Why Learn CAD or 3D?
Have you always enjoyed drawing and maybe even been told you’re good at it, but didn’t think your talent could ever lead to a career? Well, if so, you may want to think again.
While it’s true that there may not be a lot of opportunities to draw with pencil and paper, there are a wide variety of vocations that use Computer Aided Design (CAD) or 3D modeling software.
Some fields that utilize CAD range across the spectrum of design, including architecture, electrical engineering, and mechanical engineering. Essentially everything fabricated or manufactured has at one time in its development been a CAD rendering.
As for 3D modeling, it is widely used in the graphic arts, for creating images for advertising, and video game development, to name just a few.
So, while you’re deciding if you’d like to pursue a career in one of these fields, you may want to take the opportunity to try out the software for free.
What’s the Difference Between CAD and 3D?
First let’s find out just what exactly is the difference between CAD and 3D. While both CAD and 3D software are capable of rendering objects in three dimensions, there are differences in the two. The most basic difference between the two programs is the depth of the created object.
With CAD, the designer is usually creating a functional object such as a house, or a car, or an engine. These types of objects have layers and layers of working parts. While on the outside, you may only see the surface of an engine, for example, it still has to have working parts on the inside.
3D modeling software, on the other hand, is often used to design objects that we only need to see the surface. A good example might be a character in a video game. While we can assume the character has internal organs, the game play is only concerned with its exterior.
Free CAD Software
While these are not all of the free CAD software available, they are some of the most accessible.
It’s also very much worth noting that AutoCAD, which makes some of the most widely used software for a number of industries, offers a free, fully functional, version for download to students, military veterans, and anyone who is unemployed who has previously worked in the architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) industry.
SketchUp Make http://www.sketchup.com/ is a free CAD/3D program from Google.
The free version is quite powerful, with suggested applications for architecture, interior design, game design, film and stage, and even 3D printing. There are examples of users’ work under each heading.
The SketchUp site also offers a wide range of learning resources, such as the Learn Center, the SketchUp blog, forums, and even video tutorials.
Google also offers an upgrade to SketchUp Pro to currently enrolled students for $49.99.
Unlike some of the other software on this list, Draft it is a 2D CAD program. But, when you think about it, before computers, there were pencil and paper, and the drawings created with pencil and paper are two dimensional, even if they sometimes appear to have depth. So, a 2D program shouldn’t necessarily limit what you can conceive of and represent.
As with Google, CADLogic offers many learning resources and support resources. One testimonial for Draft it Free states that the user was fully fluent in the program in just two days.
Like many of the free software sites, CADLogic http://www.cadlogic.com/index.asp offers paid upgrades to Draft it Free, including Draft it Plus, Draft it Pro, and Draft it Architectural. Be careful if you decide to upgrade, as CADLogic is a British company and those prices are in British pounds, not U.S. dollars.
FreeCAD http://www.freecadweb.org/ is an open source 3D CAD modeler, which means a community of programmers work together collectively to build the software and make upgrades based on user feedback. As a byproduct, some of the downloads seem a bit more “techy” than many of us are used to on commercial sites.
FreeCAD claims that, “if you use commercial parametric modeling software at work, you will find similar tools in FreeCAD.” For our purposes, we’re going to work the other way around. Learn Free CAD and then apply that knowledge to work.
FreeCAD does offer tutorials, but they are all text based. There are no video tutorials to be found on the website, but you can find quite a few, that seem to be official, on YouTube.
From AutoDesk, the maker of AutoCAD, comes AutoCAD 360 https://www.autocad360.com/free-cad-software/. This is a free app that you can run on your iOS device or Android phone or tablet, as well as run in a browser on your laptop or desktop.
AutoCAD 360 lets you view and markup drawings in the DWG format, make basic drawings and basic edits. It’s perfectly suitable for smaller, less detailed projects, and can be used in conjunction with the paid software to view and markup more complex projects. You also get 5 GB of free cloud storage.
As with many creative software offerings, such as Adobe, AutoCAD 360 upgrades are subscription based, saving the user a ton of upfront money. Upgrades to AutoCAD 360 Pro and AutoCAD 360 Pro Plus cost $49 a year and $99 a year respectively.
Free 3D Software
Again, as with the free CAD software, this is by no means an exhaustive list, but includes some of the best options out there.
Blender http://www.blender.org/ is not only open source 3D modeling software, but it is also a community of programmers and designers, working together to constantly improve the platform and share their creative work. Their moto is “Free to Use. Free to Change. Free to Share. Free to Sell Your Work. Blender is FREE SOFTWARE.”
Blender can be used for photorealistic renderings, creating animations, designing video games, and even video editing, to name just a few applications of the software.
And, there’s no reason to be intimidated. The Blender community provides plenty of support. There’s an online manual on the site, as well as video tutorials, and professional support.
If you have any interest in graphic design, animation, game design, or film making and special effects, you should check out Blender.org.
3DCrafter http://amabilis.com/ by amabilis, promotes itself as “a real-time 3D modeling and animation tool that incorporates an intuitive drag-and-drop approach to 3D modeling.” Essentially, once you’ve created an object or a character by modifying different shapes, the object can be animated simply by dragging it on the background for each new frame of your film.
3D Crafter is an ideal tool for beginning animated film makers and like most of the software offerings we’ve looked at, there are upgrades to paid versions once you become more proficient.
If you’re more interested in game development, you might want to shell out the $34.95 for 3DCrafter Plus, or if you want even more flexibility for your animated films, 3DCrafter Pro runs $69.95.
The Indian based software company 3D Tin, was purchased by Canadian startup Lagoa http://home.lagoa.com/ in 2013. What the acquisition by Lagoa brings for users is the power of cloud based computing.
3D modeling software can be very processor intensive. What Lagoa does is provide that processor power to the customer through the cloud. There is no software to download. The entire creative process takes place in a web browser. So, this free program is perfect for less powerful laptops, like a Chromebook.
Finally, while Rhinoceros http://www.rhino3d.com/ is actually paid software, they do offer a generous 90 day free trial, more than enough time for budding designers to learn the software.
What are You Waiting For?
So, whether you’re interested in architecture, engineering, industrial design, video game production, or graphic design, there’s a free program out there waiting for you to explore. What are you waiting for? Get started putting those creative skills to work.