The most advanced (and expensive) programs automate common tasks, enable collaboration, and generally speed up the entire architecture process. But free programs also offer a surprising array of handy features for students and pros.
In this guide, we look at the key features of the top computer aided design (CAD) and building information modeling (BIM) software programs for architecture.
Whether you’re looking for a robust, multi-featured program for your firm that integrates well with other programs and services, or a more basic, entry-level version to use for your personal building project, we’ve narrowed the field. Here we’ll guide you though some of the best across the spectrum – many are free.
CAD and BIM are different but have an important relationship. CAD software is used to create full architectural 3D models and floor plans that offer accurate representations of ideas. BIM takes it a step further. Among other things, it adds vastly more data to that model including exact plans for electrical wiring, plumbing, and HVAC, to make it possible to visualize a design with realistic dimensions from a multitude of angles – more of a virtual experience of a building.
BIM has been called the bridge between CAD and construction. Where CAD is an accurate visual representation of a building, BIM can, for example, calculate how deep the ground needs to be cleared before construction, assign industry standard measurements and materials to your design, track costs, sequence a building plan and timeline, even determine the thermal and acoustic properties of a proposed building on the site in question.
Yet, BIM is more than a set of tools, it’s also a collaboration method that incorporates CAD architectural models – this is why we’re talking about both CAD and BIM together in this guide. Think of BIM as a workflow that helps an entire team visualize and plan projects, and address possible issues before construction starts.
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CAD to BIM: All You Need to Know
Of course CAD is used in engineering, manufacturing, industrial design, and other disciplines, but here we feature CAD programs that are specifically geared towards architecture (or are very popular with architects) and many have BIM capabilities and features built-in. We also take a look at purely BIM applications. We also list prices and features of the top 3D architecture software and BIM programs to help ease the struggle of choosing one. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but will give you a solid overview of the industry’s top software products.
Architects, designers, or hobbyists, you can use 3D modeling software to create good overviews of a building or try new home design ideas. If you are a professional, those kinds of software are an easy tool to show your work to your clients. Moreover, did you know that 3D printing and architecture could be linked? You could be able to 3D print an entire house, but in the first place, you could 3D print an architectural model. It could be a way to get a good overview of your work. 3D printing can also be quite useful as it allows you to save time by creating a quick and accurate model. Using 3D printing or just a modeling solution can be ideal to plan and simulate new ideas.
In this blog post, we are going to see the 16 best software to create 3D models for your architecture projects. What are the best architecture design software?
A 3D modeling software is an essential tool if you’re working in the architecture sector. It can be used by architects, interior designers, but also by students or civil engineers, to create their models or structural designs. It’s a really good way to obtain a better visualization of your projects for your clients. For example, you can use a lot of different materials and textures. This allows you to get a photorealistic rendering. A CAD software is also a good solution to edit, do and re-do models very quickly and easily to match your expectations. It can turn your ideas into detailed designs!
Moreover, if you’re looking for better collaboration inside your team, some software are using the cloud and will allow you to optimize communication. Your work will be accessible to anybody, and you’ll all be able to work on the same model.
Don’t worry, 3D modeling software doesn’t eliminate the pen and paper method! But it can lead to really detailed and realistic results. As a matter of fact, it’s the best solution to save time and to modify your model as much as you want.
You could also start to 3D print mock-ups of your architectural projects.
Building projects in architecture is not that easy, and working with a great partner could really help you to go in a good direction. Have you ever thought about Sculpteo? Companies such as Valoptim are already working with Sculpteo. What are you waiting for?
You will have to check several things before making your final choice. You will have to ask yourself the right questions. What kind of software do you need? A free architectural rendering software? Or an architectural drawing software? A 3D architecture software for Mac or Windows? Indeed, you will have to pay attention to your operating systems before choosing a 3D program.
You will also have to check what is best for your professional use. Do you want to use architectural software to help your design team collaborate, or get better visualization for your customers?
Indeed, there are some software more focused on architectural visualization for good 3D rendering and visualization. There are also some free software or software with a free trial. Let’s check what are the different options and software for architects.
