2D 3D CAD Software


This page is focused on general purpose 2D 3D CAD Software for the Mac. You could use these programs to design almost anything from consumer products to architecture.

Some of these products are focused on their 3D modeling ability with 2D drafting being included but not dominant, whilst the others are primarily 2D with 3D ability included.

Professional 2D with 3D ability

  • BricsCAD V15 for OS X turns your Mac into a powerful CAD platform and it is the current opinion of the AppleCAD team that BricsCAD is a better alternative for those who would otherwise select AutoCAD out of habit. There are several key reasons for this. It is almost identical in operation but with a little more intuitive 3D ability and way less expensive. Parametric (dimension driven) 3D solids modeling also give it an edge. It even has some simplified architectural BIM tools for the creation and editing of walls and openings etc. Additionally the price is significantly less.
  • RealCAD Pro® – has the same interface and tool set found in its 2D offering (RealCAD LT) but RealCAD Pro enables the 3D modelling that is already there to function. RealCAD Pro is the product used for internationally recognized CAD Certificate training – We understand this is because RealCAD is easier to learn and is free to use whilst learning. In general terms RealCAD gets the Editor’s choice award in this category. If you wish to model in 3D easily and produce excellent 2D documentation and you need to get up and running quickly then RealCAD is an excellent choice. If however you are looking for software to do complex curvaceous surfacing then this is not the product for the task. RealCAD requires true solids, parametrics and unrestricted surface modeling to make it more suited to curvy product and jewelry design.
    We like RealCAD because it is extremely capable and efficient yet it is easiest to learn and doesn’t try to be a copy of everyone else.
  • TurboCAD® – for the Mac by IMSI/Design is a relatively new player in the Mac market, leveraging its well-known retail CAD product brand name to slip into the general purpose CAD for Mac market. Aimed mostly at the consumer, hobbyist and entry level professional market it is well priced and well optioned. The product is very different from its Windows® PC counterpart so if you know the PC version you will still have to relearn this one. It has a dedicated Mac oriented interface and is a good choice when wanting an all-rounder. It should always be purchased with the training DVD as there are many tools to learn and understand. It is available in two versions, one more advanced than the other. We would recommend buying this software from a dedicated CAD vendor rather than from an general software site like Amazon as you will undoubtedly need some level of support.
  • VectorWorks® – by Nemetschek is a well featured, well known and extensive 2D/3D CAD program for Mac, albeit quite intense to use, especially for the beginner. Vectorworks has a large following due to it being one of the first professional level Mac based CAD programs in the market and originally known as MiniCAD. It has a particularly strong user base in landscape and interior design as well as stage and lighting design. On its own Vectorworks compares with AutoCAD® and RealCAD® but most Vectorworks users will add a plug-in for either architecture, landscape or lighting design and rendering to make it even more useful. Whilst historically popular and well supported throughout the world, Vectorworks suffers from a legacy of being complex to use and having much of its screen real-estate taken up with menus and dialogs.
  • Draftsight® – CAD software for the Apple Mac from Dassault Systems is also new in this arena and is built on the same platform as ARES CAD for Mac from German company, Graebert GmbH. It is almost identical to its Windows®brother with only a few functions lacking in the Macintosh® version. This product is essentially the same software as CorelCAD® and several other re-badged OEM CAD programs. Designed to feel very similar to the Windows®version of AutoCAD® from AutoDesk Inc., Draftsight is supplied free as a marketing strategy for Dassault Systems to engage new clients and later have them upgrade to its significantly more powerful 3D parametric Windows only software SolidWorks. Support beyond forums or outside USA time zones may be difficult and its functionality must be investigated to ensure it has all the features you are looking for.
  • CorelCAD® – a 2D and 3D CAD for Mac is based on ARES CAD from Graebert of Germany. We are not quite sure why Corel decided to enter the already flooded CAD market and OEM ARES CAD but we assume it was to complement their suite of graphics products such as CorelDraw.
  • ARES® – by Graebert is the original of the Draftsight and CorelCAD software. Like the others it is an AutoCAD-like program designed to encourage experienced users of AutoCAD away. ARES is also available for Linux and Windows and runs DWG natively.
  • iCAD Mac – by ProgeCAD is a new player (or possibly an old player under a new name?) and one we haven’t been able to review fully as yet. This is another of the AutoCAD style ‘clone’ programs so could be of interest by those who already use AutoCAD or know and understand how it operates. It has some redeeming features added that the other three ‘copies’ don’t have such as 3D PDF output.
  • AutoCAD® for Mac – from Autodesk® is like TurboCAD® in that it has opted to leverage its well know brand to gain market acceptance. AutoCAD®for the Mac is a very different beast to AutoCAD® for Windows® as they have opted for a very Mac like interface. One could say that AutoCAD for the Mac is not really AutoCAD as we know it at all. At this stage there are very few add-in application available for the Mac version and so in reality, AutoCAD for the Mac has little more to offer that any other generic CAD software on this platform. The other detracting factor is that it is comparatively very expensive. You can create custom scripts, line types, hatch patterns, and command aliases, as well as AutoLISP and ObjectARX applications; however, there is no support for DCL in AutoLISP, nor is there access to some of the custom AutoCAD® user interface controls in ObjectARX. Technologies specific to Windows®, such as Visual Basic® for Applications, OLE® objects, and Windows Media Audio®, are not supported in AutoCAD for Mac. The most commonly used functionality of AutoCAD for Windows is included in AutoCAD for Mac. However, there are a few commands that are not included, including layer filters, layer groups, and layer states; Sheet Set Manager; and DGN, PDF, and DWF underlay support.

