Glossary May 27, 2024
Updated 27 May 2024 by James Ocean
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SolidWorks Alternatives in 2024: Free & Paid Software Programs

Table of Contents

What is SolidWorks?

SolidWorks is a well-known computer-aided design (CAD) and computer-aided engineering (CAE) software application with a multitude of capabilities. Its primary use cases are drawings, assemblies, and mechanical parts modeling, but it can also be helpful in many other situations, including data management, simulation, electrical design, etc.

One of the most significant capabilities of SolidWorks is its ability to create extremely detailed 3D models using the parametric approach design, in which all model-related information is automatically updated each time the model is changed in any way.

SolidWorks was initially released on November 1, 1995 (the SolidWorks 95 version), and the brand itself was established even earlier, on December 30, 1993. It is now a widely known modeling and engineering solution with millions of users and a plethora of useful capabilities.

Some of these capabilities are a result of Dassault’s successful acquisition of companies to integrate their capabilities into the SolidWorks package. This includes making simulation a more common tool in the industry (acquisition of SRAC in 2001), improvements in terms of the creation of product documentation (acquisition of Seemage in 2007), more alternatives for injection mold planning (acquisition of Simpoe SAS in 2013), and more.

Capabilities of SolidWorks

  • Extensive 3D modeling capabilities with parametric approach to design.
  • Detailed simulation capabilities to either validate or test performance of designed elements in specific conditions.
  • Easy management of design data with the addition of design revision control and simple data sharing within project teams.
  • An entire category of electrical design tools, with the capability to perform schematic design of harnesses, control systems, wiring, etc.
  • Ability to use existing CAD data as the baseline for various graphical materials, including documentation, marketing, manuals, instructions, and so on.
  • Impressive computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) capabilities and creation of detailed CNC machining instructions using CAD models as the baseline.

SolidWorks is an impressive CAD solution with plenty of capabilities which allow it to produce high-quality CAD drawings while also assisting with productivity improvements across the board, leading to lower project costs, better workflow optimization, and multiple other advantages.

SolidWorks pricing model

SolidWorks offers very limited pricing information on its official web resources. However, it is possible to gather at least some information about the software’s approach to licensing.

The pricing model of SolidWorks revolves around the 3DEXPERIENCE platform, which is comprised of at least three pricing tiers:

  • Standard, which includes:
    • 3DSwymer
    • Collaborative Industry Innovator
    • 3DEXPERIENCE SolidWorks Standard
    • 3D Creator
  • Professional, which modifies the 3DEXPERIENCE SolidWorks version to Professional.
  • Premium, which adds the Premium version of the same solution and the Simulation Designer package.

Understandably, a lot of this information can be confusing without a detailed explanation. However, SolidWorks’ full licensing information is not available to the public and most likely changes depending on the company requesting the quotation for the software.

Necessity of an alternative to SolidWorks

SolidWorks is well-known 3D CAD software with plenty of capabilities and advantages. However, it is also not perfect. Its licensing management is very confusing, its hardware requirements are extremely high, and some of its specific features are very difficult to understand or grasp.

As such, there is always a demand for alternatives to SolidWorks, especially in a saturated software market like the 3D CAD software market. Additionally, SolidWorks is also active on the CAE and CAM markets with some of its capabilities, expanding the potential scope of competition even further.

The goal of this article is to present multiple alternatives to SolidWorks that are useful in a very specific range of use cases.

Methodology for presenting and evaluating alternatives to SolidWorks

Evaluating complex software such as SolidWorks is always difficult simply because of its expansive capabilities. Keeping that in mind, this article aims to present as much information about every competitor as possible to simplify the potential customer’s choice. We use four main categories here: customer ratings, key features, pricing, and the author’s personal opinion.

Customer ratings

Public customer ratings are a great way to discern the general opinion of the public about a given topic. The ability to see collective evaluations of specific software, as in this case, can be extremely advantageous to the potential customer. In these situations, review aggregation websites offer a great help to our case, with thousands of examples of software applications and millions of user reviews to go through.

The three main resources used in this article are Capterra, TrustRadius, and G2. They all have long-standing reputations for verifying every customer review and not letting software owners influence them in any way.

This review-rich environment is also extremely helpful for discerning the advantages and shortcomings of each example, and the issue of advantages and shortcomings is next on this list.

Key features, benefits, and disadvantages

Evaluating dozens of different, highly specialized tools and solutions is extremely difficult for a number of reasons. One of these reasons is the difficulty of knowing and having prolonged experience with each solution to offer meaningful information about it.

This problem can be fixed with customer review aggregation websites. These websites, as we have mentioned above, are a treasure trove of knowledge about each solution, including its advantages and shortcomings. The fact that every review is thoroughly checked by the platform itself also makes it rather difficult to falsify or provide incorrect information about the subject.

At the same time, not all software has dozens or hundreds of user reviews on the Internet. In these cases, we replace the section on advantages and shortcomings with a “key features” section that includes all of the key capabilities of the software application.


Budget constraints are very common for companies, even when it comes to something as important as modeling software. This makes the issue of pricing very important for most use cases. Some software is free, but most solutions have prices of sorts, and the price in some industries (3D CAD) can be very high, making it an important part of the buyer’s journey.

The pricing information in this article is presented with as much detail as possible, keeping in mind that most enterprise-grade software applications do not make their pricing information available to the public and work only on the basis of personalized quotations.

Personal opinion of the author

The most subjective element of each review is the author’s opinion, since there is no set-in-stone expectation for what it might include. It may be a basic summary of the entire application’s capabilities, a previously unknown fact about the software, or even a fragment of the author’s personal experience with the solution: anything that has not been mentioned before for one reason or another.

Paid software comprises the bulk of SolidWorks’ competition. There are several nuances when it comes to discerning “free” and “paid” software in this environment, which is why there are separate categories for such software. For now, we present a number of paid alternatives to SolidWorks.


