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CAD Software for 3D Printing: Types & Best Choices

June 25, 2024

15 minutes read

CAD software is like a magic wand in 3D printing. It transforms ideas into tangible products. It breathes life into designs, adds professional sophistication, and streamlines the product development cycle.

Our guide focuses on its key features and functionalities, helping you select the right software for your needs. Whether you create designs as a hobby or use CAD for professional purposes, this guide explains all the software options and acts as your roadmap to mastering CAD software for 3D printing.

What is CAD Software?

The main purpose of CAD or computer-aided design software is to help design and document a product’s design process. The power of CAD is in its capacity to generate precise mathematical models, which are crucial for accurate 3D printing. CAD is like an architectural blueprint, describing every aspect of an object before being brought to life.

CAD software comes in different levels of sophistication and capability, offering a range from simple shapes to complex designs for advanced users. Beyond being a mere tool, it is a canvas where imagination converges with precision, allowing designers and engineers to conceptualize, visualize, and test their creations in a virtual environment.

Why is CAD Software Important for 3D Printing?

CAD software is vital for successful 3D printing because it performs key roles such as:

  • Validating Designs: CAD tools enable the detection and correction of design flaws before printing, conserving resources.
  • Managing Complex Projects: CAD software facilitates the handling of intricate projects with multiple parts, ensuring a perfect fit among all components.
  • Promoting Efficiency and Precision: CAD’s accurate mathematical modeling guarantees a print meets the designer’s exact specifications.

The invaluable contribution of CAD software is particularly evident in the animation, product design, and industrial engineering sectors. In these areas, CAD software is a fundamental part of the creative and manufacturing workflows.

How does CAD software work?

CAD software in 3D printing consists of five steps:

  1. Initial Design: It begins with creating a dimensional sketch or design using various tools within the software. The design could involve manipulating points, lines, and shapes to form a basic model.
  2. Refinement and Detailing: The software refines the basic model with additional details, such as textures, colors, and more intricate shapes. This step often involves a mix of artistic flair and engineering precision.
  3. Simulation and Testing: Many CAD programs offer simulation tools to test how a design will behave in the real world. Testing is crucial for ensuring functionality and safety.
  4. Preparation for Printing: Once the program finalizes the design, it’s converted into a format compatible with 3D printers, often an STL file. This conversion involves slicing the model into layers and generating the necessary G-code.
  5. Printing: The G-code is then sent to the 3D printer, guiding it to create the object layer by layer.

What Are The Typical Features and Functionalities CAD Software offers?

CAD software offers many features and functionalities, each contributing to the seamless transition from concept to creation. CAD is more than just a program; it’s a suite of tools that work together to bring designs to life.

Let’s explore these features in detail:

  • Design and Modeling Tools: CAD software provides a robust platform for creating detailed designs and models. These tools allow users to draft dimensional sketches and manipulate basic shapes, forming the foundation of any 3D model. Whether for the animation industry or additive manufacturing, these tools offer the necessary precision and flexibility to design real-life objects and complex projects.
  • Parametric and Polygonal Modeling: CAD programs often feature a parametric component and polygonal modeling capabilities. Parametric modeling is crucial for projects requiring a precise and mathematical model and dimensional accuracy. In contrast, polygonal modeling is more suited for organic shapes and gently inclining flat structures, often used in the animation and gaming industries.
  • Simulation and Analysis Tools: Advanced CAD software can simulate real-world conditions. Simulations include stress tests, heat dispersion analyses, and aerodynamic simulations. These give critical insights into how a design will perform in real-world conditions.
  • Rendering and Visualization: High-quality CAD rendering tools enable designers to visualize creations with realistic textures, lighting (ray tracing), and materials. This feature is not just about aesthetics. It helps bring a design closer to reality, allowing designers and clients to see the finished product before being physically made.
  • File Compatibility and Export Options: Effective CAD software supports various file formats, including STL files for 3D printing. Exporting files in different formats ensures compatibility with other programs and printers, a crucial factor in product development cycles.
  • Reverse Engineering and Generative Design: Some advanced CAD software includes reverse engineering capabilities, enabling users to deconstruct existing models and learn from them. Generative design uses algorithmic methods to develop models, pushing the boundaries of traditional design.
  • User-Friendly Interface and Accessibility: Leading CAD programs have a user-friendly interface catering to beginners and professional users. Ease of access, comprehensive tutorials, and support systems make CAD software a go-to tool for diverse users.
  • Customization and Extensibility: Many CAD tools offer extensive customization options, including plugins, templates, and scripts. These allow users to tailor the software to their needs, enhancing productivity and efficiency.
  • Collaboration and Cloud Features: CAD software often includes features for team collaboration. Cloud-based storage and sharing functionalities enable design teams to collaborate seamlessly, irrespective of geographical barriers.
  • Slicing Software for 3D Printing: Slicing software in CAD programs converts models into G-code, the language that 3D printers understand. This feature ensures the printed object accurately reflects the designed model.
  • Comprehensive Learning Resources: Many developers provide extensive learning resources to address the steep learning curve associated with CAD software. These include video tutorials, online forums, and in-app guidance, ensuring users can fully utilize the software.
  • Integration with Other Design Tools: CAD software often integrates with other design and engineering tools for a more streamlined workflow. This integration is particularly beneficial in complex projects that require a multi-faceted approach.
  • Customizable Print Profiles and Parameters: For those involved in 3D printing, the ability to customize print profiles and parameters within the CAD software is a significant advantage. This feature allows fine-tuning the printing process, ensuring optimal results.

