3D CAD Software that Mechanical Engineers should learn

Top 3D CAD software for mechanical engineers

In this article, you will get an idea of different 3D CAD software that mechanical design engineers are using in the product design process.

What does CAD stand for

CAD is an abbreviation of computer-aided design. Computer-aided design technology is utilized for the design and documentation. It replaces manual drafting with an automated process. Experts in structural engineering, MEP, and architecture fields use 2D and 3D CAD software.

These engineering software enable engineers to explore design innovations, visualizations with the help of photorealistic renderings and simulate the performance of a design in the real world. 3D CAD software help to render designs in three dimensions for better visualization.

List of the Best 3D CAD Software

Historically, 3D CAD software has been used for character modeling or animations for film industries. However, this article is focused on the 3D CAD software that serves the purpose of mechanical engineering design of products, and are being widely used in manufacturing and aerospace industries.


SolidWorks is one of the best CAD software for beginners to use in the mechanical engineering design field. SolidWorks is a product design software created by Dassault Systems for the mechanical design and simulation of products. SolidWorks can generate complex 3D models that can be solid or surface by using different commands like extrusion, sweep, loft, revolve, etc.

There are also different surfacing features for generation of complex surfaces like car body design, aircraft fuselage designing etc.

Moreover, SolidWorks also includes the features of mechanical assembly creation, sheet metal design, mold design and weldments.

Building a model in SolidWorks usually starts with a 2D sketch. The sketch consists of geometry such as points, lines, arcs, and splines. Dimensions are added to the sketch to define the size and location of the geometry. Relations are used to define constraints such as tangency, parallelism, perpendicularity, and concentricity.

3D sketch feature is also embedded in SolidWorks through which you can make isometrics of piping or design routing of a plant in much lesser time.

A part from 3D product design, SolidWorks is also used to perform mechanical engineering design analysis of parts and assemblies in the form of different kinds of simulation techniques including thermal, structural, fluid flow, drop test, vibration analysis, regenerative study, motion analysis of mechanisms and linkages etc.

SolidWorks is also used as a CAM software to generate G-codes for CNC machining of a product.

The parametric nature of SolidWorks means that the dimensions and relations drive the geometry, not the other way around. The dimensions in the sketch can be controlled independently, or by relationships to other parameters inside or outside of the sketch.

The disadvantage of SolidWorks is that it cannot edit .STL files. The file format is very much an output file format and not intended for post-design processing.

Watch out the below tutorial to get an idea of SolidWorks interface.

SolidWorks License Cost

SolidWorks has defined three different packages for commercial use:

  • Standard
  • Professional
  • Premium

The standard package includes all the 3d modeling tools including mold design and weldments. For simulation, it only contains static stress analysis. The price of this package is $3995.

The license cost of SolidWorks professional package is $5490. This package also includes realistic rendering features and advanced simulation techniques.

The license cost of SolidWorks premium is $7995. This package also includes piping and routing module.

 For students, SolidWorks has also launched an economic package so that engineering students can sharpen their 3d product design skills during their engineering studies. The price of this package is $99/year.

PTC Creo

Creo Parametric is also a 3D CAD software that was formerly known as Pro-ENGINEER before 2011. Creo CAD software is one of the market leaders as product design software. The latest Creo 6.0 version was released in March 2018. The features in this version include improved user interface, and redesigned for better handling.

Creo has also good surface modeling capabilities. Using commands like Boundary blend and Sweep we can create surface models.

Like SolidWorks, Creo is also used to perform mechanical engineering design analysis using different simulation tools as mentioned above.

Creo also provides a rich set of tools in the manufacturing environment in the form of tooling design and simulated CNC machining and output. Tooling options cover specialty tools for molding, die-casting and progressive tooling design.

Watch out the below tutorial to get an idea of Creo interface.


The license cost of standard package of PTC Creo is $2390. You can check out details of other commercial packages from here.

Creo has also launched a free license for students which they can use in their engineering studies for the design and analysis problems. You can get the student package from here.


