Macs are becoming increasingly popular for CAD so we’ve taken a look at the very best CAD software for Mac in 2018. Although there is still more Computer Aided Design software on Windows than on Mac, the gap is closing rapidly. User friendly design software such as the excellent SmartDraw make complex 2D CAD easier than ever and most industry leading 3D CAD apps such as AutoCAD are now available on Mac. Whatever your needs, budget or level, you’ll find something here to fit your needs so here are the best CAD for Mac apps out there in order of ranking.
If you’re looking for something powerful for 2D CAD design but without a steep learning curve, SmartDraw is the best 2D CAD software on Mac in terms of accessibility, value for money and ease of use. SmartDraw has been on the market for over 20 years with over 20 million downloads to date so it’s well established when it comes to all kinds of diagramming and design. For most of this time, it’s only been available to PC users as the desktop version is Windows only but the launch of SmartDraw Cloud means that Mac users can now use it too and it’s already proved extremely popular as an alternative to Microsoft Visio which isn’t available for Mac.
What’s made it so successful is that SmartDraw makes CAD design of all kinds extremely easy and has thousands of templates – 4,500 in all, although not all of these are CAD specific. There are however hundreds of Engineering and CAD templates that make it very easy to get started on things like architectural plans such as floorplans, office plans, landscape layouts and building designs. It’s also excellent for engineering diagrams such as mechanical engineering, civil engineering, electrical schematics and circuit diagram projects.
When it comes to scaled drawings for CAD, SmartDraw arguably does a better job than Visio but is far easier to use than industry giants such as AutoCAD (see AutoCAD for Mac review below). SmartDraw automatically calculates dimensions for you and you can draw to any scale using standard architectural, mechanical engineering and metric scales. You can easily toggle on and off real world dimensions to see exactly what size your drawings are in 1:1 scale:
What’s really useful is that SmartDraw can instantly change the dimensions of scaled drawings by manually entering new values into the dimensions which are displayed in the diagram.
This flexibility when it comes to scaling is one of the most useful features for CAD designers because you can switch dimensions, and even between metric, standard or customized measurements at any time without having to define it from the start. The same goes for printing – you can print to scale, a selected scale or multiple scales in one go.
Scaling in general has been thoughtfully implemented throughout SmartDraw with the ability to add annotation layers that will automatically adjust with scale changes to your drawings another useful feature. This is similar to the Page view available in most professional CAD applications and allows you to add the name of the project, designer, scale etc. This saves a lot of hassle re-sizing text and annotations when adjusting drawings and is another way that SmartDraw automates the often annoying fiddly aspects to CAD design.
Designing with SmartDraw is very easy via Drag & Drop and the amount of symbols and items you can add in SmartDraw is enormous with around 34,000 different objects that you can customize templates with as you build your designs. These can be anything from electronic components and computer peripherals to walls and windows, appliances, circuits and just about anything you can think of. As you add elements, SmartDraw also automatically “snaps” everything together to help keep your designs organized, symmetrical and connected.
If you want to import a design, SmartDraw supports the most common CAD format DWG plus AutoCAD’s DXF format (but unfortunately as yet not AutoCAD DWF files). You can import a DXF file such as a floor plan or wiring layout and use it as a background layer for designs.
You can also import and export Visio files with SmartDraw and it also supports more general formats such as PNG, WMF and BMP. SmartDraw can also export CAD designs to Microsoft Office and to online storage services such as Google Drive, OneDrive and Dropbox.
Beginners and intermediate CAD users will definitely like SmartDraw’s way of doing things although professional CAD designers may find it a bit lightweight and lacking in advanced CAD features. SmartDraw isn’t the kind of CAD software that caters for BIM needs or 3D printing designs for example and there’s a lack of things like transparency and lighting effect tools. You simply can’t get the stunning finishes that you get in 3D CAD software such as AutoCAD or TurboFloorPlan 3D but then again, SmartDraw isn’t catering for that market – it’s 2D only and it does 2D design very well indeed.
If you’re looking for something to help you produce 2D computer aided designs quickly without being bogged down in lots of advanced 3D modelling tools and features you don’t need, SmartDraw certainly makes CAD design surprisingly easy.
SmartDraw is available on a subscription basis but at $9.95 per month, it’s very reasonable considering there’s no need for expensive upgrades every few years like with most CAD software. If you go for the team version, you can get it for almost half price at $5.95 for up to 5 users and $4.95 for up to 10 users which is easily the cheapest professional level subscription based CAD software you’ll find anywhere. It may not be AutoCAD but then AutoCAD costs $50 a month – a huge difference.
AutoCAD is easily the most popular Windows CAD application on the market but it wasn’t until late 2013 that AutoDesk finally released AutoCAD for Mac. Although initially the Mac version wasn’t quite up to the Windows version, it’s now almost exactly the same. AutoCAD is still the industry leading CAD software for architects and designers, partly because it’s so powerful but also because it’s very user friendly for such a complex 3D CAD program. Rendering designs in AutoCAD for Mac produces probably some of the most stunning results on retina Macs you’ll see in any CAD application.
