We found that SmartDraw is the best CAD for Mac overall for 2D CAD although professional architects or engineers will need something more powerful with 3D support such as the industry leading AutoCAD.
There are of course still some major titles like Solidworks that still aren’t available for Mac still but there are plenty of alternatives to Solidworks on Mac reviewed here that make excellent replacements.
Other things you may want to consider
Other useful features you might want to check for in professional CAD software on a Mac include:
- A command line (which enables you to search for a tool or object in real-time), design setup wizards, templates and tutorial videos. Particularly if you need to create architecture designs, look for software with house wizards which take the basic information in your design and can whip-up a basic house design in minutes saving hours of work.
- A complete set of editing tools is also important i.e. the ability to use pointer markers, layer editors and color coordinate different elements in your designs. Most CAD software now includes a snap tool to make sure that your designs fit together neatly but it’s still always worth checking.
- If you need to import and export files, check what CAD file types it supports. Common formats are DWG, DXF (Drawing Exchange Format, important for things like CNC cutters, plasma cutters etc), DWF and DGN. If you’re going to be exporting for 3D printing, STL export is important and of course, it’s always handy to be able to export to common document formats such as PDF and image formats such as PNG and JPG.
- Support for your specific industry. In architectural CAD software for example, photo realistic rendering is a useful feature because it allows you and your client see what the final design will actually look like. Although there is CAD software on Mac for almost every conceivable need and area nowadays, there are certain industries such as pipeline, piping and valve architecture that require ISO prints for which there’s no specific software on Mac for yet.
- Support for graphics tablets. If you’re a professional architect or CAD designer and prefer to use a digital pen for sketching blueprints, make sure the software you select supports tablets. Check out our guide for which drawing tablets for Mac work best with macOS.
Once you’ve digested all of this, you’re much better prepared to choose the right drafting software on Mac for you.
We’ve reviewed a lot of different options in this article so if you’re in a hurry and want a quick overview of our top picks, here’s a useful summary of our top 5.
1. SmartDraw (Best 2D CAD For Mac)
If you’re looking for something powerful for 2D CAD design but amazingly easy to use and value for money, SmartDraw is the best 2D CAD software for Mac on the market.
SmartDraw is incredibly flexible because it can be used both as a powerful diagramming alternative to Microsoft Visio but also as a powerful but extremely user friendly CAD tool for 2D design.
What we really like about doing 2D CAD with SmartDraw is:
- 40,000+ Quick Start Templates: SmartDraw has more templates than any other CAD tool on Mac with everything from floor plans and office plans to electrical schematics, mechanical and architectural designs.
- CAD Automation: As you add elements, SmartDraw also automatically “snaps” everything together to help keep your designs organized, symmetrical and connected. It basically automates the often annoying fiddly aspects to CAD design and this we find incredibly time saving and stress reducing.
- 34,000 Symbols & Objects: We’ve never seen so many high quality vector symbols and objects in a 2D tool than you can drag and drop into designs.
- Value For Money: Compared to most 2D CAD software on this level, it’s not outrageously expensive plus you’re not only getting a CAD software, you’re getting an entire host of other diagramming tools.
2. AutoCAD LT / AutoCAD (Best 3D CAD For Mac)
AutoCAD is one of the CAD industry’s leading tools but it wasn’t until 2010 that Autodesk finally released AutoCAD and AutoCAD LT for Mac. You can download AutoCAD LT as a Mac desktop client and you can also use it online via the AutoCAD LT web app.
The full version of AutoCAD does both 2D and 3D design but if you don’t need 3D modelling, AutoCAD LT is 75% cheaper than the full version of AutoCAD and excellent value for money for a CAD tool on this level. Both AutoCAD and AutoCAD LT are incredibly professional tools that virtually invented the industry standard DWG file format.
Here’s a few of the reasons we like AutoCAD LT 2020 and AutoCAD 2020 so much:
- They’re both powerful & easy to learn: Many architects start life learning the ropes on AutoCAD products because it’s powerful but has an extremely intuitive interface that makes it easy to get to grips with.
