Update 2/20/18: We found another great CAD software option for Mac since this article was last updated. The list has been expanded to nine options from the original six.
You love your Mac. Perhaps a little too much. Sometimes, Mac lovers can be a bit obsessive. Perhaps you grew up sleeping with a teddy bear, and now you sleep with your MacBook Air. Don’t worry, we don’t judge.
The frustrating thing about Macs is that not everything is designed to work on them. And as a construction manager, it’s aggravating to use Macs for everything else in your life and then have to switch over to a PC when you’re at the job site.
Fear not, however. If you’re looking for some computer-aided design (CAD) software, you are not without options.
CAD software has been used for decades to aid the construction industry. It’s an electronic drafting solution that can produce engineering calculations, create 2D and 3D models, and sometimes includes PMI specifications.
There are plenty of popular CAD software options for Windows; if you look at this list of the top AutoCAD alternatives, though, only a handful offer CAD software for Mac.
But don’t worry, options are out there. I’ve looked through the best software and found the standout Mac options that are popular in the industry, complete with pros, cons, and pricing information. They are listed alphabetically below.
1. ARCHICAD 21
An example of ARCHICAD’s virtual building
GRAPHISOFT has a cool CAD software option called ARCHICAD 21, which runs on both Windows and Mac. As any architect knows, it’s a pain designing stairs, and one of the big features offered by ARCHICAD 21 is its “Stair Tool,” which evaluates thousands of design options, then lets you choose from the most optimal designs for the building in question.
ARCHICAD 21 also has a “Railing Tool,” which allows you to do the same thing for railings. They can be created with one click according to predefined rules and standards.
Once you’ve finished your design, ARCHICAD 21 can create a high-quality 3D rendering of your creation with CineRender, which is integrated into the software. This allows you to bring your CAD designs into the BIM (building information modeling) world.
Price: GRAPHISOFT doesn’t list a sale price for ARCHICAD 21. Instead, you enter your zip code to find a sales agent near you to discuss a potential purchase. However, you can download a 30-day trial version that is fully functional and includes the BIM Learning Studio.
Have you used ARCHICAD 21? Leave a review!
ARES Commander’s interface
ARES Commander doesn’t want to limit you to your Mac, or your iPhone. One license can be activated on a plethora of devices, including Android, Linux, and Windows. Because it’s portable (it works on Windows tablets and iPads too), it’s a great go-to for designers who travel to and from client meetings and the work site.
If you’re familiar with AutoCAD, the software’s design will seem remarkably similar to the industry standard and will be easy to switch over to.
One standout feature is “Quick Input,” which shows up as drafters are working on their projects. This guide gives the user instant information about angles, prompts, options, and dimensions. Users can choose to allow Quick Input to stay on as they’re working, or disable it until it’s needed.
Price: ARES commander is reasonably priced; all options (including team share) cost under $1,000 per year, and the cheapest model is $250 per year.
Have you used ARES Commander? Leave a review!
AutoCAD is the dominant option, by far, in the CAD software industry. When marketing, most alternatives focus on whether they can import or export in AutoCAD formats (.dwg) and what options they can offer that AutoCAD doesn’t.
With all that said, AutoCAD for Mac is an industry giant for good reason. The software makes object and layout design simple, with a Photoshop-like interface that’s fairly easy to pick up. Its smart dimensioning tool helps users get all their measurements right, share revision history, and even use it for 3D printing.
Users can customize their display as they see fit in either 2D or 3D. Many users render beautiful models to show their clients and sell their products. Since you’re most likely using a Mac with a Retina or HD display, these images will look gorgeous.
Unfortunately, AutoCAD for Mac is missing some features offered in the Windows version, including advanced rendering settings, a feature finder, and DWF/DGN underlays.
Price: AutoCAD for Mac starts at $185 monthly. The total price scales down with longer contracts; the longest plan (three years) is $4,410.
Have you used AutoCAD for Mac? Leave a review!
FreeCAD’s design interface
If you’re looking for a free and open source option, FreeCAD is a solid choice. It works on Mac as well as Windows and Linux, and will read many common file formats such as STEP, IGES, STL, SVG, DXF, OBJ, IFC, and DAE.
FreeCAD claims it can help you design “real-life objects of any size,” and with parametric modeling, you can easily modify the design as well as change parameters throughout the design process.
FreeCAD appears to be best for hobbyists and home users. It’s also good for people who don’t have hundreds or thousands of dollars to spend on software, but still want to tinker with CAD modeling.