IronCAD offers an interesting solution that combines extensive CAD capabilities with the ability to collaborate with different project teams when necessary. One of the biggest advantages of IronCAD is its drag-and-drop approach to modeling, which makes both 2D drafting and 3D modeling so much easier for everyone. It can also work with both history-based and direct modeling approaches, greatly expanding the possibilities for editing existing project models.

Customer ratings:

  • Capterra4.3/5 points based on 60 customer reviews
  • G24.4/5 points based on 43 customer reviews


  • The basic set of features is easy to understand and is explained properly in the software itself.
  • Creating simple models for production or 3D printing is a simple and convenient process with IronCAD.
  • It is significantly cheaper than many of its competitors.


  • Learning any features other than the most basic can be challenging and time-consuming.
  • No ability to transfer model history from other CAD formats.
  • Infrequent crashes may cause minor annoyances, such as the return of the settings to default and quick key presets disappearing.

Pricing (at the time of writing):

  • IronCAD offers very little in terms of pricing information on its official website.
  • Personalized quotations and free trials can be requested from the company via a dedicated form.

My personal opinion on IronCAD:

IronCAD is not a particularly well-known CAD solution, but its capabilities do make it an interesting option when it comes to alternatives to SolidWorks. Many basic design choices can be made with a drag-and-drop process, making it extremely convenient to create simple models. IronCAD also supports both history-based and direct modeling approaches, presenting a multitude of opportunities for the modification of models in different ways. It is not the most user-friendly software on the market when it comes to complex modeling capabilities, and it does not work well with different CAD formats, but its overall package still offers good value for money.

Autodesk Inventor

Autodesk Inventor is one of several examples of how Autodesk offers a multitude of highly specialized platforms and tools. Inventor’s main goal is to assist with product and mechanical design, which makes it very similar to AutoCAD, another well-known software application from the same provider. One of the biggest advantages of Inventor is its ability to create detailed representations of the project’s end goal by combining 2D and 3D data in a single model. Other capabilities of the solution include parametric modeling, support for several CAD formats, freeform modeling, etc.

Customer ratings:

  • Capterra4.5/5 points based on 257 customer reviews
  • TrustRadius8.1/10 points based on 80 customer reviews
  • G24.4/5 points based on 419 customer reviews


  • As an Autodesk product, Inventor can be integrated with other products with ease.
  • Multiple capabilities in the same package focused on product design elements.
  • The basic set of capabilities is easy to understand, even if complete mastery of the solution still takes a while.


  • The process of creating and managing complex shapes with Inventor’s toolset is very challenging and tedious.
  • Substantial hardware requirements for proper software functioning.
  • Some of the more case-specific features are extremely difficult to get used to. The Tube & Pipe module is a good example of this.

Pricing (at the time of writing):

  • An Autodesk Inventor subscription is a single pricing tier with three possible time frames for subscription:
    • $315 for one month
    • $2,500 for one year
    • $7,500 for three years
  • Autodesk Flex, on the other hand, is a “pay-as-you-go” pricing model with tokens that provide access to some Autodesk products via daily payments.. Autodesk Inventor costs 8 tokens per day in this system, and there are at least two different token bundles that can be purchased:
    • $300 for 100 tokens
    • $1,500 for 500 tokens
    • Purchasing a custom token amount is also a possibility in some cases.
  • It should be noted that all Autodesk products update their pricing regularly, and the only way for a business to fix the software’s price is to purchase a three-year package (which is cheaper than paying for the same period on a monthly or yearly basis, and the base price of the solution also remains the same for the entire duration of these three years).

My personal opinion on Autodesk Inventor:

Autodesk Inventor is one of multiple solutions in Autodesk’s portfolio that have significant overlap with one another. Solutions such as AutoCAD, Fusion, 3ds, and Civil all have very similar modeling capabilities and primarily differ in their industry-specific features or tools. Inventor is no exception, with its main target audience being the manufacturing industry. The solution does have its fair share of issues, as well, with high hardware requirements, a steep learning curve, and general difficulty in managing complex shapes.


Rhinoceros is another well-known name in the 3D modeling field. It is incredibly powerful CAD software that specializes in creating complex and unusual shapes thanks to its ability to work with curved lines and other non-standard object forms. This makes Rhino incredibly useful when it comes to modeling intricate curved shapes, ranging from building design elements to supercars and even human faces.

Customer ratings:

  • Capterra4.6/5 points based on 88 customer reviews
  • TrustRadius9.1/10 points based on 47 customer reviews
  • G24.4/5 points based on 182 customer reviews


  • Impressive potential for 3D modeling and 2D design with many different capabilities for experienced users.
  • The basic toolset of the solution is not particularly difficult to understand.
  • Perpetual licenses with no additional cost for software updates or customer service.


  • The native rendering engine cannot offer quality renders.
  • Plenty of slowdowns with detailed and complex models.
  • The user interface is outdated and somewhat clunky.

Pricing (at the time of writing):

  • Rhino3D’s pricing model is fairly simple and consists of a single pricing tier.
    • $995 for either the Windows or Mac version (per user). There are no separate fees for version updates and customer support, and the license itself is offered in perpetuity.
    • Older versions of the software can also be upgraded for the smaller price of $595 per user.

My personal opinion on Rhino:

Rhino is an exceptional 3D modeling solution that has quite a good reputation. It is extremely versatile and accurate, making it a very convenient solution for architects and many other professionals. It also uses NURBS geometry in its modeling principles, which expands its ability to create detailed and complex objects and models for prototyping, concept design, and other use cases. At the same time, Rhino’s built-in rendering engine is somewhat lackluster, its overall interface is outdated, and it does not handle large and complex models as well as it handles smaller ones.