What Are the Features and Requirements to Look for in CAD Software for 3D Printing?

Selecting the right CAD software for 3D printing involves understanding the essential features and requirements for successful design and printing.

These features enhance its ability to create complex and precise models and ensure compatibility and efficiency with 3D printing technologies.

Here is our list of 9 CAD features and functionalities that we think are fundamental when it comes to 3D printing:

  1. 3D Model Generation: The primary function of CAD software in 3D printing is to generate detailed and accurate 3D models. This function involves creativity and precision, allowing users to develop aesthetically pleasing and mechanically sound models.
  2. Exporting to STL and Other Formats: A crucial feature of CAD software is the export of designs into STL files, a standard file format in 3D printing. However, flexibility in supporting other file formats like OBJ and AMF is also desirable, as it caters to diverse printing technologies and needs.
  3. Direct Printing Capabilities: Advanced CAD software offers the convenience of direct printing, enabling users to send designs to 3D printers from the native application. This feature streamlines the printing process, making it more efficient and user-friendly.
  4. Parametric Modeling: Parametric modeling is vital for creating precise and mathematical models. This feature allows users to define specific parameters and constraints, making it easy to edit and adjust designs without starting from scratch.
  5. Integration with Slicing Software: For effective 3D printing, CAD software should seamlessly integrate with slicing software. This integration is crucial for converting CAD models into G-code. G-code is the language 3D printers understand and ensures the printer accurately translates the design into the physical object.
  6. Simulation Tools for Print Success: Real-time simulation tools are a game-changer in CAD software, offering predictions on print success. These tools check for potential errors or issues in the design that could affect the printing process, saving time and resources.
  7. Support for Various Printing Technologies: As 3D printing evolves, CAD software must keep pace by supporting various printing technologies like FDM, SLA, and SLS. This versatility allows users to choose the most suitable technology for their project needs.
  8. Collaboration and Cloud-based Features: In a world where remote work and collaboration are becoming the norm, CAD software must offer features that support teamwork. Cloud-based storage, file sharing, and collaborative tools are vital. They enable design teams to work together effectively, regardless of their location.
  9. Regular Updates and Improvements: Continuous updates and improvements are essential to keep CAD software relevant and efficient. These updates often include new features, bug fixes, and enhancements that improve the overall user experience and compatibility with the latest 3D printing technologies.

The Best CAD Software for 3D Printing

Selecting the right CAD software for 3D printing is pivotal to turning ideas into reality. This section explores various software, focusing on their features, capabilities, and suitability for different user levels.

Best Free CAD Software for Beginners


TinkerCAD, a creation of Autodesk, stands out as an exceptional, completely free online 3D design tool, particularly suitable for beginners. Available in 16 languages, this software uses a straightforward block construction method, allowing users to craft models from basic geometric shapes like cylinders, triangles, and circles. The interface is intuitive, enabling easy manipulation of shapes, including movements, rotations, and alteration of perspectives.

TinkerCAD does more than basic shape manipulation. It offers additional layers of creativity, like integrating electronic circuits and basic programming functionalities. Added dimensions benefit users who wish to explore beyond mere shape formation.

The software’s simplicity does not hinder its utility. It can produce and save designs in various formats, such as STL, OBJ, or SVG, which are compatible with most 3D printers. While TinkerCAD might have limitations for complex designs, its simplicity is its strength, making it an ideal starting point for novices in 3D modeling.

