Macs are becoming increasingly popular for Computer Aided Design so we’ve taken a look at the very best CAD software for Mac in 2018. Although there are still more CAD applications on Windows than macOS, 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. Here then is a definitive list of the best CAD software for Mac 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 was only available to PC users as the desktop version is Windows only but the launch of SmartDraw Cloud means that Mac users can use it too. SmartDraw has proved extremely popular as an Visio alternative on Mac as it makes all kinds of technical drawing, including CAD, simple.
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. 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:
A good example of how SmartDraw makes things easier is that it 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 supports more general formats such as PNG, WMF and BMP. SmartDraw can 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 features. SmartDraw isn’t the kind of CAD software that caters for BIM needs or 3D design 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 Fusion 360 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.
AutoCAD is easily the most popular Windows CAD application on the market but it wasn’t until fairly recently that AutoDesk finally released AutoCAD for Mac. Although initially the Mac version wasn’t quite up to the Windows version, it’s now virtually just as powerful. AutoCAD 2018 is still the industry leading CAD software for architects and designers, partly because it’s so powerful but also because it’s relatively user friendly for such a complex 3D CAD program.
AutoCAD for Mac supports 3D design, 3D printing and 2D drafting software with and includes XREF path mapping, select Express tools and PDF enhancements. In particular, the 3D rendering in AutoCAD for Mac produces probably some of the most stunning results on retina Macs you’ll see in any CAD software.
Other powerful features include dynamic blocks to add flexibility and intelligence to block references, dynamic links to Excel documents and a layer state manager so you can save layer settings. The latest version of AutoCAD 2018 also makes it easier to switch between Office and Home environments. Many CAD designers use two monitors at work and one at home and the latest version allows you to control or hide the positioning of palettes depending on whether you’re working on one monitor or two.
Another big improvement has been the introduction of the Command Alias Editor into AutoCAD. Many AutoCAD designers on Windows are used to using keyboard shortcuts and AutoCAD 2018 for Mac finally adds this in macOS too. You can create hotkeys for your most used commands making your workflow quicker and easier than before.
Combined with the TouchBar support introduced in the previous version of AutoCAD for Mac, you can seriously speed-up your workflow without having to use the TouchPad or mouse all the time.
You can also now convert 3D to 2D using AutoCAD on Mac. The new flatten tool in AutoCAD 2018 for Mac retains original layers, linetypes, colors and object types.
Despite these improvements in the latest version of the Mac version of AutoCAD, there are still some features missing in compared to on PC. Examples include Walkthroughs, Advanced Rendering Settings and the ability to extract object data to tables. The differences are increasingly minimal though and you can do pretty much anything on AutoCAD for Mac as you can on Windows.
Nowadays AutoCAD is only available on subscription model although AutoDesk frequently run special offers throughout the year. The move to a subscription model 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.
If you only need AutoCAD for 2D CAD design on your Mac, you’re better off getting AutoCAD LT For Mac 2018 which is cheaper and only supports 2D CAD. The full version of AutoCAD supports both 3D and 2D design. Note that you can’t buy standalone versions of any Autodesk products anymore as they are no longer available with ongoing perpetual licenses.
If you want the industry standard in 2D and 3D CAD design, AutoCAD for Mac still can’t be beat.
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 is that Autodesk Fusion 360 is entirely cloud based whereas AutoCAD also has a desktop client for Mac and PC. This means that you cannot save files locally – you have to save everything online so it does mean you’re tied into the Cloud for storage and editing of files. The upside of this however is that you get regular free updates which often include new features for free. 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 Fusion 360 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 more Windows like than AutoCAD but it’s still an amazing tool for 3D product design and CAM. The use of T-Splines and Sculpt environment in particular makes it easy to conceptualize and model and it’s one of the best 3D printing CAD software for 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.
TurboCAD Pro for Mac is a surprisingly powerful yet accessible CAD application for Mac. TurboCAD is a major player on Windows providing strong competition for AutoCAD although it’s still to make a name for itself on macOS. The Mac version is actually easier to use than TurboCAD Pro for Windows 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 which adds support for things such as 3D printing, advanced design and BIM.
There are three versions of TurboCAD although the Pro version is the only one suitable for professionals engaged in 2D and 3D design.
Although TurboCAD Pro doesn’t quite match-up to industry heavyweight AutoCAD, it’s excellent value for money and there’s no subscription (although 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.
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 a 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. ARES Commander feels remarkably like AutoCAD with DWG as its native format although it’s not very intuitive to use at first. 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 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. One other 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.
Thanks to the open API, you can also create custom functions and plugins for ARES Commander on Mac based on VSTA, C, Delphi and other languages.
If you’re looking for something similar to AutoCAD on Mac but with a cheaper subscription, ARES Commander is an excellent value for money professional level CAD software.
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.
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 software for Mac and PC. 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.
