In the old days, Macs used to be way behind PCs when it came to CAD software. Nowadays that’s all changed and there are some superb Computer Aided Design packages available for Mac users.
We found that SmartDraw is the best CAD for Mac overall for 2D CAD although professional architects or engineers will need something more powerful with 3D support such as the industry leading AutoCAD.
There are of course still some major titles like Solidworks that still aren’t available for Mac still but there are plenty of alternatives to Solidworks on Mac reviewed here that make excellent replacements.
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- Tips On Choosing CAD Software For Macs
- Best CAD Software For Mac Compared
- 1. SmartDraw (Best 2D CAD For Mac)
- 2. AutoCAD (Best 3D CAD For Mac)
- 3. Fusion 360 (Best Engineering CAD)
- 4. CorelCAD For Mac (Best 3D Printing CAD For Mac)
- 5. TurboCAD Mac Pro (Best AutoCAD Alternative For Mac)
- 6. HighDesign (Best Architectural CAD For Mac)
- 7. VectorWorks (Best BIM CAD For Mac)
- 8. MacDraft PE (Best Beginners CAD For Mac)
- 9. Graphite (Best Wireframe CAD For Mac)
- 10. SketchUp (Best Free CAD For Mac)
- New Mac CAD Programs In 2021
Tips On Choosing CAD Software For Macs
In reality, there’s no such thing as the “best” CAD software for everyone.
However, there’s definitely such a thing as the best CAD software for your needs.
Choosing the right CAD software for your specific requirments 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 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 drafting software such as SmartDraw are aimed at those with minimal CAD experience and provide plenty of templates and automated functions to do the hard work for you.
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 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 make sure the CAD software you choose supports the specific industry you’re working in.
- 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.
Note that most professional 3D CAD software such as AutoCAD and ArchiCAD 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 still some pretty decent 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.
The free version of Sketchup is fine for beginners to CAD for example but you’ll need to upgrade to the Pro version to unlock most 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 for professionals.
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 usually don’t.
We’ve indicated which packages support BIM in these reviews.
- Do you need CAD or 3D design software?
We have focused here mainly on CAD software, although we have also featured some 3D design or animation software because the line can be often blurred.
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?
Make sure that the CAD app 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.
The most reputable CAD software developers offer free customer support but some charge extra for it so check before buying.
- Other things you may want to consider
Other useful features you might want to check 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.
- If you need to import and export files, check what CAD file types it supports. Common formats are 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.
- Support for graphics tablets. If you’re a professional architect or CAD designer and prefer to use a digital pen for sketching blueprints, make sure the software you select supports tablets. Check out our guide for which drawing tablets for Mac work best with macOS.
Once you’ve digested all of this, you’re much better prepared to choose the right drafting software on Mac for you.
We’ve reviewed a lot of different options in this article so if you’re in a hurry and want a quick overview of our top picks, here’s a useful summary of our top 5.
Best CAD Software For Mac Compared
|SmartDraw||AutoCAD LT||AutoCAD||Fusion 360||TurboCAD |
|Works On Mac|
|Mac Desktop Client|
|Easy To Learn|
|Works on iPad|
Here then is our list of the best CAD software on Mac for 2021 in order of ranking.
If you’re looking for something powerful for 2D CAD design but amazingly easy to use and value for money, SmartDraw is the best 2D CAD software for Mac on the market.
SmartDraw is incredibly flexible because it can be used both as a powerful diagramming alternative to Microsoft Visio but also as a powerful but extremely user friendly CAD tool for 2D design.
What we really like about doing 2D CAD with SmartDraw is:
- 40,000+ Quick Start Templates: SmartDraw has more templates than any other CAD tool on Mac with everything from floor plans and office plans to electrical schematics, mechanical and architectural designs.
- CAD Automation: As you add elements, SmartDraw also automatically “snaps” everything together to help keep your designs organized, symmetrical and connected. It basically automates the often annoying fiddly aspects to CAD design and this we find incredibly time saving and stress reducing.
- 34,000 Symbols & Objects: We’ve never seen so many high quality vector symbols and objects in a 2D tool than you can drag and drop into designs.