The latest version of AutoCAD for Mac supports 3D design, 3D printing and 2D drafting software with and includes XREF path mapping, select Express tools and PDF enhancements. Other enhancements include useful features such as Dynamic blocks to add flexibility and intelligence to block references, dynamic links to Excel documents, a layer state manager so you can save layer settings to share with others and full retina display support. The overall interface has also been designed to look more Mac like and suit the aesthetics of OS X.
There are however still some features missing in the Mac version compared to on PC such as Walkthroughs, High Resolution Graphic Support and Advanced Rendering Settings among others. There’s also no Ribbon interface in the Mac version which those that have used the Windows version may find hard to live without. We highly recommended you check this extensive AutoCAD for Windows v AutoCAD for Mac comparison chart before considering whether to go for AutoCAD for Mac. If you’re familiar with AutoCAD on Windows however and feel like you can live without the missing features on Mac, then AutoCAD for Mac is one of the best CAD software on the market, with unrivaled features and functionality.
In August 2016, Microsoft announced much closer integration between AutoCAD and Microsoft Visio (along with the release of Visio for iPad) making it much easier to data link complex AutoCAD diagrams into Visio. Unfortunately, this will only benefit Windows users as Visio is not available for Mac although there are ways to run Visio on a Mac.
Note that AutoCAD for Mac is a very powerful package and the AutoCAD for Mac system requirements are quite high. You need to be using OS X 10.10 Yosemite or higher and a minimum of 3GB of RAM (4GB is recommended).
If you’re a student or teacher of CAD and want to use a Mac, getting AutoCAD is a no-brainer because you can even get AutoCAD for Mac free with a 3 year educational license. For everyone else, AutoCAD is only available on a subscription model. AutoCAD for Mac for US users costs $50 per month or $380 per year. Note that your purchase only includes one license – you have to purchase other licenses for multiple users. If you’re not happy within 30 days of opening a subscription, you can also get your money back.
The move to subscription based payments is annoying for many users but is increasingly common in software nowadays although with software like AutoCAD, it at least means that you’ll have the latest version every year rather than having to pay a large lump sum for a new version. All upgrades and updates are included in subscriptions and are automatic. The maximum subscription period is 3 years, after which you have to start a new subscription. All subscription models come with a minimum of basic support but you can upgrade for advanced support. There are other advantages to an AutoDesk subscription too such as the ability to try products first and then cancel the subscription if you’re not happy, choose from single or multi-user access and access to previous versions of AutoCAD if you need them. Note that you can’t buy a standalone version of AutoCAD for Mac anymore as it is no longer available with ongoing perpetual licenses.
TurboCAD Pro for Mac is an incredibly powerful yet still reasonable accessible CAD application for Mac and it’s the most advanced version in the TurboCAD range for Mac users and is aimed at professional 2D and 3D CAD designers. You can do everything in TurboCAD Pro from something as simple as designing a bike to designing an entire building. There’s also the even more advanced TurboCAD Pro Powerpack which also includes things such as support for 3D printing, advanced design and BIM but it’s not available for Mac users so TurboCAD Pro is currently the best version of TurboCAD available for Mac.
TurboCAD is a major player on Windows providing strong competition for AutoCAD but it’s nowhere near as popular on Mac. TurboCAD is based on the same technology as the hugely popular SolidWorks (which isn’t available on Mac although there is a way to run SolidWorks on Mac) and is suitable for architects doing both 2D and 3D home designs. The Mac version is also surprisingly easier to use than TurboCAD Pro for Windows. If you’ve used TurboCAD on Windows, the Mac version is somehow far more intuitive and less intimidating but has all the same features. It’s also arguably easier to use than big industry packages allowing you to customize the palette and interface however you want, including allowing you to add desktop shortcuts.
TurboCAD Pro is similar to TurboCAD Deluxe (a more basic version of TurboCAD – see review below) with the same Solidworks engine and ViaCAD style interface but has more features such as a 64-bit user interface, better drawing performance with Integrated Redway drawing engine, Page Layout wizards, BOM and mating tools.
Although TurboCAD Pro doesn’t quite match-up to industry heavyweights such as AutoCAD and VectorWorks in terms of features, in terms of value for money TurboCAD can’t be beat when you consider you’re getting a CAD software that’s not far off the capabilities of AutoCAD for Mac. And whereas AutoCAD is subscription only at $360 per year, TurboCAD requires a one-time purchase of $499 (although you will have to pay for major updates).
For those that need a complete 3D CAD tool for use such as in building or contracting, TurboCAD Pro is an excellent choice. You can choose to buy TurboCAD Pro direct from the developer which includes the benefits of quicker updates or get TurboCAD Pro from the Mac App Store but you will have to wait longer for updates (which are free) and support with the Mac App Store version. You can also try a free 30 day trial of TurboCad Pro for Mac.
If your work is focused on building design or home design, TurboFloorPlan 3D Home & Landscape Pro is a tailor made, user friendly solution for Mac users. Although it’s marketed as a “professional” tool, it’s actually aimed at those with no CAD experience although the feature set is definitely sufficient for professionals and even seasoned interior designers and landscape architects may be surprised at what it can do. TurboFloorPlan 3D Pro covers everything from foundations, HVAC, electrical plans and plumbing to walls, doors, windows and roof design. You can also design patios, gardens and other extensions to a property.
