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Top 7 CAD Programs Available for Linux

Computer Aided Design (CAD) is an essential part of many streams of engineering. CAD is professionally used in architecture, auto parts design, space shuttle research, aeronautics, bridge construction, interior design, and even clothing and jewelry.

A number of professional-grade CAD programs like SolidWorks and Autodesk AutoCAD are not natively supported on the Linux platform. So today we’ll be having a look at the top CAD programs available for Linux. Let’s dive right in.

Best CAD Software available for Linux

CAD Software for Linux

Non-FOSS alert!

Before you read this list of CAD software for Linux, you should keep one thing in mind: not all the applications listed here are open-source and free. We’ve also included some non-FOSS CAD software to help average Linux users. The non-open-source software has been duly indicated. 

Installation instructions for Ubuntu-based Linux distributions have been provided. You can check the respective websites to learn the installation procedures for other distributions.

The list is not in any specific order. The CAD application at number one shouldn’t be considered better than the one at number three, and so on.

1. FreeCAD

For 3D modelling, FreeCAD is an excellent option that is both free (beer and speech) and open-source. FreeCAD is built with mechanical engineering and product design as its target purposes. FreeCAD is multiplatform and is available on Windows and macOS as well as Linux.

freecad

Although FreeCAD has been the choice of many Linux users, it should be noted that it’s not a full-fledged solution. However, it’s good to know that it’s being actively developed and you can find the latest releases on GitHub as well.

FreeCAD doesn’t focus on direct 2D drawings and animating organic shapes, but it’s great for design related to mechanical engineering. FreeCAD version 0.15 is available in the Ubuntu repositories.

So you can install it directly from your software center. If you don’t find it there, you can install it by running the following command:

sudo apt install freecad

To get newer daily builds (currently on 0.19), simply head to the GitHub releases page to download them.

2. LibreCAD

LibreCAD is a free and open-source 2D CAD solution. Generally, CAD tends to be a resource-intensive task, and if you have rather modest hardware, then I’d suggest you go for LibreCAD as it’s really lightweight in terms of resource usage. LibreCAD is a great tool for geometric constructions.

librecad

As a 2D tool, LibreCAD is good but it doesn’t work on 3D models and renderings. It might be unstable at times but it has a dependable autosave that won’t let your work go to waste.

You can install LibreCAD by running the following command:

sudo apt install librecad

3. OpenSCAD

OpenSCAD is a free 3D CAD program. It’s very lightweight and flexible. OpenSCAD isn’t interactive: you need to ‘program’ the model and OpenSCAD will interpret that code to render a visual model. In a sense, it’s like a compiler. You cannot draw the model – you describe the model.

openscad

OpenSCAD is the most complicated tool on this list, but once you get to know it, it provides an enjoyable work environment.

You can use the following command to install OpenSCAD.

sudo apt-get install openscad

4. BRL-CAD

BRL-CAD is one of the oldest CAD tools out there. It’s also a favorite of Linux/UNIX users as it aligns itself with the *nix philosophies of modularity and freedom.

BRL-CAD rendering by Sean
BRL-CAD rendering by Sean

The BRL-CAD project started in 1979, and it’s still developed actively. Now, BRL-CAD isn’t AutoCAD, but it’s still a great choice for transport studies such as thermal and ballistic penetration. BRL-CAD uses CSG instead of boundary representation. You might need to keep that in mind if you opt for BRL-CAD. You can download BRL-CAD from its official website.

5. QCAD

Qcad Linux

QCAD is a commercially available open-source CAD program based on the Qt framework.

The free community edition is open-source and its source code is available. The professional version contains add-ons for advanced DXF support, DWG support and many extra tools and features.

In other words, the free community edition is restricted to certain features.

QCAD may not be the best CAD software there is, but the UI and the options it provides are good for many uses. So if you’re interested in trying open-source CAD software, you can download the trial version to test-drive it.

You can opt for the trial version first, which runs for 15 minutes before you need to restart the session. And if you like using the trial version, you can consider upgrading it.

