Best free open source 3d cad software

Here is a selection of the best open-source 3D CAD software for 3D applications. You will mainly find software for advanced users, as these programs are addressed to professionals or programmers.

FreeCAD

FreeCAD is a parametric 3D modeling software. You don’t need previous experience with 3D modeling to use it, but you can totally achieve complex models with it, for engineering or architecture projects. Indeed, it has professional features adapted to work for mechanical engineering.  It can be used by anybody: home-users, designers, programmers, and even educators.

If you need to 3D print your part, check our tutorial to learn how to prepare your 3D model to 3D printing using FreeCAD.

Blender

Blender is a widely used open-source software. It is useful to create various 3D designs, from electronic projects to digital art. It can create impressive models, using polygonal modeling techniques. You can use Blender to create simulations and animations.

You need to be experienced with 3D modeling, but if you need a little help, Blender has a really large community, offering a lot of tutorials.

If you are planning to 3D print your model, check out our tutorial to prepare your design for 3D printing using Blender.

OpenSCAD

OpenSCAD is an open-source parametric software, that can be used to create 2D designs, and 3D models. It is a great tool to make 3D objects designed for additive manufacturing. While using OpenSCAD, you can’t modify directly with your mouse the CAD model that is in the viewer. This software uses its own language.

OpenSCAD is perfect if you need to create accurate models, but you have to keep in mind that it is really programmer-oriented.

openscad

Wings 3D

Wings 3D is a free open-source software. It offers a great variety of modeling tools, that could help you with all of your projects. It is a good software to create your CAD models and work on texture and materials. However, it is not the perfect tool if you need a CAD program for animation and rendering.

We have a tutorial that could help you to create your 3D model with Wings 3D.

wings3D

OpenCascade Technology

OpenCascade Technology is a complete 3D modeling tool: from modeling to visualization, everything is possible. The geometric, topological and visualization algorithms of this program will allow you to create 3D models for any type of sectors, just for visualization, or for manufacturing processes.

opencascade

SolveSpace

SolveSpace is a parametric 2D/3D modeling software. It is a good tool if you need an open-source CAD software to export your 3D files for 3D printing. It has all the basic features of a 3D software, and it is possible to make complex designs. You can work on the design of an object or process mechanical simulations with this program.

Art of illusion

Art of illusion is an animation oriented software. It is an open-source program, allowing to work on 3D modeling, texturing and material, but also able to make some rendering. Art of illusion is a high end animation program, powerful enough to be used professionally.

OpenJSCAD

OpenJSCAD is an open-source CAD program. It is quite similar to OpenSCAD, which we discussed previously in this blogpost, but the difference is that OpenJSCAD is a browser-based program. It is easier to use. Indeed, it is a good solution as you don’t need to install any software to create the 3D model that you want to 3D print.

Moreover, all the features are well explained on the website, you just have to follow the indications to create your own 3D designs.

JS Sketcher

JS Sketcher is a CAD program that you can access with your browser. This open-source parametric modeling software is written in javascript. For the moment, there are not too many features, so it is a simple software to use if you are just beginning with open-source programs, but you will still need a little bit of training at the beginning. This is a really promising software.

QCAD

QCAD is a free computer-aided design software. It is hosted on GitHub and is open to any contributions. This 2D CAD software offers a wide range of CAD tools. This CAD program can be extended through its complete ECMAScript (JavaScript) interface.

BRL CAD

This CAD tool software has been developed by Mike Muuss at the Army Research Laboratory and used by US military. They used it for academic, industrial, or even health applications. This solid modeling system has been around since 1984, it simply became an open-source project in 2004. 

It is now possible to use this program for engineering or graphic applications. 

LibreCAD

LibreCAD is a free open-source CAD with a large community of users, contributors, and developers. This 2D CAD software is really complete and useful for laser cutting projects, for example. The source code can be downloaded directly from GitHub.

Salome

The open-source CAD software Salome works with Microsoft as well as Linux. It offers a wide range of different tools like sculpting and shaping. The user can also benefit from many already existing shapes, fields, or meshes in 3D. Salome can be used by users from any level. 

LeoCAD

LeoCAD is a great open-source CAD software for all levels and offers a simplistic approach to the design process of a 3D model. This CAD software is available for macOS, Linux as well as Microsoft.

Editor’s note: This article was originally published in May 2016, and has been updated to include a few additional options.

CAD—computer-aided design or computer-aided drafting, depending on who you ask—is technology created to make it easier to create specifications for real-world objects. Whether the object you’re building is a house, car, bridge, or spaceship, chances are it got its start in a CAD program of one type or another.

 

Among the best-known CAD programs is AutoDesk’s AutoCAD, but there are many others, proprietary and open source, out there. So how do the open source alternatives to AutoCAD stack up? The answer depends on how you plan to use them.