A Quickstart wizard helps you get up and running quickly and adding and removing objects is simply a case of drag and drop. For armchair home designers or CAD professionals that want to whip-up a design in a hurry, TurboFloorPlan 3D is worth a closer look. TurboFloorPlan 3D Home & Landscape Pro costs $149.99 direct from the developer and is also available from the Mac App Store for $169.99 but you’ll get slower updates than buying direct from the developer. Note that there’s a more basic version called TurboFloorPlan 3D Deluxe for $99.99 although it isn’t suitable for professional CAD design.
MacDraft Pro is the professional version of MacDraft PE (see review later) with a more a more advanced multi-layered, scaled drawing environment. It’s suitable for mechanical, architectural and engineering professionals and supports AutoCAD and DWG/DXF format. You can drag and drop common CAD elements into your design with ease and is also suitable for designing brochures, magazines and even flyers. MacDraft Professional is surprisingly easy to use for a 2D CAD app and makes floor plan design, architectural drawing and illustration easier than complex CAD applications such as AutoCAD for Mac. MacDraft Pro has some very precise vector tools, smart units and has a fully-featured scaled environment. It does however lack a few basic features such as trimming arcs or circles which may its appeal to professional CAD designers and of course, it’s 2D only.
Although MacDraft Pro used to be available on the Mac App Store, it’s now only available directly from the developer Microspot for download at $314 which is relatively cheap for a fully featured CAD software on Mac. You can also purchase the CD version of MacDraft Pro for $349.
MacDraft Personal Edition (PE) is a simpler version of MacDraft Pro with a more basic toolset and functionality. It’s a very good starting point for beginners to 2D CAD as it’s much easier to learn than the big packages. It has a very limited library although you can purchase 2000 more from the developer website including architectural, electrical and graphic symbols. Although it’s aimed at beginners, the interface can be a little tricky to navigate at first and adding basic elements such as windows and doors isn’t as clear and straightforward as it should be. However, it doesn’t take long to get the hang of it and once you have, it’s surprisingly powerful.
Note that although the canvas should be big enough for most needs, MacDraft PE can’t produce drawings of smaller than about 17 inches and only supports a maximum of 5 Layers unlike the Pro version (see review below) which allows unlimited layers. It also does not support DWG and updates aren’t free like in the Pro version. If you’re on a limited budget and want an easy to use software, MacDraft PE is a good starting point. The latest version of MacDraft PE is no longer available on the Mac App Store – you have to purchase it direct from the developer Microspot for the $71 download version or you can also purchase the CD version of MacDraft PE for $79.
TurboCAD Deluxe for Mac is a user-friendly package ideal for designing floor plans, diagrams, and illustrations. One particularly nice feature is the ability to open 3D DWG (AutoCAD files) and even convert them into 2D with top and bottom side views. However, TurboCAD for Mac lacks BIM functionality and generally feels a bit lightweight as a CAD tool when compared to AutoCAD and VectorWorks. It can also be a bit unstable compared to the Windows version with sudden crashes and the dreaded spinning beach ball of death. However, overall TurboCAD is a good choice for those new to CAD as it has lots of online help and video tutorials to get you going. Like the Pro version, you can buy TurboCAD Deluxe direct from the developer with the advantage of quicker updates or get TurboCAD Deluxe from the Mac App Store with slower updates. Note that the developer also offers a similar product TurboCAD Designer for Mac $69.99 from the Mac App Store which is very similar to the Deluxe version but only suitable for 2D CAD.
For a full overview of the differences between TurboCAD Pro and TurboCAD Deluxe, check out the TurboCAD features comparison chart
ViaCAD 2D3D for Mac (confusingly sometimes referred to as “PunchCAD” too) is aimed at “prosumer” level CAD architects and designers. ViaCAD isn’t the easiest CAD software to get to grips with at first although there are extensive tutorials, they’re not very easy to follow. As a result, we only recommend ViaCAD for those with lots of experience with CAD applications or those that are on a budget but have a lot of time on their hands to learn how to use it properly. Note that ViaCAD 2D ($39.99 Mac App Store) is also available which is for 2D CAD only and ViaCAD Pro ($249.99 Mac App Store) which is for both 2D and 3D CAD and has a more advanced toolset.
Siemens NX (formerly known as Unigraphics) is an industry leading 2D and 3D CAD and industrial design software for both Mac and PC. Siemens NX is used by professionals worldwide for professional industrial and aerospace industries. Siemens NX is probably the leading PLM (Product Lifestyle Software) available for Mac and certainly the only true industrial class PLM software for Macs. Siemens NX is one of the few CAD software packages that also includes 4th generation 4GD technology to enhance and facilitate design on industrial assemblies. Another unique feature is synchronous technology for 2D which adds more intelligence to 2D data and enables users to edit multi CAD 2D files five times quicker. It’s impossible to list all the features and functionality of Siemens NX here but it’s safe to say it’s squarely aimed at industrial designers with an industrial budget.
The German based developer of ARES Commander Graebert has been in the CAD business for over 30 years although it was only in 2015 that it was finally released on Mac. ARES Commander is an industry leading CAD DWG German based software that has recently been updated to become a truly multi-platform CAD solution which and is an ideal choice for those that need to work across Windows, Mac and mobile devices off site. At just $250 per year, ARES Commander is also extremely competitive considering it’s almost as powerful as apps such as AutoCAD but costs significantly less. ARES Commander offers three versions for desktop, mobile and cloud which it calls The Trinity of CAD and one license is valid for all.
