Computer Aided Design (CAD) is an essential part of many engineering streams. CAD is professionally used in architecture, auto parts design, space shuttle research, aeronautics, bridge construction, interior design, and even clothing and jewelry.
Several professional-grade CAD programs like SolidWorks and Autodesk AutoCAD are not natively supported on the Linux platform.
Still, there are some alternative CAD applications available for Linux. You'll learn about them in this article.
Best CAD Software available for Linux
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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 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
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.
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.
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 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.
- 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 in dual boot.
Similarly, if you’re an engineering student with CAD on your curriculum, I’d recommend using the software that your college prescribes (AutoCAD, SolidEdge, Catia), which generally tends to run on Windows only. You can always dual boot to keep Windows and Linux on the same computer.
And for advanced professionals, these tools might not be 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!