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The Duke
14,746 Posts
Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
I am going to post this thread to give an overview of design software available to the construction trades for usage in your business. I'm not going to try and list them all because I'd be here forever. There's too many of them.

Chief Architect - I have never tried it, but I have heard really good things about this program. Check them out, maybe you'll like it. Free trial download.

Autodesk This company IMO is just king. they're like Microsoft... consuming everything out there. If you don't believe me, just look at the products they have to offer

Autodesk products

The products that are mainly used for design:

AutoCAD - The king of Kings. Pro's call it Vanilla CAD
AutoCAD LT - AutoCAD's 2d baby brother. Some 3D capabilities, but limited
AutoCAD Architecture - AutoCAD's big brother. Free 30 day trial, but this is a massive program. Don't expect to learn too much in the 30 days.
Revit Architecture - This is my program, the new CAD...BIM(Building Information Modeling). Free 30 day fully functional trial download
Impression - Just like SketchUp. I do not see a free download for this program. It's too bad they decided this.
Inventor - More for mechanical design, it's parametric.
3ds MAX/Viz - The rendering part (make pretty pictures!)
Design Review and DWF writer - Free program, like PDF's. It's for collaboration with others, but may not be flexible for you and clients who don't have this software.

Autodesk is a well supported community. Most engineers use their software, so it's easy to collaborate.

Rhino 3d - Just download it. You won't be disappointed. They give you a full working trial for 25 saves.

SolidBuilder - Have not personally used it, but take a good look if you are a builder. This has some great software features for takeoffs, framing, etc. WallMaxx turned me onto this one.

Graphisoft ArchiCAD - My next favorite program. BIM like Revit. Well supported community. Parametric modeling which means if you move a window on your floor plan, it regenerates all your views in every elevation, every section, every floor plan....everywhere. BIM is the future! ArchiCAD has a free student version. I do not think it runs out, so this may be good enough for many of you to try. Nothing to lose!

Bentley Microstation and Bentley Architecture - Another BIM, second in the world behind Autodesk. Mainly European community. I do not see a free download for this product.

TurboCAD - Another great 3d modeling program. I have tried this program out and it has excellent potential for the amount of money it costs compared to programs like AutoCAD. It is BIM also.

Vectorworks - I tried this long ago, can't recall how it worked.

Gehry Technologies A quiet company compared to the rest, but very nice program for design.

IntelliCAD - IntelliCAD is very, very similar to AutoCAD. They have many companies that have paid fees to use the core of their system and call it their own. ProgeCAD, AxCAD, CADian...this list goes forever. It's IntelliCAD. Cheap 3d CAD compared to AutoCAD, not as nice.

SketchUp - This is probably one of the most popular programs out there. is it great for design? Could be depending on how you use it and how well you use it. Has potential, but not a great CAD program. Visual is what sells clients. Show them the picture and they usually like that better than a bunch of lines and you saying "Imagine the swimming pool...." Low end SketchUp is free.

There are some rendering plugins that will greatly improve the end result in SketchUp

Twilight Render - Go from plain Jane to Holy ****! for $99. Seriously, you can afford it.​

RapidSketch - RapidSketch was originally designed for Insurance Inspection, but now other professionals use the product in industries such as Real Estate Appraisal, Home Inspection, Pest Control, Mold remediation, Roofing, Flooring, etc. Price 05/11/2009 - $149.

Alibre - It's free. You get what you pay for...but it's free. How can you go wrong?

SoftPlan - I have to mention this program because I bought this after a long hard look. I didn't look hard enough. Not impressed at all. Awful, awful rendering. Quick floor plans and decent customer support, but just not good enough for me. Not to mention that they don't allow trial downloads. You have to ask for it to be sent to your address.

Catia - If you have somewhere in the vicinity of...oh about $50K, you may have enough money for this program. Eurospace, Automotive, Engineering....many think it is just the cat's meow.

Free CAD and BIM programs. Not to be confused with cheap.

DraftSight This is made by Dassault Systems, which is Catia. A very large player in the game. The nice thing about this program is that it runs on Linux systems too. Pretty cool.

FreeCAD More of a BIM modeling program.

ProgeCAD Very similar to AutoCAD. At this posting, it is not compatible with Windows 7.

Now for some fun stuff, but not really for blueprint making.


Blender - It's free and it's good! Just download it now and begin playing in your free time. Who knows? This is one of the best free programs ever. Open source like Linux, definitely not a junky free program, this one is good!

Maya - Another Autodesk acquisition. Awesome program.

