Designing accurate blueprints and complex drawings used to be all done by hand, with sets of rulers, protractors, and other measuring devices requiring immense dexterity and a keen eye to use well. 2D CAD software has made that a thing of the past.
Unlike 3D CAD software, which is used in processes like 3D printing, 2D CAD software is used to design 2D objects like drawings or top-down models. These designs include blueprints, floorplans, and artistic endeavors like graphic design or comic creating.
- We also have a guide to the best 2D animation software
What is 2D CAD Software?
2D CAD software refers to computer-based software used to create designs that only require the length and height of a project, without needing the depth of a 3D model.
While freehand artistic tools work well for more artistically creative projects, 2D CAD software needs high-level precision to be usable in planning out blueprints for buildings and interior decoration, which require accurate measurements.
Such measurements are often difficult to get exactly right by hand, and almost impossible for those not used to such design methods. This is where 2D CAD software can be a lifesaver for people who need precisely laid-out structures in reliable settings.
Those used to 3D CAD software will know how useful base views can be when perfecting each side of a model. With 2D CAD software, you can turn this base view into a full design. This is especially useful for interior designers who want to turn 3D models into a 2D floor plan.
2D CAD design is used for laser cutting too, as it tells machines what patterns need to be cut to precise measurements, turning complex patterns and imaginative works into physical objects from computer-designed files.
What is the Best 2D CAD Software?
The best 2D CAD software for you all depends on what you need it for. Some are geared towards interior design, while others are best suited to mechanical and construction projects, and can also be used for laser cutting and engraving, or CNC.
Some software is geared towards architecture, others have more creativity in mind. If, however, you’re looking for more versatile software, you can check out our other rankings for things like the best graphic design software.
Here, we’re going to look at some free 2D CAD software that are designed with different specialties in mind to help you decide which is best for you.
Every software listed here are either completely free of charge, or come with free trials, so there’s no reason not to give any a try should you see one that sounds right for you.
Completely Free 2D CAD Software
Like most products, the best 2D CAD software is normally paid for, though that doesn’t mean that there aren’t some free and open-sourced software available for anyone to use without subscription or purchase.
LibreCAD — great 2D CAD software for beginners
Starting with the most beginner-friendly of all the free 2D CAD software we could find, LibreCAD is available on a variety of operating systems, including Windows, Mac, and Linux.
LibreCAD is ideal for beginners designing simple drawings, and professionals drawing up detailed blueprints, LibreCAD’s 2D functions allow for a variety of uses. Cartoonists and graphic designers will benefit from its easy manipulation of images, while architects and interior designers take advantage of its precise and easy-to-measure line drawing.
Both mechanical engineers and artists alike will find its simple interface a refreshing break from industrial-level software, which can often be overbearing.
LibreCAD acts like many drawing software tools, allowing for the direct manipulation of files. Finished designs can then be exported as JPEG, PNG, and PDF files for importation into other software.
Students and beginners alike will find LibreCAD’s no-nonsense interface a refreshing entry to 2D design, making it among the best free 2D CAD software available. However, veterans or those used to more professional tools may be left wanting.
Another beginner-friendly 2D CAD software is QCAD, which offers many design, editing, and online sharing features that are ideal for graphic designers as well as architecture and engineering students.
QCAD is similar to LibreCAD in many ways, though its greatest distinction is its focus on immediate usability with an easy-to-use interface that even complete novices will have no problem understanding.
This interface includes auto-centering tools and measuring tools, letting you create accurate and precise drawings without needing the focus and dexterity of hand-drawing your designs.
With a system and look similar to simpler programs such as MS Paint, QCAD offers a familiar and comfortable user experience, the tools and tutorials of which allow for easy creation and editing of 2D designs that can be saved in formats compatible with a variety of machines.
Designs created in QCAD are easy to get to precise measurements, so things like floor plans and even structural blueprints are drafted with ease and perfected with an interface that’s easy to grasp for designers of all experience levels.
Solid Edge 2D Drafting
As its name implies, Solid Edge is 2D CAD Software designed for in-depth editing of 2D models as well as creating them from scratch. Files made in other software can also easily be imported due to Solid Edge’s impressive compatibility range.
Exportation from Solid Edge is easy too, as files can be saved in the widely used DWG format, which is compatible with a range of other CAD software.
A customizable dial makes for faster workflow, letting you quickly select your most used tools and further simplifying Solid Edge’s learning curve — especially for use when drafting schematics.
Solid Edge 2D drafting holds itself to professional standards in 2D model rendering, and boasts features that allow for the creation and redrafting of even the most complicated of mechanical designs with an easy-to-use interface.