ARES Commander is the desktop version for Mac and PC, ARES Touch is for mobile and ARES Kudo is the Cloud version. ARES Touch is now available for iPad and iPhone and is one of the most fully featured CAD applications you’ll find on iOS. The well organized interface feels the same across all platforms with all the same functionality on Mac, Windows and mobile. The demand for DWG CAD software on Mac remains strong despite the explosion in 3D, BIM and PLM CAD software but ARES remains a good choice for Microstation users as it’s one of the few that supports DGN. ARES Commander for Mac also allows you to import DGN (Microstation) files, essential for civil and landscape architects. ARES Commander feels remarkably like AutoCAD with DWG as its native format although it’s not very intuitive to use at first. One nice touch is Quick Input which automatically provides angles, dimensions, options and other useful data as you design to help you make sure your designs are accurate.
ARES Commander features a number of useful tools such as QuickModify which allows you to combine several commands into one. So for example, you can combine rotate, move, copy and cut into one command if that’s an action that you perform frequently. This is surprisingly useful and increases productivity by reducing the amount of mouse clicking you need to. Thanks to the open API, you can also create custom functions and plugins based on VSTA, C, Delphi and other languages.
What really distinguishes it from AutoCAD and most other professional solutions is the price however. At just $250 per year including all updates, ARES Commander is easily the cheapest subscription based professional level CAD software out there for Mac. For $995, you can get a flexible license which allows you to share it with more users on your network – a big saving if you’re working in a team of architects or designers. Whichever plan you use, you also get access to ARES Touch which also allows you to design on iPad, iPhone and Android devices.
You can download a free trial of ARES Commander.
Autodesk Fusion 360 is made by the creators of AutoCAD and the replacement for Autodesk Inventor which was aimed at the “prosumer” CAD market. Autodesk Fusion 360 is being aimed at professionals but unlike AutoCAD, it’s entirely cloud based. This means that you cannot save files locally – you have to save everything online so unlike AutoCAD you’re tied into the cloud for storage and editing of files and Autodesk’s monthly or annual subscription model. The advantage of this however is that you get regular free updates which often include new features and you don’t need to buy a new standalone version of Autodesk ever again. It also means should anything happen to your Mac, you’ll always have a backup of your work and designs online. Also of course, you can use it anywhere, on any Mac as long as you have your Autodesk login details which could be an advantage for those that work offsite a lot on different Macs.
The interface of Fusion 360 is clearly ported straight from Windows but it’s generally excellent for 3D design and CAM. The use of T-Splines and Sculpt environment in particular makes it easy to conceptualize and model and it’s excellent for 3D printing. Bizarrely though, there’s no integration with other Autodesk products except 3D Meshmaker for 3D printing designs. Like AutoCAD for Mac, Autodesk Fusion 360 is only available on a subscription model for $40 per month or $300 per year.
VectorWorks for Mac is one of the most popular CAD programs for Mac and supports both 2D and 3D design. VectorWorks is very hot on BIM and feels more accessible than AutoCAD because it’s been designed with beginners, as well as professionals to CAD in mind. The interface uses a clean WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) format which makes designing easier to conceptualize and get to grips with AutoCAD. Although VectorWorks is most commonly used for Architecture and especially Construction Engineers, it can be used for any CAD task making it a very flexible but still powerful piece of CAD software. Some of the highlights of VectorWorks include graphical scripting tools, intelligent objects and a superbly implemented virtual reality feature. Also ahead of the curve is VectorWorks Marionette which intelligently uses algorithms to shape design forms and customizations. Like AutoCAD, if you’re a student, you can also apply for a free VectorWorks license.
ArchiCAD for Mac is one of the industry leading packages for CAD. ArchiCAD is unique in that it uses the Maxon CINEMA 4D rendering engine to for photo realistic rendering. It was also one of the first packages to support BIM and now includes BIMcloud integration for easy collaboration with other designers on a project, wherever they are in the World. In fact, if BIM support is your main concern, you can’t do much better than ArchiCAD but the hefty price tag of over $4000 will put many off. Note also that ArchiCAD requires Java to work properly so if you’re not a big fan of the security risks associated with Java on Mac, stay away.
PowerCADD for Mac is for all those old school designers that miss the days of pen and paper. PowerCADD is for 2D CAD only and creates CAD designs that look like they were done on paper. PowerCADD is suitable for all types of CAD design from buildings to machinery, brochures and even maps. The functionality of PowerCADD can be extended too by something called “Externals” which are basically add-ons that can be activated simply by dragging them into a specific folder. It’s therefore highly customizable and generally, easier to use that some of the heavyweight CAD packages.
Graphite for Mac, formerly known as Vellum is a professional 3D and 2D CAD program. Graphite’s strength is high precision wireframe drafting. If wireframe drawings are what you intend to use the software for most, then you can’t do much better than Graphite. You can work with AutoCAD DWG files and it integrates with the developer’s 3D modeling software Cobalt. One of the main advantages users report with Graphite is speed – it has a very smooth and efficient workflow that makes producing complex designs very quick. The developer Ashlar-Vellum has what it calls an “Organic Workflow” between its products for maximum speed and efficiency. There are many glowing testimonials to Graphite but we’d advise using the free trial first before opting to choose it over AutoCAD, VectorWorks etc.
