FreeCAD: Should You Buy It? The Architect Verdict!

FreeCAD, an open-source parametric 3D CAD modeler and BIM software is versatile for various fields like mechanical engineering, architecture, and electrical engineering. It is free and runs on Linux, macOS, and Windows. With a powerful solid-based geometry kernel and a parametric environment, FreeCAD allows for creating and modifying 3D objects with controlled parameters. Its Arch Workbench is useful for architectural modeling, compatible with other FreeCAD tools, and mesh-friendly for integration with applications like Blender or SketchUp. FreeCAD’s open-source nature makes it accessible to download and use, with no licensing or subscription costs, in contrast to commercial alternatives. FreeCAD’s parametric modeling, customizable nature, and cost-effectiveness make it a valuable tool for architects and designers. Its compatibility with standard file formats ensures seamless data transfer with other software. FreeCAD’s rendering capabilities are essential but can be enhanced through external tools like Blender. There is no mobile version of FreeCAD, but third-party mobile viewers offer limited access. For better productivity, peripherals like a 3D mouse, high-performance computer, gaming mouse, gamepad, split keyboard, and large monitor can enhance the FreeCAD experience. Customer reviews praise FreeCAD for its expansive CAD modeling and design package despite its interface needing to be more intuitive than its commercial counterparts. ArchitectureLab’s verdict suggests that FreeCAD is a worthwhile investment for architects, offering modeling capabilities, cost savings, and flexibility. Alternative architectural software options include Cedreo, SketchUp, Chief Architect, Planner 5D, and Revit. For improved productivity in FreeCAD, peripherals such as a 3D mouse, high-performance computer, gaming mouse, gamepad, split keyboard, and large monitor are recommended.

What is FreeCAD?

FreeCAD is a general-purpose parametric 3D computer-aided design (CAD) modeler and a building information modeling (BIM) software application. It is primarily designed to model real-world objects and is helpful in mechanical engineering product design, architecture, and electrical engineering fields. FreeCAD is open-source and free to use, licensed under LGPL-2.0-or-later, and is available for Linux, macOS, and Windows operating systems. FreeCAD offers a dedicated Arch Workbench for modeling buildings and structures. Its workbench allows users to create architectural objects with any other tool of FreeCAD, such as the PartDesign Workbench, and convert them to architectural objects while retaining their entire modeling history. The Arch Workbench is mesh-friendly, meaning it can easily design an architectural model in a mesh-based application such as Blender or SketchUp. FreeCAD also features a built-in Python interpreter, allowing users to extend the software’s functionality using Python. It makes FreeCAD highly customizable and adaptable to various use cases.

The ArchitectureLab Verdict: Should You Buy FreeCAD?

ArchitectureLab verdict is that FreeCAD is a must-buy investment for architects. Firstly, it has extensive 2D drafting and 3D modeling capabilities that rival paid software like AutoCAD. The parametric workflow makes iterating designs easy. Secondly, FreeCAD has a steeper learning curve than beginner CAD tools. The interface and workflows take time to master. Stability can also suffer with very complex models. Lastly, FreeCAD has basic built-in rendering through Raytracing and Render workbenches. These can create decent visualizations but need more extensive lighting and material controls. For presentation renderings, most FreeCAD users export to dedicated tools like Blender.

Which company develops FreeCAD?

FreeCAD is an open-source project, meaning it is not developed by a single company but by a community of contributors. The project was started by Jürgen Riegel in 2001. Many individuals and companies, including Werner Mayer and Yorik van Havre, have contributed to the development of FreeCAD. The FreeCAD Team is spread across 20 countries and leads the development. The FreeCAD community is active and diverse, with contributors including software developers, mechanical engineers, architects, and hobbyists. The community develops features, provides documentation, and offers assistance to users. Some companies, such as Ondsel, have built commercial products on top of FreeCAD, which aims to bring commercial features that make FreeCAD more useful to commercial users.

On what platforms does FreeCAD run?

