Which Architecture Software Should I Use?

Updated Jan 3, 2022
Laptop, paper architect drawing on desk - Architecture Software

CAD software has changed the way the entire world works—from the design industry to engineering to architecture. Instead of old school drafting methods, architects can use CAD software to bring any type of design to life. From start to finish, design processes are made easier. You can create designs, share with clients and team members—whether they’re in the same room as you or halfway across the world—and produce photorealistic renders to see your designs in real-world contexts. So, which architecture software should you be using?

Your choice of architecture software depends entirely on your specific needs—ranging from 2D design to 3D modeling to BIM to rendering. In our latest guide, we’ll cover a variety of software packages that you may wish to invest in.

Which software should I use?

The aim of this article is to help you navigate through all of the many software choices you have out there—and believe us, there’s a lot to choose from. At risk of sounding cliché, your choice of software does ultimately depend on what you’re using it for and what kind of functionality you need. You have to decide whether you need to invest in 2D CAD, 3D CAD, BIM or even rendering software.

Some people use only one software package for their entire workflow and others like to use a combination to produce the best possible output. To help you along your way, we’ve separated software into the following categories: 2D, 3D, BIM and rendering software.

2D architecture software

Nowadays, most popular architectural CAD software offers both 2D and 3D capabilities. Despite this, we’re going to look at a couple of 2D packages for architects who don’t necessarily need 3D capabilities. Everything starts with a plan, no matter what kind of building you’re creating. Before you even think about a 3D model, you first have to create a 2D plan. With 2D CAD, it’s possible to create plans, elevations and much more. Architectural firms, however, will eventually move towards 3D CAD and BIM, which we’ll discuss further below.


Screenshot of AutoCAD LT

Image source: Autodesk

  • Operating system: Mac, Windows
  • Price: $380/year, $760/2 years and $1,140/3 years
  • Interested? Try out the free trial!

Everything always comes back to the CAD giant Autodesk. AutoCAD is one of the most dominant players in the CAD industry. We are, of course, focusing here on the LT version. AutoCAD LT is a lower-cost version of AutoCAD with reduced capabilities and functionality. While possibly not the software of choice for professional architects, it’s perfect as an entry level CAD package. It’s also great for those working on a budget or not looking for 3D capabilities.

AutoCAD LT allows users to design and draft in 2D—great for floor plans and the first steps of the design process in any architecture design. It also comes with a variety of features to speed up your design process, from a customizable user interface and tool palettes to the ever-popular command line feature. It might be limited compared to AutoCAD, but there’s still plenty to take advantage of—such as dimension tools, transparency options and cross hatching. Unlike AutoCAD, LT doesn’t have support for 3D modeling or any customization with LISP, VBA or ARX. You could view AutoCAD LT as a sort of stepping stone to 3D software—which we’ll delve into further below.


Screenshot of DraftSight

Image source: soft32

  • Operating system: Mac, Windows, Fedora, Ubuntu
  • Price: $99/year
  • Interested? Try out the free trial!

If you’re a Scan2CAD blog regular, you’ll undoubtedly be familiar with DraftSight. Developed by Dassault Systèmes, DraftSight is a 2D design and drafting software package. With it, you can create, edit and share 2D drawings. A freemium product, DraftSight comes in three different packages: Free, Professional and Enterprise

If you’re serious about your architecture, you should almost definitely fork out for the professional version. With it, users are able to access online community support and an extensive list of learning resources. Additionally, you can access the toolbox—a mechanical symbol library and mechanical annotation add-on, not to mention the design library which provides a location for user-defined elements such as blocks. As you’d imagine, these types of features are very useful when it comes architecture. With DraftSight, uses can also access, create and edit both DWG and DXF files. This wide compatibility comes in handy when collaborating with teams.

Honorable mentions…

2D and 3D architecture software

Once you’ve got the preliminary stages of 2D drafting and design sorted, the next step is 3D modeling. Of course, you could quite easily skip 2D software completely and go for software that offers both 2D and 3D capabilities. As you’d imagine, 3D CAD has a lot to offer architects. With it, you can expect incredible precision when designing and modeling in 3D. Another benefit is that it offers rendering, which enables you to show clients photorealistic renderings of your models. The learning curve, of course, is far steeper for 3D software—it is something you’ll need to eventually grasp, however, if you’re working in architecture.

