nanoCAD Provides a Capable Alternative and Worthy Competition to AutoCAD
Jeffrey Rowe posted on March 08, 2019 |
The full-featured 2D/3D CAD software delivers an open API at a great price.

It’s 2019, and while several CAD vendors would like to shout from the rafters that “DWG is dead” and tout their own proprietary file formats, in reality, nothing could be further from the truth. DWG is indeed quite alive and well.

Since the release of AutoCAD R1.0 in 1982 (I actually used this version!), DWG has been the lifeblood of Autodesk’s flagship application, and for many years exercised an iron grip on mechanical and architectural digital design. That grip, however, has loosened somewhat as several competing alternatives have appeared on the market—some successful, while some not so much.

An interesting AutoCAD alternative that began as a development project in 2008 is nanoCAD, a 2D and 3D CAD platform suited for a broad range of industries (AEC to MCAD) from Nan soft, a software developer and vendor based in Russia. The company claims that there are over 1million installations of nanoCAD worldwide today.

In terms of revenue percentage, nanoCAD and nanoCAD-based verticals generate over 70 percent of Nanosoft’s revenue.

According to Dmitry Popov, deputy director of Nanosoft, “We are focused on creating cost-effective CAD solutions. An important goal for us is to provide our customers with a means to upgrade from using unlicensed CAD software to using legitimate [purchased] software from us. To accomplish this, we must do our best to minimize any transfer effects experienced by our customers.”

I take this statement to mean that nanoCAD’s target customer is someone who is currently using a pirated copy of AutoCAD. This really makes a lot of sense, given that there are scads of such potential customers worldwide, many of whom would like to be considered “legit” but may have trouble coming up with the price of admission.

nanoCAD’s interface is designed to look, feel and behave like the UI that is familiar to users who are acquainted with AutoCAD.
nanoCAD’s interface is designed to look, feel and behave like the UI that is familiar to users who are acquainted with AutoCAD.

What does the “nana” signify in nanoCAD? Popov said the name’s origin is based on a few things: nana is a current buzzword; nana is small as in Microsoft, and it is the next smallest size prefix. And price is small with “nana” implementation impact.

So, what exactly is nanoCAD? Let’s take a look.

Products and Add-Ones Span Several Vertical Industries with DWG

Nan soft’s product line is based on the ‘nanoCAD’ name, but that doesn’t mean that it is a single product with variations. Only a couple of the company’s products are “basic” CAD products, while others are specialized to certain industry verticals.

Everything began with the nanoCAD, which was and still is a free 2D DWG CAD. nanoCAD Plus and its advanced version nanoCAD Pro are not free, nor are the other nanoCAD products targeted at specific verticals.

One of the most innovative aspects of nanoCAD and nanoCAD Plus are that they are free and fully functional if you install them without registering and activating the software, and use them for non-commercial educational and evaluation purposes. But, once you have registered and activated the software, you can use them for commercial purposes, either as an individual or a business. Registration and activation are free for nanoCAD only, whereas for all other nanoCAD products, you’ll need to purchase a license. 


Depending on a customer’s needs, the nanoCAD product line includes:

nanoCAD Plus 10.0 contains all the basic design tools for:

  • Creating and editing 2D and 3D vector entities and text
  • Creating and using tables and specifications based on block attributes
  • Setting up a standards-based working environment
  • Viewing, creating and editing 3D surface objects
  • Sharing technical information and drawings with designers who are working in other CAD systems, with full support of the DWG format
  • Using raster images (scanned drawings, texts, tables and photographs) in designs
  • Customizing the design environment with an open API

It supports ribbon and classic user interfaces, can read and write old legacy DWG files (from R11)as well as the newest DWG 2018 files, and handles third-party add-ons.

A new ribbon-style interface provides a streamlined way to interact with nanoCAD.
A new ribbon-style interface provides a streamlined way to interact with nanoCAD.

With dynamic input, you can set dimensions and parameters of primitives in the workspace without using the command line. Dynamic input is available both for creating and editing elements, which greatly simplifies drawing production.

nanoCAD Plus preserves information about proxy objects created in other CAD systems without changing the DWG file when transferring data between nanoCAD Plus and third-party CAD without restrictions and creates a unified workflow.

