is pretty nice too.

+1, sorry, no "+1" button or "Like".

Have you come across any decent 123D Design tutorials? Coming from SketchUp and OpenSCAD I've had a hard time getting the hang of 123D but it looks like a great tool (and you can't beat the price).


If you start here it should get you on your way.