AutoCAD Architecture

Screenshot of AutoCAD Architecture

Image source: Majenta Solutions

  • Operating system: Mac, Windows, Linux
  • Price: $1,575/year or $4,725/3 years
  • Interested? Try out the free trial!

We’ve already discussed AutoCAD LT, but instead of jumping straight to plain-old AutoCAD, it’s much more relevant to discuss Autodesk’s industry-specific AutoCAD Architecture. Created specifically for architects, AutoCAD Architecture enables users to design in both 2D and 3D. No matter what type of architectural design you have, you can bring it to life with solid, surface and mesh modeling tools. It even comes with increased 3D functionality to include architecture-specific objects like walls, doors and windows. When you’re designing a building, for example, you’ll probably have a 2D floor plan and a 3D model. Here, you’ll be able to switch between different views of your models with just a click of your mouse.

Of course, it’s not just about the design capabilities that makes AutoCAD Architecture such a popular choice for architects—it’s also about the documentation and simulation. Instead of waiting until you’re at the construction stage to discover design mistakes, you can find them earlier with simulations. As you’d imagine, the learning curve for AutoCAD Architecture can be steep if you’re not familiar with Autodesk software. Let’s face it though, most CAD users have tried out AutoCAD at some point! If you’re looking for a helping hand, why not check out how to learn AutoCAD in 1 hour?

Chief Architect

Screenshot of Chief Architect

Image source: YouTube

  • Operating system: Mac, Windows
  • Price: $2,695/Premier
  • Interested? Try out the free trial!

A more commercial pick, Chief Architect is a 3D architectural home design software package for builders, interior designers, architects and hobbyists. Cited as the most popular product for residential home design, Chief Architect offers users a relatively easy learning curve. This is predominantly due to the fact that it’s marketed to both professionals and enthusiasts. Using it, you can design both large scale and home design projects. Arguably, this differentiates it from AutoCAD immensely—there’s no need to stress too much about getting to grips with it. 

Using intelligent building tools, Chief Architect enables users to create a 3D model of their structure—it even automatically generates building systems of the home. These smart building tools also make for an intuitive user interface. Got to show off your projects to a client or team member? You can make use of Chief Architect’s 360° panorama renderings. By making use of automated tools, you can enjoy easier home design and remodeling. So, if you’re looking for a software package that simplifies home design, Chief Architect might be your new favorite.


Screenshot of TurboCAD Professional

  • Operating system: Mac, Windows
  • Price: $1,499/Pro Platinum
  • Interested? Try out the free trial!

A choice for advanced drafters, TurboCAD comes in different packages. We’re going to concentrate on Pro Platinum, as it comes with more capabilities for architects looking to do more with their designs. It’s a powerful 2D and 3D CAD package that gives architects access to an extensive drafting palette, ACIS solid modeling and premium photorealistic rendering—coming in handy when you want to give clients an idea of what to expect from the final model. It comes with a rather simplistic interface which almost seems like AutoCAD—useful if you’re familiar with Autodesk software.

Of course, that’s just the tip of the iceberg with TurboCAD. It also comes with advanced architectural and mechanical toolsets. The house wizard tool, for example, makes creating room-by-room floor plans an automated process—you can add objects like closets, decking and garages. You don’t even need to worry about internal doors—they’re automatically created when the house is generated. And that’s not all. TurboCAD comes with 500 pre-made floor plans, extensive libraries of objects and even settings to change details like lighting and shadowing. If you’re more of a general consumer, there’s always TurboFloorPlan 3D. Marketed as a solution for those with no knowledge of CAD, it’s used to create your dream home interior and exterior. You can start with a home template and then change it to your liking with drag-and-drop features—it couldn’t be easier!

Honorable mentions…

BIM software

Building Information Modeling (BIM) is a growing field of interest in the CAD industry, which is why so many developers have begun to incorporate it into their software. Using it, it’s possible to integrate workflows and create large databases that store all the information you need to know about your models—from floor plans to materials to costs. This integrated workflow allows for full collaboration across the board. It also speeds up the entire design and construction process. Of course, it can be far more costly than your standard 3D software and it has an incredibly steep learning curve. Whether you need it or not depends entirely on the size of your project and your budget.


Screenshot of ArchiCAD

Image source: YouTube

  • Operating system: Mac, Windows
  • Price: Unspecified
  • Interested? Try out the free trial!

