CAD Software Pricing Models: What’s Right for Your Business

Finding What's Best for Your Business

The choice of CAD software and its pricing model can significantly impact a business’s bottom line and overall productivity. This comprehensive guide aims to break down the various CAD software pricing models, enabling you to make an informed decision that best aligns with your business’s needs and budget.

Key Takeaways

  1. Several CAD software pricing models exist, including free, perpetual licensing, subscription-based, floating license, network licensing, and pay-as-you-go.
  2. The choice of pricing model depends on factors like budget, usage, team size, need for support, and requirement for updates/upgrades.
  3. Careful comparison and understanding of these models is crucial for finding the best fit for your business.

CAD Software Pricing Models

Computer-Aided Design (CAD) software is indispensable in various industries like architecture, engineering, manufacturing, and fashion design, to mention a few. CAD software aids in creating, modifying, analyzing, and optimizing design plans. Like any other software solution, it comes in various pricing models that cater to different business needs. This article aims to shed light on the different CAD software pricing models and help you decide the best fit for your business.

Free and Open-Source CAD Software

There are plenty of free and open-source CAD software options available, such as FreeCAD and LibreCAD. They offer limited capabilities, but they’re excellent starting points for small businesses or freelancers.


  • Low to zero costs
  • Flexibility of open-source software


  • Limited capabilities
  • No dedicated customer support

Perpetual Licensing

Perpetual licensing involves paying a one-time upfront fee for the software. Companies such as AutoCAD used to offer this model, but it’s becoming less common.


  • Unlimited usage
  • No recurring fees


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  • High initial cost
  • Costly upgrades

Subscription-based Model

The subscription-based model is growing in popularity due to its scalability and flexibility. CAD providers like SolidWorks and AutoCAD offer this option.


  • Lower upfront costs
  • Regular updates


  • Ongoing expenses
  • Software access ends when subscription stops

Floating License

A floating license is a model where the software can be used on any computer, but only by a specific number of users at any one time. PTC Creo is known for this model.


  • Increased flexibility
  • Cost-effective for teams


  • Limited number of users at a time
  • More complex to manage

Network Licensing

Network licensing is a model where the software can be installed on multiple computers but is controlled by a license server. CAD software like BricsCAD offers this model.


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  • Flexibility of use across several computers
  • Economical for larger teams


  • Requires dedicated server and management
  • Not ideal for small teams


In this model, users pay for the software only when they use it. It’s a flexible option suitable for intermittent users or project-based use.


  • Pay for what you use
  • No commitment


  • Cost can add up with regular use
  • Uncertainty in budgeting

Each pricing model comes with its unique benefits and drawbacks. The choice will primarily depend on the size and nature of your business, frequency of software usage, and your budget.

Factors to Consider When Choosing CAD Software Pricing Model

  1. Budget: Determine your budget for CAD software. Subscription models might be cheaper initially, but the costs can add up over time.
  2. Usage: How often will you use the software? Frequent use might justify a perpetual or subscription model. If usage is infrequent, pay-as-you-go could be ideal.
  3. Team Size: For large teams, network or floating licenses can be cost-effective. For individual users or small teams, a subscription or perpetual license might be more suitable.
  4. Software Support: Consider if you need dedicated customer support. Free or open-source software often lacks this, whereas paid options usually offer extensive support.
  5. Updates and Upgrades: Subscription models often include regular software updates, whereas perpetual licenses might require additional fees for upgrades.
  6. Flexibility: How flexible do you need your software access to be? Subscription, network, and floating licenses provide flexibility to use across multiple devices.

Comparison of CAD Software Pricing Models

Here’s a quick comparison of the different CAD software pricing models:

Pricing Model Initial Cost Ongoing Costs User Flexibility Updates/Upgrades
Free/Open-Source None None Limited Manual
Perpetual Licensing High For Upgrades Limited Extra Cost
Subscription-Based Low Regular Subscription Fees High Included
Floating License Varies Varies High Varies
Network Licensing Varies Varies High Varies
Pay-As-You-Go None Per Usage High Varies

Understanding these CAD software pricing models is the first step in finding the right fit for your business. From free and open-source software to subscription-based models, there’s a wide range of options available. Carefully considering your business needs, budget, and usage can help you make an informed decision that maximizes value and productivity.


