CAD is a general term for any 3D computer-aided design software. There are many different versions to choose from, in a greatly varying price range. There are free versions, and there are versions that cost many thousands of dollars per seat per year. (A “seat” is a license for one person or one work station).
Autodesk Inventor Professional
The courses on CAD Envy are heavily focused on Autodesk Inventor Professional, or “Inventor” for short. The reason for that is simple – I used to teach it at a university level and thus know it very well. Inventor is my also my personal favourite and my go-to option for anything I need to make.
Inventor is a mainstream CAD package that is very capable. It is free for eligible students and educators, and reasonably priced for regular users. It is very similar to SolidWorks.
As with many CAD packages, Inventor can only run on a computer with Window as the operating system. If you want to install it on a Mac, you have to install Windows first (if you are a Mac user but you don’t don’t know what this means, this is not for you).
Free student software: https://www.autodesk.com/education/free-software/featured.
Free 30-day trials and full price list for commercial users: https://www.autodesk.com/ .
Autodesk Fusion 360
I describe Fusion 360 as “Inventor’s little sister”. It is cloud-based, meaning that the heavy processor work is done on a server, not on your computer locally. All your files are also stored in the cloud. You can export your files as STEP, IGES, STL and other formats, but you can’t really store your designs on your local drive. This is both good and bad. The good thing is that you can access your files from anywhere. The bad thing is that you may not feel that you have the same level of control of your data.
Because Fusion 360 is cloud-based, it runs directly on a Mac without having to install Windows.
Fusion 360 is free for students, educators and hobbyists! It is also free for small businesses. The full license is also very affordable.
More information and download: https://www.autodesk.com/products/fusion-360/overview#banner
SolidWorks in one of the world’s most popular CAD packages. It is very similar to Inventor in its functionality. If you know one, you can learn the other one quickly.
Learn more: https://www.solidworks.com
SolidWorks offers a heavily discounted student version. Learn more here: https://store.solidworks.com/studentstore/default.php
Solid Edge is another competitor in the mainstream CAD market. It also offers free student licenses.
Learn more: https://solidedge.siemens.com/en/
Free CAD software
The website All 3DP has created a list of what they think are the best free 2D and 3D CAD tools. You will find the list here.