SketchUp Pro started life as a simple online design tool by Google until it was bought by Trimble Navigation and turned into a professional CAD application. SketchUp was Google’s idea of a free and basic user-friendly CAD application for all abilities and Trimble Navigation have maintained this ease of use but added more professional features. Sketchup is both a serious option for CAD professionals but also beginners that want to create stunning mock ups.
Sketchup is an ideal tool to give clients 3D mock-ups of their designs or for clients themselves to provide architects with an idea of their vision or plans. If you want your client to sketch out their vision for you to develop for example, point them in the direction of the basic version of SketchUp which is still free. The professional version of SketchUp is for serious CAD designers but it still retains the general ease of use of the original Google product and still has Google Earth integration for geo-tagging designs. SketchUp Pro is suitable for those in a range of professions from architecture, construction, engineering to interior design, light construction and landscape architecture. SketchUp is free for Educational and Personal use but the Pro version costs $695.
SolidThinking Evolve for Mac is aimed at Professional Industrial Designers. It’s very much a mix of CAD and 3D modeling capabilities wrapped up in a very slick interface. SolidThinking Evolve features Geometry Simplification tools, smoothing options and concentrated mass parts. Evolve allows organic surface modeling, parametric control and there’s a very handy ConstructionTree history feature. If your job involves a lot of CAD and 3D modeling, then SolidThinking Evolve is a great all round solution but it lacks some of the functionality of industry leading software such as AutoCAD and VectorWorks.
iCadMac markets itself as a cheaper alternative to AutoCAD for Mac and is a user-friendly 2D and 3D app which writes and reads AutoDesk DWG files. The developers of iCadMac are also responsible for progeCAD Professional on Windows. iCadMac can also convert PDF to DWG and exports plans in 3D to PDF. The interface is also highly customizable so that you can have more control over the layout of your CAD tools than most CAD app. iCadMac also includes an iPad app that lets you design on the move. iCadMac doesn’t support BIM however and it’s backed by a much smaller team and infrastructure than AutoCAD, VectorWorks etc.
CorelCAD is from the makers of the popular CorelDRAW graphic design program although unfortunately there’s no longer a Mac version of CorelDRAW (although there are some pretty good alternatives to CorelDRAW for Mac). CorelCAD for Mac lives on however and it’s pretty good too providing powerful industry standard CAD tools at a fraction of the price of industry leading packages. CorelCAD for Mac is based on Corel’s own ARES engine and works for both 2D and 3D drawings. It can import DWG files and is also suitable for 3D printing and exporting in STL and PDF format. CorelCAD uses a ribbon based interface which will be familiar to anyone that’s used Microsoft Office and is generally easy to use and navigate around. CorelCAD is perfect for Architects, Engineers and Construction (AEC) service providers that focus mainly on 2D designs but need to sometimes flesh things out in 3D too. You can try CorelCAD for Mac yourself by downloading a free trial.
HighDesign is professional CAD application designed specifically for Mac that offers excellent value for money. From humble beginnings at a small Italian developer, HighDesign has even attracted the attention of NASA for its CAD needs. Although HighDesign only supports 2D CAD, it can import and export AutoCAD files (including DXF and DWG 2015) and TIFF files. HighDesign is easier for than most professional CAD applications and anyone that has used AutoCAD will recognize the interface straightaway. It has a special focus on architecture and allows both photogrammetry and image editing for drafting of building plans which is quite unusual for MAC CAD software. The latest version of HighDesign 2016 has been built for 64-bit machines with noticeably faster processing speed and rendering. There’s now Associative Linear Dimensions which can now be linked to their source element and you can now export your design as PNG Alpha. This means that you can export your project as a high-resolution image with no background which makes it easier to insert it into other documents and images. There are other useful added extras in the 2016 version too such as vector information, tool tips and quick object info. HighDesign is overall an incredibly accomplished CAD product that often goes under the radar of professional designers because of it’s surprisingly low price. The Standard version is just $199 although Professionals will need either the Pro ($349) or Pro Plus ($499) versions for full functionality. Upgrades are usually half the cost and there are also Educational pricing plans. You can find more information on what’s new in HighDesign 2016 here.
DeltaCAD for Mac isn’t aimed at professional CAD designers but it’s an excellent starting point for beginners. It does support importing of AutoCAD files but there’s no support for BIM or the more advanced features professionals need in a CAD application. One unusual feature however is that you can write your own custom macros in AppleScript to extend it’s functionality. For instance you can use macros to create objects or read in data although only those that have been using Mac for a long time will have any idea of how AppleScript works. If you just want a cheap CAD program on Mac for doing house plans, newsletters, furniture Layouts etc, DeltaCAD is a decent choice.
Similar to DeltaCAD, CADintosh X for Mac is a budget 2D CAD program for Mac users. At just over $30, it’s one of the cheapest CAD programs for Mac available and is suitable for technical and architectural drawings. CADintosh X is very basic – there are 8 pens and 6 line types to choose from but it there’s no support for importing files from major CAD programs – it only imports DXF, HPGL, IGES and PDF.
