The days of bulky drafting tables for hand-drawn designs are dead. These days, there are many software programs that do everything a pencil and paper could ever do, but much, much more.
One such program is AutoCAD.
What Is AutoCAD?
AutoCAD is Computer-Aided Design (CAD) software used to create 2D and 3D models more efficiently and precisely than anything drafted by hand.
What Does AutoCAD Stand For?
AutoCAD belongs to a category of software whose purpose is a computer-aided design (CAD). It's the flagship software of a design software company named Autodesk, which is where the "Auto" comes from.
What is AutoCAD Used For?
AutoCAD is most commonly used by design-centered technical fields like engineering and architecture. It has many features geared towards the creation of blueprints and models; it also facilitates 3D printer prototyping and provides specs for manufacturing or building.
As a result, it can be used to design product prototypes, machine parts, manufacturing processes, electrical systems, residential or commercial buildings, civil engineering projects, and much more.
However, AutoCAD's flexibility makes it useful for a broad range of industries and applications. Artists may use it to draft 3-dimensional pieces like sculptures. It can provide realistic interior design previews. It can render visuals for anything from fashion design to theater sets to mathematical models.
How Does AutoCAD Compare to Its Competitors?
There are a lot of CAD programs on the market, some aimed at specific niche uses. AutoCAD is considered a mid-level program and has a reputation for being an excellent all-around tool.
How Much Does AutoCAD Cost?
Good CAD software is never cheap, but AutoCAD is generally regarded as providing good value for the price. In other words, it costs less than other CAD programs while still giving you a lot to work with.
AutoCAD is subscription-based software; there's no perpetual license available. The upside is that you always have the latest features, and they allow for installation on up to 3 devices. The downside is that the pricing can and does change, though signing up for a long subscription period can lock you into the existing price until your next bill is due.
Longer subscription periods also make the software cheaper on a monthly basis, which is why, as of July 2021, AutoCAD's price is anywhere from $133 to $220 a month.
The most expensive plan is month-to-month. The most cost-effective is the three-year subscription, which is paid in an up-front lump of $4,795. You can also subscribe annually for $1,775, which works out to about $148 a month.
What Can You Do With AutoCAD?
AutoCAD has a variety of features that make the design process easier and more efficient.
Improve Your Accuracy and Reduce Errors
Accuracy matters in architecture and engineering, and mistakes can be disastrous.
AutoCAD lets you design to fractions of a measuring unit and dictate the exact size, coordinates, or alignment. It also calculates values like area or center of gravity automatically and performs tasks like locating a center point, so you don't have to.
Plus, any changes you make to a design propagate through the entire project – no need to do it by hand.
All these features reduce errors and help you work faster.
Save Time with Industry-Specific Tools
AutoCAD software comes with industry-specific toolsets like Architecture, Mechanical, Electrical, Mapping, and more.
According to AutoDesk, these toolsets provide a 48% to 95% productivity gain (depending on the toolset) by providing pre-built objects common to that industry, specialized tools for common tasks, and more.
Build Your Own Block Library of Reusable Elements
Many of your projects probably share certain elements in common. AutoCAD makes it possible to save complex "blocks" to reuse, again and again, thereby speeding up the drafting process.
Automate Time-Consuming Tasks
AutoCAD already automates a number of tasks out of the box, from volume calculations to publishing your designs as PDFs.
However, the software also allows you to automate workflows or repetitive tasks that are specific to you (or your team). This increases your productivity and saves you from (at least some) tedium.
Render Photorealistic Stills and Animations
AutoCAD lets you convert 3D models into polished and photorealistic renderings – even animations like walk-throughs.
Capabilities include modeling realistic light fixtures, incorporating a view through the windows, simulating natural lighting and atmospheric effects, creating custom materials, and more.
Easily Share and Access Your Work
AutoCAD files can be stored in the cloud for easy sharing and backup. You can also view or edit files through their web or mobile app for access on the fly.
They offer the in-app ability to share files with your team via a link to the project on the web app – either with full permissions or as a protected view-only file. Pushing to Autodesk Docs as a PDF is also quick and easy.
The software also supports import and export to and from a variety of file formats.
How to Use AutoCAD
AutoCAD is considered beginner-friendly because its interface is designed to be intuitive. That "beginner-friendly" has a caveat: CAD tools are designed to be used by professionals with esoteric knowledge. You need that background in order to use the software effectively.
Many relevant professional programs now teach the use of popular CAD tools, but if you didn't gain those skills during formal education, you can go one of two routes.
If you're comfortable, you can learn the software as you go. The AutoDesk user community is very active, which can be helpful. You can ask questions on the forum or check out user-made tutorials.
Not everyone's comfortable with self-teaching, however. If you prefer a more structured learning experience, there are courses you can take to gain basic and advanced skills in AutoCAD.
How to Get Certified in AutoCAD
Our online AutoCAD course teaches you how to use AutoCAD's 2D tools with an Autodesk-authorized curriculum and exercises that help you practice key skills. The course prepares you to become an AutoCAD Certified User – a qualification that's valuable in many industries. In addition to 155 hours of study, hands-on practice, and assessments, you'll also get a voucher to cover the cost of your certification exam