How did you get started in CAD?

So how did you get started in CAD, and how did you develop your skills with each package?

I learnt AutoCAD in the first year of my Engineering degree. After that we were moved straight to Solidworks (2008/9 I think) and have been using it ever since. There was an option to learn CATIA but that only available to Masters (MEng) students.

Also, how do you start up on your own with regards to software/license costs? I don't have a full copy of SW myself, as it costs about £2000 for a license in the UK (I might be wrong here); I use the Student Design Kit still at home, but that expires next month and as I am a graduate now I will no longer have access to SW outside of my workplace.

So how do you start? Is it a case of buy the license and hope you get enough work to justify it, or perhaps sponsorship from a company? Do Dassault or the other companies have a version which is cheaper than standard but still allows you to do paid work? I know my SDK will print "Educational Version" all over the screen when I try to do screenshots or printouts etc.

I'm just looking how to get started as I am thinking/hoping to go freelance, but perhaps now is not a good time. I have only been in industry for 6 months so my portfolio is rather small despite having done a lot of contract work.

Any advice, help, personal experiences welcome!


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17 Answers

For your first question. I started on CAD during the second half of my first year in college. If I were stuck on the drafting board, I probably would have dropped out of Engineering. AutoCAD V9 was the savior of my career, it automated the stuff I hated on the drafting board.

As for starting up on your own, do some research, find out who you clients will likely be, and what software they use (if any). Put together a business plan - it can be basic - working from your home you already have everything you need except the software package.
Find the reseller for your software, talk to them about pricing, and purchase options. Most will have leasing options - use them. They'll likely want to see your business plan to assess the risk.
Now that you know how much you owe every month, get out there and sell accordingly.
Build your portfolio in your spare time - you will have a fair bit during the first few months. Use anything you can find on the internet for drawing sources. I find looking for old, out of copyright textbooks, to be a good source of models with varying level of challenge. They also use old technology, that even though it's now obsolete, it was the basis for what is done today.

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I find that SW is very simple to pick up but is limited in functionality.

I tried learning CATIA but the mouse operations are so different to SW that I found it hard to simply rotate pan and zoom around the design space. No doubt that if we both persevere with the software then we will be able to expand our design portfolio :-D

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When I started stdudy mechanical engineering

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I first learned the basics of drafting in the drafting board for two semesters. Fron simple geometric designs to full assembleys. Then we learned Autocad but only the basics. From then I started to practice with my old designs, transfering them to autocad. I got a student version of Inventor in 2009 but never took the time to learn. It was at 2010 when I started learning 3D cad mostly from online tutorials and tutorial videos on youtube. Then once more I transfered all the designs I did in univercity in Inventor. Now I will try learning CATIA or NX. I tried learnig Solidworks but didn't like it.

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Hi Jon,
I started in CAD about 6 years ago with SolidWorks 2005, that was in my first year of engineering degree, also with SDK version, then my SolidWorks teacher hired me for a project as a drafter, after two years I started working in a cabinet manufacturer and for the last year and a half in a SolidWorks Reseller. Now, I know SW is limited if you compare it with CATIA, but for me, is the most intuitive and esay-to-use CAD software. Buying it to work as a freelance may be a risk because you'll have a long return of investment time, but you can buy a student edition for 105 euros, parts are still watermarked but you'll have it for a year at your home for practicing or some projects, Her's the link, you may want to check it:


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Good Times Pro/ENGINEER Wildfire 3.0, first class 5 years ago when i start my product design engineer carrer at University, someone told me that the class would be bad and boring, i didn´t pay attention of that NEVER!.

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I started 3d CAD in 1993 with CADDS 4, graduating 1996 with help of CADDS 5. I used a DesignView 3 for 2d drawings (it's part of CADDS 5 as a profile sketcher but it exist for MS windoze as standalone app)- intuitive, parametric and it not have too much commands but It worked on all platforms of windows except Windows 7, I try.

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""now I will no longer have access to SW outside of my workplace.""

Not positive but I thought SW allows a work seat to be used at home.

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I learned CAD first in High School with AutoCAD 2003. It was amazing to use after drafting for a few months. Our teacher was pretty ambitious and got grants to upgrade the software each year. Worked with AutoCAD in 2D for three years. Then in college took a class on SolidWorks and manual drafting. I love SolidWorks, but am glad for the sketching skills these classes also taught. I still sketch frequently to work out ideas. I want to start using digital sketching also though like Sketchbook Designer. Does anyone else use that?