ArchiCAD is an architectural CAD software developed by Graphisoft. This Open BIM (Building Information Modeling) is a complete tool for architects, allowing you to do 3D and 2D drafting, visualization, or building modeling. Thanks to ArchiCAD and all its functionalities, you can handle all the aspects of the engineering and design work. It is particularly advanced in the field of visualization, as it offers architects high quality and photorealistic architectural rendering. This CAD software is also known for its ability to store large amounts of information in your 3D models. It can be used to design buildings and interiors as well as urban areas. This software provide a wide-range of design tools specially made for architects, and interior designers.
Revit is a software for BIM (Building Information Modeling), developed by Autodesk. This powerful tool is essential if you’re working in the architecture sector, as all its features are specially made for architects. It will help you to create perfect architectural designs. Any buildings and infrastructures can be designed and managed thanks to Revit Autodesk. A big advantage of this modeling software is its collaborative aspect: any coordinator can access centrally shared models to work on it. Collaborative designs are a good way to improve collaboration with your colleagues. And, most of all, avoiding rework will help you to save time.
Cedreo is a web-based 3D home design software that enables construction and remodeling professionals to draw floor plans and create 3D renderings in a matter of minutes. Users can easily draw 2D and 3D floor plans, customize home indoors and outdoors in a few clicks with more than 7,000 3D objects, and generate construction drawings and photorealistic renderings. Cedreo offers a wide range of time-saving features to quickly create, render and share project visualizations: one hour is all it takes to draft a complete home project, without complicated tools or a design degree.
Using Cedreo, construction professionals save time, shorten their sales cycle and close more deals. They can manage project designs without having to go back to the engineering or CAD department, and help clients better understand design intent before construction begins.
Developed by AutoDesk, AutoCAD Architecture can be very useful for your architectural projects as it allows you to do both 3D and 2D design. It is a complete tool, practical for 3D modeling and for visualization thanks to its good rendering. You will be able to create realistic models with its combination of solid, surface and mesh modeling tools. AutoCAD Architecture is also useful for 2D drafting and drawing. As for Revit, and all the AutoDesk software, this 3D software allows you to communicate easily with other people working on the same project.
Another AutoDesk product that can be useful for you if you’re working in architecture is AutoCAD Civil 3D. It has all the benefits that we saw previously, but it is more used for civil engineering and construction. If you need to do civil designs, this is exactly what you need. Moreover, you can connect AutoCAD Civil 3D to Revit, to rework and complete your designs with additional structural modeling.
Chief Architect is a CAD software created for architecture professionals, to obtain 2D and 3D rendering. This software architecture design is easy to use, with a good learning curve. If you don’t have 3D modeling skills, this Chief Architect software will be helpful, especially if you have a home design project. The interface is really intuitive and the software offers smart building tools. It will create the 3D structure and generate automatically the building system of your project. Moreover, you can export 360° panorama renderings that can be shared with your clients.
This 3D architecture software is developed by Nemetschek and only working with Windows, perfect for your architecture patterns. This BIM solution allows working on 2D and 3D designs quite easily. Its design tools will enable you to work on drawings, conception, topography. It can be used as well for simple and complex geometries.
Vectorworks Architect could be your new architecture design software, allowing you to go from conceptual design to BIM models. This software offers all the features you need, step by step, to make your architectural structure using 3D modeling: Precision drawings, creative and site modeling, algorithmic designs, everything can be done using this 3D program. You can totally use to create your graphics and presentation.
MicroStation is a CAD architecture software, that will allow you to get all the features you need to create the concept of your architectural structures. You will be able to visualize correctly your project and all its details. MicroStation is a flexible and powerful CAD software.
Bricscad is your new building design software. It will be a really good solution for you to create your building virtually with BIM. You can experience the power of free-form modeling with the accuracy of a CAD software. This software is also using AI to help you automatically replicate details in your BIM. You will definitely save time using this architecture software.
Rhino 3D is not an architecture design software, but it is a major tool when it comes to 3D modeling. This computer-aided design software is mainly used for industrial design and for architecture. As Rhino’s geometry is based on NURBS, this software allows a really good accuracy for your models. For more possibilities with Rhino 3D, you can also download Grasshopper, a graphical algorithm editor specially made for 3D geometry. It is a visual programming language and environment, created by Rhino’s developers. This program is recommended for structural engineering, architecture, and fabrication.