AutoQ 3D is another low-end CAD program for Mac with a user-friendly interface that’s suitable for beginners to CAD or someone who just wants to build a basic prototype. The difference to other CAD programs in this price range is that it supports 3D as well. It’s also got the best interface of CAD apps at this level and comes with a free iPad and iPhone app. AutoQ 3D allows you to see drawings from all angles with Preset Views, Snap shapes into place and for just under $30, you can’t go too far wrong for a 2D/3D CAD app in one.
BricsCAD is a professional CAD package that combines powerful 3D modelling with advanced 2D design features. BricsCAD is one of the few CAD packages to run on all three Windows, Mac and Linux platforms. BricsCAD has a Quad cursor which enables designers to make complex technical drawings, 3D models and intricate layouts quickly. BricsCAD is unique in that it handles 3D drawings and parametric assemblies and stores data in DWG format. There are three versions of BricsCAD – Classic ($550), Pro ($680) and BricsCAD Platinum ($910). There is also an add-on of BricsCAD to the Platinum version for Sheet Metal architects. You can download a 30 day free trial of BricsCAD for Mac.
Rhino For Mac is one of the leading 3D design tools for Mac and certainly the industry standard for organic 3D design. Rhino features tools to do everything from creating, editing, and rendering to animating, translating NURBS curves and creating polygon meshes. Rhino For Mac is pretty good value for money because some of the free form 3D modelling features cost a lot more in similar packages and yet it still remains suitable for professional needs. Note that there are some features lacking from the Mac version compared to Rhino for Windows. For example, Grasshopper, Layouts, Worksessions and Animation Tools are all missing from Rhino for Mac along with some Rhino commands.
DraftSight is made by Dassault Systems, the makers of the Solidworks which still isn’t available for Mac (see more on that below). DraftsSight is a powerful tool which allows you to access DWG files and create new ones without the cost of expensive CAD software. DraftSight is more of a modification tools which allows you to edit, refine and manipulate already existing DWG files. For example, companies or organizations that need to customize their CAD setup using LISP will probably find that DraftSight Professional saves considerable amounts of time and expense. From power trims to batch printing and PDF underlays, DraftSight is a powerful CAD software that reduces the need for expensive CAD applications on your Mac. You can try a 30 day free trial to see for yourself.
SkyCiv is one of the few dedicated structural analysis software for Mac. It’s therefore not a dedicated CAD software but is an extremely useful tool for structural engineers. SkyCiv 3D Structural Analysis is aimed at Civil Engineers although there’s no actual Mac client – SkyCiv is entirely cloud based but it works perfectly well on OS X. If you need to estimate forces acting on bolts and frameworks or make complex structural calculations, SkyCiv is a very useful tool.
RealCAD is made by the makers of BricsCAD but is aimed at those CAD designers on a budget although at $795, it’s not exactly cheap. The Professional version comes in at $2495 but the RealCAD Starter Pack version is an excellent introductory package for new CAD designers. RealCAD offers an impressive set of tools for both 2D and 3D design. In fact, RealCAD isn’t far off AutoCAD in terms of functionality and features although it takes some getting used to at first. 2D drafting is particularly well implemented in RealCAD and because it’s not a bloated piece of software, it’s responsive and quick to render and design with. The interface layout is simple and easy to understand and both the 2D and 3D interfaces are pretty much the same so it’s easy to switch between the two. The 3D toolset doesn’t really match-up to the 2D features though and it’s not as easy to use as it is for 2D modelling. RealCAD is little known on Mac but for the price, it offers a pleasantly easy to use but powerful CAD application.
Cobalt 3D is an industry leading 3D design software for Mac and PC which features a unique organic design process to help improve and guide your workflow more efficiently. Cobalt 3D features unified associative, dimensionally constrained parametric drawing & modeling tools as well as a holistically integrated tool palette for wireframe, surfaces & solids. Cobalt is suitable for both 2D, 3D and 3D printing designing as well as Class A NURBS surface modelling. Rendering is extremely impressive in Cobalt 3D with full photo realistic rendering and camera based animation. For industrial and mechanical design in 3D, Cobalt is about as good as it gets and economically, it’s more accessible now with a $59.95 a month monthly subscription.
Free Mac Compatible CAD Apps
Although there’s no way you can get the features and functionality of a professional CAD software for free, there are some very respectable free options. If you’re on a budget, or looking to get started in CAD design on your Mac, try a few of these.
OpenSCAD is a free open source 3D modelling application which is ideal if you just want to create solid 3D CAD models. Unlike similar 3D modelling software such as Blender, it’s less focused on the aesthetics of 3D modelling but more on the CAD aspects. It’s therefore aimed at those that need to create 3D models of machine parts for example but not those that want to create 3D computer-animated movies. OpenSCAD requires some knowledge of deep nesting and writing in modules because it’s a 3D compiler that reads scripts and then renders the model from that file. If you know what you’re doing with scripts, it’s a powerful tool and costs nothing.