Developed by Graphisoft—a subsidiary of Nemetschek—ArchiCAD is a BIM CAD software package dedicated entirely to architecture. Each of its capabilities and functions offer solutions for all aspects of aesthetics and engineering during the design process of a building. With ArchiCAD, you can produce building plans, sections, elevations and construction details. The stair tool now simplifies the creation of stairs—evaluating thousands of design options and offering users the most optimal stair designs. Meanwhile, innovations like the railing tool can also be used to create associative railings for stairs, slabs, walls, roofs or meshes in a single click.

Cited as the first commercial BIM product for personal computers, ArchiCAD certainly stands at the top of the list for architecture software. With BIM capabilities, users can now store large amounts of information for their 3D models—exporting to BIM X also allows you to view your designs in a VR headset. You can compile aspects like types of materials, overhead costs and much more. Additionally, coordination between architects and engineers becomes much more streamlined when you can view everything you need to know about the design in a single interface. And let’s not forget CineRender—giving users the ability to create high quality photorealistic renderings.


Screenshot of Autodesk's Revit

Image source: DLT

  • Operating system: Windows
  • Price: $2,200/year, $6,600/3 years
  • Interested? Try out the free trial!

Well, we just can’t stay away from Autodesk software! While you might think it a bit redundant to add yet another Autodesk software package to the mix, it’s almost impossible to talk about architecture software without mentioning Revit. A giant in the architecture industry, Revit enables users to create 2D construction designs and documents, 3D models and renderings. Focusing on complete, unified models, Revit enables users to create in both 3D and 4D—from the external and internal structure to real-life information for each drawing element.

It’s also possible to streamline tasks in Revit—you can automate certain processes in order to speed up the design process. Another capability that speeds up an architect’s process is the ability to automatically update all models with recent changes, including plans and elevations. This means you spend less time having to redraw elements and it makes coordination between different design stages that much simpler. You can even centrally share models so numerous groups can work on the same design—streamlining collaboration across teams. Revit’s workflow is designed specifically for designs that will be constructed in real life.

Vectorworks Architect

Screenshot of Vectorworks Architect

Image source: YouTube

  • Operating system: Mac, Windows
  • Price: $2,945/New License
  • Interested? Try out the free trial!

A new favorite at Scan2CAD, Vectorworks might not be as much of a household name as AutoCAD, but it’s certainly a front-runner in the CAD industry. Designed for construction engineers, Vectorworks Architect provides full BIM functionality alongside 2D/3D modeling. Using flexible parametric objects, architects can create virtual prototypes of designs with as much or as little detail as they’d like. Developed by Nemetschek, Architect puts BIM at the center of its design process. With it, architects can look at costs, refine construction aspects and increase production. It’s even possible to generate interactive schedules whilst editing and analyzing your structure.

Vectorworks Architect also comes with subdivision surface modeling, NURBS modeling, full rendering and cloud-based storage for sharing. This means you can share ideas with anyone across the world. Its Project Sharing add-on enables teams to unify their workflows—so architects and engineers are all the same page, working on the same file simultaneously. Renderworks also allows users to produce photorealistic renderings with specific materials and shadows.

Allplan Architecture

Screenshot of Allplan Architecture

Image source: YouTube

  • Operating system: Windows
  • Price: Unspecified
  • Interested? Try out the free trial!

Just like you can’t escape Autodesk, it seems like we can’t escape Nemetschek. Also developed by Nemetschek, Allplan Architecture is an object-oriented 3D design software package. So, what makes it popular with architects? Like Vectorworks, Allplan puts a large emphasis on BIM in order to simplify decision-making processes for architects. With an optimized and advanced IFC4 data export, there’s even better data transfer in BIM projects—you can share all kinds of BIM model data including freeform geometry. And with Option Allplan Share, architects can take advantage of direct collaboration with partners around the world with the same data.

And that’s just the start of the BIM capabilities—Allplan Bimplus can be used to handle the exchange of thousands of pieces of information in BIM projects. You can centrally define information and use it in different systems throughout the entire lifecycle of a building. Enough about BIM—what else is there? The actionbar is an especially great tool for architects, structuring tools according to function, e.g., modeling, drafting and visualization tools. And with CineRender from MAXON, it’s possible to use physical rendering to achieve more realistic results.