Moreover, TinkerCAD is rich in educational resources. It provides tutorials and guides, aiding beginners to grasp the basics of 3D modeling efficiently. The platform is also a treasure trove of files, allowing users to explore and customize shapes that align with their project needs.

A notable feature of TinkerCAD is its direct integration with third-party printing services. This seamless connection simplifies bringing a digital model to physical form, offering a convenient print-and-deliver option at the click of a button.

TinkerCAD is a big success in the education sector. It is popular in classrooms, providing a user-friendly environment for students and educators. The platform is browser-based and easily accessible with minimal system requirements, a significant advantage for users with limited resources.

The gallery of user-created 3D models on TinkerCAD is not just a showcase but a resource. Beginners can view, copy, and modify these models, making the learning process interactive and community-driven. This approach helps new users quickly grasp the fundamentals of 3D modeling and printing.


FreeCAD is a significant player in CAD software, particularly for those embarking on their 3D modeling journey. This entirely free, open-source parametric 3D modeling tool is a robust platform for designing real-life objects of various sizes. Its parametric design capability makes editing and adapting models easy, so users can delve into the design history and tweak parameters to transform their models effectively.

While FreeCAD does not primarily target professional users, it offers a range of features that provide a solid foundation in 3D modeling. The software is adept at integrating several advanced features, making it a valuable tool for those willing to climb its learning curve. It’s an excellent choice for amateurs and even advanced users keen on exploring parametric modeling—a technique widely employed in professional CAD software for precise and accurate design work.

FreeCAD’s graphical user interface (GUI) might not have the polished look of some of its counterparts. But its functionality is geared toward pro-level design. The software supports many export formats, including STL and OBJ for 3D printing and other formats like STEP, IGES, and DWG for model sharing. This versatility makes it a valuable tool in a designer’s arsenal, particularly for those involved in complex projects requiring detailed and mathematical modeling.

Price-wise, FreeCAD is free, a significant advantage for those just starting in 3D modeling and not yet ready to invest in software. Every tool within FreeCAD is accessible without any paywall, allowing full exploration and manipulation of models. This openness also means that users can modify and extend the software, aligning it more closely with their needs.


SelfCAD emerges as a versatile and user-friendly CAD software. It’s well-suited for both beginners and professionals in 3D printing. This software provides a balanced environment where users can engage in various facets of 3D modeling, such as rendering, sculpting, and slicing, all within a single program. While SelfCAD is not entirely free, its free version encompasses a sufficiently extensive range of features for bringing creative ideas to fruition.

SelfCAD is recognized for its accessibility and ease of use, making it a preferred choice for those new to 3D modeling. It offers an intuitive approach to creating designs, whether from scratch using freehand drawing and sketching tools or by utilizing shape generators that facilitate design creation from templates. This blend of simplicity and capability makes it an attractive option for users at various skill levels.

A standout feature of SelfCAD is its image-to-3D tool, which allows users to transform any image into a 3D model. This capability adds a dimension of creativity and practicality, enabling users to materialize visuals into tangible models effortlessly.

Moreover, the built-in free online slicer in SelfCAD is a significant advantage, streamlining the process from design to printing by generating the necessary G-code without needing a separate program.

For those needing to modify STL files, SelfCAD offers tools like the Simplify 3D feature, which allows for efficient editing and optimization of models. This feature, demonstrated in various tutorials, showcases how the software handles complex tasks while maintaining user-friendliness.

Furthermore, online and offline accessibility across Windows and Mac platforms, with synchronized versions, ensures that SelfCAD users can work flexibly, adapting to various working environments and needs. This cross-platform functionality is especially beneficial for users who need to switch between operating systems or work remotely.

In terms of interface, SelfCAD maintains a slim yet functional design. The GUI design avoids overwhelming users with excessive tools, making the software approachable for newcomers and occasional designers. The included interactive tutorials are invaluable resources for beginners to get a comprehensive understanding of 3D modeling.

The slicing engine in SelfCAD supports a wide range of printers and allows customization of profiles, making it adaptable to various 3D printing needs. The software’s free license, accompanied by a paid option that offers additional tools, provides flexibility and choice to users based on their specific requirements and budget constraints.


