CAD packages for 3d printing

CAD is the key to 3d printing. If you really want to harness the power of a 3d printer then you need to learn CAD. CAD stands for ‘computer aided design’ and this means designing using a computer. In the world of 3d printing, downloading other people’s designs is fun and can be a quick way to get into 3d printing. However, if you want a bespoke part and there is no file out there, or you don’t want to spend hours trying to find it, the best way is to design it yourself.

CAD can be a real challenge sometimes and there is a vast array of CAD packages out there for download. Some are paid and some are free. We have experience with lots of them and have outlined some of the major CAD packages below. Some are taylor made especially for 3d printing, whilst some are industry wide 3d printing software that can be used to design anything. There are literally hundreds of CAD packages to choose from, whilst we can’t cover them all, we have outlined the ones we have experienced.

CAD packages

1. 3D Slash – This is known as the world’s easiest CAD software one of our partners. We have integrated 3D Slash direct into the 3dfilemarket. The idea behind 3D slash lies with using a ‘hammer/mallet’ to chip away at a model to then create a new model. Everytime you strike your model there’s an explosion like effect of your model being changed into your desired shape. You can customise the size of the mallet to chip away different sizes of the model. In terms of CAD designing its extremely fun and kids will love it. A great way to start CAD modelling and 3d printing in an enjoyable way.

3d slash

2. Onshape – This is one of the newest CAD packages out there at the moment and it is really gathering followers in the 3d printing world. This CAD package is unique in that it is cloud based and there is no download of software needed. You just create an account on their website and off you go. You save your model to their cloud servers and then you can access this model anywhere and on any platform. You can even model on an iphone and ipad. The creators of Onshape were the original team that developed the solidworks CAD package.

onshape cad

3. Solidworks – This is another powerhouse in the CAD world. Solidworks has been at the center of CAD for years and it is widely used in industry and education. Speed is the benefit of this CAD package. As with Autodesk Inventor you can create models extremely fast and also edit them with ease. Used in all types of industry and manufacturing, it’s also great for creating complex parts for 3d printing. There’s lots of support in the form of tutorials and you tube channels. If you have a basic CAD background and want to take it to the next level, this is a good one.

solidworks cad package

4. Autodesk Inventor – Autodesk is probably the biggest CAD company in the world. They have invested heavily in 3d printing by creating the spark platform with a $100 million war chest of cash to support the expansion of 3d printing. Autodesk Inventor is an amazing CAD package. You can literally design anything on this program and is used industry wide. One of the greatest features about Inventor is it is free for educational use e.g. schools, teachers, universities. If you are in full time education, then you can get this CAD package for free. There is also a vast amount of support in terms of tutorials on the internet. Autodesk also have a resource bank of free tutorials to access.

Autodesk Inventor CAD package

  1. 5. Blender – This is one extremely powerful and advanced CAD package and is free to download. It’s also open source and has no limitations on what it can be used for. Blender benefits from photo realistic rendering of CAD models, to fast modelling of designs along with sculpting and simulation effects. If you want to take your CAD modelling skills to the next level then this is a great free package to download. There is also a whole bank of resources on their site and tutorials available on Youtube. Not for the faint hearted.
  2. blender CAD package

6. Sketchup – Sketchup has a cult following within the 3D CAD world. Google released it years ago and it has since been acquired by Trimble. The best thing about sketchup is it is free and extremely user friendly. Within minutes you can be sketching out designs and making them 3D. There is also a vast array of CAD support available on their website and also on youtube. Worth looking into.


7. Netfabb –  This is another great package and free to download. The experience we have had with this includes the ability to repair a CAD file. Sometimes STL files can be ‘broken’ and need fixing. This is a great free package that can do this easily. There is also a host of other modelling features, many which are with the pro version (comes at a cost). Worth the free download as we have used it many times before.netfabb

8. Rhino – This is another powerhouse in the CAD world. Rhino is used in all types of professional 3d CAD modelling arenas. From product designers to architects, this is a popular package. If your a professional and have access to this then the world is your oyster. You can also render your images in photo realistic views. They also clearly state they’re software supports 3D printing. For beginners this is not the easiest way into CAD modelling. Also you have to purchase it as well after a 90 day free trial.


9. TinkerCAD – This is another great free CAD package that is browser based. You have to sign in, like with Onshape, however you can use your facebook account with TinkerCAD. TinkerCAD is fun and very easy to use. You don’t encounter the learning curve you might need with the other CAD packages. This is a great for children as well. With a pallet of pre defined shapes and the ability to easily customise the colours, it’s a sure fire winner for kids. If you want to easy them into the basics of CAD modelling then this is the one.


10. Morphi App – Another great piece of CAD developed for tablets. The idea is simple, use your finger to design 3d models and then export them for 3d printing. No experience needed with this one. It’s free to download and has paid in app features for more advanced techniques. Also there are education packages for schools, libraries and businesses. As it’s free give it a download.

morphi app


11. Blokify – Love minecraft? Then you will love Blokify. The idea is simple, use blocks to build 3d printing models and then export them for 3d printing. In terms of complexity this is basic CAD, however it’s extremely fun and another way to get children into CAD modelling. It’s only available on the Apple App store and optimised for Ipad tablet use. Worth a download for some 3d printing fun without the headache of learning to CAD model from scratch. There is a small fee to download.


12. Makersempire – This is a great CAD app available for download on tablets. The app is free to download, however you need to purchase a license to use it and it’s mainly aimed at the education market. If you want to teach large numbers of youngsters the basic principles of CAD and how to 3d print, then this is a great way to ease them into creating CAD modelling. Everything is done with touch screen finger commands. We have reviewed the app first hand last year. Overall verdict, a great package for children.


13. Project Shapeshifter – This is another amazing CAD package and requires no prior knowledge of design to create amazing models that can be 3d printed. This is all browser based and extremely fun to start playing about with. It is based upon creating shapes from predetermined 3d templates. There is nothing to learn here, it’s all about experimenting and seeing what shapes you can turn into models. Once your happy with what you have you can then download the CAD model as an STL file or OBJ file ready for 3d printing.

project shapeshifter

Is there any other CAD packages you think should make the list? Send in the reviews and we will add it.

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