FreeCAD is a multiplatform software that runs natively on Windows, macOS, and Linux operating systems. As an open-source parametric 3D modeler, it is designed to model real-world objects and is helpful in mechanical engineering product design, architecture, and electrical engineering fields. FreeCAD’s compatibility with multiple platforms makes it a versatile tool for users across different operating systems. It is highly customizable and extensible, allowing users to tailor the software to their needs. FreeCAD offers a dedicated Arch Workbench for modeling buildings and structures. Its workbench will enable users to design architectural objects with any other FreeCAD tool and convert them to architectural objects while retaining their entire modeling history.

When was FreeCAD first launched?

FreeCAD was first launched in 2002. The project began in January 2001 when Jürgen Riegel started working on the Cas. The CADE project is a commercial software development framework with a geometric modeling kernel. The initial code check-in for FreeCAD was on March 18, 2002, which could be considered its “birthday.” The software was officially released later that year on October 29, 2002. FreeCAD has been developed and improved by a global community of contributors, including software developers, mechanical engineers, architects, and hobbyists. The software is designed to model real-world objects and is particularly useful in mechanical engineering, product design, architecture, and electrical engineering. It offers a dedicated Arch Workbench for modeling buildings and structures, making it a valuable architectural tool. FreeCAD is licensed under LGPL-2.0-or-later and is available for Linux, macOS, and Windows operating systems. It supports many file formats. It offers tools for creating 2D drawings and views of your models, performing analyses such as Finite Element Analyses, and exporting models for 3D printing or CNC machining.

What are the licensing options available for FreeCAD?

FreeCAD is an open-source, free-to-download 3D parametric modeling software platform for Windows, macOS, and Linux. The core FreeCAD platform is licensed under the LGPLv2+ license, which permits unlimited use, distribution, modification, and inclusion into proprietary applications on very permissive terms, provided source code access remains open when redistributing FreeCAD itself. Parts of the OpenGL display code utilize a GPLv2 license instead for stricter copyleft terms on derivative works in that domain specifically. It enables extensive community engagement while retaining strong reciprocal fairness guarantees about FreeCAD access protections in the future. Additional proprietary modules and plugins extending FreeCAD’s functionality may be licensed under their compatible terms or dual-licensed, enabling paid offerings to augment the core open-source package.

What is the cost of FreeCAD?

FreeCAD is free to download, install, and use without incurring software license fees or subscription costs to access its extensive 3D modeling and documentation tools. Users can leverage the complete parametric modeling, simulation, rendering, and customization functions at zero cost across Windows, Mac, and Linux systems. Additional proprietary extensions may carry separate pricing, though core tools stay free under the LGPLv2+ license. Its underlying freedom guarantee ensures students, hobbyists, startups, and companies can benefit from quality 3D modeling and product design capabilities without capital barriers, regardless of budget constraints. Maintenance is enabled via community forums and documentation as well.

How can FreeCAD help architects and designers?

FreeCAD is a valuable tool for architects and designers due to professional-grade BIM capabilities, parametric modeling for rapid iteration, complete customizability to streamline workflows, and zero cost for access. Firstly, FreeCAD offers architects and designers extensive modeling, visualization, and documentation tools for architectural projects. Its Arch Workbench provides specialized tools for BIM workflows like generating floor plans, structural elements like walls and beams, and 3D architecture models. Secondly, being open-source software, FreeCAD is fully customizable to adapt to specific architectural workflows. Users can create custom plugins and scripts to automate repetitive tasks. The parametric modeling approach makes it easy to iterate and test design variations quickly. Lastly, FreeCAD is free and open-source, translating to significant cost savings for small firms and independent designers. There is no need to pay expensive license fees or subscriptions. FreeCAD can run on Windows, Mac, and Linux systems. It supports interoperability with standard file formats like IFC, OBJ, and DXF for smooth collaboration.

What is FreeCAD output, and in which format?