QCAD is another free open source CAD application for Mac, Windows and Linux which allows you to create technical drawings for buildings, interiors, mechanical parts, schematics and diagrams. QCAD is a great starting point for novices in CAD design with a simplified, clear interface but plenty of features. QCAD can import and open DWG and DXF files and also has an add-on for Computer Aided Manufacturing (CAM). There’s also a professional version of QCAD which costs less than $40 and adds extra features although obviously, at such a low price, it’s not suitable for the needs of serious CAD designers.
As the name suggest, FreeCAD is a free 3D modelling software for Mac which uses Parametric modelling to create designs. FreeCAD can read files in STEP, IGES, STL, SVG, DXF, OBJ, IFC and DAE format and is aimed mainly at those in mechanical engineering and product design fields. FreeCAD features some of the tools found in major industry leading CAD applications such as SolidWorks but relies more on modules and scripts to design things like OpenSCAD. If you’re comfortable with scripting and modules, FreeCAD is another powerful yet free 3D design tool for Macs.
Draft It is a free 2D CAD design package that’s not up to professional standards but is a good entry-level CAD software for students and beginners to CAD. Draft It features basic tools such as snap-to end points, dynamic dimensions and a comprehensive help system. For $30, you can upgrade to Draft It Plus or for $99 Draft It Pro but none are really suitable for to needs of serious designers.
LibreCAD is a 2D drawing software based on the community edition of QCad. LibreCAD might not be suitable for professional needs but is an excellent primer for those new to CAD. LibreCAD can import DXF and DWG files and can export DXF, SVG, JPG, PNG, PDF and other files. LibreCAD has all the basic tools you need to draw 2D designs including layers, blocks, splines and advanced tangent line & circle tools. Since it isn’t bloated with 3D features, LibreCAD is extremely fast and lightweight and because it’s open source, doesn’t cost a cent.
Ho To Choose The Right Mac CAD Software
The best CAD software for your individual needs largely depends on whether you’re a professional designer, student or simply an amateur looking to do a little bit of home or landscape design. Professional packages such as AutoCAD are obviously complicated to learn and use as they whereas packages such as TurboCAD are somewhere in the middle, sometimes referred to as “prosumer” CAD software. Online technical drawing software such as SmartDraw are aimed at those with minimal CAD experience and provides plenty of templates and automated functions to help you on your way.
Before you buy, here’s a few important questions and things to consider before deciding which one to choose.
- Are your CAD needs industry specific or general?
If you need CAD software for a specific industry, such as Architecture, then you need software designed specifically for the needs of 3D Architecture and all the components that go into buildings. If it’s mechanical CAD you’re going to be doing on your Mac then the needs are a bit different. CAD software on Mac also covers many other fields including construction, engineering, commercial interiors, light construction, landscaping, interior design, urban planning, game design, film & stage, woodworking and much more. You should always double-check with the developer whether the CAD software you’re interested in supports specific needs you may have. If it doesn’t and you can’t find one that does, you’re better running a CAD software that you trust on Windows on your Mac instead.
- Do you need 2D or 3D CAD software?
Again, this depends on what you want to use it for. If you only need to work in the Y and X axis i.e. draw floor plans, elevations and top/front/bottom angles of different objects, then 2D CAD software is all you need. 3D CAD software meanwhile allows you to work in the X,Y and Z axis and is essential for architects, product designers or those that need mechanical CAD software features. Basically, anyone that needs to manipulate a design from every possible angle. 3D software allows you to create both models and wire-frames but it’s more expensive than 2D software and can run into thousands of dollars on Mac. Most professional 3D CAD software such as AutoCAD and ArchiCAD for Mac have now been updated to include support for 3D printers.
- Are you looking for paid or free software?
It should be no surprise that free CAD software on Mac is generally nowhere near as powerful as paid software although there are some pretty impressive packages now available which we’ve included in this article. If you just need 2D design capabilities or don’t need to collaborate in a team with others, you can probably get away with using free CAD software if you’re not working in a professional environment. 3D designing is another matter however and there are few free 3D tools which are worth using. If you’re intending to use the software for professional work, it’s highly recommended to go for a paid CAD software as you may spend more time fighting with a free option or searching for features that are lacking than actually being productive. Don’t be caught-out by CAD software that claims to be “free” but actually only offers a free version with limited functionality that requires you to upgrade to unlock features.
- Do you need BIM support?
BIM (Building Information Modeling) is the next step in Computer Aided Design and an increasingly important feature of CAD software. BIM models are more intelligent than traditional CAD plans because they contain much more information. For instance, BIM models can calculate the knock-on effect that the smallest of changes to modeling plans can have. In the long run, BIM can help cut down on the amount of errors or reworking that needs to be done to your CAD designs. Most of the top industry leading packages such as AutoCAD and Vectorworks, include BIM capabilities as standard but cheaper packages may not so be sure to check this point. We’ve indicated which packages do support it in our reviews.
- Do you need CAD or 3D design software?
We have focused here mainly on CAD software, although we have also features some 3D design or animation software. The difference between the two types of software is subtle but the key difference is that CAD software is specifically for the needs of professional and industrial designers, with all the technical specs and needs they have. In a nutshell, 3D design software is generally aimed at the more creative side of design – for example animation – whereas CAD programs focus on technical plans and designs.
- Does the developer offer support?