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I'm 42 when started to be literate in Computer and learn Microsoft wares, typing and making research studies, Power point presentation, Thesis Studies, pays me good figures, and I can pay an Architect to conduct a private tutorial, lines , floor plans, extrudes. I find it difficult, so I stat to join CAD Forum and it is very helpful in my self study In CAD. Lear and Practice is all I need to Good CAD Designer.

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I started with 3ds MAX. I was on 3-th course at the university. Lecturer by design asked us: Who can design with 3ds MAX? I said: I can! She said: Ok. You are our candidate to CAD-contest. And I have two weeks to prepare to it. I was confused, but no matter. I found all books about 3ds MAX in university library and started my challenge: CAD learning...
After contest, I have got the excellent note by design on my student's record-book.

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I started in 2009 with Inventor. I was a mechanical so to improve my knowledge I started the course. I very liked! I kept on in the manufactory until 2010, when I knew the SolidFace. Now I'm expert in this software.

I saw something around AutoCAD and Solidworks too, but I'm not very good with this ones.

You've asked about cheap softwares... I can say that the SolidFace is a good choice. It is 2D/3D and parametric CAD. The software is in Portuguese still, but soon we'll launched the English one. In the website there are a lot of tutorials and videos... (all in Portuguese). Perhaps you wish see...

I agree with Kevin, a good portfolio is the best tool to get customers.

Have a great day everyone! =)

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I started in Engineering back in '77 and all we had was hand drafting boards but since I worked with programing computers (Fortran in College) to plot drawings it was an obvious choice for my company to train me once CAD became available. We started with a package called IGI 2100, 2D only then moved on to CAD Key then AutoCAD, Mechanical Desktop, Pro E, Catia and finally Autodesk's Inventor.

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Autodesk has Inventor LT as a cheaper version of Inventor. Why is it cheaper? LT doesn't have an assembly environment.
LT may be a way to get a few jobs and still justify the cost until you have enough jobs lined up for a full copy. Also the LT version can be upgraded to the full version later.

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Through college I first learned Autocad. I couldn't tell you the version but is what ever was around in 1992. In my first job I started with CADDS5 and then Pro/E. Now I work with Autodesk Inventor.

All my learning was 'on the job' with the odd basic weeks training course thrown in. I think once you select a package then familiarity is the key. When I started with Pro/E I was using it 40+ hours per week so learned it very quickly.

Once you've learned a package (certainly 3D) I think to an extent most knowledge is transferable once you get over the initial culture shock. Not too sure about Catia though. I did try that in the past and found it somewhat unique!

To get started if you are prepared to put the initial effort in, Autodesk has a 30 day trial (and even a version coming for MAC's). Alibre Design have a 30 day trial (and offer low cost software. Although I downloaded it I never tried it so don't know if its any good). If you want 2D, Dassault have a very good free 2D package called Draftsight.

PTC offer a free package but I don't think it is parametric. There is another company that offers free software, I forget the name but their logo is a spider if anyone knows? They also specialise in CNC software.

Finally a good source of tutorials is You Tube

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Hi all,

First time learned about CAD at college. I just knew about Autocad. Started from release 14 version, and then Autocad 2000 having few time enjoy 2003. At the time, I felt hard to make complex 3D modeling at Autocad. I don't know exactly today may making 3D using Autocad more simple. I just felt proud of my self able to make 3D using simple command like extrude, revolve, substract and etc and feel this Software really outstanding at the time. :)

Then, I graduated and entered work field. I was introduced with Pro Engineer. I don't know what version at first I worked. Year by year then our company changed to 2.0 version and last year jumped to Creo/Pro 5.0. I may lucky can enjoy company license to increase and improve CAD skill. I have no home lisence, of course it very expensive and I can't buy it.

In other side, I find my weakeness in CAD. Except self learning in advance Pro Eng, I never try another CAD software. Of course I don't have any experience to compare one and others. I just know about Pro Eng.. Pro Eng.. and Pro Eng. Almost everyday use it just for update 2D drawing for my Job task.

At the end of 2011, I knew there GRABCAD. At present I even open Q&A page. Try to learn from other Engineers about tutorial, tips and tricks. If I find something new, I try to practice it but I have to brilliant managing my time at office. If there little free time then I do it. (Sometimes I just fell I've steal time for company who pay me.. but... I also have to growth)...

***sorry for my English.. not good***

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I started learning CATIA for an engineering drafting class last September. A lot of people hated it, but thats a shame because many people can only dream of using such an expensive, powerful cad program. I, being a very visual, artistic person, loved CATIA once I got good at it. The prof taught the bare bones stuff, and I learned the rest myself, most notably surface modeling in GSD.

I think of CATIA as virtual Legos. And I loved Legos as a kid.

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