Alternative to Solidworks?

For professional (mechanics and designer), Solidworks is a widely used CAD software. Thus it is a good choice for people in Research labs and Universities. But Poppy has to be easily hackable also by makers/artists. For the moment the accessibility of Solidworks may be a constraint (Windows only + cost).

I open a topic to discuss about potential alternatives to the use of Solidworks for the Poppy project. Please share your idea and experience.

EDIT: Post only software which can be actually used for designing part as complex as the Poppy ones …

Cubify Design

Cubify is a kind of low-cost Solidworks. The interface and features are basically the same. I suspect that it is the same code inside than Solidworks with just a less friendly interface and another product name.

Of course, it is not compatible with Solidworks files because it would be too simple …

A cheaper version also exists, Cubify Invent (39 €) with only the designing part features i.e no assemblies and some other limitations.

Autodesk Fusion 360

I just came across this, don’t know what you can do with it.
It seems to be cloud based and able to import a lot of CAD file format. I cannot test it as it doesn’t support Linux, so anyone?

Here is a list of softwares:


  • Website :
  • OS : GNU/Linux, BSD, Mac, Windows
  • Cost : Free
  • Opensource : Yes - Free software under GPL v2

Openscad uses a simple scripting language in order to model 3D CAD parts. This can disconcert the first time, but it’s in facts easy to use, and gives you very good control on your model. You can define each element of you model as a little script module that make your parts highly configurable.


I think FreeCAD is the most evolved open source 3D software, it is a graphic software. It’s possible to create part, assembly. In addition there are tutorials, forum…


OpenSCAD is great, I love it but we have to re-make everything from scratch…
Moreover a lot of the design involves shapes difficult to draw in OpenSCAD.
But if someone is brave enough to do it, it would be wonderful!

DesignSpark Mechanical

A CAD software from Radio Spare which looks like Cubify.


  • website:
  • OS: Windows, could eventually be compiled under GNU/Linux
  • Cost: Free
  • Opensource: Yes, GPLv3

It is a parametric 2D/D CAD software heavily relying on geometric constraints.
It seems to be a “one-man” software, developed by a quite known hacker (Jonathan Westhues).

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##AutoDesk 123D

This is actually a full environment for makers, it includes tools for electronics design, 3D reconstruction and more…

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A friend who has worked for many years in the engineering design of architectural projects told me Solidworks/Catia-like software are now being replaced by a new much cheaper platform called Rhino 3D ( ), and especially with a set of open-source tools/plugins like:

  1. GrassHopper: (“For designers who are exploring new shapes using generative algorithms, Grasshopper® is a graphical algorithm editor tightly integrated with Rhino’s 3-D modeling tools. Unlike RhinoScript, Grasshopper requires no knowledge of programming or scripting, but still allows designers to build form generators from the simple to the awe-inspiring.”)
  2. Kangaroo: (" Kangaroo is a Live Physics engine for interactive simulation, optimization and form-finding directly within Grasshopper.
    The Discussion Forum below is the best place to ask any questions about using Kangaroo. ")
  3. Karamba: (“Karamba is an interactiv, parametric finite element program for shell and beam structures.”
  4. Galapagos ( ) for optimization

The community seems to be very active and growing fast.

Here is a video showing an example of a very organic shape made with GrassHopper, that may look like the future of Poppy’s legs :slight_smile:

Example of use of Kangaroo:

Example of use of Karamba with optimization of shapes:

Example of use of Galapagos:

Anyone know these tools here?

We received a tweet arguing for the use of IronCAD which looks like a more traditional parametric CAD modeler:

@poppy_project IronCAD is the better & cheaper alternative of Solidworks for mechanical design

— Cadlink (@Cadlink) July 16, 2014

It appears it can be integrated with Rhino:

The Free IronCAD-Rhino Integration provides users with a seamless way to harness the power of both IronCAD and Rhino in the design process. By using Rhino for styling and IronCAD\Inovate for mechanical features, you will experience dramatic productivity improvements over using each product alone.

A review:

But it seems the software is expensive: the price of IronCAD is $3,970 in the USA.


Blender is an open source animation software designed for 3D modelling, rigging, animating and rendering. It’s incredibly feature rich and versatile. Since it’s based on python, there is an active community of people that write scripts to do custom things (like creating gears for instance).

It has a steep learning curve and takes a long time to master, but once you’ve mastered it you can make anything. There are a lot of tutorials to help you get started. Because it’s designed for animation, it isn’t ideal for engineering CAD, but there are always work-arounds. People have started using it more for engineering so community users have begun creating add-ons for engineery stuff. For instance there’s a very useful 3D printing add-on.

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Great and can you use parametric modeling ?

I don’t think so. If you can I haven’t come across it. If you were a pro I imagine you could write python scripts for certain things but you wouldn’t be able to do it like you can in other CAD softwares.

SolidFace Professional is a 2D/3D parametric historic constructive CAD modeler. In addition to 3D modeling, it allows project creation entirely in 2D, such as mechanical parts, civilian plants, layouts, etc. Solidface is a sum of Parasolid ® Siemens 3D modeler core and 15 years of UniCAD 2D/3D development resulting in a product with powerful capabilities of detailing, solid modeling, assembly and parameterization.

Can you add information such as the cost and OS compatibilities please ?

I’ve tried freecad and 123D design over the past few weeks. I’m totally new in 3D conception so i’m not able to know what features are mandatories and what other are not important. I had to modelize wooden pieces with some complexe extrusions.

Here is what i’ve found :

123D Design is pretty easy to use and great to do objects that are about design. But when you want to make things precise and mechanical, i have found it painfull. It’s too much of a mouse stuff. But as i had another object to do (more organical) i’ve found 123D Design funny and efficient to use.

Freecad is much more complete and complexe. I managed to modelized my wooden parts but not my other “organical” object because a bug in freecad prevented me to do so… It then seems unstable sometimes.

My conclustion for Poppy : you can forget about 123D design… Freecad seems to have many many options, features and stuff i don’t understand. I can’t tell.

Anyway, i’ve seen solidworks, solidface and rhino pricing…
Solidface : $1000 for lifetime license or $400 per year.
Solidworks : prices are above $3900…
Rhino : we are around $1000 but i’m not sure we won’t need another module…

Honestly none of them are for an amateur. Solidworks can export STL files that can be imported in blender…


Anyone knows Flood?

I’m gonna test it, it looks like a fun version of openSCAD