CAD Software Compared: AutoCAD vs DraftSight

Updated Sep 26, 2019
Waves on gradient background - AutoCAD vs DraftSight

With hundreds of CAD programs being so readily available on the market, Scan2CAD knows full well how difficult it can be for newcomers to figure out which is best suited to them. Programs that look similar on the surface can differ immensely once you delve further, in ways ranging from specialized add-ons to software-specific functions.

CAD drafters and engineers who’ve been in the industry long enough know most major CAD packages like the back of their hand—learning which ones are best suited to their workflow and job. For those just starting out, however, it can be a confusing process trying to make heads or tails of software descriptions. It’s why we’ve compiled guides in the past to popular CAD software, including AutoCAD vs SolidWorks and CATIA vs SolidWorks.

In this guide we’ll be visiting major CAD package AutoCAD, comparing it this time to Dassault Systèmes’ freemium product, DraftSight. We’ll look at their histories and software features, plus the major differences between the two.

What is AutoCAD?


Autocad logo

Fact file  
 Developed by Autodesk
 First released 1982
 Latest release AutoCAD 2019 (March 22, 2018)

While we’d like to think that almost everyone in the CAD industry knows AutoCAD’s history as well as we do, we’ll give you a quick run-through nonetheless. You’d be hard-pressed trying to look anywhere in the CAD market without hearing the name AutoCAD—and for good reason! Developed by Mike Riddle and later acquired by Autodesk, AutoCAD was first released in 1982. Its release was one of the biggest milestones in the evolution of CAD.

It would be an understatement to say that AutoCAD’s release revolutionized the world of CAD. As one of the first CAD packages to be developed to run on PCs, it became accessible to a new realm of CAD users. It consequently set the pace for the development of CAD competitors in the late 80s. The innovative nature of AutoCAD made it a smash hit across the world.

Since its first release, there have been no fewer than 33 versions of AutoCAD! It has continued to impress over the years—taking into consideration the needs of both individual users and big industries. From a simple 2D software, it has since evolved to include 3D capabilities, immense customization functions and the creation of extended vertical products.

Autodesk have also developed a number of spin-off programs of AutoCAD over the years. AutoCAD LT, for example, is a ‘lite’ version, including more basic functionality for a lower cost. Meanwhile, industry-specific versions of AutoCAD have also been released, including AutoCAD Architecture, AutoCAD Electrical and AutoCAD Civil 3D.

The most recent release of the software, AutoCAD 2019, made industry-specific toolsets available to all, launched the AutoCAD web app and introduced DWG Compare.

What it does

AutoCAD is a flexible CAD software package used by designers, engineers and architects. Whilst it originally had only 2D capabilities, it has since expanded into 3D. That being said, you won’t find many drafters choosing to use AutoCAD for 3D modeling—it’s used primarily for 2D drafting, so software like SolidWorks tend to be better alternatives. 

With so many functions and applications, it’s easy to see why AutoCAD is the staple product for many in the CAD industry. Starting with a simple idea, you can go on to produce 2D and 3D designs. And that’s not all. AutoCAD comes with additional features that include collaborative capabilities with shared views, customizable UIs and PDF import.

It’s not possible to discuss AutoCAD without delving into its popular, native file format: DWG. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never used AutoCAD directly; if you’re working with CAD, you’ll have worked with DWG files before. To put its popularity into perspective, try this figure: it was estimated that, by 1998, there were over 2 billion DWG files in existence. Since its beginning, AutoCAD has extended the use of DWG to other software—allowing for wider use across industries.

If you aren’t willing to invest in the software (or can’t get AutoCAD for free), you may worry that you won’t be able to view these files. Luckily, despite being a proprietary file format, a number of different CAD packages now allow you view DWG files without AutoCAD.

Who uses it

AutoCAD has only increased in popularity since 1982—and for good reason! Autodesk didn’t just rest on its laurels all these years; it pushed AutoCAD to evolve. The result of this is that AutoCAD has mass appeal across a range of sectors, and finds users among businesses large and small, and even the maker community. 

Of course, one of the biggest plus points for AutoCAD is its wide selection of industry-specific toolsets. An architect is going to have different needs to, for example, an electrical engineer. With that in mind, Autodesk took to developing different versions of AutoCAD that offer specialized tools, libraries and standards according to a user’s chosen industry. With AutoCAD 2019, what was originally a suite of industry-specific products has since become specialized toolsets under one roof. 

Let’s take a look at a few below…

AutoCAD Architecture

  • Includes features for architectural drawings, documentation and schedules
  • Gives access to 8,000+ intelligent architectural objects and styles
  • Additional features include walls, windows and doors

AutoCAD Electrical

  • Adds electrical design features to create or document electrical control systems
  • Sticks to project standards—keeping drawings organized
  • Includes a library of over 65,000+ intelligent electrical symbols

AutoCAD Mechanical

  • Adds a library of standards-based parts and tools
  • Users can automate mechanical engineering tasks
  • Includes 700,000+ manufacturing parts, features and symbols

And these are just a few examples! Other industry toolsets include AutoCAD MEP, AutoCAD Plant 3D, AutoCAD Raster Design and AutoCAD Map 3D. Perhaps it would be easier to ask: who doesn’t use AutoCAD?

Of course, due to how much functionality it offers, AutoCAD tends to be a little bit too expensive for the average CAD hobbyist. With that in mind, there are plenty of affordable AutoCAD alternatives or CAD solutions. 

