AutoCAD vs SolidWorks – Which one do I learn?

A comparison between two CAD applications is one that must be conducted with empirical facts in order to enable the public easily choose between them. Therefore, comparing and contrasting between AutoCAD/SolidWorks must be done by first outlining the important features these CAD applications have as well as discussing their abilities as design tools. To accurately do this, certain parameters must be used to measure their design capabilities and how they can be used as tools by the average individual.

Before going into how the comparison will be made, it is important to first understand the basic reasons why both software applications were developed. For this description will provide some insight into why both applications are fundamentally used for different designing projects. Autodesk’s AutoCAD is an established design application with an annual release date built predominantly for use as a 2D architectural drawing tool while SolidWorks was developed to provide an application for anyone looking to design 3D models. But both CAD software applications can still do some extra work such as 3D modelling for AutoCAD and 2D drawing in SolidWorks.

Autodesk’s AutoCAD is an established design application with an annual release date built predominantly for use as a 2D architectural drawing tool while SolidWorks was developed to provide an application for anyone looking to design 3D models. But both CAD software applications can still do some extra work such as 3D modelling for AutoCAD and 2D drawing in SolidWorks.

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Criteria for Comparing and Contrasting both Applications

As discussed earlier, these comparisons will be done with the use of certain parameters or criteria to create clear path ways that will allow you understand what each software application has to offer. This will help everyone reading this including you; make smart decisions when choosing your design software application. So here are the chosen criteria:

  • Industry: the assigned industry application of a CAD software is very important for its use and this is due to the fact that CAD applications are usually developed with certain industries in mind.
  • File Types: the different type of files that an application supports is also a criterion to consider if you intend to use CAD commercially. This is because you may be required to submit projects in certain formats to different clients.
  • Functionality: here, the different types of features and tools used for drawing and modelling will be discussed coupled with how they made task simple for users. These criteria will go in-depth in an attempt to cover all the features of both CAD applications such as electrical design, architectural and modelling features. This will be done using a compare and contrast format in order to truly provide a clear picture of how both applications could be used by you.
  • Learning Curve: the learning of a CAD application cannot be viewed as an easy task but the features integrated into certain design applications makes this task even more difficult than it should be. This criterion will attempt to cover the learning curves involved with each.

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Comparing AutoCAD and SolidWorks

First, a comparison showing the common attributes of both applications using our criteria will be explored.

Industry

AutoCAD and SolidWorks have many similarities and the industry verticals in which they are applied. AutoCAD was predominantly built for architectural and construction design but its 3D modelling capabilities also makes it a good tool for engineering design. SolidWorks also fills these roles and it can be used to design 2D architectural designs and other construction drafts while as a 3D modelling software, it is used in the engineering community to design 3D mechanical components. Lastly, both CAD applications can be used by just about anyone to draw or model generic characters for use.

File Types

if you have just been introduced to CAD, then understanding that Autodesk has continuously been at the top of the design pyramid for decades will be valuable when saving files. AutoCAD’s DWG and DXF file formats have taken the spot as the industries standard file types but both AutoCAD and SolidWorks support the use of diverse file types on their interface. These file types include: DWF, DWG, DWS, DWT, DXF, PLT, SAT and SolidWrks

Functionality

As stated earlier, both CAD applications are good tools for drawing 2D drafts and creating 3D models. These CAD software applications are both geometric-driving drafting tools and come equipped with diverse tool menus to accomplish design tasks. The user interfaces of both applications are also quite intuitive and are built to simply basic design tasks for users. The use of command lines and customizable shortcuts as drawing aids is another similarity they share for they were both built for intuitive work.

The use of command lines and customizable shortcuts as drawing aids is another similarity they share for they were both built for intuitive work. AutoCAD as well as SolidWorks can be used in assembling components, simulating designs, cost estimation, documentation and rendering models depending on what the user intends to accomplish. Lastly, cloud storage capabilities are integrated in both applications to help users easily save and share working projects.

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Learning Curve

the learning procedure associated with both CAD applications cannot simply be compared based on how quickly one is able to draw or model on each platform but on how easily one can make use of these applications to handle difficult tasks or projects. In that vein, the learning curve associated with mastering 2D drawings using either SolidWorks or AutoCAD is quite steep for first-time users but rather easy for anyone who has had some experience with computer-aided-design.

Therefore, I believe that the process of learning to use any of these applications as a 2D drawing tool is quite similar and been knowledgeable about any will provide the user with some important technical-know-how on using any type of CAD application.

In that vein, the learning curve associated with mastering 2D drawings using either SolidWorks or AutoCAD is quite steep for first-time users but rather easy for anyone who has had some experience with computer-aided-design. Therefore, I believe that the process of learning to use any of these applications as a 2D drawing tool is quite similar and been knowledgeable about any will provide the user with some important technical-know-how on using any type of CAD application.

These are definitely the most important ways in which both software applications are similar and can be said to have the ability to do similar design projects. That been said, the differences between both software applications are what makes each stand out and these contrasting features should play a more stellar role in your choice of a design application when choosing.

