I downloaded and tested over 15 free programs that specialize in CAD technology. I found that while many programs claim to have the necessary tools and features, most of them fall short of these claims. Over the past few years, the market has become full of copycat programs that slow down my computer, restrict the tools for paying customers, and a few that my antivirus prevented the download. That’s not to say that they were all bad. I found three programs that stood out above the rest. My top choice is SketchUp Pro. It’s a relatively easy program to learn and use and has all the tools I need for designing 2D and 3D models of buildings, parks, and interior designs. While I would have preferred only to include 100% free programs, I saw that it just wasn’t realistic and I couldn’t find a completely free alternative that is also worth mentioning. What I did find is free trial options, which should give you enough time to complete your project. SketchUp Pro has a free trial of 30 days without having to provide a credit card or other payment method. This version has no restrictions and you can export your work before the trial period expires.

Quick Guide: The Best Free AutoCAD Alternatives in 2023

What I Look for in a Free AutoCAD Alternative

As I quickly found out, finding suitable free alternatives for AutoCAD was not an easy job. Most of the free programs I downloaded were quickly uninstalled, as I could see they couldn’t get the job done right. Some of the most popular features in AutoCAD are the 2D blueprints for buildings, floorplans, and electronic schematics. All the recommended software must be able to handle similar tasks to be considered viable alternatives. Here are some of the factors I considered while testing the CAD software:

Ease of Use: I prefer a clean workstation that makes it easy to access the tools I need. My top choice is SketchUp Pro which has an integrated video tutorial for many of the tools. I found this extremely helpful when I was getting started.

Similar Features to AutoCAD: One of the strongest features of AutoCAD is 2D drafting, while 3D modeling is an added bonus. I was looking for a program that has templates to help create a wide range of designs, including floorplans, interior design options, and city planning.

To Scale Modeling: Creating a 3D model of my project, and keeping it to scale, really helps bring the project to life. It gives me the opportunity to see how my design would look when the project is completed, and with a 3D model.

Free or REAL Free Trial: Ideally, I’m looking for free software that is suited for students, hobbyists, and small companies that can’t afford or prefer not to pay premium prices. I also tested CADs with a free trial, as long as I didn’t have to use my credit card when downloading the software or creating an account.

3 Best Free AutoCAD Alternatives With Similar Features

1. SketchUp Pro: Pull and Push Method Makes 3D Modeling Simple

SketchUp Pro has excellent features that make it easy to create CAD models. The software is intuitive and can be used by students and professionals alike. I really like the Push and Pull feature. It makes it easy to turn any flat surface into a 3D model. Activate the selection tools and click on any object. You can then extend it to create a 3D model. Another fun feature that SketchUp Pro offers is various characters that you can place next to the model to help scale the design.

When it comes to tools, SketchUp Pro is tough to match. Some of the important tools include:

Lines, Shapes, and two or three point arcs: Customize the geometric shapes that you add to your canvas. Offset Tool: Duplicate your design in a consistent space from the original design. I found this extremely helpful with floor plans to maintain consistency. Tape Measure: Measure the distance between different elements to ensure the spacing is correct, or inspect the design to see if you have room to add another object. Orbit and Pan: Get a realistic picture of your designs by rotating the screen 360-degrees of changing the view vertically and horizontally. Scale: Choose any object on the screen and resize it relative to another object.

SketchUp Pro has a built-in tutorial that can teach you how to best use each tool.

There are two types of templates that you can use with SketchUp Pro. The first kind is built in with the software and has categories for all types of jobs, such as 3D Printing, Interior Design, Architecture, Simple Design, and Landscaping. The second type is user generated templates that you can download from the SketchUp Pro 3D warehouse. While SketchUp Pro used to be completely free, the company no longer offers that option. However, you can still download it free for 30 days, with no credit card required.

2. Blender: Creates a Visual Pipeline to Streamline Creation Process

While Blender isn’t technically a CAD program, it has a similar toolset to AutoCAD and can manage the design for 2D and 3D modeling. It is an open-source, community-driven program with an easy-to-use interface. The workstation takes over your entire screen, which I found helpful for limiting distractions. You can customize which tools appear in the sidebar for quick access. On the right-side panel, you can set the dimensions for each object, add different parameters, and view the layers.

In addition to 2D floor plans, schematics, and layouts, Blender has an impressive selection of 3D design and modeling capabilities. Give your models a professional style with tools such as N-Gon, Grid and Bridge, Fill, Edge, and Slide. Once the model is ready, you can unwrap the mesh design and add texture, color, mirrored sculpting, and topology to give the model a realistic effect. The Blender animation tools can help take your design to the next level. While the tools are suited for creating video game characters, they can animate different aspects of your design. Such as moving traffic, flowing rivers,  animals walking around, electricity flowing, and much more.

3. LibreCAD: Open-Source CAD Specializing in 2D Drafting

LibreCAD, formerly CADuntu, is an open-source CAD that was built for beginners. While its tools aren’t quite on the same level as AutoCAD, it can handle basic designs and produce good results. The lightweight software (just 30MB) is good for professionals that need to create detailed industrial designs as well as students who need a free drawing tool for small design projects. It includes the necessary tools for drawing, designing, and scaling objects. The biggest drawback to LibreCAD is that it doesn’t have the option for 3D modeling. Instead, it offers an isometric view of the design, which allows you to view the model from the missing third dimension. LibreCAD has a dedicated community of developers and users, which is great for an open-source program. The community acts as the customer support staff with an active forum where you can get the help you need in over 30 languages.

When AutoCAD Isn’t for You…

While AutoCAD may be the most well-known CAD software, it’s not necessarily a good fit for everyone. There are plenty of reasons to seek an alternative, not least being the expensive subscription price. If you’re a professional designer, architect, city planner, or engineer with a big budget, AutoCAD should have everything you need. However:

If you’re looking for an easy-to-use, free alternative, take advantage of the SketchUp Pro free 30 trial. Turning flat objects into 3D models has never been easier with its Push and Pull method. You can also use different characters to help scale your models. If you’re looking for a program with high-quality animation features, download Blender. You’ll get free access to quality drawing tools and an excellent set of animation features that will bring your drawing to life. If you just want a free CAD program for 2D drafting, the open-source LibreCAD is a safe option. The lightweight software doesn’t have any native 3D capabilities, but it can handle complex drawings for a wide range of project types.

Is SketchUp Pro free?

While SketchUp Pro no longer offers a completely free version of its app, you can activate a 30-day free trial when you download the software. This should give you plenty of time to evaluate SketchUp Pro and create some of your 3D models. 

Does SketchUp Pro support 3D modeling?

Yes! SketchUp Pro is one of the best 3D modeling and design tools that I’ve used. It has easy-to-use features, such as the Push and Pull Method that can turn any 2D object into a 3D object so that regardless of your level, you can create 3D models. There are also tools that will help you scale your objects and view it from multiple dimensions.

Which is better, AutoCAD or SketchUp Pro?

It honestly depends on your needs. When it comes to drafting 2D and 3D models for mechanical, civil, and architectural engineering designs, AutoCAD is the clear winner. However, if you’re looking for an easy-to-use program for 3D modeling and basic rendering, SketchUp Pro should be your top choice.