Autodesk Fusion 360

Autodesk Fusion 360 is another interesting part of the Autodesk software family. It is a fusion of CAD, CAE, and CAM capabilities in the same solution, and it is also somewhat similar to multiple other Autodesk software applications, such as AutoCAD, Inventor, and more. Other characteristics of Fusion 360 include a cloud-based approach, a user-friendly interface, and the convenient creation of technical documentation. The combination of CAD, CAM, and CAE is why the primary audience of Fusion 360 is segments such as product design, manufacturing, and engineering analysis.

Customer ratings:

  • Capterra4.5/5 points based on 237 customer reviews
  • TrustRadius7.6/10 points based on 96 customer reviews
  • G24.5/5 points based on 455 customer reviews


  • The substantial existing audience means there are plenty of tutorials and guides about specific topics online.
  • Multitude of collaboration-oriented capabilities in the context of highly advanced industries.
  • User-friendly and convenient UI with a big focus on ease of use.


  • Fusion 360 is not design-centric software, which significantly limits its free modeling capabilities.
  • The solution’s cloud-based nature has its fair share of disadvantages, including the potential for interruptions caused by unexpected server-side updates.
  • Complete lack of any kind of offline mode.

Pricing (at the time of writing):

  • Fusion 360 offers a single pricing model, subscription-based licensing.
    • $85 per month.
    • $680 per year.
    • $2,040 for three years (with fixed per-month pricing).
  • It cannot be obtained using the Autodesk Flex model.

My personal opinion on Autodesk Fusion 360:

While Fusion 360 is not as thorough and multifunctional as some of its alternatives, it is still an impressive solution. It offers plenty of CAD capabilities, combined with multiple CAE and CAM tools and a convenient interface packed into a single cloud-based package. Unfortunately, the convenience and versatility of a cloud system brings its own combination of disadvantages, such as the need for an uninterrupted Internet connection and the lack of an offline mode. Fusion 360 is also not particularly good in terms of free modeling, which limits its CAD capabilities to a certain degree.


CATIA offers another combination of CAD, CAE, and CAM tools in a single package. It was developed by Dassault Systèmes, the creator of SolidWorks and multiple other solutions in the field. CATIA means “Computer-Aided Three-Dimensional Interactive Application,” and it is a highly complex collection of tools capable of supporting product development from start to finish, including phases such as design, manufacturing, engineering, and even conceptualization. CATIA also excels in surface modeling, making it an incredibly useful tool for industries that value complex surface creation capabilities such as the automotive, aerospace, and other industries.

Customer ratings:

  • Capterra4.6/5 points based on 209 customer reviews
  • TrustRadius7.6/10 points based on 53 customer reviews
  • G24.2/5 points based on 244 customer reviews


  • Plenty of integration with other CAD and PLM solutions.
  • Offers an extremely large selection of capabilities for users who have enough knowledge to operate it.
  • Combination of CAD, CAE, and CAM tools in one package.


  • Extremely demanding hardware requirements.
  • It is surprisingly difficult to get into, and even the most basic capabilities take a while to get used to.

Pricing (at the time of writing):

  • CATIA does not offer any pricing information to the public.
  • Requesting a quotation is the only way to obtain this information.

My personal opinion on CATIA:

CATIA can be an exceptionally useful solution in the right hands. It is a combination of CAD, CAE, and CAM tools that can be useful in many different use cases, from automotive to aerospace, high-tech, and plenty of other industries. Its model detalization capabilities are outstanding, and it can also be integrated with multiple other CAD solutions with ease. It also has a very steep learning curve, an overwhelming number of total features, and very high hardware requirements for proper functioning.


AutoCAD is one of the few solutions that need little or no introduction here. It is extremely well-known 3D CAD software that is often considered among the best in its class, offering highly detailed 3D modeling capabilities and a variety of additional tools. It is a highly versatile solution that can be helpful to architects, construction experts, engineers, and several other specializations. Its capabilities can also be expanded using a system of add-ons and modules, if necessary, making it a powerhouse in the CAD software industry.

Customer ratings:

  • Capterra4.7/5 points based on 3,018 customer reviews
  • TrustRadius8.8/10 points based on 545 customer reviews
  • G24.4/5 points based on 1,416 customer reviews


  • A vast array of capabilities that makes AutoCAD a versatile tool for multiple markets and specializations.
  • High degree of customization and large selection of features that can be added using support for multiple APIs and script languages.
  • Ability to integrate with other software applications in adjacent industries, especially when it comes to other Autodesk products.


  • Problematic data sharing due to complete lack of cloud collaboration functionality out of the box.
  • The software tends to slow down a bit when dealing with large and complex project models.
  • Navigating through all of AutoCAD’s capabilities can be very challenging for newcomers.

Pricing (at the time of writing):

  • AutoCAD offers two different pricing approaches.
  • The first is a basic subscription license with different time frames:
    • $255 per month
    • $2,030 per year
    • $6,090 per three years (with a fixed base price per month).
  • AutoCAD is also a part of the Autodesk Flex program. AutoCAD’s Flex cost is 7 tokens per day, and the tokens themselves can be purchased in two different bundles:
    • 100 tokens for $300
    • 500 tokens for $1500
  • It is also possible to purchase custom amounts of tokens, depending on a specific company’s needs. The tokens themselves expire one year after purchase.

My personal opinion on AutoCAD:

AutoCAD might just be the most popular 3D CAD software on the market. It is detailed, feature-rich, and can be integrated with other Autodesk products with ease. It also supports multiple scripting languages and APIs, creating an endless sea of possibilities for enthusiasts to add other features and tools. However, the fact that it is the most popular software application does not make it perfect. It has a very high skill ceiling requirement, a steep learning curve, and plenty of other shortcomings that are worth noting before committing to a purchase.