If you want to know more about Rhino3D, check out our tutorial to prepare your 3D file to 3D printing with Rhino.
CATIA is a software that Dassault Systèmes developed for their own needs. It is used in various sectors as for example, aerospace, automotive, high tech, and architecture. This software allows to create complex and very accurate models. It has a practical collaborative environment, as the cloud version of this software is now available.
For example, CATIA has been used by Frank Gehry to create his award-winning curvilinear buildings.
If you’re using this software, take a look at our tutorial about CATIA!
SketchUp is known to be an intuitive program and one of the free CAD software available. You’ll save time by using this program as it is an easy drawing tool to use. It can be used for anything when it comes to 3D modeling, and architecture is not an exception! It is a great drawing tool, and it will certainly help you to be productive and creative with your 3D architectural designs. It’s possible to create walkthroughs and flyovers with SketchUp, which can be useful for your architectural projects when you have to show your work to your clients. Obviously, you can use SketchUp for 3D, but it is also ideal for scaled and accurate 2D drawings.
If you’re planning to 3D print your model, check out our tutorial to prepare your 3D model to 3D printing using SketchUp!
3DS Max is a software developed by Autodesk. It is known to be quite similar to AutoCAD, which is perfect to create structured designs for architecture. Mainly used in the video games industry, this software is also used by architects for previsualization. 3D Studio Max is a good tool for architecture, and a lot of training are available online for architects to learn how to use this 3D software.
If you need a little help, we also have a tutorial to help you with the creation of your 3D models for 3D printing with 3DS Max.
CorelCAD is a great 3D tool to create and edit your project. You can use it to work on both quick 2D sketches and advanced 3D designs. It can totally be used as an architecture design software. Using this program, you can totally export your designs in an STL format and use it to 3D print models.
Solidworks is a 3D modeling software mainly used by engineers. It can be a great solution if you need a 3D software for a project, and you just want to create a quick design. You can’t do complex rendering, with a lot of material or texture as it is not a CAD program dedicated to architecture. But it is possible to design a building and get a good overview of your architectural projects thanks to the various functionalities of Solidworks
You are looking to 3D print your model and you’re using Solidworks? Check out our Solidworks tutorial to prepare your file for 3D printing.
We hope that this Top 11 helped you to find the best 3D modeling software for architecture that will help you to give life to your ideas and all of your architectural projects. If you want more information on how 3D printing in the architecture industry can help you go further take a look at our blog post about 3D printing for construction and architecture. You can also check this post by G2Crowd to learn more about BIM software.
If you want to 3D print a model of your architectural work, you can upload your 3D file on our online 3D printing service.
Finally, if you have any questions related to 3D printing, don’t hesitate and contact us!
Construction professionals are constantly coming up with new ideas for innovative designs, and it’s helpful to have software that can quickly turn these ideas into three-dimensional (3D) representations.
3D modeling software allows construction professionals to transform their designs and blueprints into lifelike models and lets artists clearly visualize the dimensions of their building designs before construction is complete.
There are several 3D modeling software tools available on the market, each with varying capabilities. And if you thought that buying one will cost you a lot of money, think again!
We’ve analyzed over 100 free design software options in Capterra directories and evaluated user reviews to identify the five best free 3D modeling software solutions (listed alphabetically). You can read our complete product selection methodology here.
Note: Some of these software tools are listed as computer-aided design (CAD), but we chose them because they also offer 3D modeling options for intricate and precise designs and are a good option for users who simply want to do basic 3D design without any animation or texture painting.
BIMx is a project presentation and collaboration software with integrated 2D and 3D navigation for building projects. Its cloud-integrated workflows and intuitive user interface make project management easier for architects and designers working on building information models and architectural documentation.
BIMx helps users design interactive 3D models of buildings. Builders, clients, and consultants can use these 3D models to give prospects virtual tours of projects before construction is completed.
We analyzed user reviews for BIMx to understand what buyers liked and areas they felt could be improved. Here's what we found.
The software UI is intuitive.