- TouchBar support: AutoCAD is one of the only CAD drafting tools which supports the TouchBar on the latest Macs. We find this seriously speeds-up your workflow because you don’t have to use the TouchPad or mouse all the time. This shows that Autodesk take Mac users seriously and aren’t just pushing the Windows version onto macOS like many developers do.
- Superb web & mobile apps: The latest version of AutoCAD LT 2020 allows you to edit via a web browser and on your iPad or iPhone. The AutoCAD mobile and web apps are extremely close to the desktop version meaning you can edit projects anywhere.
- AutoCAD 2020 includes 7 subsets of CAD software for specific areas such as electrical engineering, mechanical design and architecture. This means you get a lot for your money because it includes software with specific tools for your industry.
- The 3D modelling features are amazing: AutoCAD produces probably some of the most stunning results on retina Macs you’ll see in any CAD software (although this is not available in AutoCAD LT).
3. Fusion 360 (Best Engineering CAD)
Fusion 360 is made by Autodesk, the creators of AutoCAD and is the replacement for Autodesk Inventor. Autodesk Fusion 360 isn’t quite as powerful as AutoCAD but is aimed at the product design focused “prosumer” CAD market.
The other big difference with AutoCAD is that Autodesk Fusion 360 is entirely Cloud based whereas AutoCAD also has a desktop client for Mac. The interface of Fusion 360 is more Windows-like than AutoCAD but it’s still an amazing tool for 3D product design and CAM.
The use of T-Splines and the Sculpt environment in particular makes it easy to conceptualize and model and it’s easily one of the best 3D CAD tools for product designer on Mac out there.
If you’re looking for something focused on 3D product design but don’t need the advanced features of AutoCAD, Autodesk Fusion 360 is an impressive and cost effective alternative.
You can currently get Fusion 360 for as little as $38 per month which is a great deal for an engineering CAD software on this level.
4. CorelCAD For Mac (Best 3D Printing CAD For Mac)
CorelCAD for Mac is from the makers of the extremely successful CorelDRAW graphic design program CorelDRAW for Mac which no longer exists. CorelCAD for Mac 2018 lives on however and it’s pretty good too for a professional standalone CAD software under $1000. CorelCAD for Mac is based on Corel’s own ARES engine and works for both 2D and 3D drawings.
It can import DWG files and is also the best CAD software on Mac for 3D printing, exporting in STL or PDF format. CorelCAD uses a ribbon based interface which will be familiar to anyone that’s used Microsoft Office and is generally very easy to use and navigate around.
CorelCAD is perfect for Architects, Engineers and Construction (AEC) service providers that focus mainly on 2D designs but need to sometimes flesh-out things in 3D too. Overall, CorelCAD for Mac is extremely good value for money with lots of powerful features.
5. TurboCAD Mac Pro (Best AutoCAD Alternative For Mac)
TurboCAD Mac Pro is a more powerful version of TurboCAD Mac Deluxe and provides a cost effective alternative to AutoCAD. Compared to TurboCAD Mac Deluxe, the Pro version has a much better 64-bit user interface, integrated Redway drawing engine, Page Layout wizard, BOM and mating tools.
The Mac version of TurboCAD is also easier to use than the Windows version of TurboCAD as it allows you to customize the palette and interface pretty much any way you want. You can design almost anything in TurboCAD Pro from something as simple as designing a bike to creating the blueprint for an entire building.
There’s also a TurboCAD Pro Powerpack for an extra $99 which adds support for things such as 3D printing, advanced design and BIM. Although TurboCAD Pro doesn’t quite match-up to industry heavyweight AutoCAD, TurboCAD Mac Pro costs $499.99 which is considerably cheaper than an AutoCAD subscription.
Unlike AutoCAD, there’s no subscription either although bear in mind you will have to pay for major updates.
6. HighDesign (Best Architectural CAD For Mac)
HighDesign is professional Free CAD Software for Mac application designed specifically for Mac that offers excellent value for money. From humble beginnings at a small Italian developer, HighDesign has even attracted the attention of NASA for its CAD needs.