MicroStation is a comprehensive toolset from Bentley that is useful throughout the entire project realization process. It is extremely useful for AEC specialists due to its ability to assist with infrastructure design, model visualization, parameter analysis, and general modeling functions. Other capabilities of MicroStation include support for MDL, VBA, and .NET (custom commands and features), as well as basic BIM capabilities and helpful geospatial tools.

Customer ratings:

  • Capterra4.4/5 points based on 173 customer reviews
  • TrustRadius8.6/10 points based on 23 customer reviews
  • G24.0/5 points based on 299 customer reviews


  • Relatively low hardware requirements in an industry known for its very demanding and resource-intensive software.
  • Integrating new components into an existing project is an easy and convenient process.
  • Several 3D model formats are supported by MicroStation.


  • Somewhat lackluster rendering quality.
  • A lot of issues when working with complex and large-scale project models.

Pricing (at the time of writing):

  • Bentley’s pricing model is very simple. There is just one subscription license, which lasts a year and costs €2,702.
  • This license includes all of MicroStation’s capabilities, such as centralized access to deliverables, extensive modeling capabilities, and the integration of multiple data types.
  • It also includes three training credits from Virtuosity to simplify the initial onboarding process.

My personal opinion on MicroStation:

MicroStation from Bentley lives up to part of its name: it is relatively lightweight architectural software that mostly targets the AEC market with its capabilities. Despite its low hardware requirements, it can perform a lot of modeling operations at a low price. It is also surprisingly versatile, with support for various APIs and project model formats. On the other hand, MicroStation does not handle large and complex models very well, and its rendering quality is not up to par with the rest of the market.

Civil 3D

Civil 3D is another example of Autodesk software with AutoCAD-like capabilities and a very specific use case. As its name might suggest, civil engineering is the target industry of this software. It can generate 3D models of both structures and environments while also supporting various BIM workflow synchronization techniques, including improved design-driven documentation, expanded collaboration, etc. Similar to most Autodesk products, Civil 3D also has extensive integration with other Autodesk solutions, including 3ds Max, Revit, AutoCAD, and many others.

Customer ratings:

  • Capterra4.5/5 points based on 37 customer reviews
  • G24.3/5 points based on 294 customer reviews


  • Simple and convenient creation of personal object libraries.
  • Fast and detailed surface creation feature.
  • The high-performance rendering process can be performed in both 2D and 3D.


  • Civil 3D does not handle large-scale and complex projects very well, with frequent slowdowns and general performance loss.
  • The solution’s overall hardware requirements are just as high as those of Autodesk’s other full-scale software solutions.
  • The solution’s learning curve is not particularly steep, but it does take a long time to learn all of Civil 3D’s capabilities.

Pricing (at the time of writing):

  • Civil 3D offers two different pricing models.
    • The first is via the Autodesk Flex program, which allows daily access to many Autodesk solutions using a token system. Civil 3D’s cost in this system is 9 tokens per day.
    • Autodesk sells two specific bundles of tokens: 100 tokens for $300 and 500 tokens for $1,500. Purchasing a custom amount of tokens is also a possibility, but it should be noted that all tokens expire 12 months after purchase.
    • The second pricing model charges a basic subscription fee to access Civil 3D’s entire feature set. It can be purchased monthly ($350), yearly ($2,780), or tri-yearly ($8,340).

My personal opinion on Civil 3D:

Civil 3D is another good example of Autodesk software with CAD-adjacent capabilities and a heavy focus on a very specific industry or niche. In this case, the main goal is to assist with civil engineering in all of its forms. This includes the creation and management of construction sites, roads, and other infrastructure elements. Civil 3D is a very competent solution in its own right, but it is also difficult to work with for a number of reasons. It has a rather steep learning curve, its price is a lot higher than the market average, and, despite its monstrous hardware requirements, it still struggles with large and complex projects.


One of the biggest selling points of Archicad is its status as the first complete BIM solution on the market. It was created by GRAPHISOFT several decades ago, and it still remains quite capable and versatile. Archicad can perform complex modeling operations while also automating documentation workflows, performing measurements, and many other important actions. While it is a BIM solution at its core, the 3D modeling capabilities of Archicad are quite impressive, too.

Customer ratings:

  • Capterra4.5/5 points based on 277 customer reviews
  • TrustRadius8.8/10 points based on 26 customer reviews
  • G24.6/5 points based on 245 customer reviews


  • Impressive 3D modeling capabilities, considering its main focus as BIM software.
  • Convenient and user-friendly interface navigation.
  • Project viewing in two and three dimensions is simple and hassle-free.


  • Layout drawing is a time-consuming process, since each update takes a while to implement.
  • The object library is barely customizable and not particularly user-friendly.
  • Three-dimensional modeling is the main focus of the software, making its 2D modeling somewhat bare-bones.

Pricing (at the time of writing):

  • Archicad’s pricing model is not particularly complex. It consists of a free educational license (1 year), a 30-day free trial, and three subscription-based pricing tiers:
    • Archicad, at $225 per month (before tax), offers the software’s basic (complete) set of features.
    • Archicad Solo, at $200 per month (before tax), is an excellent solution for individual managers, but it lacks most of the sharing-related features.
    • Archicad Collaborate, at $225 per month (before tax), combines Archicad with BIMcloud, a cloud-centric solution that expands Archicad’s collaborative capabilities.

My personal opinion on Archicad:

Archicad is often credited as the first commercially available BIM software on the market, but that does not take away from its merits. It is fairly competent software that combines multiple BIM features with a decent 3D modeling toolset. Its toolset alone is enough to put it on the same page as many other alternatives on this list, and the rest of its features are nothing to scoff at, either: simple navigation, multiple BIM capabilities, and so on. It is somewhat lackluster in terms of 2D modeling, and the object library is somewhat inconvenient, but the software is still extremely competent in its own right.