A steep learning curve to master key commands.
Virtual tours allow customers to view every dimension of a property even before construction is complete.
The desktop version is less functional than the mobile version.
How much does BIMx cost? BIMx offers a basic free version with limited features, but users can upgrade to the paid version for additional features.
Live Home 3D is an interior and home design software that allows users to create 3D environments that give the actual look and feel of building interiors. It’s mostly used by solo architects and small teams of startup designers working on home interiors.
Live Home 3D automatically suggests and generates 3D views of floor plans. Users can either design their own floor plan or import an external image to extract a design and recreate it. In both cases, the software offers users the option of converting their design into a 3D plan.
We analyzed user reviews for Live Home 3D to understand what buyers liked and areas they felt could be improved. Here's what we found.
The software’s UI is easy to use.
Not many terrain options are available. Even demo projects have the same standard terrain.
Users can choose a wide range of colors and furniture for their models.
The UI could be aesthetically improved, and the walkthrough mode is difficult to control.
How much does Live Home 3D cost? Live Home 3D offers a free version with limited features, but users can upgrade to its paid version, Live Home 3D Pro, for a one-time payment of $19.99.
Onshape is cloud-based 3D CAD software that offers top-down designs with multipart modeling and in-context editing. It’s useful for designers, engineers, and manufacturers who want the flexibility of working from anywhere on any device.
As a SaaS-based tool, Onshape uses online databases to store data, eliminating the need for any physical servers and other IT infrastructure costs.
We analyzed user reviews for Onshape to understand what buyers liked and areas they felt could be improved. Here's what we found.
A fast learning curve. Anyone with basic CAD knowledge can operate the software with ease.
Since Onshape is cloud-based, it lacks offline caching. Therefore, models have to be constantly reloaded during poor connectivity.
Users have access to detailed instructional videos to understand primary features.
Since the software operates via browsers, designing large models can be difficult.
How much does Onshape cost? Onshape’s free version has limited features, but users can upgrade to its paid version, which costs $125 per user per month and is billed annually ($1,500).
SketchUp is CAD software that allows users to design and edit 3D models of interiors, landscapes, and more. It assists in end-to-end designing, starting from the earliest design stage to the end of construction. It can be used by architects and interior designers for different designing steps, such as initial diagramming, design development, detailing, documentation, and requests for information (RFI).
SketchUp allows users to include lighting effects, texture paintings, and animations in their design models. It also offers a wide range of symbols and predesigned models that allow designers to achieve desired outputs.
We analyzed user reviews for SketchUp to understand what buyers liked and areas they felt could be improved. Here's what we found.
The software modules are easy to navigate, even for beginners.
SketchUp cannot be integrated with other design software.
Besides drawing and sketching options, the software also offers built-in features such as animations, lighting, and texture effects.
Customer support isn’t responsive, and most queries are answered only via online message boards.
How much does SketchUp cost? The basic version (web only) of SketchUp is free, but users can upgrade to the paid version, SketchUp Shop (web only), for $119 per user, per year or the pro version, SketchUp Pro (both desktop and web), at $299 per user, per year.
SkyCiv Structural 3D is cloud-based structural analysis and design software that allows users to model, analyze, and design 3D structures. Due to its structural analysis capabilities, the software is well-suited for civil, mechanical, and structural engineers.
SkyCiv Structural 3D allows users to analyze structural factors, such as bending, shear, stress, and deflection. Since the software is cloud-based, it requires no installation and works completely online.
We analyzed user reviews for SkyCiv Structural 3D to understand what buyers liked and areas they felt could be improved. Here's what we found.
A fast learning curve.
Only a limited number of structural analysis methods are available.
The customer support team is quick to respond.
The software’s mobile app interface for iPhones isn’t intuitive.
How much does SkyCiv Structural 3D cost? SkyCiv Structural 3D offers a free version with limited features, but users can upgrade to the paid (basic) version at $69 per user, per month or the professional version at $109 per user, per month.
Our list of the five best free 3D modeling solutions can get you started with your software search, but the right fit depends on your design needs.
If you’ve used or are currently using free 3D modeling construction software that works well for you, tell us about it in the comments section below.