In nanoCAD Plus, you can work in virtual models and spaces, and use customizable viewports, external links (XREF), block libraries and typical tool settings, as well as built-in tools for automatically saving and restoring drawings and creating backup copies of files. In addition to the "classic" utilities for the DWG format, nanoCAD Plus offers:

  • Utilities for deleting and exploding proxy objects into primitives in order to find “stuck” proxy objects and remove them from the graphical database
  • An automatic drawing correction utility that repairs damaged data; for example, objects scattered along the Z-coordinate can automatically return to the work plane of the drawing that improves processing speed and quality
  • A drawing manager that displays a tree view of the entire internal structure of a DWG file for browsing file content
  • A utility for changing the encoding of text entities that corrects DWG files in which the names of layers, blocks and line types became unreadable due to a lost code page

In addition, nanoCAD Plus provides unique capabilities for working with monochrome and color raster images. The Raster menu contains basic editing tools (Eraser, Pencil, Fill) and fixes for raster images (Deskew, Image Rotate and Four-point correction).

nanoCAD Pro 10.0 is based on nanoCAD Plus and includes modules for 3D solid modeling and 2D constraints. In addition, when the modules are used in conjunction with each other, they provide true parametric 3D modeling. 3D models in nanoCAD Pro are started by specifying vertices for creating a polygon or polyface mesh. The 3D solid modeling module provides tools for stamping, rotation, pulling and building 3D models. Using the associative 3D section function, you can automatically update 2D views by linking to 2D documents. The 2D constraints module lets you add constraints on 2D drawings, such as fixed distance, and parallel, perpendicular and axial alignment. Any constraint can be transformed in a parameter and can be part of a formula for creating drawing geometry, allowing for parametric drawings that can be controlled by key parameters.

Some of the most significant new features and enhancements to the latest version of nanoCAD Pro (10.0) include:

  • Increased Performance. The nanoCAD visual graphic system responsible for rendering 2D and 3D graphics has been updated to support the Microsoft DirectX 10 technology. This accelerates the processing time of drawings with large amount of text objects, hatches, blocks and other complex primitives, and reduces the amount of memory required.
  • Interactive Tools in a Drawing Area. Semitransparent interactive tools placed in a drawing working area are designed to manage views and visual styles. The “Locator” element for navigation in a 3D space provides rapid dynamic change of orthogonal, isometric, combined and free views.
  • Checking Drawings for Standard Compliance. nanoCAD Pro 10.0 can check drawings for standards compliance and fix any found violations. There are a number of notification mechanisms that provide alerts about violations of standards while you are opening, saving or printing a drawing file.
  • Partial Auto-save. With nanoCAD Pro 10.0, only modified DWG data is sent to the file during background autosave, significantly saving time.

nanoCAD also has add-ons that span vertical industries with specific needs that include:

nanoCAD Mechanica: Based on a parametric design engine, nanoCAD Mechanica is a 2D drafting and design application with a large library of standard parts and tools for automatic mechanical drawing creation.

nanoCAD Construction: consists of a large library of standard building components and specialized design tools for automating AEC drawing creation.

nanoCAD 3DScan: This tool is for processing large amounts of 3D scanning data (point clouds), primarily from LIDAR sources.

Users can choose the number/density of points displayed in point clouds for creating 3D models from them.
Users can choose the number/density of points displayed in point clouds for creating 3D models from them.

Beyond the free versions of nanoCAD, the paid licenses are a real bargain and the company offers both subscription and perpetual licenses. nanoCAD Plus is priced at $180 per year per workstation, and nanoCAD Pro is priced at$290 per year per workstation. Compare these prices to AutoCAD or some other 2D CAD alternatives and you realize the value of nanoCAD.

nanoCAD’s Customer Base and Markets

nanoCAD has a broad range of customers. According to Popov, “We have customers from just about every type of engineering design. This obviously includes MCAD and AEC, but we have customers in the telecom, shipbuilding, municipalities and sound design industries as well.”

The typical customer is switching to nanoCAD from another CAD product (likely AutoCAD). Popov said, “The vast majority of our customers are CAD switchers, but we also have students as customers, too.”