- Value For Money: Compared to most 2D CAD software on this level, it’s not outrageously expensive plus you’re not only getting a CAD software, you’re getting an entire host of other diagramming tools.
You can get started now with SmartDraw for free to see exactly what it can do.
You can also check out our full SmartDraw review for Mac & PC for an in-depth look at everything it can do.
AutoCAD is one of the CAD industry’s leading tools but it wasn’t until 2010 that Autodesk finally released AutoCAD and AutoCAD LT for Mac.
You can download AutoCAD as a Mac desktop client and you can also use it online via the AutoCAD web app.
The full version of AutoCAD does both 2D and 3D design but if you don’t need 3D modelling, AutoCAD LT is 75% cheaper than the full version of AutoCAD and excellent value for money for a 2D CAD tool on this level.
Both AutoCAD and AutoCAD LT are incredibly professional tools that virtually invented the industry standard DWG file format.
Here’s a few of the reasons we like AutoCAD LT 2021 and AutoCAD 2021 so much:
- They’re both powerful & easy to learn: Many architects start life learning the ropes on AutoCAD products because it’s powerful but has an extremely intuitive interface that makes it easy to get to grips with.
- TouchBar support: AutoCAD is one of the only CAD drafting tools which supports the TouchBar on the latest Macs. We find this seriously speeds-up your workflow because you don’t have to use the TouchPad or mouse all the time. This shows that Autodesk take Mac users seriously and aren’t just pushing the Windows version onto macOS like many developers do.
- Superb web & mobile apps: The latest version of AutoCAD LT 2021 allows you to edit via a web browser and on your iPad or iPhone. The AutoCAD mobile and web apps are extremely close to the desktop version meaning you can edit projects anywhere.
- AutoCAD 2021 includes 7 subsets of CAD software for specific areas such as electrical engineering, mechanical design and architecture. This means you get a lot for your money because it includes software with specific tools for your industry.
- The 3D modelling features are amazing: AutoCAD produces probably some of the most stunning results on retina Macs you’ll see in any CAD software (although this is not available in AutoCAD LT).
- Value for money: AutoCAD LT costs 75% less than AutoCAD and you can always upgrade to AutoCAD later if you need 3D capabilities. With AutoCAD LT, you’re basically getting the same product as AutoCAD for a quarter of the cost only without the 3D features. You can see exactly how AutoCAD LT compares to AutoCAD here.
The latest version of AutoCAD 2021 has also been improved with useful touches like a Quick Measure tool, a new Blocks Palette to insert blocks more easily visually and easier ways to purge redesigns.
Autodesk products are subscription only but you can choose to pay month-to-month and cancel at any time.
Note that if you’re based in Europe, you have to use the Autodesk Europe store to buy AutoCAD software.
Those in the UK need to go direct to the Autodesk UK store.
When it comes to professional architecture, engineering and construction blueprints, AutoCAD LT & AutoCAD For Mac are still setting the standards in Computer Aided Design.
Fusion 360 is made by Autodesk, the creators of AutoCAD and is the replacement for Autodesk Inventor.
Autodesk Fusion 360 isn’t quite as powerful as AutoCAD but is aimed at the product design focused “prosumer” CAD market.
The other big difference with AutoCAD is that Autodesk Fusion 360 is entirely Cloud based whereas AutoCAD also has a desktop client for Mac.
The interface of Fusion 360 is more Windows-like than AutoCAD but it’s still an amazing tool for 3D product design and CAM.
The use of T-Splines and the Sculpt environment in particular makes it easy to conceptualize and model and it’s easily one of the best 3D CAD tools for product designer on Mac out there.
If you’re looking for something focused on 3D product design but don’t need the advanced features of AutoCAD, Autodesk Fusion 360 is an impressive and cost effective alternative.
You can currently get Fusion 360 for as little as $38 per month which is a great deal for an engineering CAD software on this level.
You can also find special offers on Fusion 360 and other AutoDesk software here.
CorelCAD for Mac 2018 lives on however and it’s pretty good too for a professional standalone CAD software under $1000. 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 the best CAD software on Mac for 3D printing, exporting in STL or PDF format.
CorelCAD uses a ribbon based interface which will be familiar to anyone that’s used Microsoft Office and is generally very 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-out things in 3D too.