BlocksCAD is a unique CAD software designed primarily for educational purposes, particularly in classrooms. This software bridges a gap for users, particularly young learners, to eventually transition to using OpenSCAD, a more advanced CAD tool. BlocksCAD has an ingeniously crafted user interface, using color blocks reminiscent of LEGO, which makes it engaging and accessible for children.

The core of BlocksCAD lies in its compatibility with OpenSCAD’s code, allowing for a smooth transition of models for further refinement. Users can export their designs in either OpenSCAD or STL format, offering flexibility in terms of usability with different software and 3D printers.

A notable aspect of BlocksCAD is its educational approach. The software has a YouTube channel hosting a variety of tutorials on 3D modeling. These resources are invaluable for anyone, especially educators and students, to learn the basics of CAD software in a fun and interactive way.

The visual and block-based approach of BlocksCAD makes it a potent tool for introducing young minds to the concepts of 3D modeling and printing. It ensures that the learning process is both enjoyable and informative.

BlocksCAD’s emphasis on education and ease of use does not compromise its capability to design complex objects. The software’s intuitive interface allows users to easily manipulate and transform objects, fostering creativity and understanding of three-dimensional design principles from an early age.

DesignSpark Mechanical

DesignSpark Mechanical is an impressive, free CAD software. It caters to both amateurs and advanced users. This software is known for its solid modeling capabilities and is noted for its library of 3D models from industrial suppliers. This library is a significant asset for users looking to incorporate or reference existing designs.

One of the defining features of DesignSpark Mechanical is its ability to generate a bill of materials for designs. This functionality is helpful for professionals and hobbyists who need to calculate the cost implications of their 3D design projects. Such a feature streamlines transitioning from design to production, making DesignSpark Mechanical a practical choice for users focused on design and manufacturing aspects.

The user interface of DesignSpark Mechanical is straightforward and efficient, ensuring a smooth design experience. Beginners will find the interface approachable, while advanced users will appreciate its speed and efficiency. The software also includes electrical and PCB CAD tools, broadening its scope beyond mere mechanical design.

A unique feature for new users is the pull feature, which allows the creation of 3D models starting from just a surface. This tool simplifies the modeling process, making it more accessible for beginners. Despite being a free software, DesignSpark Mechanical is feature-rich, offering a variety of tools and functionalities that are both beginner-friendly and sufficient for more advanced projects.


Blender stands out as a free and open-source 3D software, revered for its comprehensive suite of 3D designing solutions. It operates in multiple languages, including Hindi, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Arabic, Spanish, French, Thai, and Turkish, among others, making it highly accessible to a global audience.

Blender launched initially as an in-house tool for NeoGeo, a commercial animation company, but became a favorite among professionals, especially in the animation industry, for creating detailed 3D printing designs.

Blender’s versatility is one of its most compelling features. It encompasses diverse functionalities, including 3D modeling, texturing, rigging, skinning, smoke and particle simulation, animation, rendering, and even video editing. This breadth of features positions Blender as a tool for 3D printing and a complete 3D computer graphics software.

Despite being free, Blender features capabilities often found in high-end, professional software. It supports the creation of models for 3D printing, but note that it comes with a steep learning curve. New users may find Blender challenging to master, as its extensive features can be intimidating and confusing. However, for those willing to invest the time and effort, Blender offers an unparalleled range of tools and functions, making it a powerful asset in advanced professional 3D modeling.

Blender is comprehensive in its feature set and compatibility with various operating systems, including Windows, MacOS, and Linux. The software’s open-source nature further adds to its appeal, allowing users to modify and enhance it according to their needs. Blender’s community-driven development means it is continually evolving and improving, keeping pace with the latest trends and technologies in 3D design.

CAD Software for Intermediate Users


BRL-CAD is a distinguished brand in CAD software, best known for its advanced solid modeling capabilities. Available for free, this open-source software is celebrated for its robustness and precision, making it a dependable choice for complex modeling tasks.

Originally developed for the U.S. military to support ballistic and electromagnetic analyses, BRL-CAD’s pedigree is evident in its functionality and reliability. The software utilizes specific coordinates to arrange geometric shapes, allowing for a high degree of accuracy in design. This accuracy makes it especially suitable for tasks requiring meticulous attention to detail.

BRL-CAD offers an extensive library of simple and complex shapes, providing users with vast options to incorporate into their designs. The ability to combine multiple shapes effortlessly adds to its versatility. The transition of BRL-CAD to open-source has made its rich arsenal of over 400 tools widely accessible, enhancing its appeal to a broad user base.