CATIA is also one of the widely used computer-aided design software. CATIA is supported by both Windows and Linux operating systems. CATIA is a professional 3D CAD software that is also developed by Dassault Systems. This mechanical engineering design software is famous for complex and detailed designs and is used in aerospace industries due to its advanced surfacing features. CATIA has been used by Rover, SSEAT, Skoda, Bentley, Volvo, Fiat, and many more.

CATIA is integrated with module of product lifecycle management to devise a plan and strategies for life cycle of a product. CATIA provides a 3D design environment that enables online people and stakeholders to share product designs and collaborate on product modeling.

The latest version of CATIA was launched in 2020 as CATIA v6 R2019. The user interface of CATIA v6 is entirely different from CATIA v5.

Watch out the below tutorial to get an idea of CATIA interface.


Starting price of CATIA for commercial use is around $10000. CATIA is also providing the student version for the price of $110.

Autodesk Inventor

Autodesk Inventor is a mechanical engineering design software developed by Autodesk in 1999 to create three dimensional digital prototypes. This product design software allows users in designing, visualizing and simulating products before they are built.

Small design and manufacturing companies which are specialized in piping, designing of sheet metal products, and electric wiring are using this software.

It is one of the best cad software that also powers advanced mechanical engineering design, finite element analysis, product data management, mould design tools. Its advanced features include sheet metal design, Harness/cable, Plastic parts, Pipe/Tube, Tool Design.

The latest version of inventor of Autodesk Inventor was released in 31st March, 2020.

Watch out the below tutorial to get an idea of Inventor interface.


The license cost of Autodesk Inventor for commercial purpose$260/month. However, free license is available for university students for one year.

Solid Edge

Solid Edge is a mechanical design software developed by Siemens. The latest version of Solid Edge was released in September, 2019. Solid Edge has product life cycle management (PLM) tool that gives the power over the product design workflow.

Solid Edge includes all the features of SolidWorks except that it does not include tools for weldment design. Unlike SolidWorks, it does not provide the ability to 3D sketch. Therefore, Solid Edge cannot be used for the designing of 3D routing and piping isometrics of plants.

Watch out the below tutorial to get an idea of Solid Edge interface.


The one time license fee of Solid Edge is $3995. There is also a 30 days free trial. There is a student edition of Solid Edge having a license with no expiry.

Autodesk Fusion 360

Fusion 360 is also an engineering software used in the mechanical engineering design. It is a cloud-based program developed in 2013. It allows you to improve your teamwork due to better communication around your mechanical projects. This product design software has advanced software tools, you will be able to work on solid modeling, mesh modeling, and parametric modeling.

Another excellent feature of this software is that it can run on MAC as well. So there is no need to buy a desktop if you own MAC, and want to perform 3D product design then Fusion 360 would be the top notch priority for you.

The basic features and tools of fusion 360 are same as in the above-mentioned software. If you are asked to choose between the Inventor and Fusion 360, as both are products of Autodesk, then it certainly depends on your budget and your requirements.

If you own MAC, then definitely Fusion 360 would be your choice. The only problem with Fusion 360 is that it cannot deal smoothly with large products and complex assemblies.

Watch out the below tutorial to get an idea of Fusion 360 interface.


Fusion 360 license cost is $60 month. For students, there is no license fee or trial version. They can make a student account on Autodesk and install free version of Fusion 360.

Wrapping Up

So after the whole discussion on different 3D CAD software, the question arises which product design software would be the best choice for mechanical engineers? For beginners, SolidWorks is the most user-friendly product design software. If you can afford the license of the student version, then you must buy it.

CATIA is difficult for beginners. It is the most expensive mechanical engineering design software that is widely used in aerospace industries due to its advanced surfacing tools. Its user interface is not so much friendly.

So, for students who have just started learning 3D modeling and they can’t afford the student version of SolidWorks, I would recommend them to use student version of Fusion 360 if they are MAC users and free student version of Creo parametric if they are desktop users.

Solid Edge also offers a free license for students, but the software has limitations as it is not so much user friendly, and does not include tools for weldments and 3D sketch. Creo seems to be the most suitable for students as it is considered the best engineering software to deal with the large assemblies, and it has no license cost for the student version.

I hope you guys would find this article helpful. If you still have any queries, please do contact us.

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One Comment

  1. Thanks for sharing the list. I’d prefer Solidworks.

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