If you’re approaching CAD for the first time, perhaps you’re a self-starter who simply digs right into the software, starts playing around, and a few iterations later, you’ve designed something.
There are also people who feel overwhelmed by the power of CAD. Designing something from scratch can feel frustrating or overwhelming, no matter how simple or complicated it is. For those who feel that way – you’re not alone!
Design and computer-aided design are skills that professionals spend years mastering, and if you’re an at-home hobbyist, you may think ‘Why bother?’
No matter which camp you fall into to, the good news is that many CAD software programs are designed to be easy to use and intuitive. We really believe that the only overwhelming part of computer-aided design is simply the sheer number of things you can do with it. Once you understand how all those tools relate, CAD makes a lot more sense.
We believe it is important for everyone to have some theoretical foundation of design before jumping into any CAD software. With you in mind, we’ve put together our favorite online spots for getting a good understanding of the concepts that are at work in CAD software.
Let’s start with the basics.
Remember that computer-aided design is based on a cross-section of real world disciplines, including drafting, engineering, architecture, and more. You certainly don’t need to be an expert in any of these fields, but knowing just a tiny bit about them can really help wrap your head around all the options your CAD software provides – we promise.
While you could simply google “learning CAD”, you’ll most likely wind up with software-specific directions on how to build a shape.
For this article, however, we’re recommending resources from world-class research and learning institutions so you can understand the concepts that computer-aided design is based on.
Whether you’re designing a large-scale architecture project or a simple mechanical game to 3D print, you’ll want to have a basic understanding of the following fields:
Engineering. Taking the long view, engineering is applying math and science (and sometimes economical or practical knowledge) to build or innovate structures, tools, processes, and more. In design, engineering is often broken down into sub-sections, such as civil engineering, materials or chemical engineering, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, and more. As the purpose of engineering is to find a solution to a problem, you can apply engineering theories to anything you’re building – in CAD or otherwise.
Architecture. While architecture is technically a subset of engineering, it is often treated as a separate field that focuses on structure and materials. Whatever you’re designing in CAD, understanding architectural theories will smooth out your learning curve.
Drafting. When you hear drafting in terms of CAD, it’s not about a football draft or a first draft. Design drafting refers to the process of creating a technical drawing (blueprints, instructions for a 3D printer, etc.)
While we strive to recommend free and affordable resources, some do require a payment or a free “audit” version of the material. Do what makes sense for your skills and wallet.
Without further ado, here are our favorite places to get a crash course in each field or deep-dive into more advanced topics. Browse for just the right amount of information you need – no need to take the full class to understand any basics.
Coursera offers courses from world-class learning institutions, especially on topics related to 21stcentury learning. For CAD beginners, we love the following classes:
Coursera provides a variety of free and full-paying classes, so check with each class. Often, classes that do require a subscription offer an option to simply ‘audit’, or view for free, a portion of the class content. We think this is the way to go to get your feet wet.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is basically the world-leader in engineering, so expect heavier topics. The school offers a lot of free content that will provide anything from basics to graduate-level topics in the following fields: Architecture, Materials Science and Engineering, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, Mathematics, and more.
Lynda is a learning resource from LinkedIn, everyone’s favorite professional network, so you can expert high-quality courses from industry-leading professionals. The breadth of this collection is incredible, so simply search for a term and browse the videos – some are a few minutes long, and others up to hours.
Lynda offers a free 10-day trial before requiring a paid subscription, but check with your local library – many provide free access to Lynda for any library-card holders.
This is a good place to start applying your knowledge to your CAD designs. We like Udemy because you only pay for the class that you want, and with prices that average $20-30, we think it’s a steal. Our favorites include Architectural Drafting Simplified and Mechanical Engineering & Drafting: Sketch to Success, which focuses on 2D CAD drawings.