FreeCAD supports exporting 3D models and 2D drawings into various standard file formats. It allows compatibility with other CAD software and applications like 3D printing, CAM, rendering, and more. For 3D models, some of the most commonly used export formats include STEP, IGES, STL, OBJ, DAE (Collada), PLY (mesh), SVG (2D vector graphics), and DWF. These standard 3D file types allow FreeCAD designs into other engineering and design software like SolidWorks, Blender, KeyShot, and more for further processing. The STEP and IGES formats preserve the most design information for precision CAD purposes. STL and OBJ are simpler mesh formats well-suited for 3D printing applications. For 2D documentation of designs, FreeCAD can export drawing sheets and views in standard formats like PDF, SVG, DXF, DWG, HPGL, and PostScript. The DXF and DWG formats allow using FreeCAD 2D outputs directly in popular 2D CAD programs like AutoCAD or DraftSight for architecture and engineering drawing purposes. FreeCAD can export 3D models directly into VRML and X3D file formats for interactive 3D web viewing. The POV-Ray format is supported for photo-realistic rendering.

Is FreeCAD’s output format compatible with other industry-standard software?

Yes, FreeCAD’s use of standard and interoperable file formats for import and export ensures compatibility with many major CAD programs, engineering tools, and downstream applications. FreeCAD can be smoothly transferred or incorporated into numerous industry-leading software tools. Exporting STEP, IGES, or STL format designs from FreeCAD allows them to be imported and manipulated in CAD tools like Solidworks, AutoCAD, Inventor, Solid Edge, NX, and many others. The DWG, DXF, and 2D drawing formats provide compatibility with architectural and manufacturing drafting tools. The SVG vector images produce usable graphics even in non-engineering disciplines like graphic design software. Support for DAE Collada files bridges the gap into rendering, VR, and even web viewing applications. Standard analytical/simulation formats like Nastran files integrate into advanced FEA tools like ANSYS or Abaqus. Direct plug-ins are written for interoperability between FreeCAD and software like Blender, SketchUp, and Revit. Entire engineering workflows have been built around using FreeCAD models in tools like CAM, 3D printing utilities, CNC machines, and even publications like research papers or technical manuals.

What file formats does FreeCAD support for exporting and importing designs?

FreeCAD supports many standard CAD file formats for importing existing 3D models and 2D drawings and exporting designs. It allows interoperability with a wide range of other CAD software. For importing 3D models, some of the formats supported include STEP, IGES, STL, OBJ, DAE (Collada), PLY (mesh files), STP, CSV (point clouds), and SVX (SketchUp models). These allow the bringing in of designs from all major CAD programs. For 2D files, FreeCAD supports formats like SVG, DXF, DWG, DWF, and some raster graphic types to import existing drawings. FreeCAD uses many of those same formats to transfer to other software and for production purposes. Key export formats include STEP, IGES, STL, OBJ, DAE (Collada), PLY (meshes), SVG (2D vector drawings), DXF, and DWG. Additional export formats supported include DWF, 3MF, VRML, X3D, U3D, MeshKernel, Nastran, IFC, and POV-Ray – providing further compatibility with engineering, architectural, graphic design software, and web applications. FreeCAD can import and export curves, wireframes, and surfaces using STEP, IGES, OBJ, STL, SVG, and DXF standards. Individual sketches and drawing sheets are also supported in PDF, SVG, BMP, and others.

Is FreeCAD considered user-friendly for beginner users? 

Yes, FreeCAD is user-friendly and less intuitive for beginner users due to customization. Firstly, FreeCAD is very customizable, with different workbenches for different functions. Its modularity can confuse beginners who are used to an all-in-one modeling workspace. Navigation and controls also take some getting used to. The FreeCAD community provides ample tutorials and documentation to help new users get started. Secondly, FreeCAD can be used for basic 3D modeling and design. Several YouTube channels like Joko Engineering, FreeCAD Academy, and MangoJelly offer excellent beginner FreeCAD tutorials. Lastly, FreeCAD may be less intuitive and user-friendly than commercial CAD software, but it is perfectly usable for hobbyists, sole proprietors, and small operations on a budget. For more complex professional workflows, commercial software would be more productive.