Although HighDesign only supports 2D CAD, it can import and export AutoCAD files (including DXF/DWG) and TIFF files. HighDesign is easier for than most professional CAD applications and anyone that has used AutoCAD will recognize the interface straightaway. HighDesign puts a special focus on architecture and allows both photogrammetry and image editing for drafting of building plans which is quite unusual for MAC CAD software.
Other features in HighDesign 2017 include Associative Linear Dimensions, PNG alpha export, vector information, tool tips and quick object info. HighDesign is overall an incredibly accomplished Free CAD Software for Mac product that often goes under the radar of professional designers because of it’s surprisingly low price.
The Standard version is just $199.99 although Professionals will need either the Pro ($299.99) or Pro Plus ($449.99) versions for full functionality.
7. VectorWorks (Best BIM CAD For Mac)
VectorWorks for Mac is one of the most popular CAD packages out there and supports both 2D and 3D design. In particular, when it comes to BIM VectorWorks is hard to beat if that’s one of your main concerns. For an industry level CAD application, it’s also surprisingly accessible because it’s been designed with both beginners and professionals in mind.
Although VectorWorks is most commonly used for Architecture and especially Construction Engineers, it can be used for any CAD task. The interface of Vectorworks uses a clean WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) format which makes designing easier to conceptualize and get to grips with.
Some of the highlights of VectorWorks include graphical scripting tools, intelligent objects and a superbly implemented virtual reality feature. Also ahead of the curve is VectorWorks Marionette which intelligently uses algorithms to shape design forms and customizations (although this costs extra).
If you’ve struggled to learn AutoCAD and want something powerful and innovative, Vectorworks is an amazing piece of CAD technology.
8. MacDraft PE (Best Beginners CAD For Mac)
MacDraft Personal Edition (PE) is a simpler version of MacDraft Pro with a more basic toolset and functionality. It’s a very good starting point for beginners to 2D CAD as it’s easy to learn. It has a very limited library although you can purchase 2000 more from the developer website including architectural, electrical and graphic symbols. Although it’s aimed at beginners, the interface can be a little tricky to navigate at first and adding basic elements such as windows and doors isn’t as clear and straightforward as it should be.
However, it doesn’t take long to get the hang of it and once you have, it’s surprisingly versatile. Be aware that MacDraft PE can’t produce drawings of smaller than about 17 inches and only supports a maximum of 5 Layers unlike the Pro version which allows unlimited layers. It also does not support DWG and updates aren’t free like in the Pro version.
If you’re on a limited budget and want something to get started in 2D CAD software on Mac, MacDraft PE is an excellent stepping stone to the Pro version.
9. Graphite (Best Wireframe CAD For Mac)
Graphite for Mac, formerly known as Vellum, is a professional 3D and 2D CAD program. Graphite’s strength is high precision wireframe drafting although it is quite dated now.
However, if you’re mainly going to be doing wireframe drawings, Graphite specializes in this form of CAD. You can work with AutoCAD DWG files and it integrates with the developer Ashlar Vellum’s popular 3D modeling software Cobalt. One of the main advantages users report with Graphite is speed – it has a very smooth and efficient workflow that makes producing complex designs very quick.
This is a result of what the developer Ashlar-Vellum calls an “Organic Workflow” between its products for maximum speed and efficiency. There are many glowing testimonials to Graphite but we’d advise using the free trial first before deciding whether to go for it.
10. SketchUp (Best Free CAD For Mac)
SketchUp started life as a simple online design tool which was bought by Google in 2006 but then bought by Trimble in 2012 and turned into a professional CAD tool for both Mac and PC.
SketchUp is completely free for personal and educational use. SketchUp was Google’s idea of a free and basic user-friendly CAD application for all abilities and Trimble Navigation has maintained this ease of use but added more professional features. SketchUp Pro is both a serious option for CAD professionals but also beginners that want to create impressive mock ups. It’s suitable for those in a range of professions from architecture, construction, engineering to interior design, light construction and landscape architecture.
The basic version of SketchUp is an ideal tool to give clients 3D mock-ups of their designs or for clients themselves to provide architects with an idea of their vision or plans. If you want your client to sketch out their vision for you to develop for example, point they can download SketchUp free for personal use and create a basic outline that you can then develop further.