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 advanced functionality of top CAD software such as AutoCAD and VectorWorks.
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.
MacDraft Pro is another powerful but user friendly CAD software designed specifically for Mac. MacDraft Pro is the professional version of MacDraft PE (see review below) with a more advanced multi-layered, scaled drawing environment. It’s suitable for mechanical, architectural and engineering professionals and supports importing AutoCAD and DWG/DXF files.
You can drag and drop common image or CAD elements into your designs and it can even be used as a desktop publishing software for Mac to design brochures, magazines and even flyers.
MacDraft Professional is extremely user friendly for a 2D CAD app and makes interior design, architectural drawing and illustration much easier than on AutoCAD. In particular it has some very precise vector tools, smart units and has a fully-featured scaled environment. On the downside, it does lack some basic features such as trimming arcs or circles and of course, it’s 2D only.
However, if you want an easy to use 2D CAD desktop software for macOS, MacDraft Pro is one of the best out there.
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.
CorelCAD for Mac is from the makers of the extremely successful CorelDRAW graphic design program CorelDRAW for Mac which no longer exists. 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 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 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.
ArchiCAD for Mac is another industry leading software for CAD and is unique for using the Maxon CINEMA 4D rendering engine for photo realistic rendering. The results of this are stunning and few programs can bring your CAD designs to life quite like ArchiCAD.
It was also one of the first packages to support BIM and includes BIMcloud integration for easy collaboration with other designers on projects, wherever they are in the World. The one downside of ArchiCAD is that it still requires Java on Mac which we don’t recommend for a variety of performance and security issues on Mac.
TurboCAD Deluxe is a more basic version of TurboCAD with the same Solidworks engine and ViaCAD style interface but lacks Pro features such as the 64-bit user interface, integrated Redway drawing engine, Page Layout wizards, BOM and mating tools. TurboCAD Deluxe is however a more 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. TurboCAD Deluxe is a good choice for those new to CAD as it has lots of online help and video tutorials to get you going.
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.
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 have fine control over the layout of your tools although apps such as AutoCAD for Mac have caught up in this area nowadays. 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 the major CAD developers out there.
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 that runs on all Mac, Windows and Linux platforms. It’s suitable for all types of industrial 2D and 3D design but it has specialized support for sheet metal design. BricsCAD uses what’s known as a Quad cursor which enables designers to make complex technical drawings, 3D models and intricate layouts very quickly. BricsCAD is also unique because it handles both 3D drawings and parametric assemblies but saves files in DWG format. In fact BricsCAD compares favorably with AutoCAD and it even provides a free book on how to switch from AutoCAD to BricsCAD.
There are three versions of BricsCAD – Classic ($750), Pro ($970) and BricsCAD Platinum ($1110) but prices for all are slightly higher if you want premium support. Classic only handles 2D but Pro adds 3D modelling and Platinum adds BIM support.
BricsCAD is an excellent AutoCAD for Mac alternative with many of the same features but without the subscription pricing model.
Rhino For Mac is a specialized 3D CAD software for Mac with a loyal following and arguably still one of the best programs 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 at $695 because some of the free form 3D modelling features cost a lot more in similar packages and yet it still remains powerful enough for professional needs.
In the beginning, there were many features missing from the Mac version of Rhino compared to Windows but nowadays the two products are almost exactly the same. Only Worksessions, Animation Tools and some Commands are missing from Rhino for Mac and the Grasshopper feature is still in progress.
If you just want 3D CAD software for Mac without breaking the bank, Rhino for Mac is an impressive tool.
QCAD is a free open source 2D Computer Aided Drafting 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 a special 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 it doesn’t support 3D CAD.
If you’re new to CAD and need something easy to get started with at zero cost, QCAD is an excellent beginners CAD software for Mac.
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.
Finally, PowerCADD for Mac is for all those old school CAD 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. PowerCADD is a bit dated now and at $995 isn’t exactly cheap either but if you miss the aesthetics of pen on paper, it offers something a bit different.
Which CAD Software Is Right For You?
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 macOS
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 install Windows on your Mac. This can be done either with a virtual machine such as Parallels or by installing Windows using Boot Camp.
A virtual environment like Parallels 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.
The Outlook For CAD Software On Mac 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 in 2018 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 CAD software for Mac choice because it’s a great middle ground between a professional 2D CAD software yet is incredibly easy to use, even for beginners.
If it’s more complex 3D design you need, then the industry leading AutoCAD for Mac closely followed by Autodesk Fusion 360 for specialist 3D design are still the most professional 3D CAD tools available. 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.
If you don’t want to be locked into a monthly subscription model, TurboCAD Pro for Mac is a good alternative to AutoCAD on Mac and will satisfy all but the most demanding of architects and engineers.
Finally, for those that are just getting started in CAD design or want something desktop but easy to use, MacDraft PE is an excellent entry level Mac CAD package.
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.