Freecad: should you buy it? The architect verdict!

What are the rendering capabilities of FreeCAD?

Adobe FreeCAD offers various rendering capabilities that can benefit architects and designers. Firstly, FreeCAD has basic built-in rendering capabilities through its Raytracing Workbench, which allows using POV-Ray and Luxrender for rendering. It provides some controls over materials, lighting, and shadow casting to generate rendered images from 3D models. Secondly, one of the main advantages of FreeCAD is that models can be easily exported to other software like Blender for more advanced and photo-realistic rendering. Blender is very popular in industries like film and gaming for its powerful rendering capabilities with materials, textures, lighting, and environments. It allows for extending FreeCAD’s rendering possibilities. Lastly, FreeCAD focuses more on technical modeling than rendering, and there are opportunities to expand its capabilities. The open-source nature of FreeCAD means users can create custom templates and tools to add more advanced rendering functionality directly integrated with the modeling workflow.

Does FreeCAD include Building Information Modeling (BIM) capabilities for better project management?

Yes, FreeCAD delivers some basic building information modeling (BIM) capabilities but needs more customized BIM software for the entire project lifecycle management. Essential BIM-relevant tools in FreeCAD include the Arch Workbench for streamlined architectural modeling, the ability to define parametric components with metadata (properties), and the growing support for industry Foundation Class (IFC) BIM standards. Architects can leverage these tools to create 3D building models with some degree of integrated dataset management on components down to the furniture level. The parametric architecture also allows automated updating of designs based on parameter changes. FreeCAD is still a 3D CAD package rather than a full-scope BIM platform.

How does FreeCAD facilitate collaboration abilities among teams?

FreeCAD facilitates team collaboration through linking, automation, and interoperability with other software. Firstly, FreeCAD files can be easily shared and linked between projects using the Link tool. It allows different team members to work on separate component files that can be assembled. Changes made to attached files automatically propagate. Secondly, the open-source nature and Python API of FreeCAD allow extensive customization of tools and workflows. It means teams can create customized templates, automation scripts, and plugins tailored to their collaboration needs. They are integrating version control or implementing custom model-checking rules. Lastly, FreeCAD models can be exported to standard exchange formats like STEP and IGS for collaboration with other software. It provides flexibility to use external tools for tasks like advanced visualization or analysis while modeling is done in FreeCAD.

What are the minimum hardware requirements for running FreeCAD?

The minimum hardware requirements for running FreeCAD are a 64-bit CPU, 8GB+ RAM, an OpenGL 2.0+ graphics card, and an SSD with 10GB+ free disk space. Firstly, FreeCAD supports Windows 7 and newer, macOS 10.11 and more recent, and various Linux distributions. A 64-bit operating system is required. Secondly, FreeCAD specifies a minimum CPU (processor) requirement of a 64-bit processor, with multi-core CPUs recommended for better performance. The underlying OpenCASCADE geometry kernel used by FreeCAD currently has only partial multi-threading support. Thirdly, the minimum RAM (memory) requirement is 4GB, but 8GB or more is recommended, especially for complex models. FreeCAD’s memory usage scales with model complexity, so more RAM provides better performance. Fourthly, at minimum, an OpenGL 2.0 compatible graphics card is required to display 3D graphics correctly. A dedicated GPU can significantly improve display performance and smoothness. Lastly, at least 1GB of free disk space is recommended for installation. An SSD drive with 10GB or more free space provides the best performance in terms of file access speeds.

How frequently is FreeCAD updated?

FreeCAD sees frequent updates and new releases that continuously expand capabilities. Major version updates that bring significant new tools or architectural changes are released every 2-3 years. Incremental updates that fix bugs and integrate additional features are published rapidly. Updated releases are published every 2-4 months. It includes an extended “Daily Build” testing version, official monthly bugfix releases, and significant annual/biannual milestone releases. The community also maintains an extensive collection of macros, addons, and modules updated independently on their schedules.