Honorable mentions…

Presentation and rendering software

Throughout the entire design process in architecture, there’s a constant need for presentation drawings and renderings. It’s not enough to have 2D designs or 3D models, you also need to be able to show clients and team members exactly what your designs will look like upon completion. As such, with each step of the way, you’ll need to present your design—showing concept art, building walkthroughs and final model presentations. Of course, a lot of CAD software nowadays comes with rendering capabilities or add-ons—thus, you might not necessarily need to fork out for rendering software separately.


Screenshot of SketchUp Pro

Image source: SketchUp

  • Operating system: Mac, Windows
  • Price: $695/Pro
  • Interested? Try out the free trial!

One of the most intuitive design software packages you’ll ever come across, SketchUp has a nice and easy learning curve—so you don’t necessarily have to be a CAD expert to get to grips with it. On the surface, SketchUp is used for its 3D modeling capabilities. While it’s possible to create full architectural structures with SketchUp, it doesn’t offer the same functionality as software like Allplan and Revit. It can, however, be used to give clients a walkthrough of your designs. It even allows for integration with external CAD programs.

While limited on the surface for rendering, you can add the Maxwell plug-in to create photorealistic renderings and advanced material assignments. SketchUp comes with a community-uploaded object library to take advantage of—not to mention a range of extensions and plugins to take your designs to the next level. It’s also ideal for creating scaled and accurate 2D drawings.

3ds Max

Screenshot of 3ds Max

Image source: Autodesk Area

  • Operating system: Windows
  • Price: $1,470/year, $4,410/3 years
  • Interested? Try out the free trial!

Yet another product developed by Autodesk, 3ds Max is predominantly used within the video game industry. It’s also a great choice for visualization capabilities in architecture. A little bit more expensive than SketchUp, 3ds Max is for architects who want to take their renderings to the next level. With it, you can create immersive 3D architectural visualization structures and scenes.

It’s not just great for rendering, however; it also comes with modeling capabilities and a flexible plugin architecture. It’s also possible to take your 3D visualizations and develop architectural VR experiences. If you’re a Revit user, you’ll be pleased to hear that you can use 3ds Max with it. You can model your design in Revit and use 3ds Max to add the finer details—preserving model geometry, lights and metadata from Revit projects.


Screenshot of Rhino3D

Image source: YouTube

  • Operating system: Mac, Windows
  • Price: $995/Windows, $695/Mac
  • Interested? Try out the free trial!

Rhino3D is a 3D graphics and CAD software that makes use of the NURBS model. A free form surface modeler, Rhino is used across a wide variety of industries—from industrial design to product design to architecture. You might be wondering why we didn’t place it in 3D software. It’s quite simple, really—most of the 3D software we’ve mentioned allows you to design your model and then take it to the real world. With Rhino3D, however, you won’t be able to create with the same level of precision or bring it straight to construction.

Rhino3D offers users a staggering amount of choice and capability—which is why we chose it as an affordable AutoCAD alternative—yet its flexibility does work against itself. Without the ability to create solid models, you’re not going to be able to create models with the level of precision you need in professional architecture. That’s not to say that Rhino shouldn’t be used—it’s certainly a great choice as a presentation tool.

Honorable mentions…

Hand Drawing…

Despite what you might think in our era of non-stop technological progress, there’s still a need for hand drawing in architecture. Hand drawing isn’t an obsolete method—architects around the world are still drafting their concepts and designs by hand. Why? It’s a traditional method that most architects use either by habit or by preference. Sometimes it’s faster to draft by hand and other times it just adds a more authentic touch.

But can hand drawing coexist with CAD? The answer’s easy enough—yes, it can. It’s simple enough to use hand drawings in CAD software. All you have to do is scan your drawings and convert them to a vector file format so that you can edit them in CAD. How exactly can you do this? With none other than Scan2CAD! A market-leading CAD/CAM and CNC conversion software, Scan2CAD enables users to convert designs quickly using a suite of specialized tools.

Using shape recognition and vectorization algorithms, Scan2CAD can easily convert your paper drawings to a vector file format ready for use in CAD software of your choosing. Interested? Convert as many hand drawings as you’d like in Scan2CAD’s free 14-day trial.

Want to stay updated on all the latest CAD, CAM and CNC news? Keep a close eye on Scan2CAD’s blog and news section. 

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