Overall, CorelCAD for Mac is extremely good value for money with lots of powerful features.
You can also try a free trial of CorelCAD for Mac to try before you buy.
TurboCAD Mac Pro is a more powerful version of TurboCAD Mac Deluxe and provides a cost effective alternative to AutoCAD.
Compared to TurboCAD Mac Deluxe, the Pro version has a much better 64-bit user interface, integrated Redway drawing engine, Page Layout wizard, BOM and mating tools.
The Mac version of TurboCAD is also easier to use than the Windows version of TurboCAD as it allows you to customize the palette and interface pretty much any way you want.
You can design almost anything in TurboCAD Pro from something as simple as designing a bike to creating the blueprint for an entire building.
There’s also a TurboCAD Pro Powerpack for an extra $99 which adds support for things such as 3D printing, advanced design and BIM.
Although TurboCAD Pro doesn’t quite match-up to industry heavyweight AutoCAD, TurboCAD Mac Pro costs $499.99 which is considerably cheaper than an AutoCAD subscription.
Unlike AutoCAD, there’s no subscription either although bear in mind you will have to pay for major updates.
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/DWG) and TIFF files.
HighDesign is easier for than most professional CAD applications and anyone that has used AutoCAD will recognize the interface straightaway.
HighDesign puts 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.
Other features in HighDesign 2017 include Associative Linear Dimensions, PNG alpha export, 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 $199.99 although Professionals will need either the Pro ($299.99) or Pro Plus ($449.99) versions for full functionality.
VectorWorks for Mac is one of the most popular CAD packages out there and supports both 2D and 3D design.
In particular, when it comes to BIM VectorWorks is hard to beat if that’s one of your main concerns.
For an industry level CAD application, it’s also surprisingly accessible because it’s been designed with both beginners and professionals in mind.
Although VectorWorks is most commonly used for Architecture and especially Construction Engineers, it can be used for any CAD task.
The interface of Vectorworks uses a clean WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) format which makes designing easier to conceptualize and get to grips with.
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 (although this costs extra).
If you’ve struggled to learn AutoCAD and want something powerful and innovative, Vectorworks is an amazing piece of CAD technology.
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 easy to learn.
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 versatile.
Be aware that MacDraft PE can’t produce drawings of smaller than about 17 inches and only supports a maximum of 5 Layers unlike the Pro version 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 something to get started in 2D CAD software on Mac, MacDraft PE is an excellent stepping stone to the Pro version.
Graphite for Mac, formerly known as Vellum, is a professional 3D and 2D CAD program. Graphite’s strength is high precision wireframe drafting although it is quite dated now.
However, if you’re mainly going to be doing wireframe drawings, Graphite specializes in this form of CAD. You can work with AutoCAD DWG files and it integrates with the developer Ashlar Vellum’s popular 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.
This is a result of what the developer Ashlar-Vellum 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 deciding whether to go for it.
SketchUp started life as a simple online design tool which was bought by Google in 2006 but then bought by Trimble in 2012 and turned into a professional CAD tool for both Mac and PC.
SketchUp is completely free for personal and educational use.
SketchUp was Google’s idea of a free and basic user-friendly CAD application for all abilities and Trimble Navigation has maintained this ease of use but added more professional features.
SketchUp Pro is both a serious option for CAD professionals but also beginners that want to create impressive mock ups. It’s suitable for those in a range of professions from architecture, construction, engineering to interior design, light construction and landscape architecture.
The basic version of 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 they can download SketchUp free for personal use and create a basic outline that you can then develop further.
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 is free for Educational and Personal use but the Pro version costs $695.
You can check out our SketchUp review for more.
New Mac CAD Programs In 2021
We hope this overview has shown that there’s no need to go back to PCs or Windows for your CAD needs.
Indeed, the future for Computer Aided Design on Mac in 2021 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.
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.
The introduction of eGPU units that work with Macs also boosts the processing power of Macs to handle the increasing demands of powerful CAD apps.
This will become increasingly important as more CAD tools such as eyeCAD VR focus on the advantages of Virtual Reality and allow designers to use VR headsets to create their designs.