The software’s performance is remarkable and efficiently runs even when handling dense features. Its speed and wide range of tools make it a solid choice for users looking for a powerful yet cost-free CAD solution.


Creo is a renowned 3D CAD solution with an impressive history. Originally known as Wildfire or Pro/E, it was established by PTC in 1987 and uses parametric or rule-based constraint 3D modeling principles. Over time, it has evolved as an all-inclusive software suite. It now offers a vast array of features such as assembly models, FEA, direct or surface models, and design for tooling.

The software is priced at $2,310 for a standard license, with a 30-day free trial available, making it a significant investment for users. However, its extensive capabilities justify the cost, particularly for professional and corporate users.

Creo’s focus on rapid product innovation enables the creation of superior products at a faster pace. It is user-friendly, guiding users from the initial design phase to final product manufacture and beyond. Integrating new technologies like generative design, augmented reality, and additive manufacturing within Creo allows users to benefit from faster iterations, reduced costs, and improved product quality.

Creo is suitable for working on large assemblies, with a track record of being used by major corporations like Aston Martin, John Deere, and Volkswagen. Its solid, surfacing, and polygonal modeling approaches, with an advanced generative design module, make it an all-encompassing solution for complex design and manufacturing tasks.

Creo’s Advanced Plus package is appealing to engineers, offering advanced surfacing, 3D printing slicer, GD&T, mold design, and simulation. When used with PTC’s PLM solution Windchill, Creo offers high-level management of assemblies, part lists, and vendors, enhancing control over the entire design and manufacturing process.

MoI 3D

MoI 3D (Moment of Inspiration) is CAD software that strikes a balance between user-friendliness and advanced functionality, priced at $295.

It caters to a range of users, from amateurs to those with more experience in 3D modeling. MoI 3D stands out for its ability to create smooth meshes from CAD models and its compatibility with pen tablets, enhancing its appeal to designers who prefer a more hands-on approach.

The software employs the NURBS modeling system, known for its accuracy and flexibility in creating complex organic shapes. The MoI 3D interface is sleek and intuitive, removing unnecessary complexities and focusing on essential tools.

This design philosophy makes it less daunting for new users while still providing powerful capabilities for more advanced modeling tasks.

Its advanced boolean functions are particularly noteworthy for users specializing in polygonal modeling, allowing for the quick design of hard-surface models. The streamlined workflow provided by the MoI 3D system of using curves and booleans accelerates the design process, making it a time-efficient choice for users.

Dassault Systèmes CATIA

Dassault Systèmes CATIA launched in 1977 and is now an enterprise-scale software widely used in industries like aerospace, automotive, and industrial equipment design. CATIA’s long history has seen it evolve into a mature, feature-heavy Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) solution, integrating support from CAD to CAM.

CATIA’s comprehensive nature makes it ideal for large corporations engaged in complex design projects. Its use in various industries by major players attests to its reliability and advanced capabilities.

The software offers a blend of solid, surfacing, and polygonal modeling approaches, catering to diverse design requirements. Its advanced generative design module for shape optimization further enhances its utility.

CATIA’s surfacing tools, such as blends and sweeps, are known for their reliability, setting it apart from competing software packages. Investment in CATIA’s advanced packages brings additional benefits for engineers, like a 3D printing slicer, GD&T, mold design, and simulation, enhancing the depth and breadth of design possibilities.

Solid Edge

Solid Edge is versatile CAD software, accessible for beginners yet comprehensive enough for professionals. Prices start at $75 per month. Solid Edge was first released in 1996 and has since undergone significant development, making it a reliable choice across various sectors.

This software utilizes its unique synchronous technology, blending parametric and direct modeling to elevate simplicity while offering high-level control through history-based modeling.

This innovative approach enables users to manage complex designs and workflows efficiently.

Solid Edge’s AI-powered user interface, high processing speed, and cloud capabilities further enhance its appeal, allowing users to access CAD from any device.

With the latest enhancements in the 2023 version, Solid Edge supports modern product development processes, enabling more efficient use of resources and new ways of working. Its comprehensive suite of tools and functionalities makes it a valuable asset for many design applications, from individual projects to large-scale industrial designs.

Autodesk Fusion 360

Autodesk Fusion 360 has made an impressive impact in the CAD software arena since its release in 2013. With versions available for Mac OSX and Windows, Fusion 360 stands out for its cross-platform compatibility.

