Here Are 7 of the Best Alternatives to SolidWorks

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With over six million users worldwide, SolidWorks is one of the most popular CAD programs on the market. However, while it is clearly much loved, it is far from being perfect. 

This is especially true for anyone who has experienced "zero thickness geometry" while using the software. It is also not the cheapest CAD tool on the market, if you can't get a free or multi-user license, that is. 

And, for those who can't justify the investment, there are some good alternatives to it out there. Let's take a look at some of them. 

Can you download SolidWorks for free?

Yes and no - it really depends on your personal circumstances and preferences. If you are a student you can usually get a heavily discounted SolidWorks package for between $60 and $99

alternatives to solidworks tabletSource: SolidWorks

But of course, that isn't free.

If you are a student, the best thing to do is to contact your school's administrator to find out if you are eligible for Student Access Licensing. These kinds of licenses for SolidWorks are available to any school that meets certain criteria: 

- If your school has 45 or more networked seats it will likely qualify for a Student Design Kit program. This grants access to students for SolidWorks Standard that can be installed on a PC.

- For schools with more than 100 networked seats, it will likely qualify for the Student Engineering Kit. With this program, students can install SolidWorks Premium locally.

- If none of the above apply, it is always worth asking the relevant administrator if you can borrow an existing license to use.

But you might want to consider downloading the SolidWorks Free Trial version. This is great if you are unsure whether you want to commit to parting with your money to buy your own version.

solidworks freeSource: SolidWorks

You can choose between a downloaded, local version or test the product online at my.SolidWorks.com. The latter is preferable if you don't want to download a hefty CAD program onto your computer.

Some people decide to take the risk and get their hands on a "cracked version". But note, this is not only risky but is actually illegal. 

Remember, that anytime you use unlicensed software, you take a big risk of infection, so make sure your anti-virus software is up to date. But, once again, we do not condone nor do we recommend this!

What is the cost of SolidWorks?

solidworks free mysoldworksSource: my.solidworks.com

As previously mentioned, SolidWorks' student version costs around $99. For everyone else, a full, standalone license will set you back just shy of $4K!

What are some free alternatives to SolidWorks?

If you are unable to get your hands on a SolidWorks license for free or low cost, as detailed above, you might want to consider some alternatives. The following are some of the best free or open-source CAD programs out there.

This list is far from exhaustive and is in no particular order.

Please note that there are many other alternatives to SolidWorks out there (both paid for and free-to-use). The following are, however, some of the most highly-rated examples. 

1. FreeCAD is a great open-source alternative to SolidWorks

alternatives to solidworks freecadSource: FreeCAD

FreeCAD is a parametric 3D modeling program that has the capability for plugins to be added for more functionality. With it, you can import and export files in multiple formats. 

It also comes with an architecture module that ostensibly functions like a BIM program. FreeCAD, as the name suggests, is completely free and is all open-source. 

2. Fusion 360 is free for students, hobbyists, and startups

alternatives to solidworks fusion 360Source: Fusion360

Fusion 360 is another great alternative to SolidWorks. What's more, this CAD program is free for startups and amateurs. It comes complete with various 3D modeling tools and also offers a variety of assembly modeling, motion studies, and simulation tools.

If you do not qualify as a startup or hobbyist, you can pay $60 a month for the standard version. Alternatively, you can buy a full year's license for $495 or buy a 3-year license for $1,335.

3. Onshape is another functional alternative to SolidWorks

alternatives to solidworks onshapeSource: Onshape

Onshape is another free alternative to SolidWorks -- but only if it is used for non-commercial purposes. It comes with a variety of import and export options, and version control. 

Add-ons are also available from its app store that can provide a wide variety of extra options and functions. Onshape, unlike other CAD programs, stores all data on a central DB which is accessible to all other users rather than saving local files.

If you want to use it for commercial use it will cost you $1,500 a year for the standard version, or $2,100 for an all-singing-all-dancing edition. 

4. nanoCAD is a very versatile and reasonably priced alternative

alternatives to solidworks nanocadSource: nanoCAD

nanoCAD is a great little CAD program that has a variety of APIs and a powerful table editor. It can easily handle 2D and 3D models in many industrial standard formats like .dwg. 

It has multiple methods of creating geometric shapes available, and many of the features are also customizable.

The basic software is free to use but you can pay for the plus version ($180) or pro versions ($290).

5. OpenSCAD comes highly recommended

alternatives to solidworks openscadSource: openscad

OpenSCAD is another great open-source CAD program specifically for solid 3D models. It is not, however, an interactive sculptor.

Rather, it is an interpreter of script files which then creates 3D models. OpenSCAD is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux.

6. Tinkercad is mainly for kids

alternatives to solidworks tinkercadSource: tinkercad

Tinkercad is a free and browser-based, albeit limited, alternative to SolidWorks. This one, unlike others, is primarily aimed at children and beginners.

It is based around a building block system and can be used to import vector shapes and convert them to 3D. It also offers 3D printing services, integration with all 3D printers, and exports to laser cutters.

7. LibreCAD has an extensive wiki user guide

alternatives to solidworks librecadSource: LibreCAD

LibreCAD is another free open-source 2D CAD program available for Windows, Apple, and Linux. If you get stuck it has an extensive wiki available for users who need help with its features.

The program is fully customizable and hackable with extensive support from the user community and creators.

The programs detailed above are all worthy in their own right as CAD programs, but may not have the full functionality that comes with SolidWorks. After all, that program is very popular for a very good reason. 

That being said, if you don't have the budget, are a beginner, or simply don't need the level of sophisticated features it provides, any of the above will likely serve your specific needs. 

If you can't choose, why not download and test some of the programs that offer free trials? What have you got to lose?

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