CAD, or Computer-Assisted Design tools, are unlike 3D modelling software built for animation, games, or immersive environments. 3D CAD tools are designed for “solid” objects, whereas 3D modellers and game engines generate hollow objects that can render more quickly because they don’t have any internal geometry to render and do not need to be structurally sound. A physical object obviously needs to be structurally sound. Also, a good 3D CAD software should know how to build an object so that it can be succesfully machined by some manual or automatic process: boring the object out of a solid block of material, printing out solid “layers” via a 3D printer, or cutting out pieces of material that can be sucessfully assembled into the final form.


If you have an iPad + Pencil, get Shapr3d. You won’t regret it. It is easy to learn and is the fastest way to design CAD-style physical objects, and uses the same “Parasolid” 3D rendering engine as the industry CAD standard Solidworks, albeit without all the gazillion extra tools and solutions Solidworks provides. But for pure modelling of objects, gadgets, furniture, and all sorts of “stuff”, Shapr3d is blazingly easy, fast, and feels like the future of CAD:

There is a free student + teacher license that allows you to work on more than two models at once. You have to renew this license every year:

Rhino + Grasshopper

In the design world there used to be two main tools for making physical objects: Rhino & Solidworks. Recently Fusion 360 has been moving massively into this territory. Rhino, like Solidworks is a +20 year-old Computer-Assisted Design (CAD) software tool. Of the two, Rhino is a more creative and free-form shape-exploration tool, whereas Solidworks is more on the engineery-machine-part tool side of the fence.

There is a student/faculty price:

Note: if you are on an M1-based Mac, Rhino currently runs in emulation mode. M1 emulation is insanely fast, so don’t worry too much. There are currently still some bugs but it should be fine for most uses. You will have to wait for the next version of Rhino for full native M1 compatibility.

Grasshopper is visual, node-based plug-in that allows you to create parametric designs in Rhino. Imagine designing a chair, and then plugging various parameters of that design into a modular system that allows you to tweak the chair by sliding around visual sliders.


Fusion 360

The up-and-coming beheamoth of CAD tool, with a whole suite of functionality that all works together. You can even design your electronic circuits with Fusion 360, allowing you, for example, to design the physical shape of an interactive game controller as well as design the circuitboard to goes inside of it.



If you are looking for a creative coding method for generatively designing physical objects using code, try OpenSCAD, “The Programmers Solid 3D CAD Modeller”.