1. Computing

Five Top Free CAD Packages

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We all love the word "free" but if what you get free doesn't do what you need it to, then it's still overpriced. Here though, I've got five of the very best free CAD software packages out there for you to take a look at.

1. AutoCAD Student Version

AutoCAD, for free?

Yea, you read that right. AutoCAD, the heavy hitter of the CAD industry, offers a free, fully functional, version for download to students, faculty, military veterans, and anyone who is unemployed that has previously worked in the AEC industry. The only limitation of the software is a watermark on any plots you generate designating that the file was created with a non-professional version.

Not only does Autodesk offer their base AutoCAD package free, they also offer free licenses for almost their entire suite of AEC vertical packages, such as Civil 3D, AutoCAD Architecture, and AutoCAD Electrical. That's a deal you're not going to find anywhere else!

If you're looking to learn CAD or just do some personal design work, this is absolutely the way for you to go.

2. Google (Trimble) SketchUp

SketchUp is one of the greatest free CAD packages ever put on the market. The free version has no limitations and it provides one of the simplest 3D design interfaces I've ever seen. Even if you've never done any CAD work or 3D modeling before, you can have some really nice presentations put together in minutes.

Of course, if you're looking to put out detailed designs, with accurate sizing and tolerances, you'll need to spend some time learning the ins and outs of the program. The great thing is that the SketchUp web site offers a really impressive array of video and self paced training options to help you along the way.

I can't say enough good stuff about this program. It's a must have for even veteran CAD drafters.

3. DraftSight

DraftSight is a truly free software package that is ideal for individual use. There are no fees or limitation on usage or plotting. The only requirement is that you need to activate the program with a valid e-mail address.

DraftSight is a basic 2D drafting package that looks and feels very much like AutoCAD. It has all the drafting tools you'll need for generating professional looking plans: lines and polylines, dimensions and text, and full layering capabilities. DraftSight even uses the .DWG format as its file type, the same as Autodesk products, so you'll have the ability to open and share files with other users.

4. DraftIt

The free version of DraftIt is a very basic CAD system. I wouldn't recommend it for trying to do any serious design work but for anyone who's looking to learn CAD or just do some basic sketches for your new bathroom layout, it's a workable system. I do have to say, there's one command here that really impresses me: offset. It's a common CAD command but I love that you can hit a check box that lets your offset to both sides of an object at the same time with a simple drag of the mouse. Check it out, its very cool.

5. Rhino 4.0

Rhino 4.0 is a 3D modeling software that I find very easy to use. It's got basic solids and the ability to form unions and free sketch in polylines that can be easily converted to 3D objects. The only thing I don't like about Rhino is that it's a limited use download. You can only save 25 files before the save feature is disabled. Still, it's a great way to practice 3d modeling, just make sure you don't save unless you absolutely have to!

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