An important thing to bear in mind – make sure that the CAD app for Mac you choose offers extensive help, training and after sale support. CAD software is very complex and if you’ve never used it before, it can be very daunting to get to grips with. In particular, the most common problem you will experience with CAD software on Mac that’s been ported from Windows is instability and it can send you insane trying to work out exactly what is causing glitches or bugs with the program. Many vendors charge extra for CAD software support although some such as SmartDraw do not so check before buying.
- Other things to look for
Other useful features to look for in professional CAD software on a Mac include:
- A command line (which enables you to search for a tool or object in real-time), design setup wizards, templates and tutorial videos. Particularly if you need to create architecture designs, look for software with house wizards which take the basic information in your design and can whip-up a basic house design in minutes saving hours of work.
- A complete set of editing tools is also important i.e. the ability to use pointer markers, layer editors and color coordinate different elements in your designs. Most CAD software now includes a snap tool to make sure that your designs fit together neatly but it’s still always worth checking.
- Make sure that the software you choose works with the most common CAD file types i.e. DWG, DXF (Drawing Exchange Format, important for things like CNC cutters, plasma cutters etc), DWF and DGN. If you’re going to be exporting for 3D printing, STL export is important and of course, it’s always handy to be able to export to common document formats such as PDF and image formats such as PNG and JPG.
- Support for your specific industry. In architectural CAD software for example, photo realistic rendering is a useful feature because it allows you and your client see what the final design will actually look like. Although there is CAD software on Mac for almost every conceivable need and area nowadays, there are certain industries such as pipeline, piping and valve architecture that require ISO prints for which there’s no specific software on Mac for yet.
Once you’ve considered all of this, you’re much better prepared to choose the right CAD or drafting software on Mac for you.
How To Run Windows CAD Software On A Mac
Finally, if you really don’t want to go to the hassle of finding CAD software for your Mac or can’t find anything that measures up to CAD software you use on PC, you can always stick to what you know by installing Windows on your Mac. This can be done either with a virtual machine or by installing Windows using Boot Camp. A virtual machine has the advantage of allowing you to run both macOS and Windows at the same time but if you use Boot Camp, you can only boot in either macOS or Windows at one time which can be annoying if you need to switch between your Mac and Windows CAD software regularly. For an example, check out our guide on how to run SolidWorks on Mac which is only available on Windows.
However, we don’t recommend running Windows on your Mac in order to use CAD software. You will inevitably experience bugs running Windows CAD software on a Mac this way, especially graphic related issues such are the complexities and demands of CAD software. It’s much better to use a Mac only CAD software solution like the ones covered here instead and the choice on Mac is now such that using Windows really isn’t necessary for most people. This also means that if you have any problems with the software, you will receive support from the developer. If you’re running Windows CAD software on a Mac however, the developer is unlikely to offer technical support as most don’t support problems running Windows on Mac.
Releases To Look Out For In 2018
We hope this overview has shown that there’s no need to go back to Windows for your CAD needs. The future for Computer Aided Design on Mac generally looks very good as more developers recognize the growing demand on Mac or move their software online.
A good example of the way the industry is moving is Onshape which was started by some members of the team behind the popular SolidWorks 3D CAD design software for Windows. Although you can run SolidWorks on Mac using a virtual machine it’s not an ideal solution and doesn’t work as well as on PC. Onshape meanwhile claims to offer the functionality of Solidworks but in any web browser, running on any platform. Onshape is the first serious attempt at a web-based 3D CAD software that enables teams to work on designs as the same time in real-time. It works extremely well on a Mac too which isn’t surprising as the majority of programmers that created it coded it on Mac.
The main problem with Cloud or online CAD software is that it often can’t meet the technical needs of graphic intensive CAD demands but Onshape allows you to create complex parts, assemblies, and detailed drawings comfortably within a web browser on a Mac. You can even use Onshape on your iPad or iPhone.
By current market standards, Onshape is priced quite competitively too. The basic version is free but professionals will need to upgrade to the Pro plan for $100 a month to unlock all the functionality of Onshape.
In addition to developments such as Onshape, there are also signs that Apple is increasingly willing to move closer towards enterprise apps like CAD software such as the deal it reached with IBM. This means Apple is likely to put more effort in supporting business oriented CAD software on Mac in future when it comes to components and software support.
So all in all, the future for CAD designers on Mac looks very bright indeed.
SmartDraw is our top choice because it’s a great middle ground between a professional 2D CAD software yet is incredibly easy to use, even for beginners. For those that are just getting started in CAD design or want something desktop but easy to use, MacDraft PE is still our favorite entry level Mac CAD package and an excellent launchpad to move onto MacDraft Pro which is one of our favorite desktop 2D CAD apps for Mac.
If it’s more complex 3D design you need, then the industry leading AutoCAD for Mac closely followed by Autodesk Fusion for specialist 3D design are still most professional CAD tools available. Although it’s still not as good as the Windows version, AutoCAD is still the most complete and widely used CAD package out there and it’s DWG format is still the industry standard for CAD design. However, if you don’t want to be locked into a monthly subscription model, TurboCAD Pro for Mac runs it very close and will satisfy all but the most demanding of architects and engineers.
If you have any questions or problems with the software covered here, or need some advice on which CAD software is right for you on your Mac, let us know in the comments below. If you’re interested in interior design and floor planning specifically, we also recommend you check out our guide to home design software on Mac.