Solid Edge

Solid Edge is a complicated CAD solution with plenty of capabilities. Developed by Siemens Digital Industries Software, it is an impressive combination of CAD capabilities for manufacturing, data management, simulation, and other purposes. Its biggest areas of specialization are mechanical design, electrical design, and manufacturing production. The flexibility of parametric design and the versatility of direct modeling are combined in a single solution in the form of Solid Edge, and it can even modify specific elements of geometry without using the traditional approach to design.

Customer ratings:

  • Capterra4.4/5 points based on 46 customer reviews
  • TrustRadius7.9/10 points based on 50 customer reviews
  • G24.3/5 points based on 373 customer reviews


  • Ability to transform existing project models into 2D sheets for documentation and other purposes.
  • The solution is surprisingly easy to work with for beginners.
  • Ability to work with several 3D model types and file formats.


  • High hardware requirements for proper functioning.
  • The user interface is somewhat convoluted and takes a while to get used to.
  • The customer support experience has been reported as lackluster by many users.

Pricing (at the time of writing):

  • Solid Edge takes a very peculiar approach to pricing, and its product page offers multiple different subscription versions to choose from. These versions can be separated into three groups:
    • General subscription-based offering
    • Feature-specific subscriptions
    • Token-based subscriptions
  • Each element has its own price tag, and it is possible to mix and match some of them. As for the elements themselves, the first group of general subscriptions consists of:
    • Design and Drafting is a basic CAD package that starts at $86 a month. It offers basic automation, rendering, part design, and assembly design capabilities.
    • Foundation is a slightly bigger CAD package that starts at $210 a month. It combines the previous offering with surface modeling, 2.5-axis milling, and weldment management.
    • Classic is Solid Edge’s most popular CAD package, starting at $263 a month. It provides reverse engineering, generative design, subdivision modeling, and a number of other features in addition to everything mentioned above.
    • Premium is the complete CAD functionality of Solid Edge, starting at $378 per month. It offers point cloud visualization, electrical routing, stress simulation, and more.
  • The second group of offerings from Solid Edge covers specific categories of use cases, such as:
    • Wiring Design, starting at $189 a month (billed annually).
    • Harness Design, starting at $163 a month (billed annually).
    • Wiring & Harness Design, starting at $326 a month (billed annually).
    • 2D Drafting, starting at $36 per month (billed annually).
    • 3D Publishing, starting at $232 per month (billed annually).
    • Design Configurator, starting at $139 per month (billed annually).
    • Teamcenter Integration, starting at $38 per month (billed annually).
    • Illustrations, starting at $150 per month (billed annually).
    • Solid Edge + CAM Pro 3 Axis Milling, starting at $530 per month (billed annually).
  • The last group of offerings is the most interesting of the three. It is called “Value-Based Licensing,” and it uses a token system to provide access to all of the specific features of Solid Edge for a limited time. There are only two token bundles available right now:
    • Value Based Licensing 25 Pack, for $360 per month (billed annually).
    • Value Based Licensing 50 Pack, for $756 per month (billed annually).

My personal opinion on Solid Edge:

Solid Edge is an impressive CAD solution from Siemens Digital Industries Software. It is a substantial combination of multiple CAD-adjacent capabilities for industries such as the automotive, aerospace, machinery, and practically any other industry with a significant focus on product manufacturing. At the same time, the software is far from ideal: the UI can be somewhat confusing, the ever-present curse of high hardware requirements is still present, and the pricing model is very confusing for newcomers.

Free alternatives to SolidWorks

The line between paid and free solutions gets a bit blurry when all the different variations of licensing options are considered, especially for solutions that offer basic free versions with severe limitations. For the sake of clarity, the “free” software category includes both free solutions and software with basic free versions.


BRL-CAD is an open-source 3D modeling solution that has been in active development for over 30 years and has managed to amass plenty of useful features over that time. Its active development began back in 1979, which makes BRL-CAD one of the first CAD systems ever. The basic structure of BRL-CAD relies on constructive solid geometry (CSG), which uses boolean operations and primitive objects to generate complex shapes in its models. Other capabilities of the solution include extensive ray-tracing support, impressive automation capabilities, and plenty of optimization for complex models and large datasets.

Key features:

  • A massive toolset that is comprised of over four hundred features and capabilities for modeling, analysis, conversion, and other similar use case categories.
  • Extensive automation and scripting possibilities via support for Tcl/Tk.
  • Support for sophisticated ray tracing for detailed rendering purposes.
  • Impressive cross-platform capabilities with support for Windows, Linux, and macOS devices.

Pricing (at the time of writing):

  • BRL-CAD is completely free and has publicly available source code. It is released under the Lesser GNU General Public License (LGPL).

My personal opinion on BRL-CAD:

BRL-CAD is a very interesting 3D modeling solution that has been around for a long time. The first official release of BRL-CAD was in 1979, and the software has been in active open development since then. It uses CSG for most of its modeling capabilities, and it also features ray tracing, scripting, automation, and extensive community support. BRL-CAD’s total number of features and capabilities is over four hundred, but it is also a very difficult solution to get into. The software has a notoriously steep learning curve and a relatively confusing user interface, which makes it somewhat difficult to start using.


Shapr3D is a relatively little known 3D modeling software application, making it difficult to discern it from the competition. It offers an impressive set of CAD features while also supporting both Windows and macOS devices (as well as iPads). Not only does it offer several approaches to rendering, but it is also compatible with several other CAD solutions, and its precision in 3D modeling is quite impressive. Shapr3D is also one of the few solutions that has a native iPad application and can take full advantage of all of Apple Pencil’s capabilities.

Customer ratings:

  • Capterra4.7/5 points based on 21 customer reviews
  • G24.9/5 points based on 147 customer reviews


  • Variety of helpful learning materials about the software’s capabilities, including an official YouTube channel.
  • Highly effective customer support team.
  • A certain level of user-friendliness that allows for most of the basic 3D modeling tasks to be done with little to no prior experience with CAD software.