What is DraftSight?


DraftSight product logo

Fact file  
 Developed by Dassault Systèmes
 First released 2011
 Latest release DraftSight 2018 (October, 2017)

DraftSight is one of the many popular products developed by industry-leader Dassault Systèmes. Dassault first entered the CAD race with its powerful product, CATIA—a 3D PLM suite. They raced further ahead of competitors with their acquisition and further development of the first significant 3D modeler for Windows—SolidWorks. Both products gave Dassault the chance to market to a range of specialized industries. 

In an attempt to target more general CAD users and businesses, however, Dassault released DraftSight in 2011. Unlike other Dassault products, DraftSight was marketed as a free product, albeit with additional paid subscriptions. The beauty of DraftSight was that it was created to be simple—users were meant to be able to get started quickly without a steep learning curve. Needless to say, its simplicity and lack of a price tag worked in its favor, and it quickly began attracting more and more CAD users.

As a freemium product, DraftSight is able to offer a wide variety of capabilities depending on a customer’s specific needs. In some cases, users opt to get rid of AutoCAD for DraftSight—considering it’s a much more affordable (free!) option, with very similar functionality. 

What it does

DraftSight is a 2D drafting solution that allows users to create and edit 2D drawings. Great care was taken to ensure that DraftSight’s user interface is familiar to CAD users. As such, the learning curve for DraftSight isn’t at all steep, making it easier to transition between CAD software packages. Indeed, many have noted the similarity between DraftSight and AutoCAD—a definite positive if you’re thinking of making a switch.

Another bonus for potential converts is DraftSight’s support for both DWG and DXF. This means that continuing to use any files you created in AutoCAD is usually a cinch, which in turn makes it considerably easier to collaborate with other CAD professionals. Meanwhile, DraftSight also comes with a range of advanced features to help users create professional drawings, including:

  • User environment and features: command line input, blocks and reference lines, and command aliases. 
  • Productivity enhancers: accessible command prompts, home palette, smart calculator and consolidated options dialog.
  • Drawing setup tools: customizable coordinate system, unit system, dimension styles and RichLine styles. 
  • Drafting and editing tools: snap and grid, tracking guides, split and weld, clip references and images. 

Similar to AutoCAD, there are different versions of DraftSight available with increasingly advanced capabilities as you progress through them. 

DraftSight Free

This is a no-frills, simple 2D drafting solution. With it, users can take advantage of a range of design and drafting tools. Additionally, users can gain access to online community support and resources.

DraftSight Professional

This version offers users a wider range of advanced capabilities. Professional has DGN file support, a specialized toolbox—offering standards-based mechanical symbols and annotations—and a design library which can be used to store reusable elements like blocks. Additional features include batch printing, G-Code generator, PDF underlay and product upgrades. 

DraftSight Enterprise

This particular version is aimed primarily at larger companies. As such, it includes all the advanced capabilities offered in Professional, but with a wider scope. Enterprise users get full telephone and email support. It also includes a network license to help users deploy 2D CAD across an entire organization. Additionally, the deployment wizard feature makes it even easier for larger groups to install or upgrade DraftSight.

Who uses it

With DraftSight being such a flexible CAD software package—with equally flexible pricing options—it has managed to build up a huge community of users since its launch. Its wide support, accessibility and easy learning curve makes DraftSight the perfect option for anyone looking to try out a different CAD package.

While AutoCAD concentrates on targeting specific industries, e.g., architecture, DraftSight primarily looks at the type of user. Its free package is a clear winner for hobbyists and small businesses that are just looking for a 2D drafting solution. Indeed, it can be a better option than AutoCAD in some cases. DraftSight Professional, by comparison, is the option for bigger businesses or CAD professionals who need something more advanced—keeping up with other major CAD packages. Enterprise, of course, targets the big companies that require specialized solutions and support. 

With AutoCAD being a primarily 2D solution and DraftSight covering only 2D drafting, there’s clearly an overlap in regards to user needs. With DraftSight being the cheaper option, it’s certainly a better option for those who are only dipping their toe into the waters of CAD. AutoCAD, however, is unbeatable when it comes to its industry-specific toolsets—its specialized features reach users that DraftSight can’t. 

AutoCAD vs DraftSight

By this point, you should be more than familiar with both software packages—we’ve covered their histories, main features and target audience. What we haven’t covered yet, however, are the main differences between the two. 

Don’t worry—we’re well ahead of you. Take a look at our table below…

AutoCAD DraftSight
2D CAD with 3D modeling capabilities Offers 2D drafting capabilities only
Pricing varies Freemium product
Subscription-basis Perpetual or term license
Free for students Free version available to all
Users in architecture, engineering and design industries Users in design and engineering industries, plus hobbyists
Useful for industry-specific needs, e.g. architectural or electrical design More general, less useful for those looking for specialized solutions
Can be used to create CNC projects Can generate G-Code
Steep learning curve Easy learning curve

If you’re a CAD drafter or small business looking to cut back on costs—opting for an affordable alternative to AutoCAD—DraftSight is the perfect option. It’s easy to get to grips with and it offers advanced capabilities if you’re willing to pay. If you’re looking for industry-specific solutions, however, with specialized libraries, workflows and standards, then AutoCAD is unmatched. 

Whichever software you choose to use, Scan2CAD can help improve your workflow. Got an old drawing you want to use in DraftSight or AutoCAD? Simply convert your raster to DXF using Scan2CAD and start drafting straight away!

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