Strongly 3D focused…

  • Rhino3D® – is NURBs surface modeling for Mac by Robert McNeel Inc. The Mac version is still in Beta mode at this stage but if it’s anything like its Windows brother, when released it too will be very popular. Rhinoceros for Windows is a powerful 3D modeler that is particularly good for complex surfaces and is used extensively in the product design, industrial design, ship design and jewelry design industries. It is not quite as capable as SolidThinking – SolidThinking relates to changing the model parametrically but Rhino is very well priced, extremely popular and well supported. Rhino3D has almost become a default standard when it comes to curvaceous modelling for manufacturing and other downstream product design operations. It is recommended that you purchase Rhino and Rhino related software from a local CAD specialist as they will be able to offer you the support you will require.
  • SolidThinking® – is advanced 3D NURBS modeling CAD for the Mac by SolidThing who are owned by Altair Engineering. SolidThinking Evolve® is the modeling module and brings high-level parametrically controlled Non Uniform Rational B-Spline (NURB) curve ability into play!. What this means is that you can accurately model and subsequently control complex surfaces at any time in the modelling process by adjusting the dimensional and constraint parameters of the model or by visual dragging of control points. This is probably the best Mac based modeling tool for accurate creation of curvaceous and mechanical forms and is particularly useful in product design, jewellery design and curvaceous architectural building design. Model files from SolidThinking can be output to regular CAD programs for the creation of 2D documentation. In the same family of products also exists solidThinking Inspire® that takes models and applies optimization algorithms to create lighter, stronger, more rigid or more flexible shapes to the design. SolidThinking is sold only via channel partners of Altair.
  • CobaltArgonXenon and Graphite by Ashlar-Vellum are a range of modular programs designed for Mac and Windows and typically used in product design. We are unable to give a great deal of information on this software directly but their site is informative. Cobalt, Argon and Xenon are 3D modules with Graphite being the 2D toolset. Each can be bought separately. Cobalt is the flagship product in the range.
  • Bonzai® and Form Z® by AutoDeSys. Bonzai is a 3D sketch modelling tool for Mac OS-X and Windows. At one level it is similar to SketchUp but Bonzai provides more advanced modeling because the underlying software has a true solids engine and not just a mesh of triangulated surfaces. Bonzai contains a subset of Form-Z which has been around for many years and still has a strong following among product designers who were early adopters of the Macintosh platform. These days Form-Z and Bonzai extend their abilities into the Architectural arena for concept modelling in particular.
  • SketchUp® – Trimble Inc. recently purchased SketchUp from Google® Inc. who bought it from the original developers ‘@last’ software. SketchUp isn’t traditional 3D CAD as we know it but is included here because it is a very popular 3D sketch modeler. There is a free ‘Make’ version and a Pro version. The Pro version also has some 2D drafting tools to compliment the 3D modelling environment for the production of documentation and may be used commercially whilst the free version is only for non-commercial, personal use and has no ability to exchange files with other CAD software. Ultimately, SketchUp for Mac is a fast and fairly easy 3D modeler, and should be considered for many design applications. It is best for initial concept design, for fleshing out ideas and for making client presentations. It should not be considered for fast accurate 2D drafting and documentation however.SketchUp can be used in conjunction with other more accurate CAD software such as RealCAD® or AutoCAD® and in many cases combining SketchUp with a good 2D CAD product is an excellent and inexpensive solution.
    SketchUp is particularly useful for landscape architecture, building design, set and stage design, games development, interior design, cabinet making and many other applications where accurate curves or accurate surfaces are not required. It is best used in conjunction with plug-in applications that manage or automate some of the modeling processes as it is easy to otherwise inadvertently damage your model’s integrity. We particularly like Driving Dimensions for SketchUp. Like many products, used well SketchUp is a great tool, used poorly it can be seen as a bit of a toy.

