Mike Freeman

AutoCAD is a commercial, computer-aided design software application that lets users create 2D and 3D models and drawings. Look around your space. Most of the objects you see were likely designed and manufactured with the help of technical drawings. Until around 25-30 years ago these would have been created with pen and ink on a large drawing board. 

AutoCAD Beginners Course

Last Updated May 2022

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Learn to use AutoCAD quickly & professionally by creating as you learn | By Mike Freeman

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History of AutoCAD

During the 1990s the rise of technology in the industrial design workplace saw the drawing board and drafting pen replaced with a computer screen and mouse. Computer software applications enabled drafters to draw lines on a screen just as they had done with a pen and ruler. This type of drafting became known as computer-aided design or CAD. Over the next few years, CAD programs largely replaced physical drawing boards and drafting pens. 

The most popular CAD software to emerge from this digital switch was AutoCAD, produced by Autodesk. Though the software originally debuted in 1982, early versions required large, expensive mainframe computers to run. With the introduction of smaller desktop systems, AutoCAD’s popularity grew.

What is AutoCAD?

AutoCAD was created to replicate the use of a pen and drawing board used by drafters in the late 20th century. Drafters would draw lines and shapes of various thicknesses to accurately plot shapes to scale on a sheet of paper. As computer technology evolved, software like AutoCAD not only could mimic this plotting work through 3D capabilities, it also offered photorealistic rendering. This led to the very complex 3D simulation software in use today. 

Modern versions of AutoCAD can now be used to create not just floor plans, but a full-sized large scale design of a building, mechanical creation, or civil engineering structure. With applications of realistic materials in the program,  it is possible to output the design as a photorealistic render. We can then move around the design virtually. 

AutoCAD versions

Early in its development, Autodesk identified that not every use required the 3D capabilities or expense of the full version of AutoCAD. In response, the company launched AutoCAD LT, which included only the 2D element of AutoCAD fora much lower price. 

The standard file format for AutoCAD files is a DWG file. Newer versions of the software can view and edit other standard CAD files such as MicroStation DGN files and multi-use drawing exchange format, called DXF files. The list of AutoCAD-supported files continues to grow with each version release.

Industry Standard 

AutoCAD is the design software of choice for many industries and continues to be the most widely used CAD software today. This is due to its versatility and adaptability. AutoCAD can create 2D and 3D drawings to design almost anything.

AutoCAD is used by a range of professionals — from architects to graphic designers to mechanical engineers. Nearly anyone involved in some kind of design or manufacturing industry could use AutoCAD to produce technical drawings.

AutoCAD alternatives

There are other software applications used to create simulations for specific industry needs. These include Civil 3D for Civil Engineering, Revit for Architecture, Inventor or SolidWorks for Mechanical Design as well as a variety of other specialist tools. It’s AutoCAD, however, that remains most useful across a broad range of disciplines. This is why this versatile piece of software remains the most successful and widely used design software today. 

If you are looking to learn a CAD program that’s an introduction to computer-aided design and is an in-demand skill across many industries, then I suggest studying AutoCAD software. The most effective form of AutoCAD training available today is video-based training available online that allows you to follow along on your computer and practice as you learn.

Page Last Updated: September 2020

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