 

Let’s start by being honest and upfront about something: If you’re looking for a drop-in replacement for your existing CAD program that will provide identical functionality and workflow without making any changes to your processes, you’re going to be disappointed. But I would argue that the reason for your disappointment has nothing to do with the licensing of the product—drop-in replacements for complex programs with long-time users who have specific needs and expectations for their software are hard.

The trick for deciding whether a replacement piece of software, whether open or closed, is a good choice for you is to tease out exactly what your needs are. The situation is no different than discovering that the person who insists that they “need” Photoshop is just using it to draw a few geometric shapes and remove red-eye from photos; what they really need is a graphics editing tool that can replace those specific functions. Whether it has all of the bells and whistles of the original is irrelevant if those features sit paid for but unused.

My personal journey through open source CAD programs was no different. I worked with AutoCAD briefly in grad school, so when I wanted to play with drawing three-dimensional plans for something, it was pretty much all I knew. But that alone didn’t make AutoCAD the best choice.

As I’ve strived to replace more and more software in my life with open source options, Blender turned out to be just as good for my 3D modeling needs, whether I was playing with models created for a 3D printer or looking at landscapes exported from other programs. And for the relatively simple task of planning out my home landscaping projects, Sweet Home 3D has been an excellent open source alternative.

If your needs are a little more specific and you really need a dedicated CAD program, here are great open source choices to consider:

SALOME

The SALOME platform is an application and framework suitable for industrial design and simulation. It’s a side-project of the 3D powerhouse, OpenCascade, and has some serious industrial users. SALOME integrates a CAD and CAE modeling tool with industrial meshing algorithms and advanced 3D visualization. Its geometry editor can import STEP, BREP, IGES, STL, and XAO files, and its mesh editor can import UNIV, MED, GGNS, SAUV, and more. It has integrated Python support.

As with all other CAD applications on this list, it’s open source, so if you have in-house developers creating plugins for it, there’s no need to deal with a clunky API. You have direct access to the code base.

 

SALOME desktop client

BRL-CAD

BRL-CAD is a cross-platform CAD tool that dates back to 1979, although it would take 25 years for the source code to be released under an open source license. In fact, BRL-CAD is so old that it has been credited with being the oldest source code repository of an application currently in active development.

Originally developed by Mike Muuss at the Army Research Laboratory, BRL-CAD is been used for decades by the United States military for modeling weapon systems, but it also has been used for much more everyday design tasks, from academic to industrial design to health applications.

So what does more than 35 years of development bring you? BRL-CAD is made up of more than 400 different constituent tools and applications spread across more than a million lines of source code. Not all parts are under the same license, with licenses ranging from BSD to LGPL to simple public domain; the COPYING file within the project’s source code on SourceForge has more details.

FreeCAD

FreeCAD is a parametric open source CAD program that was created to be able to design “real-life objects of any size,” and although it’s clear that many of the showcased examples created by users are smaller objects, there’s no specific reason it couldn’t be used for architectural applications as well. FreeCAD is written primarily in C++, and if you’re a Python coder you’ll want to take advantage of the ability to extend and automate FreeCAD using its Python interface.

FreeCAD can import and export from a variety of common formats for 3D objects, and its modular architecture makes it easy to extend the basic functionality with various plugins. The program has many built-in interface options, from a sketcher to renderer to even a robot simulation ability. Currently in beta, FreeCAD is being actively developed with regular releases, but the developers warn that it may not yet be suitable for production use.

FreeCAD’s source code is hosted on GitHub and is made available as open source under an LGPL license.

LibreCAD

LibreCAD is another CAD program that is designed to work across Windows, Mac, and Linux alike. A fork of QCAD (mentioned below), LibreCAD has an interface that will look familiar to AutoCAD users, and by default it uses the AutoCAD DXF format for importing and saving, though it can use other formats as well. LibreCAD is 2D only, though, so it makes more sense if your intended use is a site plan or something similarly, err, flat.

LibreCAD is licensed under the GPL and you can find its complete source code on GitHub.

These aren’t the only options. Other good choices that are worth your time to check out include:

  • OpenSCAD, which is billed as “the programmer’s solid 3D CAD modeller,” owing to the fact that it is not an interactive modeler, but one where modeling is done with a script file.
  • QCAD, which is cross-platform but limited to two-dimensional applications.
  • SolveSpace, which is a parametric two- and three-dimensional CAD program.
  • OpenJSCAD.org, which is an updated frontend for OpenJsCad. Both are JavaScript-based 2D and 3D modeling tools that run in the browser and are made available under the MIT license.

Since we can’t include all of the options here, if you have a favorite, let us know in the comments below.

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Written by Jane