Is there a mobile version or app available for FreeCAD for on-site work and presentations?

No, there is no official mobile app or mobile-optimized version of FreeCAD software. As a primarily desktop-focused parametric CAD package requiring significant computing resources, complex UI controls, and input peripherals like mouse/keyboard, development priorities have centered on PC rather than mobile platforms. Third parties have created basic mobile viewers and remote control solutions for accessing FreeCAD projects on mobile devices like phones or tablets. Examples include mobile Web-based viewers for FreeCAD files like CAD.js and COPS. It may lack full modeling capabilities, but these at least enable viewing FreeCAD 3D models and navigating scenes. There are also early prototypes allowing remote control of the FreeCAD desktop software from a paired mobile app to facilitate introductory on-site presentation or evaluation.

Freecad: should you buy it? The architect verdict!

What are the advantages of FreeCAD?

Listed below are the advantages of using FreeCAD:

  • Open source and free: FreeCAD is open-source software that is entirely free and has no licensing costs. It makes it an accessible tool for individuals, small businesses, or anyone who cannot afford expensive CAD software. The open-source nature of FreeCAD also means that it is continuously being improved and updated by a community of developers, ensuring that new features and improvements are regularly added.
  • Parametric modeling: FreeCAD uses a parametric model, which allows users to modify their designs easily by going back into the model’s history and changing its parameters. It makes the design process more flexible and efficient, as users can adjust their designs without starting from scratch.
  • Customizability and extensibility: FreeCAD is highly customizable and extensible. Its modular setup allows users to scale the software to their specific needs. FreeCAD supports many plugins and scripts that can significantly enhance its functionality. Users can also access its Python Interpreter and external and macro scripts to configure and expand the software.
  • Community support: One of the critical advantages of FreeCAD is the strong community support it enjoys. Numerous tutorials, forums, and resources are available online where users can seek help and learn more about how to use the software. Community support can be particularly beneficial for beginners learning CAD software.
  • Wide range of CAD tools: FreeCAD offers a wide range of CAD tools for modeling, assemblies, and more. It can work with surfaces, solids, and meshes and easily import and modify various CAD formats. It makes FreeCAD a versatile tool that can be used for various design tasks.
  • Simple and easy-to-use interface: Despite its powerful capabilities, FreeCAD is known for its simple and easy-to-use interface. It makes it a convenient tool for quick CAD design, with a relatively short learning curve compared to other CAD software.

What are the disadvantages of FreeCAD?

Listed below are the disadvantages of using FreeCAD:

  • Limited rendering and animation capabilities: FreeCAD has limited capabilities when it comes to rendering and animation. The lack of advanced rendering and animation tools can limit the visual quality and dynamism of the final output, potentially making it less suitable for professional-grade design and animation work.
  • Stability and reliability issues: Some users have reported stability and reliability issues when working with complex assemblies in FreeCAD. These issues can lead to crashes or unexpected behavior, disrupting the workflow and potentially leading to data loss. It can be problematic for users working on large and complex projects, where stability and reliability are crucial.
  • Steep learning curve: FreeCAD has a steep learning curve compared to beginner CAD tools. It means using the software can take significant time and effort. The complexity of the user interface, with many menus and options to explore, can be overwhelming for new users.
  • Sparse official training resources: Community support for FreeCAD, but some users consider the official training resources and documentation light. It can make it more difficult for beginners to use the software. The lack of comprehensive official resources can slow the learning process and make it harder for users to troubleshoot issues independently.
  • Interface issues: Some users have reported issues with the interface of FreeCAD, such as difficulty navigating and occasional instability. These issues can affect the user experience, making the software less enjoyable and efficient. Interface issues can also increase the difficulty of composing and editing models.
  • Performance issues with large models: FreeCAD has been reported to have performance issues when editing or viewing large models. It can slow the workflow and make it challenging to work on complex projects. The performance issues can be particularly problematic for users working on large-scale designs or detailed models.

