This is a pretty open question but we thought we’d give it a go. There are a tonne of questions you will need to ask yourself before it’s even worth looking at a package; we’ll try to break it down a little here. It’s worth noting that some packages (such as AutoCAD LT) are 2D only, whilst most others can produce 2D and 3D work. Many people think ‘CAD’ means ‘AutoCAD’, whereas AutoCAD is simply one of the best known product brands in the market. In reality, AutoCAD is only best suited in certain scenarios and other applications are worth considering for the best functionality and budget match.
What type of work are you undertaking?
- Basic 2D drawings
Consider: TurboCAD for Mac, Rhino for Mac (2D & 3D), AutoCAD LT Mac.
- Planning a house/extension (enthusiast level)
Consider: TurboCAD, Sketchup (& Sketchup Pro).
- Professional Interior Design / Architecture
Consider: Sketchup Pro, Vectorworks Fundamentals or Architect, AutoCAD for Mac, Cinema4D Visualise, Modo.
- Furniture Design (Non-complex surfaces) /Kitchen Design
Consider: Sketchup Pro, Vectorworks Fundamentals, Modo.
- Product & Industrial Design / Furniture Design
Consider: Rhino for Mac, Cinema4D (Prime/Visualise), Moi 3D, Modo.
- Engineering Drawings
Consider: AutoCAD LT, TurboCAD for Mac
TurboCAD for Mac
A cheap program best suited to infrequent users. TurboCAD for Mac offers functionality similar in many respects to AutoCAD but with a much smaller user base.
Cons: Not easy to get started with. Limited documentation and user-community. Features not as robust as other packages.
Sketchup (& Sketchup Pro)
Sketchup offers a free version (Sketchup Make) for non-commercial use. It shares much of the basic functionality of the pro version but lacks the import/export options, certain pro-tools and the significant ‘Layout’ application – which is extremely powerful for producing 2D visuals for clients, planning applications, brochures etc. The user base for Sketchup is enormous and the wealth of plugins available is considerable. Sketchup Pro is around £500 inc. VAT, making it a little expensive for enthusiasts but one of the most cost-effective 3D programs for professional use.
Pros: Low price, huge user base, plenty of third party addons available, free resources in the 3D Warehouse [ Pro: BIM functionality for professional architectural users, powerful Layout application included, import/export in AutoCAD formats ]
Cons: Poor handling of complex surfaces, no 2D interaction when creating/editing models. 3D warehouse files often poorly built and can cause crashes.
Vectorworks (Fundamentals / Architect / Spotlight / Landmark)
Vectorworks comes in various flavours – with Fundamentals being the entry level package. Vectorworks has been used by Architects on Mac for a very long time. It remains one of the most popular architectural packages and possibly the most popular for Mac.
Pros: Proven track record on Mac. Specific versions include powerful tools for the specific industry (Architect – architecture/interior design, Spotlight – event/exhibition/public venue design, Landmark – landscape design, urban design). Works with AutoCAD file formats. Wide user base.
Cons: Pricier than other options – £1100 – £2500.
Cinema 4D is a solid modeller with a firm foothold in 3D design for broadcast/TV and architectural visualisation. It has a professional interface, is robust and its users are often very enthusiastic evangelists of the software. Its popularity is less than, say, Sketchup, but it remains well used and well documented. It comes in a basic form, known as Prime, but also comes as Cinema 4D Broadcast, Cinema 4D Visualise and Cinema 4D Studio (all packages combined).
Pros: Cost effective entry level package. Great track record on Mac. Visualise includes great rendering software. Support for polygonal and NURBS modelling.
Cons: Limited plugins. Costlier than some options.
A superb all-rounder, Modo offers a modelling interface similar to Cinema4D or 3DS Max (Windows) and importantly bundles modelling, animation and rendering in one. This makes it one of the most cost effective packages available for Mac.
Pros: Solid, tool-rich application. Animation and rendering included.
Cons: Smaller user base than some applications. High quality surface modelling (NURBS) available as a plugin.
The version of Rhino for Mac captures most of the proven functionality of the Windows version and is arguably the most cost-effective professional 3D modeller for Mac available. Currently there some features yet to be released to bring parity with the Windows version and plugins are not currently supported. Nevertheless, for a high quality surface modeller with powerful 2D and 3D capabilities, it is extremely good value.
Pros: Extremely cost-effective. Large user base. Polygonal and NURBS modelling.
Cons: No plugins yet. Some limitations on features currently available in Windows.
MoI (Moment of Inspiration) is a lightweight modeller with similar principles to Rhino. It was in fact created by a former Rhino developer. MoI is a competent 3D modeller with a simple interface – ideal for users wishing to create organic shapes without the complex interface or cost of some of the other applications here.
Pros: Low cost, competent 3D modeller. Simple interface.
Cons: Fewer options than other applications. Simple interface.
At the time of writing, we’re making recommendations based on Mac OS X 10.10+. Beware of expecting too much from a Macbook or Macbook Pro in 3D terms or older iMacs; check your machine against minimum specs for the software before investing. A Macbook Pro with 8Gb RAM and an Intel AMD HD graphics card can run out of puff on complex models quite quickly.