Free is a much discussed topic. After all because everyone is so attracted to the word free, software manufacturers will market their products as this. There soon follows a pay button to which obliges users to follow to begin using the product.
The following short list of free packages all have paid versions which you can easily upgrade to. Given the high cost of the traditional professional packages, the paid versions of the below are still a fraction of the cost. However, they contain far more than a fraction of the functionality. Therefore, on value you get enormous bang for your buck.
The well titled for this post, FreeCAD is a free and open source general purpose 3D CAD modeler. It is aimed directly at mechanical engineering and product design but is also a good fit for architectural drafting. It is a strong alternative to softwares like SolidWorks and AutoCAD.
As with many modern 3D CAD packages, you are expected to create your model in 3D. You then have a 2D component which extracts drawings from the model. This style of CAD, likened to Revit or Archicad seem to be phasing out the conventional 2D style drafting packages.
There is a standalone 2D drawing element but it is not the focus. FreeCAD has its own file format but can also use the DXF, SVG, STEP, IGES and IFC. Definitely worth a try if you like the 3D model style of working.
Archimedes is a CAD program being developed with direct input from architects and architecture firms. With this design philosophy, the developers hope to create software better suited for architecture than the currently widely used AutoCAD, and other available CAD software. At least that is how Archimedes is marketed.
However, Archimedes uses its own XML-based open format, which resembles
SVG. It does not yet include support for other CAD formats,
but DXF support is planned. This is a big problem with compatibility. Its CAD features are quite basic and include explode, offset, trimming, filleting, autosave, SVG & PDF export and others. For me, compatibility is a big issue for Archimedes.
DraftSight is a freeware CAD software application. It lets users create, edit and view DWG and AutoCAD DXF files. The user interface is quite similar to AutoCAD. The standalone, single-user version of DraftSight is free until a user saves or prints a document for the first time. They will then be asked to activate the product within 30 days using a valid email address and reactivate after six months and thereafter at 12-month intervals.
Very comparable to other drafting software’s on the market. There is no need to memorize new icons or inputs. It is an easy download, user friendly, and has solid technical support and resources. If you are looking for a program to read and write all DWG files, the free version of DraftSight is a great option. I didn’t try out the paid version, as for the purposes of this review I am simply testing free open source software.
The comparisons to AutoCAD are numerous. Even the command window is there! If you’re pretty experienced with AutoCAD, you’re probably wondering if the text commands work. For the most part they do. A couple of commands seem to be different but the basics are there. Even the “F” keys work, such as F2 showing the command window up front or F8 turning “ortho” on or off.
Although I haven’t used DraftSight for any really big drafting, I’ve found it useful for when you don’t have access to 3D drafting tools such as Solidworks. If you prefer the traditional 2D CAD drafting tool like the basic AutoCAD package this gets the thumbs up from me.
Despite its many flaws, it’s a very good bit of kit for the rock-bottom price. I would still recommend it to those looking into doing some casual design work and cannot justify a more expensive CAD package. I’d even go as far to say that it might actually be suitable as a low-cost introduction to CAD for educational or training establishments.
I’ve been on to the developer’s forums to try to get some of these issues addressed, and I’ll nag them incessantly until they fix these nasty ones, because QCad is a very promising product and deserves to have some of the rough edges rounded off.
I found sometimes the command line doesn’t pick up on what you’re typing. You have to click there first which is time consuming. Also I noticed shortcuts were working, but I couldn’t find a list of them (they are not exactly the same as AutoCAD). I found it time consuming to click on every icon. Another point is that 2D cad is being phased out slowly and being replaced with 3D programs like Revit. Revit for example can take a 3D model and allow you to draw sections and elevations from it, but also assign materials for estimating costs.
So, comparable to Draftsight in the way it based on a 2D drafting package. This really boils down to personal preference in working styles.
Let me know your preferences in the comments section if you have had experience with any of the packages reviewed here. If not, let me know if you’d like me to review a different package to add to the list.