Cheap Pro level CAD (And some CAM)

This came from a G-Wizard newsletter. All I’ll add is that the AutoDesk products also have a hobbyist license available, and MeshCAM is reasonably priced for a lot of capability.

Market leader SolidWorks costs on the order of $4000 brand new. There are steep educational discount, but you’ll have to be currently enrolled in some sort of college CNC program to get them. That’s not a bad idea to take a course to learn CAD, but what do you do when the course ends and you need to renew your educational license? This is not a long-term affordability solution. Here’s a better approach: get the EAA’s SolidWorks Maker Edition. It’s free to members of the EAA
(Experimental Aircraft Association). Here’s the link:

Membership is only $40 a year, which makes the free SolidWorks an incredible bargain.

Autodesk Inventor
If you just buy it off-the-shelf from Autodesk, Inventor is pricey–$1935/year or $240 a month. That’s a lot for a beginner/hobbyist to pay. But, you can sign up for a 3 year educational license entirely for free here:

You’ll need to tell Autodesk what school you’re going to, what you’re studying, and when you’ll graduate, but it’s all honor system. Besides, signing up for a course to learn CAD is a great way to accelerate your learning.

Fusion 360
Fusion 360 is already highly affordable at $310 a year or $40 a month for the standard edition. That gets you great CAD and CAM in one integrated package.
But you can also get a free 3-year education license here:
Same deal as the Inventor Educational License.

Personally, I prefer true 3D CAD and can’t see why anyone would one old fashioned AutoCad, but if you do, you’re in luck.

It seems Dassault Systems, who make Solidworks, built a pretty darned good AutoCad clone called DraftSight. I think they wanted to undercut Autodesk in the spirit of cutthroat competition,
and we the users benefit.
Draftsight is available starting at $149:

FWIW, Draftsight came in with 3.7% market share, making it the 7th most popular CAD package in our
CNC audience. Not too shabby!
AutoCAD itself came in at 8.4% for 3rd place.

Nice summary. I miss Alibre (it was possibly the best parametric modeller available back in the early 2000’s), but they lost me when they block cancelled liscences and started charging more than Autodesk. I have a lot of work I can not recover, but I will not pay them ever to get it back (Bitter much?) after my paid-in-full perpetual license was cut without warning in the middle of a job.

As to why anyone wants 2-D cad t(raditional autocad), there are several reasons I still use it at times, though it is not my preferred tool (and never was… It was mayb third on the list back in the late 1980’s/90s for me):

Legacy issues: nothing else deals with ACad files 100 percent

Some things are inherently 2-d (Electrical plans, maps/site plans, and floor plans, for example)

It is no longer strictly 2-D, though not fully parametric like Inventor, or Solidworks, or Fusion

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It’s worth noting the Solidworks discount through EAA only allows personal use, not any commercial use. So if you’re going to design stuff to also sell it’s not a big step up from just pirating it (not that I’m advocating that)

There’s also a free hobbyist/small business license for Fusion 360 for those making <$100,000 annually. It’s renewed annually as long as they continue the program and you keep qualifying.


I recently got a deal sent to me for a free 6 month’s deal on alibre - that might be enough for you to recover what you want?

Came from a recent G-Wizard newsletter

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Also, one U.S. and Canadian veterans can get the Solidworks educational license on an annual basis. See the commercial software page on the wiki for a link.

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Thanks, will edit to give some credit…

What’s the biggest difference between Fusion 360 and Solidworks?

It’s been a while since I’ve used Solidworks, but I use Inventor and Fusion 360 regularly. I’d say the biggest difference comes only when you’re creating assemblies of parts. Solidworks and Inventor both use a part-based modeling strategy…you design your individual parts and then build the relationships bewteen those in an assembly. Fusion 360 uses a top-down strategy. You build the components, in place, with relationships as you go. You can do top-down in Inventor & Solidworks and you can build bottom-up in F360, but the programs are built to do it the other way. Neither is better and if you aren’t making assemblies of parts it doesn’t matter. Fusion 360 doesn’t have as robust of a simulation and analysis features as the other two, but it still has more capability than most of us would ever need for what we do with our little CNC routers.

Fusion360 includes CAM, I think it’s an add-on (but free?) for Solidworks, Fusion360 will run on a Mac or Win, Solidworks is Win only. Fusion360 is heavily integrated with cloud storage (A360), but runs locally. For -me- the big things that made a difference for me were the integrated cam, and Mac native, and a free hobbyist/small business license that worked for me.


Thank you both. Very helpful.

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