Could not find a thread on this. Apologies if I did not search the correct terms.

I am interested in securing and learning to use a CAD or 3D modeling program. I don't have any previous drafting experience so I will be learning from scratch. Sketchup and some others have been suggested to me but I don't know what I am looking at or whether those opinions are grounded in knowledge or ignorance. I would like something simple enough for me to learn on my own but still be able to grow with me as I learn.

I understand that I may be looking at a fair outlay of $$$ for good software. My main concern is that I will spend several hundred dollars and the platform I buy will be well over my head and not be useful.

Any suggestions would be appreciated. I enjoy designing and building and would love to have library of renderings of things I work on the most to pull up and play with. If I am out of my mind trying to dive into this with no experience, I would like to know that too.

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What type of 3D modeling are you looking to get into? There are basically two different camps of 3D modeling....mechanical modeling or everything else.

In the mechanical design I have used everything from AutoDesk Solid modeling (rudimentary modeling built in to AutoCAD) to Unigraphics to ProEngineer to CATIA to SolidEdge to SolidWorks to AutoDesk Mechanical Desktop. All of these have a steep learning curve and you need to be pretty well grounded in fundamental mechanical design. All of these products are in the couple thousand dollar range up to 10's of thousands of dollars for the software and again for the hardware to run them on.

I have little experience in the "everything else" category but this will include products like AutoDesk 3D Studio, Maya, and many other "in-house" products. These software are used for creating things from Jurasic Park to video game geometry to product development and visualization to the latest Disney Pixar animated feature film. This is a far more artistic side of 3D modeling and has a very different skill set.

One notable product that I have a hard time placing in either category is http://www.sketchup.com/. Sketchup is extremely popular. I'm sure it's popularity is largely due to the fact that it is free. It does mix a lot of both the mechanical side and the artistic side, however I have had a hard time working with it though because there are many things that I have tried to do in Sketchup that are quite difficult but are extraordinarily easy in one of the mechanical packages (adding a fillet radius between two surfaces is a good example).

I think PirateMcGee's suggestion to take a class at your local college will go a long way toward answering your questions regardless of which path you are looking down.
Thanks gentlemen for all of the info! I was eaves dropping because I am interested as well.

Another advantage of taking a course at school is that a lot of the software companies offer a large discount for "student use" programs.
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I am in college for Mechanical Engineering & work full time as a CAD drafter/engineering technician in the automotive industry; from a professional use standpoint I absolutely LOVE SolidWorks.
I've also used Autodesk inventor (which is still good, but I like less than SolidWorks), 2d AutoCAD mechanical desktop, Sketchup, and Draftsight.
I will say that the parametric 3d modeling software I've used (SW & Inventor) were not at all intuitive to use, even coming from a 2d drafting background, until I was able to wrap my head around how they worked.
What are you thinking of using it for? will you be doing 3d "napkin sketches" or are you expecting to do engineering drawings that actually need to be precise and adhere to industry standards on some level?
For conceptual sketching and designs the best combo I can think of would be draftsight (for 2d) and sketchup. Not because either of these is the best, but because they are both free to download and use.
Draftsight is essentially AutoCAD lite and works on most of the same commands/inputs and the .dwg format files are cross compatible for the most part. Very low investment, while providing an experience close to the "real thing", if you're just looking to get your feet wet with some relatively simple designs.
I haven't used the more recent versions of sketchup since I have gotten access to and proficiency with Solidworks. When I used it a few years ago I remember being frustrated with the user interface, as well as the lack of precision compared to the AutoCAD I had been used to using. Newer versions may be better, or it may have been my lack of experience with 3d modeling at the time. For the cost of $0.00, though, it can't hurt to try it out. If it works for you and you decide to go pro it's also comparatively cheap at $599.
As has been suggested already taking a class or two at the local CC would be money well spent in terms of learning, as well as a relatively cheap way to legally get access to professional grade software.
Youtube is also a great resource for how-to videos, though you will want to learn some of the industry lingo in order to make searches that get close to what you actually want. It's my go-to whenever I am having trouble figuring something out.


Thank for all of the replies. Mechanical modeling is what I am after. I am thinking simple conceptual drawings for starters but (think) I would like to get into it deeper as time goes on.

We have a great technical school close by so I will look into my options there as well. Been thinking of going there to take a welding class to learn TIG so they may end up with a semi-long term student.

Looks like it wouldn't hurt to play with the free stuff to get my feet wet then try out Solid Works or some others. I think I know a place where I can play with a couple of the products mentioned gratis. I had the math I will probably need in school but the principles of mechanical drawing are going to be where I need the instruction.

Thanks for the info. I figured there would be some folks on here that would have some driver's seat experience with this stuff.


Take a look at Google Sketchup. You can use the free version to get a feel for it and switch to Sketchup Pro if you like it well enough to pay for it. I use the free version for projects around the house, but a friend who's an architect uses it also. It's pretty powerful.


Expedition Leader
I'm an architect, and we use SketchUp and REVIT. SketchUP is the bomb! It's so fast, so easy, and so powerful, its ridiculous. There are huge (google sized) repositories of available 3D elements that just socket right into your model, it makes it fun and very flexible and easy to get professional caliber results.

REVIT is none of those things, but its what we ultimately use to product the final design model and contract documents. I hate REVIT, but it is the standard of the Architectural Industry. AutoCAD is dead.


SketchUP is actually not bad for simple drafting and light 3d. I am a bit spoiled using UG NX5/6 and Catia V4/5. I started with Autocad back in the day and still use Autocad 2000 at home. If your interested I can hook you up with a copy of Autocad 2000 to get your feet wet. It works with XP not sure about win 7. It's still IMO a very usable 2D and decent 3D option for the price... Free...


As mentioned 3d modeling for what?

I have been modeling for over 15 years mainly for game development. I use 3d studio max. If you are looking to do that kind of modeling then check out blender 3d its not as good as max/Maya but still a good FREE launching point.

If you are doing more drafting then I would check out sketch up as others have already mentioned!


Looks Sketchup is going to be a good starting point. I may get some much needed down time over the holiday weekend next week to give it a try.

Thanks again for all of the replies.

I'll update the thread with how it goes once I have a chance to play.


Autism Family Travellers!
I bought a late build version of turbocad. I was one year behind the current model. It worked great. Just becareful, their sales tactics are relentless. If you can pick up a pre loved copy it would be better than buying direct. I would say I would get 2 calls a month asking me to upgrade.

There are a few companies that I dealt with in my construction business, Ace tools, and future steel buildings are two that stick in my mind. They will drive you crazy with their sales calls. ACE tools providing the material to go on tirades that would make college football coaches run for cover. I spent 5 hrs trying to get my number off their list. Still never worked.

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Had a chance to pull down a copy of Sketchup and play with it for an evening. I think it will keep me busy for a while. Going through the tutorials and drawing up some basic designs was fun. It is pretty simple to use so far and should help me with a visual of ideas/concepts that cross my mind. I am going to try and model some simple projects that we are going to work on after the New Year to learn the program better. If I can accurately re-recreate some simple things that I would typically just mock up in the garage, I am hoping it will give me the familiarity to do the conceptualizing on the computer then head to the garage. The erase button is so much more cost effective than ruined raw materials.

Thanks again for everyone's input. It seems like Crayola is just my speed for now. If/when I finally get something mocked up in Sketchup, I'll post an image or two.


New member
Blender is a free open-source 3-D modeling software that supports every other format and also multiple monitors. I use it for my little graphic ventures.