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AutoCAD vs. SolidWorks

If you talk to anybody involved in computer-aided design or engineering, they will probably be familiar with both AutoDesk’s AutoCAD and Dassault Systèmes’ SolidWorks design programs.

The big question is which is better? AutoCAD vs. SolidWorks?

There’s no straightforward answer to this question, as both software packages have their own strengths and weaknesses, and their performance varies for different tasks.

This article will attempt to unpack each piece of software in detail, and reveal where they excel and where they come up lacking, before concluding which one will be best for your particular requirements.

AutoCAD vs. Solidworks comparison criteria

To make for a fair comparison, we are going to judge each program using four criteria:

We want to compare like to like, so the versions used here are AutoCAD 2020 and SolidWorks 2020.

Which industry?

AutoCAD was originally developed as software for 2D architectural and construction design, but over the years has expanded with the release of toolkits such as AutoCAD Mechanical, AutoCAD Architecture and AutoCAD Electrical, as well as the addition of AutoCAD 3D modelling capabilities.

SolidWorks, on the other hand, was originally conceived as a tool for 3D modelling and product or mechanical part design and simulation. Only later did it branch out into the realm of architectural and other engineering elements.

In other words, although both packages now offer similar services, their key strengths lie in the industries for which they were initially created. Also, the number of users in the respective industries influences how each company invests in development. Since more than half of AutoCAD users work in the architectural or construction industries, the main focus of AutoCAD’s development has remained within that sphere.

The table below is a quick guide to help you choose between AutoCAD and SolidWorks based on your industry:

Industry Preferred Software
Architectural and construction design AutoCAD
Civil and structural engineering AutoCAD
Mechanical and industrial engineering Either, depending on toolkit needs
Electronic, electrical and technology design SolidWorks
Mechanical parts and assembly design SolidWorks
Automotive and aerospace design SolidWorks

Design features

2D drafting

Image credit: 2D drafting Autodesk 

2D drafting is an important feature for construction and civil engineers, which explains why AutoCAD has strong 2D design features and tools. AutoCAD scores better for 2D design in most areas, including ease-of-use, variety of tools, shape and text editing, and annotation.

3D modelling

Image credit: SolidWorks 3D modelling Eureka Magazine

When it comes to 3D design work, SolidWorks wins hands down. Both can deliver 3D solid, polygon, and mesh modelling, but SolidWorks does so in a more intuitive manner than AutoCAD. If you need to visualize products quickly and effectively, SolidWorks does the job.

SolidWorks is also better equipped to integrate with CAM software that can be used with CNC machines or 3D printers. This is probably due to the fact that SolidWorks is the CAD package of choice for product designers, and is, therefore, more likely to be used on a production line.

Image credit: Solidworks

Also, the standard SolidWorks package features more simulation tools than AutoCAD. For instance, finite element analysis is missing from AutoCAD but is a vital tool for checking prototypes – hence its inclusion in SolidWorks. Finite element analysis is available in Inventor, Autodesk’s alternative application for 3D mechanical and product design, but of course, that means purchasing extra software.

Image credit: Solidworks

Collaboration tools

In today’s highly connected world, a program’s built-in collaborative functions can make a big difference in terms of productivity and quality of results. Both AutoCAD and SolidWorks have advanced collaboration features. They both offer cloud collaboration environments that allow teams to work together closely on a project, sharing data and information even from different locations.

There isn’t much difference between the two in this category, as they both offer similar features. The SolidWorks environment is called 3DEXPERIENCE WORKS and Autodesk’s goes by the name, A360.

Compatibility

In terms of inbound file-type compatibility, AutoCAD wins due to the fact that it can import more files from third-party apps than SolidWorks.

For outbound file-type compatibility, however, SolidWorks is better, as it offers the option to export to a wider variety of file types.

Therefore, the file-compatibility decision comes down to whether you are more likely to import unusual types or export designs to other programs.

When it comes to cross-platform compatibility, AutoCAD is the hands-down winner. It works well on PC, Mac, and some high-spec mobile devices. At the moment, SolidWorks only functions in a Windows-based environment, although they are moving towards a web-based application that should be able to function on Mac and mobile devices.

Summary

The verdict of who wins in the battle between AutoCAD vs. SolidWorks is…

Neither.

It really does depend on what you want to use the CAD package for. We would recommend AutoCAD for more 2D-based design and construction projects, whereas SolidWorks is the obvious choice for mechanical and product design. If you’re still on the fence, it’s always a good idea to try the programs out for yourself and get a feel for their features before making a decision.