This allows Solid Edge to stand out as it succeeds in its goal to be neither intimidating to newcomers nor underperforming for veterans.
NanoCAD — professional grade 2D CAD software
While likely more complicated than complete newbies will be comfortable with, NanoCAD is certainly amongst the most user-friendly 2D CAD software available, NanoCAD’s free version is a professional-grade software with a fully customizable interface for however you want to use it.
Ideal for both students and professionals, NanoCAD allows for both 2D and 3D modeling, and is designed for different project complexities. With this, you can grow your understanding of 2D modeling as you learn to use NanoCAD for both early designs and virtual prototypes.
The 2D designs can even be translated into 3D models for deeper complexity and depth should the need arise.
While NanoCAD’s basic operations are free, the Pro and Plus versions come at a cost, though most would still argue that the free version offers more than enough functionality to satisfy professionals.
However, NanoCAD only functions as 2D CAD software for Windows, so Mac users will need to seek out alternatives.
FreeCAD — great 2D CAD software that also has 3D uses
FreeCAD may be more geared towards the 3D end of things, but that doesn’t mean it lacks 2D CAD software functionality.
FreeCAD’s 2D features allow users to draw in a free-hand style to create designs that can be manipulated in 3D afterward.
Because of this, FreeCAD lends itself well to laser cutting, as the shapes and designs that were previously drawn can be reworked to an impressively accurate degree. This allows for great creativity as well as confidence in your designs.
FreeCAD’s focus on 3D means that it is lacking on the 2D front. However, its usefulness in forming and perfecting drafts of 2D projects makes it a good choice for people who want to explore their creativity.
Unlike many of the others on this list, KiCAD is a specialty 2D CAD software, developed for electrical engineers designing printable circuit boards.
KiCAD lets you design and test virtual circuitry, and even includes a 3D viewer tool for each design, allowing for detailed analysis into the boards you’ve created. This helps you pinpoint problems and weak points for maximum optimization.
KiCAD’s ‘footprint viewer’ includes a selection of components that can be added or removed from the design to perform virtual tests. This is a lifesaver as it lets you spend far less time and money compared to actively seeing how physical parts fare in post-construction.
By incorporating this, KiCAD stands out by being a free money-saving tool as any design flaws are brought to light, instead of finding them out the hard way.
Schematics are stored in the built-in library, which lets you make changes without digging through computer files, and designs can be layered to ensure multi-part compatibility for combining separate components in one project.
KiCAD is open-source and completely free, and anyone working or studying electrical engineering will find it to be a useful tool that saves both time and money as you can analyze and inspect components and circuits before they’re even made.
2D CAD Software with Free Trials
While not completely free, the following are the best 2D CAD software with free trials and conditional licensing periods.
AutoCAD — industrial 2D CAD software
Perhaps the most comprehensive CAD software on this list, AutoCAD is something of an all-in-one 2D drafting software.
With applications for architects, designers, and electrical and mechanical engineers, AutoCAD boasts a huge range of uses for a variety of studies and vocations.
While definitely a professional tool, AutoCAD is very useful for higher education students who want to level up their 2D CAD drafting and editing. A free student trial is also available for those in higher education to try out.
Studies show how AutoCAD’s speed and efficiency are far improved when compared to even the best 2D CAD software available. Well-organized toolsets ensure users know exactly where to go to suit the projects they’re working on, including electrical, architectural, and even mapping 2D projects.
AutoCAD measures its usefulness by ‘productivity gains’ which they have also split into different categories depending on the toolsets. By looking at these gains in comparison to other software when used in different fields, users can see exactly how AutoCAD can improve their productivity and output.
While AutoCAD has a relatively expensive subscription service that can be paid either monthly or annually, students are eligible for a free three-year licensing period. Despite this, it’s still very much worth any professional’s time to give AutoCAD a good look, as many online reviews rank it as the best 2D CAD software today.
DraftSight is, as the name implies, 2D CAD drafting software that can also create 3D models. It was designed with compatibility in mind, and boasts itself as an upgrade for those who find their current CAD drafting software to be lacking.
DraftSight is compatible even with PDF drawings, which also makes it a good first step for those who have experience in 2D drawing but don’t yet have the CAD software to manipulate them in more complex ways.
DraftSight also includes a built-in ‘sheet set’ organization system to keep bigger, multi-file projects under control and easy to find when needed.
Like AutoCAD, DraftSight features Dynamic Block support, complying easily with files imported from other software. Speed and ease of use are the goals, which should be familiar to veterans but not too intimidating for first-timers.
DraftSight has a no strings attached 30-day free trial, which should make it especially interesting for those who are either testing out new software, or looking to begin using 2D CAD drafting for the first time.