Round Up: Best CAD Software for CNC Machining

By Luke Smoothy | 13/11/2020

Not sure how to find the best CAD software? We explore the various different CAD packages available in our latest article.

If you're looking to produce parts for CNC Machining, you'll first need to know how to create a CAD file. If you're new to CAD or not sure how to find the best CAD software, we've got the answers! Here we explore the various different CAD packages available and what might be best for you.

What is CAD?

Computer Aided Design or CAD is the process of using a computer to help design parts and products. It differs from conventional graphic design in the fact that CAD works with 3D, dimensioned parts that have a functional purpose. 3D modelling and CAD is required when looking to manufacture parts using Computer Aided Manufacturing, also known as CAM. For example, with CNC machining, you will need to produce a CAD file so that the machine knows where to remove material to create the final part.

In order to create CAD files, you will need to use a CAD software package. There are many CAD software's available and choosing which to use can be difficult! Fortunately, here at Get It Made, we’re ready to help you decide the best CAD program for you.

CAD software engineering

How to choose a suitable CAD software?

There are multiple factors that might influence your decision when choosing the top CAD software for your needs. Here are some of the key factors to consider:

  • Cost
  • Ease of use
  • File formats - both import and export
  • Ease of collaboration
  • Support


If cost is not an important factor for you, then you’ll have a wide range of options available to you. However, for individuals and small businesses, the cost of certain CAD packages can be eye-watering and prohibitively expensive. Make sure to understand the lifetime cost of your purchase as some CAD software offer subscription services whilst others are a single upfront cost. Consider how quickly the particular version you will be buying will become obsolete, as there can be poor interoperability between different versions of the same software.

Ease of use

Whether you’re new to CAD or a seasoned professional, finding an easy to use CAD package will save you valuable time as you design your parts. Look out for a simple user interface and time-saving shortcuts which compound over time. If you’re able to try a demo version before you buy, this can be a great way to determine whether the software is right for you.

File formats

If you’re designing parts for Computer Aided Manufacturing (CAM) e.g. CNC Machining, it’s crucial that the software you use can export to the most common file formats for CAM. The most commonly used file formats include STEP and IGES formats. If you are looking to 3D print parts and products, STL is also a widely used file format.

If you need to routinely import files, check that your CAD package can accept the file formats you use, especially when working with a proprietary file format such as SolidWorks’ SLDPRT files.

Ease of collaboration 

Consider whether you’ll need to share your 3D models with others or collaborate with them in real-time. Different CAD packages allow you to collaborate with others in your organisation in different ways; make sure to find out what is most appropriate for your needs.


Ensuring that the CAD package you choose has good documentation and a strong community of fellow users will no doubt help you when you’re scratching your head over a particular feature of the software. This is especially important if you’re new to CAD and have numerous questions. Look to see whether the CAD software has tutorials, forums and other places to find the support you need.

How quickly can you learn CAD?

How quickly you can learn CAD depends on what you are trying to design and achieve. It can take many years to understand the full functionality of a CAD package, however, you can learn how to design simple parts within a matter of days.

We would recommend taking time to learn how to use a CAD package properly by following an expert tutorial. Bad habits can be difficult to unlearn, so try to follow best practices as you learn.

CAD Model shoe

What is the best CNC software?

If you asked engineers and designers for the best CAD software, you’ll likely receive several answers! However, there are several main CAD programs that are used in the industry. These five industry-leading CAD programs make it onto our top five CAD software list:

  • SolidWorks 
  • Autodesk Inventor
  • Creo
  • Siemens NX
  • Catia

These CAD design software packages are feature-rich, with many additional features, modules and design tools that expand upon designing simple parts. Analysis tools such as Finite Element Analysis (FEA), aerodynamic simulations and heat flow analysis are common features. These come at a cost and might be overkill for an individual looking to design simple parts.

It goes without saying that unless you are in education or research that professional-grade CAD solutions are expensive! Exact pricing isn’t always available as many of the companies who own the packages listed above will build a custom quote depending on your requirements. One should expect to spend upwards of £2000 for a full license of one of these CAD programs.

What is the best software for CAD beginners?

If you’re new to CAD applications, you’ll likely be looking for a free and easy CAD software with a fast learning curve. Here are our top two suggestions for CAD software for beginners:

  • Onshape
  • FreeCAD


OnShape is free to use for personal use and for students and educators, making it one of the best and inexpensive CAD tools available. It’s feature-rich, easy to use and operates within your internet browser. We’d recommend an online CAD software package if you’re new to CAD because this means you won’t need to buy an expensive, high-spec computer; all computations are cloud-based.

OnShape has a great user interface with quick search capabilities for easily finding the tools you need. It has a wide range of import and export options and is perfect for quickly converting between file formats.


One of the best aspects of FreeCAD is that it is not only free but it is open source too. That means developers and CAD users from across the globe are continually improving the software. The user interface is not as appealing as OnShape however it comes packed with more features including FEA and simulations. If you’re a small business with a tight budget and you need the additional features, FreeCAD might be the best solution for you.

What is the easiest CNC software to use?

The easiest and most simple CAD software available is widely regarded as SketchUp. Be warned, however, as not all types of CAD software are created equally! SketchUp is predominately suited for architectural purposes and is not suited for engineering and product design. Its inability to export to common CAD file formats (such as STEP and IGES) is a significant disadvantage.

However, if you’re an absolute beginner looking to learn the basics of CAD, with an intuitive, easy to use, drag and drop style interface, SketchUp could be a good place to start. As soon as you are a little more confident with CAD, we would recommend switching to OnShape or FreeCAD.

Getting your parts manufactured

Once you have a CAD solution and have created your CAD file, why not arrange a quote with Get It Made? With a wide range of manufacturing processes including CNC Machining and 3D Printing, we help mechanical engineers and designers get their parts manufactured fast!

3D CAD Model Software Engineering

Luke Smoothy

Director and Founder of Get It Made Ltd.

More Resources

Draft Angles for Injection Moulding

Draft angles are a key design feature that should be one of your top priorities when designing a high-quality injection moulded part. Without sufficient draft […]

Read More

Thermoset vs Thermoplastic: What’s the difference?

In plastic injection moulding, there are two key classes of plastics that are readily utilised to create many popular everyday products we know and use […]

Read More

Metric Thread Table – Coarse Pitch (M1-M68)

Jump to Metric Thread Table – Coarse Pitch (M1-M68) by clicking here. If you would like to find out more information on how to correctly define […]

Read More
Get A 24 Hour Quote
Fill in our quote form and we'll get back to you within 24 hours