What are the most popular CAD programs?

It depends who you ask.

What are the most popular computer-aided design (CAD) programs? As CAD vendors do not all publish the number of licenses sold or seats of their software that is in use, we don’t have an accurate and reliable measure of their popularity. However, we have been blessed with chatbots of late, like ChatGPT, that are eager to please and always ready to supply an answer.

My favorite chatbot (this week) is perplexity.ai, and here’s how Perplexity answered,

“What are the most popular CAD programs?”

The order of the programs is exactly as Perplexity supplied, but the descriptions have been altered for accuracy.

  1. AutoCAD, by Autodesk. A general-purpose CAD program. It is 2D and 3D, but most users use it in 2D. AutoCAD is one of the oldest and most widely used CAD software. It is used in various industries, predominantly in architecture and mechanical design.
  2. SOLIDWORKS, by Dassault Systèmes. The most popular professional mechanical design software with an active community of users. With levels of certification, SOLIDWORKS users are much in demand by employers in various industries.
  3. Inventor. Autodesk’s answer for SOLIDWORKS for mechanical design.
  4. Revit, by Autodesk. Used for AEC (architectural, construction and engineering). It is the most popular BIM (building information modeling) program in the U.S.
  5. Fusion 360, by Autodesk, is a fusion of design, both mechanical and electrical, and manufacturing. Fusion 360 runs locally and saves on the cloud.
  6. CATIA, by Dassault Systèmes, is legendary in the aerospace and aviation industries for its surface and solid modeling. Boeing used CATIA for the first all-CAD designed aircraft, the 777.
  7. Creo, by PTC. An evolution, of sorts, of the first commercial parametric solid modeling program. It is used for mechanical design.
  8. Siemens NX or Solid Edge. [Perplexity thought the two were the same]. Both are by Siemens.
  9. SketchUp, by Trimble: Perhaps the easiest to use of all the programs on this list. It is very popular with architects for blocking studies and initial space planning. It used to be free, which made it the de facto choice for inventors, makers and other infrequent CAD users.
  10. Onshape, by PTC. The first full cloud (runs and stores on the cloud) CAD program.

We can’t take this list completely at face value, especially since it confused two products by Siemens (NX and Solid Edge) as one and placed SketchUp ninth—even though it is known to be every architect’s favorite program and is also number one with makers. And where is Rhino, known to be extremely popular with industrial designers, and AutoCAD LT?

It’s been years since any CAD journalist or analyst freely published a reliable tally, so I searched through G2.com, which takes it upon itself to rate every manner of software imaginable and come up with a “market presence” score, determined by several weighted factors, including the number of reviews on the site, mentions on social media and number of employees. As all are indirect measures of popularity, G2 cannot be considered entirely reliable either. A jack of all trades cannot be a master of any. The “G2 Grid for General-Purpose CAD” includes programs that are not general-purpose CAD at all, such as Cimatron (CAM), Altium (EDA), ArcGIS and others. But despite its faults, we have to commend it for trying—and for including most, if not all, of the CAD programs in existence.

According to G2, the most popular programs, if* “market presence” were to correlate with “popular,” are as follows:

1.  SketchUp, by Trimble
2.  AutoCAD, by Autodesk
3.  (tie) Solid Edge, by Siemens
         (tie) SOLIDWORKS, by Dassault Systèmes
5.  Fusion 360, by Autodesk
6.  Onshape, by PTC
7.  AutoCAD LT, by Autodesk
8.  Inventor, by Autodesk
9.  Creo, by PTC
10. MicroStation, by Bentley Systems
11. DraftSight, by Dassault Systèmes
12. BricsCAD, by Hexagon
14. Shapr3D

*It’s a big “if.” Although the G2 ranking validates our perception of SketchUp being the most popular CAD program, it also puts Solid Edge in a tie with SOLIDWORKS, the latter of which has millions of active licenses in industry and schools and is acknowledged, even by Siemens, as a market leader.