The professional version of SketchUp is for serious CAD designers but it still retains the general ease of use of the original Google product and still has Google Earth integration for geo-tagging designs.
Tips On Choosing CAD Software For Macs
In reality, there’s no such thing as the “best” CAD software for everyone.
However, there’s definitely such a thing as the best CAD software for your needs.
Choosing the right CAD software for your specific requirments depends on whether you’re a professional designer, student or simply an amateur looking to do a little bit of home or landscape design.
Professional packages such as AutoCAD are complicated to learn and use as they whereas packages such as TurboCAD are somewhere in the middle, sometimes referred to as “prosumer” CAD software.
Online technical drafting software such as SmartDraw are aimed at those with minimal CAD experience and provide plenty of templates and automated functions to do the hard work for you.
Before you buy, here’s a few important questions and things to consider before deciding which one to choose.
Are your CAD needs industry specific or general?
If you need CAD software for a specific industry, such as Architecture, then you need software designed specifically for the needs of 3D Architecture and all the components that go into buildings. If it’s mechanical CAD you’re going to be doing on your Mac then the needs are a bit different.
CAD software also covers many other fields including construction, engineering, commercial interiors, light construction, landscaping, interior design, urban planning, game design, film & stage, woodworking and much more.
You should make sure the CAD software you choose supports the specific industry you’re working in.
Do you need 2D or 3D CAD software?
Again, this depends on what you want to use it for. If you only need to work in the Y and X axis i.e. draw floor plans, elevations and top/front/bottom angles of different objects, then 2D CAD software is all you need.
3D CAD software meanwhile allows you to work in the X,Y and Z axis and is essential for architects, product designers or those that need mechanical CAD software features. Basically, anyone that needs to manipulate a design from every possible angle.
3D software allows you to create both models and wire-frames but it’s more expensive than 2D software and can run into thousands of dollars on Mac.
Note that most professional 3D CAD software such as AutoCAD and ArchiCAD have now been updated to include support for 3D printers.
Are you looking for paid or free software?
It should be no surprise that free CAD software on Mac is generally nowhere near as powerful as paid software although there are still some pretty decent packages now available which we’ve included in this article.
If you just need 2D design capabilities or don’t need to collaborate in a team with others, you can probably get away with using free CAD software if you’re not working in a professional environment.
3D designing is another matter however and there are few free 3D tools which are worth using.
If you’re intending to use the software for professional work, it’s highly recommended to go for a paid CAD software as you may spend more time fighting with a free option or searching for features that are lacking than actually being productive.
Don’t be caught-out by CAD software that claims to be “free” but actually only offers a free version with limited functionality that requires you to upgrade to unlock features.
The free version of Sketchup is fine for beginners to CAD for example but you’ll need to upgrade to the Pro version to unlock most features.
Do you need BIM support?
BIM (Building Information Modeling) is the next step in Computer Aided Design and an increasingly important feature of CAD software for professionals.
BIM models are more intelligent than traditional CAD plans because they contain much more information. For instance, BIM models can calculate the knock-on effect that the smallest of changes to modeling plans can have.
In the long run, BIM can help cut down on the amount of errors or reworking that needs to be done to your CAD designs.
Most of the top industry leading packages such as AutoCAD and Vectorworks, include BIM capabilities as standard but cheaper packages usually don’t.
We’ve indicated which packages support BIM in these reviews.
Do you need CAD or 3D design software?
We have focused here mainly on CAD software, although we have also featured some 3D design or animation software because the line can be often blurred.
The difference between the two types of software is subtle but the key difference is that CAD software is specifically for the needs of professional and industrial designers, with all the technical specs and needs they have.
In a nutshell, 3D design software is generally aimed at the more creative side of design – for example animation – whereas CAD programs focus on technical plans and designs.
Free CAD Software for Mac Make sure that the CAD app you choose offers extensive help, training and after sale support. CAD software is very complex and if you’ve never used it before, it can be very daunting to get to grips with.
In particular, the most common problem you will experience with CAD software on Mac that’s been ported from Windows is instability and it can send you insane trying to work out exactly what is causing glitches or bugs with the program.
The most reputable CAD software developers offer free customer support but some charge extra for it so check before buying.