Computer-aided design and manufacturing

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CAD and CAM are the central elements of digital design and fabrication. This short page mainly includes software links.

Computer-aided design (CAD) is the use of computer technology for the design of objects, real or virtual. The design of geometric models for object shapes, in particular, is often called computer-aided geometric design (CAGD).” (Wikipedia, retrieved 16:43, 24 June 2009 (UTC)).

Computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) is the use of computer-based software tools that assist engineers and machinists in manufacturing or prototyping product components. Its primary purpose is to create a faster production process and components with more precise dimensions and material consistency, which in some cases, uses only the required amount of raw material (thus minimizing waste), while simultaneously reducing energy consumption. CAM is a programming tool that makes it possible to manufacture physical models using computer-aided design (CAD) programs” Wikipedia, retrieved 16:43, 24 June 2009 (UTC).

See also:

  • Fab labs (machines that build designs). The purpose of this entry is provide some background information about CAD/CAM formats and software that could be useful for building things in a (larger) educational context with fabbers (low cost 3D printers).
  • 3D printing, an overview of "home" printing with cheap opensource or commercial additive printers.
  • RapMan, a cheap low-end 3D printer
  • 3D modeling
  • Computer-controlled embroidery and sewing

File formats

See 3D file formats for a more systematic list of 3D modeling and CAD file formats.

3D Computer Modeling
Models can be built in various formats, such as RIB, DXF, 3DM, 3DMF, OBJ, X3D. For many fabbers, they then must be exported as .STL file,
The .STL format
The STL format is an interchange format for 3D models. It describes a raw unstructured triangulated surface of an object and is widely used for rapid prototyping and computer-aided manufacturing.
Polygon File Format or the Stanford Triangle Format. (.PLY)
CAD standards
See CAD standards (Wikipedia).


Free CAD software

  • OpenScad is a programming language' for creating solid 3D CAD objects. It is free software and available for Linux/UNIX, MS Windows and Apples OS X. Something like a 3D-compiler that reads in a script file that describes the object and renders the 3D model from this script file. See also OpenScad beginners tutorial
  • Open Cascade
  • CoCreate Modeling Personal Edition. This program has amazing features and is (probably) fairly easy to learn. The software includes built-in tutorials that you can also download. Also get the 2-page quickreference card. (ok oct. 2010)
  • FreeCAD is a general purpose 3D CAD modeler.
  • Autodesk 123 back in 2011/july 2012 was free beta software for "home/hobby" user market. As of July 2012 it did include software packages: 123D: 3D CAD modeling tool, 123D Catch: Transform 2D pictures into a 3D model, 123D Sculpt: A sculpting tool for the iPad and 123D Make: Transforms 3D models into a pattern for assembly (e.g. use it with a laser cutter). The product is no longer available and has been replaced by Fusion 360 (available for free for education)
  • GravitySketch is a 3D sketching software. As of April 2016 available as IOS application. Android and Desktop versions are in the making.
Free 2D CAD Software

Online CAD design services

  • SelfCAD an online easy to use 3D modeling Software that allows you to model, sculpt, slice and animate your designs without the need for an additional software or extension.
  • Tinkercad allows to create 3D printable objects online. Exports to the STL file format. Needs WebGL (recent browsers!). Requires to take an Autodesk login plus some sort of OpenID login (Facebook, Google, ...)
  • Doodle3d. Draw in 2D and extrude. Very suitable for children.
  • Vectary. Similar to Tinkercad.
  • ShapeSmith allows to create 3D printable objects online. Editing objects is fairly difficult (unpredictable) as of oct. 2014. This software is opensource and can be installed on your own server.
  • 3DTin allows to create 3D printable objects online. Exports to the STL file format Needs WebGL (recent browsers!)
  • csg.js, JavaScript GSG library (like OpenScad that allows to create online applications.
  • OnShape Online professional quality. Free, if you share.

Free multi-purpose modelling software

  • Ayam,a free 3D modelling environment for the RenderMan interface.
  • Blender, a free open source 3D content creation suite.
  • Caligary, is a free 3D computer graphics and animation software.
  • Art of Illusion is a free, open source 3D modelling and rendering studio.


  • SolidView light is a free program with support for SFX, STL, SolidWorks, VRML, and OBJ CAD files. I.e. it can be used to look at STL files.
  • Pleasant3D Visualization of STL plus minor editing in order to be printable on MakerBots/Rapmans: Move, rotate, resize.

Cheap CAD software

  • SelfCAD Model, sculpt, slice and animate all under one program.
  • Cubify software: Invent, design and sculpt. Specially made for home 3D printing.
  • Alibre Design ($97 for the standard edition, free trial)

3D modelers (like Blender, Art of Illusion, etc.)



See 3D assets

General and links of links