Contrasting AutoCAD and SolidWorks

Industry

Although both software applications can generally be used as design applications in diverse industries, the truth still remains that they were developed for certain specific industry verticals. For AutoCAD; architectural design, education, construction and the automotive industry are the industries it was uniquely developed to serve therefore; it comes with extensive features supporting design projects in the aforementioned verticals.

SolidWorks on the other hand was made for a larger user base and this can be mirrored by the drafting and modelling features you will find on its interface. The industries that are local to its use include: Aeronautics, computer design, rapid prototyping, electronics, energy, bio-medicine, and the tech industry. This plethora of industries listed below is due to the fact that this software application is predominantly a 3D modelling tool which is exactly how design works in the industries it focuses on.

File Types

As stated earlier, Autodesk products have set the pace for the use of DWG and DXF files in computer aided design but with the advent of different design applications sporting their own file formats, the importance of an interface that supports the use of every type of file format is important to designers. Therefore for AutoCAD, it supports the following files: ACIS, ACIS SAT, HOOPS META FILE, HPGL/PLT, IGES, IGS, JPEG, Parasolid, PARASOLID XT, PDF, PROE, STEP, STL, STP, TIF/TIFF, VRML, WRL.

While for SolidWorks, the different file types it supports are quite limited and AutoCAD actually uses most of the files it supports. In terms of file support, SolidWorks functions with the more popular files used by most CAD applications and they include: DWG, DXF, PDF and SolidWorks. Therefore in this situation, AutoCAD comes ahead since you can basically import designs regardless of its format into its workspace to edit or save in a different format.

Functionality

In terms of functionality, AutoCAD and SolidWorks have a lot of differences which will be discussed in detail here since a CAD applications ability to function is the most important part of its use. Although both applications share many similarities in terms of features, some major differences abound.

Collaboration features: AutoCAD is equipped to support the conversion of designs from 2D drawings to 3D models while SolidWorks do not have the capacity to handle file conversion. Also, while AutoCAD models can be used in collaboration with a 3D printer, SolidWorks models are generally uploaded into a slicer software before been used in 3D printing.

Advanced Modelling Features: before going in depth to discuss the contrasting features between both applications here, it is important you remember that AutoCAD is primarily a 2D drawing application unlike SolidWorks. Therefore, SolidWorks comes with a lot of advanced features that makes 3D modelling intuitive and simplistic for every CAD user.

Some of its advanced features include: the ability to create organic shapes, planar surfaces, create free form radiated surfaces, heal or knit models, replace face, stylize shapes, fill surfaces and carry out deviation analysis, thickness analysis, symmetry check analysis, undercut analysis, Gaussian analysis, mi radius analysis and many more advanced tasks. AutoCAD on the other hand is not equipped to handle these creations or analysis but for those looking for an Autodesk product that can, taking a look at Inventor would be worth the hassle.

Architecture Features: in terms of architectural design features contained in both applications, the reverse of what occurred in ‘the discussion on advanced modelling features’ is the case. AutoCAD is predominantly an architectural design application while SolidWorks isn’t therefore; it is equipped with extensive features to handle such designs.

With AutoCAD, designs that involve landscaping, aligning stairs and railings, integrating survey results and the design of walls, doors, windows in floor planning can be easily accomplished. On the other hand, while SolidWorks can be used to design construction components and structures, it does not come with the tools needed to draft and document core architectural projects.

Electrical Design Features: engineers also make use of CAD to design schematic drawings, circuits and more advanced electrical systems as well as analyse how they will eventually function. SolidWorks is fully equipped to handle electrical design tasks while AutoCAD is severely limited in this category.

Sheet Metal Design: metal work is also somewhat reliant on CAD. This is due to the fact that CAD provides realistic simulations and tools to help users create placement sketches and also try out new concepts. With SolidWorks, you can calculate or deduce bend allowance, handle placement sketches, toggle flat display, utilize forming tools, bend tables, weld table etc. when working with metal and construction sheets.

Unsurprisingly, AutoCAD lacks all these features due to the niche it caters solely too. Therefore, another look at Inventor as Autodesk’s choice to handle metal work, should be considered y those hell bent on continuing with their AutoCAD experience.

Learning Curve

we have previously discussed about the similarities between the learning curves associated with both applications. As for contrasts between both learning curves, it is important to note that SolidWorks comes with both training programs and integrated training features that help you easily get acquainted with using its interface as your modelling workspace. AutoCAD also comes with training programs but no training features are integrated into its work space.

But this does not hinder ones’ learning process for there are a multitude of materials online dedicated to helping you find your way around AutoCAD and learning the perfect positions to make use of its extensive features.

Lastly, in terms of cost, both CAD applications are definitely not on the cheap side for they both cost approximately over $1000 which makes it difficult for the average student to obtain. Understanding these difficulties, Autodesk has made the use of all its CAD applications free to registered students looking for an advanced design application to work with. Sadly, this freedom comes with its own challenge such as the appearance of watermarks on every drawing you make using the free a student version. SolidWorks on the other hand offers no package except the total buyout clause that comes with each released version.

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