According to Popov, nanoCAD differentiates itself from the competition, especially AutoCAD and BricsCAD, because, “We offer DWG CAD with many of the main features of AutoCAD for a fraction of its price, plus we offer some unique features specifically targeted to AEC and infrastructure engineers.

“The goal of our customers is to get AutoCAD for a fraction of its price. That is why we mimic AutoCAD as much as possible, because we simply don’t have the same resources as Autodesk to spend [on] product development. Also, that is why we are creating DWG-based CAD, which is very close to AutoCAD in really sensible functions, program behavior, UI, API, but year after year we add features requested by our customers that include BIM with IFC support, infrastructure support with point-cloud functionality, and legacy data with intelligent raster functionality. Our 3D solid support was started with Inventor-style feature-tree modeling, but not with Boolean operations as in AutoCAD and other AutoCAD alternatives. In our opinion, nanoCAD is the best DWG CAD in the price/performance sense.”

The Russian domestic market is nanoCAD’s primary source of sales. However, Popov thinks that North America is a viable market for nanoCAD and it is currently the product’s main international target market.

nanoCAD Benefits from Development Partner Connections

To maximize its development efforts and resources, Nanosoft has partnered with software component companies to provide technologies for nanoCAD.

For example, nanoCAD uses the Teigha development platform from the Open Design Alliance (ODA).

“Joining ODA was absolutely the right decision. The ODA platform gives us true native DWG support. It is very important to us to have the [latest]DWG compliance because it is so critical to CAD users,” said Popov. “Working with ODA has been critical to the growth of Nanosoft and a successful nanoCAD. We get excellent DWG format support from the ODA, and this allows us to provide smooth integration of nanoCAD into customer workflows.”

Sheet sets with sheet views are easily created in nanoCAD.
Sheet sets with sheet views are easily created in nanoCAD.

nanoCAD uses the ODA DWG Drawings software development kit (SDK) as an application kernel. Popov said the company reasoned, why import and export DWG when you can use Drawings as your application kernel and work natively with DWG data? Drawings includes built-in visualization for DWG with performance comparable to other industry solutions such as HOOPS at a fraction of the cost.

nanoCAD Pro uses the ACIS geometric modeling kernel from Dssault Systèmes, but customers will soon have the option to select which modeling kernel to use. “We are preparing the next version of nanoCAD Pro with C3D, scheduled for release later this year. We feel that C3D is progressing quickly and will give our customers some advantages in the future,” Popov explained.

According to Oleg Zykov, CEO of C3D Labs, developer of the C3D modeling kernel, its advantages include the fact that it is a parametric solver and data converter in one package along with the modeling kernel. The main advantage of this approach is that no extra integration is required because there are no third-party components involved—it's a single comprehensive tool for developers, such as Nanosoft.

The Future of DWG?

A file with the DWG file extension is an AutoCAD Drawing database file. It stores metadata and 2D or 3D vector image drawings that can be used with CAD programs. DWG files are still compatible with lots of 3D drawing and CAD programs, which makes it relatively easy to use them for transferring drawings between programs.

Popov believes that DWG has a promising future just based on the vast number of DWG files that continue to grow every day. He said, “It means DWG will stay for years to come. Also, as developers we consider DWG a good design container format, as it is possible to combine other types of data inside a DWG file. We should distinguish DWG itself as file format and DWG-based CAD software. DWG files as legacy data will stay literally forever; DWG-based CAD will last for some time, but will continue to transform and evolve.”

When asked how NanoCAD can be offered so relatively inexpensively compared to the competition, Popov said, “Efficiency is the key word. We cut out all unnecessary expenses. Our international sales are 100 percent online, including partner management. Also, we are employing what we consider to be an extremely professional development team. For us, it is better to use fewer developers with the highest possible skills, than to manage a big team of ‘well-structured personnel.’”

“At Nanosoft, we believe that professional CAD applications should be as affordable as operating systems or VoIP applications so that everyone benefits from better products at lower costs. Any developer can port applications to nanoCAD, and advanced users can also tailor preferred applications for use with nanoCAD.”

So, who said 2D and DWG is dead? Not me. They are both alive and well, especially DWG, with nanoCAD.

Nanosoft has sponsored this post. They have had no editorial input to this post. Unless otherwise stated, all opinions are mine. —Jeffrey Rowe

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