What do customer reviews and feedback say about FreeCAD?

FreeCAD has considerable user reviews and feedback across documentation, forums, and platforms like YouTube. The response is very positive – praising FreeCAD as a remarkably full-featured and expansive CAD modeling and design package given its open-source nature. Reviews tout capabilities rivaling top commercial tools like SolidWorks, especially given the lack of licensing fees. The interface and extensive capabilities are noted as less intuitive and accessible than commercial counterparts, carrying a steeper learning curve. Community support is praised as helpful for overcoming It via documentation contributed by advanced users. The lack of native parametric modeling features requiring more manual construction vs automated history-based CADs is another common critique, though also identified as improving.

What other architecture software options are there?

Listed below are some of the other architectural software options apart from FreeCAD:

  • Cedreo: Cedreo is a web-based software that allows architects, designers, builders, and remodelers to create 2D and 3D floor plans, renderings, and virtual tours. It helps users save time, reduce costs, and improve client satisfaction by streamlining the design process and facilitating communication and collaboration.
  • SketchUp: SketchUp is a 3D modeling software that is easy to use and learn. It enables architects and designers to create, edit, and share 3D models of buildings, landscapes, and interiors. SketchUp also offers an extensive library of 3D models, materials, and plugins that can be accessed online.
  • Chief Architect: Chief Architect is software for residential and light commercial design. It allows users to create 2D and 3D floor plans, elevations, sections, details, realistic renderings, and 3D walkthroughs. Chief Architect also has a comprehensive database of building products, materials, and furnishings that drags and drops into the design.
  • Planner 5D: Planner 5D is an online software suitable for interior design, real estate, and DIY projects. It lets users create 2D and 3D floor plans, furnish and decorate the space, and view the result in 3D. Planner 5D also has a community of users who can share their designs and get feedback.
  • Revit: Revit is a software based on the BIM approach. It allows users to create 3D models of buildings that can be updated and modified automatically across all views and documents. Revit also offers features for analysis, simulation, and design documentation.

Does FreeCAD require any special peripherals for better productivity?

Listed below are some of the FreeCAD’s special peripherals for better productivity:

  • 3D Mouse: A 3D mouse, such as a SpaceMouse, can enhance the user experience in FreeCAD. These devices allow for intuitive navigation and manipulation of 3D models, providing a level of control that is difficult to achieve with a standard mouse. The best 3D mouse for architects can make viewing your model from different angles and performing precise movements easier, which can be particularly beneficial when working on complex designs.
  • High-performance computer: Free CAD, like many CAD programs, can be intensive, especially when working with complex models. The best computer for architects with a powerful CPU, a modern graphics card, and ample RAM can improve the software’s performance and stability. It can lead to a smoother, more efficient workflow and help prevent lag or crashes.
  • Gaming mouse: The best gaming mouse for architects with additional buttons and wheels can benefit CAD work in FreeCAD. These extra controls can be mapped to various functions in the software, providing quick access to frequently used tools and commands. It helps streamline the design process and increase productivity.
  • Gamepad: Some users have found that using a gamepad with FreeCAD can enhance their productivity. A gamepad can provide additional controls and be used to navigate and manipulate 3D models in a way that some users find more intuitive than a mouse or keyboard alone.
  • Split keyboard: The best keyboard for architects can be combined with a gamepad or mouse for a more ergonomic setup IN FreeCAD. It can reduce strain during long design sessions, allowing for a more comfortable and efficient workflow. Some users find that having the gamepad in the center of the split keyboard makes it easy to switch between input devices.
  • Large monitor: The best large monitor for architects can improve the user experience in FreeCAD by providing more screen real estate for the software’s many panels and windows. It can make viewing and working with complex models easier, reducing the need to switch between different views or tools constantly. A monitor with high resolution can also improve the clarity and detail of the displayed models.

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