  • Shapr3D offers little in the way of highly specialized design creation tools for use cases such as complex assembly.
  • The price of Shapr3D’s paid versions is somewhat high, even by this market’s standards.
  • There are very few material textures to choose from within the software.

Pricing (at the time of writing):

  • Shapr3D is a solution with a relatively standard pricing model.
  • There is a free version with limitations. It is called the Basic tier, and it offers most of Shapr’s capabilities, including importing from CAD platforms, exporting for prototyping purposes, etc. However, it is also limited to only 2 designs.
  • The rest of Shapr3D’s pricing is as follows:
    • The Pro pricing tier starts at $38 per month ($25 per month for annual plans). It offers a limit-free version of the Basic feature package with the addition of real-time product renders, priority tech support, technical drawings, etc.
    • The Enterprise tier is the most expansive offering on the list. It has no public price tag, but it does have SSO support, consolidated billing, reassignable licensing, dedicated account managers, etc.

My personal opinion on Shapr3D:

In a way, Shapr3D is a solution that does not have very many features that make it stand out among the competition. It is a respectable CAD solution with plenty of capabilities for 3D modeling, and it even supports both desktop and tablet devices (iPads). The fact that it has native support for both iPads and Apple Pencil is probably the most unusual element of Shapr3D’s toolset. It is great for small and medium-sized projects thanks to its geometric modeling engine from SolidWorks, but it might not handle large-scale and complex modeling tasks very well.


OpenSCAD might be one of the most unusual CAD solutions on this list. Its biggest difference is that it uses a script-based approach to the entire modeling process, without a graphical interface. It is a very interesting solution that is favored by programmers, engineers, and designers with a certain level of knowledge of coding. This approach also makes it possible to slightly alter specific design elements if necessary, making the solution far closer to the concept of parametric modeling than anything.

Customer ratings:

  • G24.3/5 points based on 31 customer reviews

Key features:

  • Relatively low hardware requirements.
  • Simple and convenient versioning system.
  • High level of precision in modeling operations.
  • CSG-based approach to creation of complex models, even in the context of the unusual approach that OpenSCAD takes to modeling.

Pricing (at the time of writing):

  • OpenSCAD is distributed under the General Public License (GPLv2). It is completely free for all users.

My personal opinion on OpenSCAD:

OpenSCAD is an interesting solution in general due to the way it works with 3D modeling. It uses a code-based approach with no graphical interface, making it a rather favorable solution for programmers and architects with knowledge of coding. This approach makes it easy to perform small modifications, making OpenSCAD incredibly accurate 3D modeling software. Other useful capabilities of the software include the convenient versioning system, low hardware requirements, and so on. At the same time, its approach to modeling is even more difficult to get a handle on for newcomers, and the complete absence of interactive editing makes larger changes more difficult to calculate and manage.


Tinkercad is a unique product from Autodesk that was not originally imagined as an alternative to any of the commercial 3D modeling tools. In its most basic form, Tinkercad is a learning device deployed on the web and used primarily by beginners to improve upon existing skills in 3D modeling or to develop new ones. It is completely free and offers a surprisingly competent set of features, including not only the basics of CAD-like modeling but also circuitry, block-based coding, and more.

Customer ratings:

  • Capterra4.7/5 points based on 46 customer reviews
  • TrustRadius9.9/10 points based on 11 customer reviews
  • G24.5/5 points based on 110 customer reviews


  • Relatively simple and self-explanatory user interface.
  • Can also be used to learn and attempt more complex projects, if necessary.
  • Completely free, with no additional payments required whatsoever.


  • As a web-based service, a stable Internet connection is a requirement for using Tinkercad.
  • The solution also has plenty of limitations of its own, such as the lack of an assembly feature and the inability to create simple circles.
  • The object placement feature is not as accurate as it could be.

Pricing (at the time of writing):

  • Tinkercad is completely free to use for everyone.

My personal opinion on Tinkercad:

Tinkercad is the last Autodesk product on this list. It is a completely free 3D modeling solution that was created with the teaching and learning process in mind. It can be used to hone existing CAD skills and learn new ones, and its web-based structure makes it surprisingly mobile and versatile. It does have its fair share of disadvantages, such as inaccurate object placement, strange gaps in the overall feature set (the inability to draw circles), and an overreliance on a fast and stable Internet connection to operate properly. Nevertheless, the lack of a price tag is a massive advantage in itself, which is why Tinkercad can still be useful to a substantial number of potential users.


Parametric modeling is the prime use case of FreeCAD, a well-known CAD software application that can handle many different types of project. The existence of an active community and the software’s modular architecture greatly expand FreeCAD’s potential capabilities (similar to how SketchUp and other CAD solutions with add-on support operate). The fact that the solution is completely free and open-source makes it even more attractive to potential users, but it might not be as user-friendly as some paid alternatives when it comes to first-time setup and the initial learning curve.

Customer ratings:

  • Capterra4.3/5 points based on 139 customer reviews
  • TrustRadius7.8/10 points based on 10 customer reviews
  • G24.2/5 points based on 57 customer reviews


  • Impressive versatility and support for multiple operating systems and use cases.
  • Wide range of capabilities for designers, architects, constructors, engineers, and many other fields of specialization.
  • Complete lack of a price tag, a massive advantage which is very difficult to imagine in such a complex industry.


  • Plenty of issues when working with complex and large-scale models, including inevitable lag and slowdown.
  • Extremely steep learning curve for newcomers which relies mostly on user-generated training material for guidance.
  • The solution’s interface is also somewhat overwhelming, especially for newcomers, who might have issues navigating all of the features and capabilities.

Pricing (at the time of writing):

  • FreeCAD is completely free for everyone, as its name suggests.