6. BricsCAD (not open-source)

Yet another alternative suggested by some of our readers.

This may not be a free and open-source solution. However, you will find it available for Linux when you purchase it.

It’s a feature-rich CAD program available for Linux users. If you are curious, there’s a comparison chart with AutoCAD on its official website that lists its capabilities and features.

You need to sign up for a 30-day trial to start with and purchase it later if you like it.

7. VariCAD (not open-source)

Varicad Illustration
Made Using VariCAD

VariCAD is another decent CAD program for 2D and 3D designs. Even though it isn’t free, you get a 30-day free trial version to test it out.

For Linux, you can download Debian and RPM packages to try it out. It’s actively maintained and supports most of the latest Linux distributions. It also offers a free VariCAD viewer, which you can use to convert DWG to DFX and similar tasks.

Honorary mentions 

  • With a huge growth in cloud computing technologies, cloud CAD solutions like OnShape have been getting more popular each day.
  • SolveSpace is another open-source project worth mentioning. It supports 3D modeling.
  • Siemens NX is an industrial-grade CAD solution available on Windows, Mac OS and Linux, but it’s ridiculously expensive, so we’ve omitted it from this list.
  • Then there’s LeoCAD, which is a CAD program where you use LEGO blocks to build stuff. What you do with this information is up to you.

CAD on Linux – my opinion

Although gaming on Linux has picked up, I always tell my hardcore gaming friends to stick to Windows. Similarly, if you’re an engineering student with CAD on your curriculum, I’d recommend that you use the software that your college prescribes (AutoCAD, SolidEdge, Catia), which generally tends to run on Windows only.

And for advanced professionals, these tools are simply not up to the mark when we’re talking about industry standards.

For those of you thinking about running AutoCAD in WINE, although some older versions of AutoCAD can be installed on WINE, they simply do not perform, with glitches and crashes ruining the experience.

That being said, I highly respect the work that has been put in by the developers of the above-listed software. They’ve enriched the FOSS world. And it’s great to see a program like FreeCAD developing at an accelerated pace in recent years.

Do share your thoughts with us using the comments section below and don’t forget to share this article. Cheers.

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  • This just in; CAD Sketcher on/in FLOSS 3D’s Blender …

    I know Blender tried CAD some time ago– I tried it– but they’re at it again with apparently appreciable results this time already.
    And the great thing is that it’s already 3D in that it’s built for and to work within Blender as an add-on. So once you get your CAD aspects, you have a whole other world to explore and get your drawings looking like the real thing.

    I have yet to install and try it, so maybe some of you can beat me there! :)

    Here’s the address:
    https://www.cadsketcher.com/

  • It took me a while before I could finally find a CMS IntelliCAD software that is as good and easy to use as AutoCAD. What I appreciated most is that I can easily edit my .dwg files and it basically offers all features that I’m used to working with. Since CMS IntelliCAD gave me a free trial option, I tried to work with other software as well, including freeware, to compare and understand which one worked for me better. Out of everything I’ve tried so far, CMS IntelliCAD is definitely the best one in all aspects. Good job.

  • You left out “Ares Commander” which is another high end commercial product similar to BricsCAD. It runs on Windows and MAC as well as Linux. Both Ares Commander and BrisCAD use the 3D DWG file format and include a command line processor that is compatible with previous versions of AutoCAD. They are however based on different source code bases.

    ‘Ares Commander’ has been previous sold/distributed as ‘Corel CAD for Windows’ and the FREE 2D version of ‘Draftsight’.

  • It seems that Siemens NX costs approximately what AutoCAD does, and if it fully supports Linux, I don’t see why one would wish to run Windows to run AutoCAD instead.

    Getting software for free is a nice element of the Linux ecosystem, but ultimately it’s about a better user experience. Linux software tends to be more privacy-preserving, and it’s certainly easier to make your installation personal than for the other OS offerings. Paying for software in addition to that should not be a barrier to anyone but the ideologues.

    I am not a professional CAD user, so this issue is moot. I’m content with some of the hobbyist tools out there, although Sweet Home is a bit buggy.