FreeCAD

Outstanding 3D Modeling For Free

Free, free! We all love free, don’t we? I don’t think it will come as much of a shock to anyone to discover that the most hits I get on this site are when I do reviews or articles about free stuff. After all, who doesn’t want a nice bit of free CAD software that you can drop on your system? I’m no different. One of my favorite things is finding a free package that will fit a little niche I have or show me a way of doing something I’d never thought about before.

What Is It?

So, this time I have a program for you that’s actually called: FreeCAD! Yup, the developers aren’t even playing around; they’re just dropping it out there, like that. FreeCAD is a parametric, 3D modeling software that’s being developed and distributed under an open-source license. That means that it is a truly free package, you can download, install, use, modify, code, tweak and just about anything else you can think of on this software to your heart’s content. A lot of the “free” CAD packages out there are really limited functionality demo versions or fully operational within a set time frame. With FreeCAD you don’t just get a pretty nice 3D CAD package, you can actually add to the code yourself as well as download and compile the latest additions to it that haven’t been formally incorporated into the program yet. That assumes of course that you have the programming skills needed for such an endeavor.

Not to worry though, most of you reading this are just going to want to download, install, and run the current version.

Who Should Use It?

FreeCad is, at the time of this writing, meant for personal and training use. It’s a great little package that you can use to become proficient with the basic concepts of 3D modeling or to create models of your latest invention that’s going to change the world.

It isn’t really powerful or robust enough to use in a production environment. One thing I think it would be great for is creating solid modeled objects for inclusion into low budget apps and video games. Need a few boulders, bricks, or even a full castle? You can create them in FreeCAD and export them to a multitude of formats for inclusion in most any other program. FreeCAD exports Wavefront, ​Autodesk DXF, VRML files and a dozen or so other formats. Because of its open source code, you could potentially code it to export to any format you need.

How Does It Work?

FreeCAD has basic drafting tools for primitive objects, as well as basic solid modeled 3D objects, such as boxes, spheres, cones, etc. Primitives can be extruded in order to add height or width and 3D objects can be sized and edited as needed, as well as merged together to form new objects. It even has the ability to cut out or even create sections between solids. FreeCAD comes with a helpful set of tutorials and has a pretty decent online help utility (especially considering it’s free and mostly user supported!) One of the nicer features of FreeCAD is the concept of “workbenches.” Workbenches are collections of tools that are put together for use in a particular type of modeling work.

They have architectural, ship design, parts design and a bunch of others that have predefined components and collections of tools to help your develop the type of objects you need. For example, in the architectural workbench you can add walls, structural components, create call out grids, cross sections and even predefined title borders to present your plan on. That’s great stuff for some basic home renovation work.

There really isn’t a negative to this program. I mean, it’s free! If I have to lodge a complaint at all it’s that there is no layering system included; all display options seem to be controlled by object. Anyone who’s ever worked in the CAD field is going to find that frustrating but I imagine that for novice users it’s actually a plus. I’ve just been working in CAD for so long that not being able to control display by turning layers on/off makes me twitchy.

I also had a little trouble selecting multiple objects for editing at first. I got used to the system after a bit (and a quick browse of the Help utility) so it’s not a big issue but once again, it isn’t what a veteran CAD user will be looking for.

Conclusion

This is a great program that bills itself for exactly what it does. If you want to do some personal use modeling and design without needing to go out of pocket or needing to have a high end graphics computer, then FreeCAD is the best answer out there. If you just want to get a good feel for 3D modeling on your own time, the absolutely download this software and get to it.