My personal opinion on FreeCAD:

While FreeCAD has plenty of capabilities combined with the incredible advantage of not having any price attached to it, it is very difficult to recommend for most users. It is an impressive CAD solution with parametric modeling capabilities, but it does come with the full package of disadvantages that practically every free solution has. The customer support that would be able to assist less experienced users does not exist. The software itself is very difficult to get into and has a rather steep learning curve. However, it can be an incredible source of CAD capabilities for any user who manages to persevere and get used to its overall interface.


SketchUp is one of the best-known drawing and 3D modeling solutions on the market, and it manages to offer plenty of capabilities to professional users without losing its casual audience. It has an expansive library of extensions and add-ons that improve upon its existing functionality, and the software’s built-in capabilities are quite competitive in their own right. SketchUp can be used for architecture, landscaping, interior design, and more. The use of the “push and pull” principle greatly simplifies 3D modeling with SketchUp. It is also surprisingly user-friendly and even has a free version.

Customer ratings:

  • Capterra4.5/5 points based on 962 customer reviews
  • G24.5/5 points based on 896 customer reviews
  • TrustRadius8.3/10 points based on 176 customer reviews


  • The impressive basic feature set can be expanded with add-ons and extensions.
  • There is a vast and varied library of detailed 3D models into the solution.
  • The software has a convenient and user-friendly interface.


  • Many of the add-ons and plugins have separate price tags on top of the basic subscription fee.
  • SketchUp offers little in the way of training and tutorials, even for its most basic features.
  • There is no native import/export capability to and from other CAD or BIM software.

Pricing (at the time of writing):

  • SketchUp offers four different pricing plans:
    • Free is, as the name suggests, a pricing plan that costs $0 and offers basic 3D modeling features in the web version of the software, with limited access to a 3D warehouse, limited Trimble Connect cloud storage capacity, and basic file import/export capabilities.
    • Go costs $119 per year and includes all of the above features with the addition of the dedicated iPad app, advanced exporting, access to Live Components, and unlimited Trimble Cloud storage capacity/3D warehouse access.
    • Pro costs $299 per year and is SketchUp’s most popular paid pricing plan. It offers all of the previously mentioned features as well as the desktop SketchUp Pro app, 2D documentation, Extension Warehouse, PreDesign, the ability to view models using AR/VR headsets, and more.
    • Studio costs $699 per year. SketchUp’s complete features include everything above, as well as Revit-to-SketchUp file importing, photorealistic visualizations, Scan Essentials, and more.

My personal opinion on SketchUp:

SketchUp is a very popular name in the architecture industry thanks to its sketching and drawing capabilities. However, the software offers plenty of other features, including 3D modeling, detailed rendering, and even collaboration capabilities performed via integration with Trimble Connect. These capabilities can also be expanded using a vast library of extensions and add-ons. At the same time, most of these extensions have separate price tags, there are practically no basic tutorials about the software’s capabilities, and the issue of the compatibility of the extensions and add-ons with one another has been in a somewhat rough state for a long time now.


SolveSpace is a good example of a 3D modeling solution that is both lightweight and surprisingly capable. It can handle assembly design, part modeling, and even mechanical simulations. Its overall interface is surprisingly convenient, and the lack of a price tag makes it an interesting option to consider.

Key features:

  • 3D modeling capabilities with a parametric approach.
  • Support for 2D drafting and a convenient way to switch between 2D and 3D.
  • Basic simulation capabilities, including kinematics, stress analysis, and so on.
  • Impressive versatility with support for multiple CAD file formats such as DXF and STEP.

Pricing (at the time of writing):

  • SolveSpace is completely free and distributed under the terms of the GNU General Public License (GPL).

My personal opinion on SolveSpace:

SolveSpace is an interesting 3D modeling solution that works best in small-scope operations or personal projects. It does not have much to offer in terms of advanced capabilities, but most of the basic modeling can be done with ease and convenience, rivaling FreeCAD in that sense. There is also an active community around SolveSpace that generates both helpful content and useful extensions to improve upon its existing capabilities. It is also surprisingly lightweight for a CAD solution and does not demand high-spec hardware to operate properly.

Dune 3D

Dune 3D is a somewhat unknown 3D CAD solution that relies on parametric 3D in most of its capabilities. It is relatively well-known in scientific and engineering communities thanks to its in-depth and detailed simulation capabilities. Dune itself stands for “Differential Equations Numerical Environment,” which is a key part of the whole Dune framework that was originally built to solve complex equations using grid-based methods. Not only does it offer vast and expansive simulation capabilities, but it can also act as an impressive parametric 3D modeling solution.

Key features:

  • Optimization for high-performance computing environments allows Dune 3D to work seamlessly and efficiently using parallel execution (which speeds up simulation speed).
  • Support for grid-based modeling makes it a rather convenient modeling solution for multiple use cases
  • A Dune project consists of multiple highly specialized modules, offering an impressive level of customization and adaptability.
  • The software’s entire source code is also available to the public, creating limitless potential for user-developed modules and extensions.

Pricing (at the time of writing):

  • Dune 3D is available as a free and open-source solution as part of the Dune framework, distributed under the GNU General Public License (GPL).

My personal opinion on Dune 3D:

Dune 3D is a rather impressive CAD solution with parametric design capabilities that is distributed as part of the free and open-source Dune package. The package was originally created to handle complex equations and simulations, and it can now also create 3D models of an impressive level and scope. Its overall reach is mostly limited to research projects, however, which is why it may not have gained as much popularity as it could have.


Onshape is a cloud-based CAD solution that attempts the gargantuan task of solving many of the CAD software market’s limitations. All of the CAD capabilities of Onshape are provided using a cloud-based approach, supporting parametric and direct model editing and also being a centralized hub for data sharing and collaboration. It can also be used to manage internal data with ease, control access to certain information, and more. The API access allows for a certain level of customization outside of the software’s original capabilities, as well.

