Best CAD program to learn

I’ve been delaying this for a while and I think it’s time to buckle down and learn a CAD program and invest in a 3D printer as well. I’ve used On Shape a little and it seems okay, but what others are out there that everyone is using. I’ve heard of Fusion and FreeCAD too. I’m a noob.

Which program do I really need to get into?



I am probably the most biased person here, but Fusion 360 :rofl:

All CAD programs are the same at the level we are trying to use for bikes. The advantage is community support.

There is a good Solidworks threads going as well:

I think the elephant in the room is FreeCAD. Honestly, I have not had time to educate myself… But open source solutions are worth supporting. There seems to be a BikeCAD workflow pipeline as well. Does anyone know of anyone who uses FreeCAD to design a bike?

The tutorials I have seen are a bit dated and lacking:

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I find the file management in Fusion a little annoying, but that’s mostly because I’ve spent 25 years using bottom-up modelling software like Inventor and NX. For free use I quite like Siemens Solid Edge, which is completely free (and can be used without an internet connection) if you get the Community Edition.

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I use QCAD for simple 2D drawings, like for example if I need to have SCS cut something out of sheet metal.

I have used Sketchup both professional and now the online one for all my 3D printing needs, usually I am doing pretty simple stuff anyway.

I am learning F360 - thanks to Daniel - and I wish I could move all of my needs to F360, I’ll eventually get there someday.

I have paid for my college studies by being a drafter, talking Autocad of the early 2000s so I am comfortable on those kind of 2D Cad applications, QCAD is a close match to Autocad of yesteryear.

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As a Solidworks guy I would still probably recommend fusion if you’re starting fresh. Solidworks may be more powerful for CAD and more common in industry but fusion has so much more support and utility, and the pricing is great


I have been researching different options lately as well, here is what I know:

All of the “free” CAD programs I know of put your designs in a cloud where they can be accessed by other users. This is only a problem if you have intellectual property you want to protect.

This is a great option for learning but If you want privacy, you have to pay for it. so it makes sense to decide on a platform before learning so you don’t have to learn multiple platforms.

All this being said, most CAD programs are very similar with different syntax

Here are the options I have been looking at:

Solidworks - They have a “makers” license for $50/year, this is essentially fully featured Solidworks but on a more cloud based platform. I have used this for 2 years and it has worked well but the platform is somewhat buggy with constant updates and it is intended for people making less than $2k/yr with it, not sure how they enforce this.

Solidworks Pro - This is the fully featured design Software and is generally around $2500/ year but does not include FEA simulation if you’re into that, it’s gonna cost more.

Onshape - Has a free option for learning and is around $1500 for the full software and also another $1k for simulation capability.

Fusion 360 - Has a free option for learning and is $680/yr for fully featured, the price actually increases in a few days… Fusion is an extra $1800ish for simulation capabilities.

I am switching to Fusion 360 this weekend before the price increase because Solidworks Maker is getting increasingly worse and I want simulation capabilities.

Another thing to keep in mind is that CAD software generally requires a pretty high powered computer and graphics card. This is the advantage to cloud based platforms, they handle most of the computing rather than you. Just check the requirements before buying anything!


This is a good point and one to bear in mind if you’re modelling large assemblies. However, Inventor (for example) works just fine on a reasonably fast processor with integrated graphics and 16GB RAM. What really matters for most CAD software is a fast processor and a bit of VRAM. You only really need lots of cores for simulations and rendering, and a graphics card for complex/large models.

Onshape gets round this quite nicely, being cloud based.

Finally, Solid Edge Community Edition doesn’t use cloud or public storage at all - it’s completely local to your PC.


I have gone through many, many CAD and CAD adjacent programs over the years. The above suggestions are all great, and for designing a bike, I think FreeCAD is your best shot. However, I would like to throw in two other options I have used for frame design (not that I have ever built a frame…):

Blender: It’s not CAD, but I find it highly intuitive, and honestly has an undeserved reputation among engineers. By no means is it CAD, but it’s also flexible enough to get you by.

OpenSCAD: It’s a weird workflow, but once you get the hang of it, it’s insanely powerful. It’s currently my CAD of choice, and it can certainly run on a potato.


Thanks everyone! I’ll start checking them all out and try to decide on one and start playing with it.

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On another note, is it possible to send a bikecad design/file ? So I can import it into my bicarbonate program and go from there.
My friend made a bikecad(free version) and I’d like to have it in my bikecad, so I can print the templates etc.

As someone who has used Solidworks pretty much daily for work for 15 years, if I could choose any that would be it. With that said, Fusion 360 is pretty darn good. I bought it recently when they had it on sale for home and on the go use since my Solidworks license is standalone and have been really impressed. For someone just starting out Fusion would be my choice and if you ever did want Solidworks most of what you learn will transfer over.

It has been a while since I was current on the maintenance plan, but when I bought Solidworks it was significantly more. I think it was 5-6k just for the license and then I believe around 1-2k a year to stay current. I quit paying for the maintenance plan in 2020 so I don’t get any of the updates after that.

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