Need help choosing? Ask us

12 thoughts on “2D 3D CAD Software

  1. James

    Small custom carpentry and millworker shop that is looking to move into offering clients design service. Recently hired an architecture student with rhino familiarity.
    Thank you,
    James McCoy
    James McCoy Carpentry llc

    1. applecadmin Post author

      James, its probably a good idea to get the Mac version of Rhino. the functions are almost the same. The software is still in ‘Beta’ mode so it is currently free (and a little bit buggy) but great for millwork. SketchUp Pro is also worth considering.

  2. Jason

    We are a firearms manufacturer currently operating on all Manuel lathes and mills. We are looking into transitioning some of our processes to CNC but would like to look into software for machining first. Mac family so we would prefer to stick with Macs. Can you suggest software that would be good to begin programming firearms parts for later machining.

    Thank you

  3. Geoff White

    Hello there,
    I am an architect (in his sixties) who lives and works on an island (Martha’s Vineyard) designing houses and residential renovations and additions – by hand drafting (which I enjoy very much).
    I’d continue like this until I retire or die at my drafting table except as projects get bigger and more complicated I am having to collaborate with structural engineers, lighting designers, landscape architects, and interior designers all of whom use AutoCADD or its equivalent. And all this communicating and sharing is done long distance by email. So working with my hand drawings is costing my consultants and colleagues time and money and causing me more headaches.
    How can I best integrate into this digitally based architectural world without being overwhelmed by steep learning curves? I make free-hand perspective sketches and chipboard models @ 1/8″, 1/4″, and 1/2″ scales for communicating to clients so three D rendering isn’t primary. The software language I’m going to use has to speak and understand AutoCADD. My son works for a three D printing company and can make models so some path to 3D printing would be nice but not essential. (I would be happy to send you a few PDFs of my drawings to illustrate my dilemma if that would help you to form a recommendation.)
    BTW, I enjoy reading your articles and reviews just for fun.
    Thanks for any help you can offer,
    Geoff White

    1. applecadmin Post author

      Geoff, Several of the AppleCAD team are of the same vintage as yourself and we understand that it can be a real challenge no matter how you approach it to go from years of hand drawing to a CAD system. Having had a good discussion with the team we feel it may be best to approach the process slowly and gently with good 2D drafting tools rather than jumping into the deep end of 3D immediately. You can always add 3D to your tools when you are comfortable with 2D CAD. You will not be a s efficient as you would be if you were using 3D CAD from which you were generating 2D documents but you also wont get easily confused, and this is a real possibility at first. You can still do hand drawn perspectives of your work in the meantime as these will always have an artform to them that CAD can’t match easily.
      The recommended software will, as you point out need to generate DWG files so that you can share the files with people using AutoCAD. Currently best software for you is BricsCAD for Mac but if you are prepared to wait a couple of months we would recommend RealCAD as this will be easier to learn and use than BricsCAD. BricsCAD is more like AutoCAD whilst RealCAD has been made simpler to use. We just wish they would hurry up and release it. 🙂

  4. John

    I used to work with and had very good knowledge of AutoCad Professional Inventor (2010) and AutoCad, I am well into my retirement and have a project in mind which I want to design. Is there some free or cheap design software preferably 3D that you could recommend. I am currently using a Mac version 10.10.

    1. applecadmin Post author

      John, “free” or “cheap” usually means “not so good” so be wary, however a new CAD software that is 100% cloud based was released yesterday and we suspect they will have a free version for a while at least. It could be worth a look http://www.OnShape.com
      The alternative would be the Mac version of BricsCAD Platinum

    1. applecadmin Post author

      Hard to answer this question as it would depend on what it was you were wanting to model or design? If you would like drafting abilities and complex curves etc? Please let us know.

  5. Alex imlach

    Approaching 60 based in UK replacing ageing pc with Mac, designing new and altering existing buildings mainly using autocad old, need to get new cad software, I am trying to compare Ares commander, chief architect and turbocad,
    Which would you recommend? I quite like the sound of the Ares touch on android and multiuse ability.

    1. applecadmin Post author

      Hello Alex,
      Age is not a factor nor an excuse! :). If you are looking for an AutoCAD style software then BricsCAD is the pick. If you are looking for more automated and more architectural then Designer Pro. You can’t compare Ares with Chief Architect as they are wildly different. Ares is just a line by line drafting tool like AutoCAD. TurboCAD is hard to learn but full featured. Neither is an architectural design tool. Chief Architect make Home Designer Pro and a range of cheaper ones too.


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