FreeCAD also claims to be useful for experienced CAD users. According to its website: “If you use commercial CAD or BIM modeling software at work, you will find similar tools and workflow among the many workbenches of FreeCAD.”
The software has many modules, including a drawing sheets module that converts 3D models into 2D views, a rendering module that can export 3D objects, and an architecture module for a BIM-like workflow.
Have you used FreeCAD? Leave a review!
QCAD is another free and open source software option for construction managers looking for CAD software. QCAD only offers two-dimensional drawings, so it is somewhat limited, but it is a good option for those looking for a quick and easy piece of software that can help them draft plans for buildings and interiors.
QCAD works for Mac, as well as the Windows and Linux operating systems. The source code has been released under GPL version 3, one of the most popular open source licenses.
QCAD aims to be easy to use with “modularity, extensibility, and portability in mind,” according to their website. They claim you don’t need to have any CAD experience at all to use the software, so this option could be ideal for those just getting started in the construction industry—or with CAD in general.
The software has a library with 4,800 CAD parts, and it features layers, grouping blocks, dozens of CAD fonts, printing to scale, and 60 construction and modification tools.
In addition, there is a user forum to help you troubleshoot problems or just figure out how to more effectively use the software.
Have you used QCAD? Leave a review!
6. SketchUp Pro
The interface of SketchUp Pro
Formerly known as Google SketchUp, this is a great option for CAD software for Mac. SketchUp bills itself as easy-to-use CAD software with features such as 3D modeling of common projects such as landscaping and buildings, a customizable interface, and multiple file-import options.
Really, what makes SketchUp Pro is its gorgeous 3D display of your drawings. Look at some of these images:
3D display of drawings in SketchUp Pro
Buyer be warned, though. SketchUp does not offer a wall tool, which is more of a minor inconvenience for architects, but something to be aware of.
Price: $695 for a single user, which includes one year of support. Bulk pricing is available.
Have you used SketchUp Pro? Leave a review!
The interface of TurboCAD Pro Platinum
TurboCAD Pro Platinum is an excellent choice for advanced drafters looking for Mac-compatible CAD software. It’s particularly good for those in the construction business because it was created with industry drafting needs in mind.
For example, the software comes with 500 premade floorplans, a huge library of objects, and settings to adjust details such as lighting, shadowing, and environmental effects. Architects can enjoy the plethora of TurboCAD Pro Platinum’s advanced features.
Consider its “House Wizard” tool, which allows you to create room-by-room floor plans with an automated process. “In addition to placing and sizing the specific rooms of your home design the way you want, the House Wizard lets you drop in closets, a garage, entry and passageways, even decking,” the website states.
If you’ve learned how to use other CAD software options, TurboCAD Pro Platinum is easy to pick up—and if you haven’t, a little tinkering with the tools will take you a long way. This program also supports a number of save files, including DWG, DXF, SKP, IFC for BIM, #D, PDF, and STYLE for 3D printing.
Price: $1,499.99 (one-time fee)
Have you used TurboCAD Pro Platinum? Leave a review!
A rendering of a home in TurboFloorPlan 3D
TurboFloorPlan is marketed as a solution for someone with no prior knowledge of CAD. From its website: “With no experience required, simply drag and drop to plan every phase of your dream home interior and exterior including cost estimations.”
Most people who use this software will start off with a home template and then retool it to their liking.
The program is particularly good for interior designers and landscapers to present plans for a home remodel. As a built-in bonus, the program offers eco-friendly advice when it comes to home efficiency and materials.
Price: $149.99 (one-time fee)
Have you used TurboFloorPlan 3D? Leave a review!
The interface of Vectorworks Architect
Vectorworks Architect is specifically designed for construction engineers. It provides BIM functionality, graphical scripting tools, subdivision surface modeling, cloud-based storage, and intelligent objects.
Architect Magazine did a feature on this software when it first came out, and called the program a “watershed release.”
Vectorworks Architect is visually stunning. Their rendered images look lifelike, and even reflect imagery on the glass.
A rendered image in Vectorworks
The design process in Vectorworks
Even the design process is beautiful.
One thing to keep in mind is that it requires a heavy computer to make it work, so don’t try using it on your Macbook Air!
Price: New licenses are a one-time fee of $2,945, and upgrades from 2017 are $1,031.
Have you used Vectorworks Architect? Leave a review!
What CAD for Mac software do you like to use?
Haven’t gotten your fix of CAD software for Mac? There are lots of other options, like iCADMac.
What’s your favorite option? Did I miss someone on this list? Let me know in the comments below!
Looking for Construction Management software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Construction Management software solutions.