Maxon Cinema 4d

Maxwell - Photorealism and easy to use. High marks in the industry. Stand alone or a plug in to many 3d modeling programs

All of these rendering programs below are free!

Kerkythea - Probably the best free rendering program out there.

Stair Design Software





3d Spiral Stair


Kitchen Design Software

2020 - The undeniable king of kitchen software


Cabinet Vision - From the company of planit, very reputable.



Deck Programs

Deck Tools - $1900

Photo Software

Check the functionality of each. Some are photo editing, some are photo organizing, some are both.

Picasa - Googles free photo software
GIMP - A free program similar to Photoshop
Photoshop - One of the two big game players
Corel Paint - The other big game player

Premium Member
6,938 Posts
Great Post and I will make it a "sticky!"

BTW guys, I use ArchiCAD and can answer any questions you may have about it.

4 Posts
Do I feel lucky?! I just logged on to research design programs and baddabing – here you are with this great post! Thanks.

I read somewhere, someone on this forum ask, “Are we contractors or are we software pros?” And that’s exactly how I feel about having to learn CAD. But, I want a program that allows me the freedom to design and be able to create plans fit for a contractor without the cumbersome labor of having to learn a program that I simply don’t care about and would take a couple years to become proficient in, anyways! Is there a program that generates a full set of plans (as a pdf, jpg, ..?) or/in addition also be able to export it in a CAD compatible file, like DWG/DXF? Or, is a combination of programs needed to piece together to get a full set?

Much thanks!

The Duke
14,746 Posts
Discussion Starter · #4 ·
pdf's can be created from many software companies out there, the most notable is Adobe. It's not CAD programs that make pdf's. CutePDF is free to download and you can print anything you want to a pdf. JPEG's I'd stay away from. Many people have their email set to block jpegs because they can contain viruses. All pdf is is a printer driver. It prints to a file.

Most people here would find SketchUp easy to learn and is good enough to limp along to get what you want. If you want professional, you will find it tough to do complete sets and have flexibility in editing your plans.

It's possible, yes. Is there better? Of course. Is it good enough for you? That's only for you to decide.

I would say most programs you can teach yourself in a month or two in your spare weekends to be good enough at it to at least make something decent. It all depends on what you are using the software for.

There are literally hundreds of CAD programs out there and almost all of them let you download trials of the software. If you download one and you like the feel of the program, go for it.

4 Posts
Thanks, Framerman,

I didn't explain myself very well, sorry.

I used to design, draft, and build. That was a few years ago. Now, I want back into the game. So, recently I started looking for a program that I could use without the bother of having to learn CAD.

After some research I bought the Punch (pro) program. Why? Because they advertise that their program will generate the plans needed to build as well as export CAD compatible files. Not so. And don't even bother with their tech support: the rudest, most condescending and unhappy lot that I've ever encountered. (It must be a horrid place to work because they always seem miserable.) I'm not going to waste any more time with Punch or their support staff... unless it has to do with legal action.

Many designer/draftsmen offer the option to buy plans as a PDF file. (That's why I bring up the PDF. I already have Adobe and create PDFs.) Also, as you know, CAD gives the flexibility to the buyer to alter the plan, as it is a uniform computer language. That's why I'd like a program that exports CAD readable files.

I’m hoping for some advice on a program that will generate a set of plans: a floor plan, a foundation plan, an HVAC plan, an electrical plan, a roofing plan, elevations, cabinet details, stair details, sectionals, and a plot plan, if needed, as well as the option to create a materials list. (I’m not as interested in a 3-D generated image cuz I’ve never known a builder to build a house from a pretty picture.)

I guess I’m leery as to what the companies say their software will do, as I’m already out $250 plus a few weeks of frustration for a program I can’t really use. So, will Rhino or Chief Architect help me?

If there's nothing available, I'll go back to mechanical drawing and then simply scan the plans into the computer. (I have a great Canon9950 model) This way, once in my computer I can save them as jpgs (and print them out at a local printer) or PDFs (and email them) and simply forget the CAD readable files at this time...

...unless you (or somebody else??) can share some other info with me that I'm missing?

Thanks again, Framerman, for your help. I hope this helped clear up my confusing self.

7,185 Posts
I didn't edit ones on this list from the original ones posted, but thought the new ones on here might come in handy.

It comes from Hanley Wood, Remodeling Online site, which also has a Cost vs Value link to a country map.


20-20 Technologies Inc.