Notably, it offers free versions, making it accessible to a wide audience. Priced at $545/year or $70/month, Fusion 360 is an affordable yet powerful option for a range of users.

Developed by Autodesk, a leader in the CAD software industry, Fusion 360 is a cloud-based platform primarily utilized for product design, 3D modeling, CAD, CAM, and PCB. Its cloud-based nature facilitates collaborative efforts among design teams on complex projects, allowing simultaneous inputs and modifications.

The software stores the entire model history, including changes, which is beneficial for tracking and revising designs.

Fusion 360 offers diverse design options, including free-form, solid, and lattice structure modeling. Its generative design and simulation tools ensure manufacturability, optimizing the design process. Fusion 360 can export designs for 3D printing in formats like STL or OBJ.

Features like tool modeling, sculpting, generative design, simulation, assemblies, collaboration, 3D printing, and CAM make Fusion 360 a versatile tool for many applications.


4D_Additive is a software developed by CoreTechnologie, a French-German company, offering a unique set of functionalities for CAD model preparation and optimization. It stands out for its ability to repair all types of models and enable modeling in exact geometry. This software is particularly adept at preparing CAD models for 3D printing. It offers analysis functions to determine the best part orientation and optimize printing plate filling.

The software provides access to over 5,000 surface textures and various manual or automatic support structures. Its ability to export models in formats such as .3mf, .amf, .obj, and .stl enhances compatibility with many 3D printers. Regular updates ensure that 4D_Additive evolves continuously, adapting to the latest trends and user needs in the 3D printing and modeling industry.


Onshape emerged in 2015 as a pioneering CAD based on SaaS (Software-as-a-Service). This feature sets it apart in a field typically dominated by hardware-intensive and on-premise offerings. Onshape’s browser-based and mobile (Android/iOS) accessibility facilitate collaboration on a design by multiple users in real time, regardless of the platform. This approach democratizes the design process and enhances efficiency and collaborative dynamics in design development.

BricsCAD Shape

BricsCAD Shape, a product from the BricsSys software platform, offers a compelling, free modeling and visualization tool. This software operates in the DWG file format and is compatible with direct imports from SketchUp, although it is limited to opening only DXF, DWG, and DWT file types. With a functional and easily navigable GUI, including a standard toolbar and sidebar layout, BricsCAD Shape facilitates the creation of simple architectural and design models, mechanical part assemblies.

BricsCAD Shape’s interface is responsive, though its manipulation capabilities are somewhat limited. It includes essential tools for model creation and a visualization and rendering environment for previewing designs. The software supports export formats like DAE, FBX, and STL, offering versatility for various design needs. BricsCAD Shape is suitable for beginner to intermediate levels, providing a free yet robust solution for CAD modeling on Windows, MacOS, and Linux operating systems.

CAD Software for Professionals


SolidWorks, a staple in the CAD software realm since its launch in 1995 and subsequent acquisition by Dassault Systèmes in 1997, is a preferred choice across engineering, manufacturing, and design sectors. Recognized for its user-friendly parametric CAD capabilities, SolidWorks has garnered a substantial user base, with over two million engineers and designers in more than 165,000 companies globally as of 2013.

This software is more than just a core CAD package; it encompasses a broad spectrum of additional products and modules for simulation, industry-specific applications, and rendering/graphic design.

Offering a robust set of features like design validation tools and reverse engineering capabilities, SolidWorks caters to the creation of industrial objects with practicality and precision. One of its distinguishing features is the utilization of NURBS (Non-Uniform Rational B-Splines), enabling the creation of highly detailed and accurate curves, as opposed to the standard polygonal modeling approach.

However, a notable limitation of SolidWorks is its restricted capability in importing .STL files, often necessitating secondary software for post-design processing. The software comes with a yearly subscription cost of $1,295 or a perpetual license option of $3,995.


AutoCAD, introduced by Autodesk in 1982, is a pioneering force in the CAD software domain, establishing itself as a foundational tool across various industries. Despite its longstanding popularity, AutoCAD has seen a gradual decline in preference within the 3D printing community, as highlighted by i.materialise’s poll.

Known for its excellence in 2D drafting, AutoCAD presents a more challenging environment for 3D modeling, especially for those unversed in programming models algorithmically. The steep learning curve for mastering macros and scripts makes it less accessible for simple part designs.

