CAD on iOS: Pros and Cons

Updated Aug 3, 2017
Woman touching iPad

While CAD work is still predominantly performed on desktops, more and more programs are enabling designers to create and access files and perform edits on mobile devices. This gives different members of design and engineering teams accessibility when working remotely, which is especially useful on site.

For various reasons—be it their sleek design, or a preference for functionality—many designers use Apple products as standard. And, even amongst those that work from a Windows PC, there are many who would rather lose a limb than sacrifice their iPhone or iPad. That’s why we’re turning our attention to CAD on iOS.

The benefits of CAD on iOS


Perhaps the biggest advantage to producing CAD on iOS is being able to access and work on CAD files out in the field. This has benefits across a range of industries, including construction, where site visits are crucial.

Now, you can not only view files, but also make edits offline—without having to get back to the office first. Some apps even let you add in photos and annotate designs, so that you can remember the details and collaborate with colleagues who weren’t present on the visit.

Additionally, the use of CAD apps further reduces the need for printing. Instead of taking bundles of drawings to client or collaborative meetings, files can be accessed through the cloud, and displayed on a screen; they can be edited then and there to reflect updates.


Woman on an iPad

iOS doesn’t just mean mobile, either. iPads are becoming more popular for remote working; their bigger screens are useful for viewing details up close, and the iPad Pro offers the Apple pencil—a tool that enables accurate hand sketching on a digital surface. Apps that are independent of advanced design programs now offer features that enable you to export your drawings into your preferred CAD software, such as AutoCAD or SolidWorks.

The limitations of CAD on iOS

iOS CAD apps are constantly improving, but however good they become, mobile CAD is a long way from being an adequate substitute for a desktop CAD PC. For starters, small screens are not suited to the intricate precision that designers require. To be useful for CAD software, we recommend a monitor of at least 23”: we’ve researched them, and produced a list of the best CAD monitors under $1000.

Similarly, CAD apps tend to offer a more limited set of functions than are available within comprehensive software packages. Mobile devices don’t have nearly enough power or RAM to support all of the features that you would get with desktop software. This is often necessary to see a complex design through to completion.

However, iOS apps shouldn’t be seen as an alternative to desktop working. Instead, they’re there to plug the gaps left by traditional desktop CAD software: they are able to mobilize design in a modern and digital way. So, CAD apps are wonderful innovations—when used in their rightful place, and when their pitfalls are fully acknowledged.

CAD apps for iOS

We’ve already covered some of the apps that are available for CAD on mobile. Here are a few others we think worth mentioning when it comes to CAD on iOS specifically.


Archisketch is a hybrid application, bridging the gap Screenshot of a building design on the archisketch app between the creativity of sketching and the technicalities of CAD. Unlike many apps, which act as mobile versions of existing desktop software, Archisketch was built specifically for iPad.

Using the Apple pencil, you can draw freehand, so that initial concept design is available on screen rather than paper. You can import drawings to set the scale and use dimension lines to demonstrate size and proportions. The app also supports the zoom function, so that you can see the design close up, without any loss of quality. Elements are able to be adapted, rotated and moved, and shapes display key information like dimensions and angles.

You can also import or export as PDF—and we can point you to the ideal program for converting your PDF to a vector file, so that you can edit it within CAD software.

Download Archisketch on iOS here.


Screenshot of a design on the Shapr3D app This is another app that was designed for use on an iPad. Shapr3D lets you model 3 dimensional objects with an iPad Pro and its ultimate accessory: the Apple pencil. Without this, you can still use the app, but will be limited to viewing files—a useful feature in itself—rather than designing your own. CAD apps often provide a minimalistic user interface, which gives you the freedom to create without distraction, and Shapr3D is no different.

It also boasts ease of use that does not compromise professionalism: the app is compatible with all major CAD software, including AutoCAD and SolidWorks, so that you can transition smoothly between programs as required by your workflow.

Download Shapr3D on iOS here.

Concepts Screenshot of a chair design in the Concepts app

Although optimized for use on an iPad, you can also work from Concepts on an iPhone. The free version gives you features that aid creativity and productivity. Marking up images through annotation is especially handy for collaborative design, and you can split your view to encourage multitasking.

But for greater design calibre, the pro pack and in-app purchases are a must. Precision Tools is particularly worthwhile, as it will help you create detailed drawings alongside quick sketches. You can also export to PDF or even straight to CAD in the form of a DXF file.

Download Concepts on iOS here.

There’s no excuse not to keep up-to-date with industry developments: we cover all sorts of CAD news and tips in our regularly updated blog.

scan2cad advert for free trial