1. What is the difference between CAD software and BIM software?

CAD, or Computer-Aided Design software, is primarily used for creating precise 2D or 3D designs in fields such as architecture, engineering, and manufacturing. It offers functionalities like geometric shapes, dimensioning, scaling, and rotation to assist in design creation.

On the other hand, Building Information Modeling (BIM) software is a more advanced form of CAD software that’s specific to the architecture and construction industry. In addition to design capabilities, it provides tools for managing information about a building’s lifecycle, including its construction, maintenance, and eventual demolition. Therefore, BIM software not only handles the physical aspects of design but also incorporates time, cost, and project management features.

2. What’s the average cost of CAD software?

CAD software pricing can vary significantly based on the type of software, pricing model, and functionality. Free and open-source options are available for limited use, while high-end professional CAD software can cost thousands of dollars. On average, a professional CAD software subscription might cost anywhere between $50 to $200 per month, per user. For perpetual licenses, the cost can range from $1,000 to $10,000. Remember, these are just averages, and the actual cost can significantly vary based on factors like additional modules, support, and upgrades.

3. Is there any CAD software specifically for small businesses?

Yes, certain CAD software programs are designed with small businesses in mind. These software programs, such as TinkerCAD, FreeCAD, and SketchUp Free, offer simpler user interfaces and core design capabilities. They often follow freemium models, where the basic functionalities are available for free, and additional features can be unlocked with a paid subscription. Small businesses can benefit from these as they often don’t require the extensive feature set offered by more complex CAD software.

4. How does a floating license work?

A floating license allows the CAD software to be installed on as many computers as required, but it can only be used by a limited number of users at any given time. For example, if a business purchases a 10-user floating license, the software can be installed on 50 computers, but only ten users can access it simultaneously. When a user finishes their session, that license becomes available for another user. This is particularly useful for businesses where not everyone needs to use the software at the same time.

5. Can I switch between different CAD software pricing models?

Generally, software providers do offer flexibility in switching between different pricing models. However, this largely depends on the specific terms and conditions set by the software provider. It’s common for businesses to start with a subscription model and then switch to a perpetual or floating license as their needs grow. Always check with your provider for their specific policies before making a decision.

6. What is the best CAD software for beginners?

For beginners, the best CAD software is one that offers an intuitive interface and easy-to-understand features. TinkerCAD, for example, is an excellent tool for beginners as it offers a user-friendly interface and a wealth of tutorials. FreeCAD is another option, as it’s an open-source CAD software with an active community that can provide support for beginners. Both of these options are also free, making them a cost-effective choice for those just starting with CAD.

7. Is free CAD software good enough for professional use?

While free CAD software can provide a good starting point, especially for learning or small projects, they typically lack the advanced features and robustness required for professional use. For complex projects and professional applications, premium CAD software like AutoCAD, SolidWorks, or Revit are generally more suitable. These offer more advanced capabilities, including 3D modeling, simulation, and rendering, which can be crucial for professional projects. However, the choice of software would ultimately depend on your specific requirements, budget, and proficiency level.


Choosing the right CAD software pricing model is a critical business decision. It involves balancing the features you need against your budget, considering how often the software will be used, the size of your team, and your support requirements. By understanding the pros and cons of different CAD software pricing models, businesses can make an informed choice that offers the best value and functionality. Remember, it’s not just about the cost but getting the most out of your investment.

R. Khouri

With over 30 years of experience in the CAD industry as an instructor, developer, and manager, I have a wealth of knowledge in the field. My background in computer engineering has given me a solid foundation for understanding the complexities of CAD softwares. AutoCAD is my go-to tool, and I'm passionate about all forms of computer-aided design (CAD) and design in general.
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