However, for those skilled in programming, AutoCAD offers extensive capabilities, including easily converting 3D models to STL files for 3D printing. Accessible through a mobile and web app version known as AutoCAD 360 since 2010, it costs around $185/month or $1,470/year.


CATIA, developed by Dassault Systèmes, is a leading product design and experience solution extensively utilized by major companies in various industries.

Recognized for enabling architects, engineers, and construction professionals to design in a cloud environment, CATIA eliminates traditional project constraints. This comprehensive 3D modeling tool encompasses all design and construction phases, ensuring full digital continuity on the cloud-based 3D EXPERIENCE platform.

CATIA’s versatility is reflected in its wide range of 3D modeling tools, paving the way for innovative product design and experience. While CATIA is a high-end, enterprise-scale solution, its starting price is around $10,000, reflecting its advanced capabilities and professional target audience.


OpenSCAD stands out in the CAD software landscape for its unique approach to 3D modeling, focusing primarily on the CAD aspects rather than the artistic elements common in other software. Launched as a free and open-source application, OpenSCAD is compatible with GNU/Linux, Microsoft Windows, and Mac OS.

Unlike generalized 3D modeling tools like Blender, OpenSCAD targets users interested in creating precise machine parts or geometrically complex models. Its reliance on a descriptive language-based system makes it less intuitive for casual users, positioning it as a more suitable tool for professionals adept in algorithmic modeling.

Despite these complexities, OpenSCAD’s commitment to detailed and accurate 3D CAD modeling makes it a valuable resource for those in specialized fields requiring exact specifications.


Rhino is renowned for its versatility and powerful 3D modeling capabilities. Utilizing the NURB (Non-Uniform Rational B-Spline) mathematical model, Rhino allows intricate manipulation of points, curves, meshes, surfaces, and solids.

Among its strengths are a broad spectrum of design features and the ability to create highly accurate organic shapes, particularly with the introduction of SubD tools in version 7. The Quadmesh feature further enhances these capabilities, enabling the conversion of various geometries into quad meshes for precise modeling.

Rhino comes at a cost – Rhino 7 starts at $995, but it offers a range of bundle options tailored to different needs and platforms, including Windows and Mac. This pricing positions Rhino as a viable option for individual designers and professional teams seeking advanced 3D modeling tools.

Siemens NX

Siemens NX, originally Unigraphics NX, represents a comprehensive solution in the CAD domain, particularly favored by large-scale enterprises.

Acquired by Siemens in 2007, this software integrates direct and parametric modeling, engineering analysis, and CAM functionality into a singular platform. Beyond its CAD/CAE/CAM/Simulation capabilities, Siemens NX boasts a plethora of industry- and material-specific packages, making it a versatile choice for various applications.

Known for its integrated toolset, Siemens NX facilitates every phase of product development, from conceptual design with CAD through engineering and manufacturing, thereby streamlining the product development process.

It’s a premium solution, with pricing starting from $3,444, reflecting its advanced features and extensive applicability in diverse industries.

Inventor by Autodesk

Inventor from Autodesk is a high-caliber software specifically designed for mechanical design, 3D design, documentation, and product simulation. Combining parametric, direct, free-form, and rule-based design capabilities, Inventor stands out for its integrated tools that cater to sheet metal, frame, tube, and power design.

It excels in creating efficient designs and facilitating design automation with its iLogic feature. Moreover, Inventor’s ability to connect design with customer data and facilitate collaboration through a secure cloud service makes it an exceptional choice for professionals.

Priced at $305/month for a single user or $2,440/year, Inventor targets advanced users and professionals, especially in product design and engineering sectors. Its frequent updates, often influenced by user feedback, ensure that the software remains at the forefront of 3D CAD technology.

Final Thoughts on CAD Software for 3D Printing

CAD software is vital in 3D printing as it shapes the efficiency and outcome of projects. The right CAD software can enhance the 3D printing process by offering precision, flexibility, and efficiency, which are necessary for successful project completion.

A wide range of software is available, catering to diverse users, including enthusiasts, educators, and industry experts.

From free, user-friendly platforms to sophisticated professional suites, there is a CAD software option for everyone.

As 3D printing technology evolves, these CAD tools will likely develop in tandem, providing even more refined and advanced solutions.

Are you ready to take your 3D printing to the next level? Look no further than Raise3D. With advanced features, sophisticated software, and industry-leading customer service, Raise3D is your choice for the best quality!

Explore the full range of Raise3D products today and discover the difference the right 3D printer makes.

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