Update 7/20/17: We’ve found a couple of great CAD software options for Mac in the year since this article was first published. The list has been expanded to eight options from the original six, and pricing for several already listed options has been updated.
When it comes to buildings, be it a house or a hospital, the work is rarely ever “done.” After a few years, the owners may decide to remodel, build additions, or tear the whole thing down and start anew.
That last one isn’t as common, but after 50, 60, 70 years? For most buildings, it’s an eventuality.
Coordinating an architect and construction firm is difficult enough—what’s designed, what’s possible, and what’s in-budget are often at odds.
Unless you’re using CAD software.
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 may include PMI specifications.
Plenty of popular CAD software has been made for Windows; if you look at this list of the top AutoCAD alternatives, though, only a handful offer CAD software for Mac.
For the more aesthetically-charged architect, that can easily elicit a gasp.
But don’t worry, options are out there. I’ve looked through the best software and found the standout Apple options based on their popularity in the industry and the features they offer, complete with pros, cons, and pricing. I’ve arranged them below alphabetically.
1. ARCHICAD 21
An example of ARCHICAD’s virtual building, via Graphisoft
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 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 makes for a great go-to for designers who travel to and from client meetings and the worksite.
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.
Finally, one reviewer notes that the “ImportDGN command… inserts DGN files as a block into your drawing. This is a noteworthy mention because many civil and landscape architects utilize Microstation and hence designers and architects on the Mac need tools that can access DGN files. In fact, we believe ARES Commander 2016 is the only native DWG Mac CAD system that has this capability.”
The only standout drawback is that ARES Commander is not an intuitive program. Users will have to use video tutorials and the manual to learn how to use the software.
Price: ARES commander is reasonably priced; all options (including team share) cost under $1,000 per year, and the cheapest model is $250 a 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. Users can use its smart dimensioning tool to 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, via FreeCAD
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.
However, 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!
The interface of SketchUp Pro 8
Formerly known as Google SketchUp, this is a great option for CAD software for Mac. SketchUP summarizes the benefits of its solution as follows:
- Easy-to-use CAD software
- 3D modeling of common projects, such as landscaping and buildings
- Customizable interface
- Multiple file-import options
Really, what makes SketchUp Pro 8 is its gorgeous 3D display of your drawings. Look at some of these images:
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, includes one year of support. Bulk pricing available.
Have you used SketchUp Pro 8? Leave a review!
The interface of TurboCAD Pro Platinum
TurboCAD Pro Platinum is an excellent choice for advanced drafters looking for Apple-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.
From its website:
“Architectural design productivity has enhanced with a powerful new House Wizard tool, which makes creating room-by-room floor plans an automated and intuitive 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! Internal doors are also automatically created when the house is generated.”
If you’ve learned how to use other CAD software, TurboCAD Pro Platinum is super 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.
Have you used TurboCAD Pro Platinum? Leave a review!
A rendering of a home in TurboFloorPlan 3D
I’m going to spend a little less time on this section because TurboFloorPlan can be used by general consumers and professionals alike. 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. Most of the features are drag-and-drop, with WYSIWYG for a majority of the interface.
The program is particularly good for interior designers and landscapers offering advice for a home remodel. As a built-in bonus, the program offers eco-friendly advice when it comes to home efficiency and materials.
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 even did a feature on this software when it first came out. The author, Wendy Lau, notes that the program is a “watershed release.”
Vectorworks Architect is visually stunning. Their rendered images look lifelike.
Looking for Construction Management software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Construction Management software solutions.