3D Virtual Solutions


Aareas Interactive

Alpha Vision

Architect Media

Architectural Renderings

Artist Rendering

ArtViz Architectural Visualization


BeLight Software




Cadsoft Corp.

Chief Architect

Computer Presentation Systems


Digital Canal Corp.

Enhance Consulting Group

Focus 360

Graphisoft US


iLuna Studios


Infinite Crossing, Inc.


Invision International USA, Inc.

Ion Media

Marc Szabo

Marketing Development


Nemetschek North America



Red Sea Software Corp.

RenoWorks Software Inc.

RM Design Studio

Sigma Design Intl.


SoftPlan Systems

Solutions On Site

WWP Enterprises

Professional Instigator
6,872 Posts
I've never used Rhino, but you probably don't want Chief Architect. It's a good program and might do what you want, but IMO the learning curve on it is fairly high.

I have and use Chief Architect and think it is rather easier, especially for someone without a prior design backround. I have always heard it was easy to learn unless you where coming from a CAD backround. There is a forum for it with lots of info I think

57 Posts
Dpon't get me wrong

I have and use Chief Architect and think it is rather easier, especially for someone without a prior design backround. I have always heard it was easy to learn unless you where coming from a CAD backround. There is a forum for it with lots of info I think
Maybe that's my problem... I do come from a CAD background. I found it cumbersome..but if it was the first thing I ever learned I might have picked it up quicker.

45 Posts
Great thread

Framerman thank you, great post.

I have used Better Homes and Gardens which is a scaled down version of Chief Architect and found it to be helpful, but it's just a base program.

I've since bought Punch Architect 4000 but haven't installed it because I just bought a new mac and Punch Home Design Pro for Mac is in the mail.

I've heard mixed reviews about the Punch software so I'll try it and post my thoughts.

204 Posts
Just a comment on softplan. If you think the renderings were aweful....its only because you didn't learn to do them correctly. There are plenty of people on the Splash user group that are posting renderings there that look almost as if they are photos of completed homes. Of is just like any other just takes time, practice, and patience. I've been on softplan for two years now and wouldn't even consider any other program. And I haven't even started to learn how to do renderings yet. Just use it for construction documents.


144 Posts
Some advice please

I am in Bathroom remodeling. I am not savy with computer type design. I have a lot of clients that I do business over the phone and email as they do not live here full time. I want to start using computer design to aide with presentations. I can see the choices are endless, Knowing that baths are what I want to do and I need good renderings, does anyone have any expeience with just specifically his use. Are some programs harder to learn than others.

Professional Instigator
6,872 Posts
I am in Bathroom remodeling. I am not savy with computer type design. I have a lot of clients that I do business over the phone and email as they do not live here full time. I want to start using computer design to aide with presentations. I can see the choices are endless, Knowing that baths are what I want to do and I need good renderings, does anyone have any expeience with just specifically his use. Are some programs harder to learn than others.
Download chief architects demo and try it. There is also a client viewer option so that clients can look at the designs from another location

General Contractor
1,035 Posts
I too came from Autocad to Chief Architect. It was difficult at first to change from lines to walls in CA.. but now that I've got the hang of it I haven't looked back. Although I still use Autocad for details - Acad is still faster for me as the tools for cad lines in CA still need some work IMO. But again - with more use of the cad features in CA I could probably get that thinking changed as well. For now I will stick with the combination of the two.
And as far as presentations - CA with kerkythea (as also mentioned by framerman in another post) is pretty nice.

20 Posts
I have been running autocad architecture for a year now and I think its great. I've been considering buying another station to run Revit. Is there a big learning curve going from ACA to revit? I used it just a little in college, but more for commercial drafting and not residential (which is what I do). Will it do any kind of material lists? Is there any software that will read out of the ACA model to develop a material list?

The Duke
14,746 Posts
Discussion Starter · #20 ·
From my understanding now is that ACA is included with the purchase of Revit. Initially, you will be amazed at what you can do. Then, you will come to a screeching halt trying to figure out how to do something like you did in ACA.

The biggest thing to avoid is this thinking. It's not ACA. You've got to break yourself from it. It will most definitely do materials lists. It's a complete architectural design program with all the bells and whistles. It now has the same rendering engine as AutoCAD. They ditched the accurender.

There are some really great things about it, and there are some real PITA things about it. The learning curve could potentially be long, but there is a guy who has some nice training videos on it. Google it and it should come up. Being in a 3d program, you might pick it right up.

You can see that residential is no problem for Revit. This is unfinished, have it shelved, but you can see the potential.

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