Customer ratings:

  • Capterra4.5/5 points based on 313 customer reviews
  • TrustRadius9.0/10 points based on 75 customer reviews
  • G24.7/5 points based on 641 customer reviews


  • Model versioning offers plenty of advantages as a standalone feature, with potential in both the commercial and educational environments.
  • Onshape’s basic CAD features are easy to work with and very responsive, making it far more accessible than most of the competition.
  • The combination of CAD capabilities and cloud collaboration in a single solution is very rare and difficult to achieve, but it offers plenty of advantages when handled correctly.


  • Sketching in two dimensions is difficult and has plenty of issues, such as the frequent inability to detect the correct gestures and actions.
  • The complete inability to access project models in an offline mode is a deal breaker for some users.
  • Most of the solution’s capabilities are not particularly user-friendly and might be difficult for many newcomers to understand.

Pricing (at the time of writing):

  • Onshape offers four different pricing plans, ranging between completely free and enterprise-specific options with no public pricing.
  • The Free Plan is a great option for personal projects. It offers a number of CAD capabilities, as well as versioning, access to mobile apps, and unlimited public project storage.
  • The other pricing plans are:
    • The Standard Plan costs $1,500 per year for a single user and is essentially a paid version of the Free Plan. It offers unlimited private storage and direct customer support.
    • The Professional Plan starts at $2,500 per year for a single user and offers advanced PDM, rendering, release management, ECAD exchange, and other capabilities.
    • Enterprise is the plan with no public pricing available. It offers priority support, SSO capability, analytics and dashboards, and guest access.

My personal opinion on Onshape:

Many of the design choices that Onshape has made are due to its primary goal: to try to solve some of the existing issues with CAD software, such as the necessity for expensive hardware, the lack of user-friendliness, and the almost complete absence of collaboration-oriented capabilities. Onshape itself is a cloud-based CAD solution with collaboration capabilities and a relatively user-friendly modeling toolset. Unfortunately, it has its fair share of disadvantages, including a problematic sketching process in 2D and a lack of offline access to project models.


LibreCAD is a bare-bones CAD solution that works only in two dimensions. Nevertheless, it can be a great tool for 2D CAD design, considering that it is completely free and has its entire source code available to the public. It supports all three of the major existing OS groups (Windows, macOS, and Linux), and its overall drawing interface is very similar to AutoCAD’s, making it somewhat easier to switch back and forth between the solutions if necessary.

Customer ratings:

  • Capterra4.1/5 points based on 48 customer reviews
  • G23.8/5 points based on 25 customer reviews


  • Greatly simplifies the completion of simple design tasks.
  • An impressive feature set, even if it is limited in two dimensions.
  • The active community around the solution and the complete absence of a price tag are both significant advantages, as well.


  • No support for 3D modeling in any capacity.
  • A steep learning curve is an unfortunate feature of most free solutions.
  • The solution is still somewhat unstable, causing infrequent crashes and slowdowns at random intervals.

Pricing (at the time of writing):

  • LibreCAD is completely free and open source.

My personal opinion on LibreCAD:

LibreCAD may be a relatively interesting solution for a very specific range of use cases. Its limitation to two-dimensional modeling is a massive disadvantage, and the same can be said for the overall user-friendliness of the solution. However, it is also completely free, and its interface closely resembles that of the well-known AutoCAD software, making it a lot easier to switch between the two. LibreCAD also offers plenty of customization to its more experienced users, including support for Lua scripting.


SolidWorks is a competent CAD solution with plenty of different capabilities, combining CAD and CAE capabilities in a single package. It is not particularly expensive while also being somewhat user-friendly when compared with other examples of CAD solutions. At the same time, its licensing options are difficult to manage, and the overall hardware requirements are extremely demanding.

No solution is ideal for every single environment or use case. As such, there is demand for alternatives to SolidWorks,  which include a multitude of specific use cases and combinations of features. This article covers dozens of examples of SolidWorks alternatives, including CAD software, sketching software, and various combinations of the two.

That is not to say that this is a complete list of alternatives to SolidWorks, and there is even a bigger market for the overall architectural software, as well. The BIM side of the market also includes solutions such as Revizto, offering competent issue tracking and clash detection capabilities to rival even the most competent BIM solutions. Other capabilities of Revizto include multiple collaboration capabilities and several unique features, such as VR walkthrough capabilities for every model.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is there a solution that can be considered the ultimate alternative to SolidWorks?

It is difficult to say that any specific solution is the best option for replacing SolidWorks due to how many use cases it offers in a single package. The best examples on our list are those that offer a complete feature set in a single package, such as Archicad or MicroStation.

Why are high hardware requirements so common in the CAD software industry?

The complex and resource-intensive nature of 3D modeling tasks is the primary reason why high hardware requirements are so common in the industry. It is extremely common for project models to be as detailed and thorough as possible, which greatly increases the hardware power required to both manage and render such complex environments. The same logic applies to simulations, multitasking, data management, the inevitable evolution of features, and so on.

Is it necessary to pay for a SolidWorks alternative to receive a competent feature set?

Quite the opposite. There are plenty of solutions on the market, such as FreeCAD or IronCAD, that offer impressive sets of features and multiple capabilities with no price tag attached to them whatsoever.

About the author
James Ocean

BIM/VDC Specialist. James Ocean is Head of BIMspiration at Revizto and keeps everything moving onwards and upwards. From supporting and teaching our internal team as well as our clients, James shows us the ins-and-outs and how to best leverage Revizto to maximize workflows, cut costs, and get all types of projects through the finish line.

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SolidWorks Alternatives in 2024: Free & Paid Software Programs SolidWorks is a competent CAD solution with CAE capabilities. It can be used to create 3D models, create drawings, and model mechanical parts for assembly, among other use cases. Its ability to use the parametric approach to design is what makes it so detailed and thorough, but it is also far from the only solution in the market, and the goal of this article is to explore potential alternatives to SolidWorks. 2024-05-27
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