Need advice for CAD style 2D

OK, forgive me for my sins (potentially wrong category, not having a clue what my graphic card thinger number is, and a host of other mortal sins). I am new… newer than new. I don’t know anything about Sketchup or any other modeling or CAD type of app. That is why I am here. I am going from one list of apps to another, trying to get what I need. So, from what I am gathering, coming to Sketchup is another dead end for me. I will explain and I would be very grateful for some advice so I can stop this ghost chasing and get somewhere.

I need a program that can produce the same file formats used by Auto-CAD, DWG DXF.

I am an artist and I am going to be making some sheet metal work. But until I am set up, and for cost savings at times, it is essential that I can have some stuff cut by fabrication shops that use waterjet or laser to cut clean pieces. Those shops use the file formats I mentioned above. So I need to draw out my design in something that can work with those formats.

So, I found a site that listed a bunch of free alternatives to autocad here: 10 Great Free Alternatives to AutoCAD in 2020 |

But the pieces are just millimeters thick and are better seen as 2D for my purposes. So I need a drawing app that can save as a DXF etc. I had seen the mention of SketchUp and the layout portion seemed appropriate until I got here and see that it isn’t what i need, is vastly beyond what I need and i can’t get it without the pro version anyway.

Can anyone tell me what app to get? I downloaded Blender but I couldn’t find a way to just do a 2D drawing…

thanks for your help

If none of the free CAD packages work for you, I suggest going to the Autodesk’s “AutoSketch”. This is a simple CAD program, easy to learn and will work great for preparing drawings and patterns for lasercutting. I do it all the time for model railroad buildings. Hope this helps.

I think you can utilize the “trial” period of programs like Illustrator, AutoCAD or SketchUp. Finding a software that suites your needs yet free is probably going to be quite difficult. If you are an artist who are looking to build your courier and business, I think couple hundred dollars toward your tool is a good investment.

You wouldn’t really look for a free or cheap paint brush for your master piece, will you? you will also try several paint brushes before you find the perfect one for you. There is always little bit of cost and time you spend in order to find the right tool for you. :smiley:

Draftsight is a pretty good Autocad clone but the learning curve is steep. Sketchup is much more intuitive. It is a 3D package but can be used for 2D work. It has its own native file format but can export to DWG. Why not try it and see what the DWG file looks like using an Autocad viewer or DraftSight?

Autodesk has lately discountinued AutoSketch with version 10, i.e. no further maintenance or development.

you may want use free Inkscape graphics editor and save to DXF, if you wanna control the content and/or convert to the compressed DWG format you can use the free Teigha viewer.

Autodesk’s free DWG TrueView can convert between many versions of the DWG and DXF formats. As coming from the “owner” of the format, I think it is the most reliable viewer. And it can display the Paperspace views.

I haven’t tried it, but Autodesk also has Autocad 360 that is a free online DWG editor.


The Teigha viewer f. Windows & Mac OS does of course support paper spaces as well as all common DXF/DWG formats too, that’s there profession since 1998.

In contradiction to this Autodesk introduces regularly proprietary format extensions (as e.g. ARX objects) to the so called ‘TrueDWG’ format for complicating the data exchange with non-Autodesk products.

Additionally DWG TrueView (for Windows only) is a stripped down AutoCAD version, i.e. the download (recent version 2017 x64 ~660mb) as well as the have a big footstep.

In short, if exchanging data with Autodesk products TrueView might be the choice, for non-Autodesk products the less proprietary DXF/DWG format Teigha produces is favorable.

CadStd Pro by John Apperson will do what you need.

Yes, I totally would use a free paint brush for a work. I don’t think you understand that as an artist, I don’t HAVE the cash to buy an app that I will want for ONE work. I can’t invest because i don’t have it. I’m not cheap, I am poor - there is a difference. I could just pay them $70/hr to do it for me but I don’t have $70/hr. No one pays what art is worth unless you are the “Brad Pitt” of the art world.

Now you mention illustrator - does illustrator work with those specific file formats? I have to be able to deliver the file in one of those formats so the cutter folks can use it. I have illustrator and the entire CS4 suite. So… if illustrator can do this, great.

Why would the open source apps not have a 2D sketch feature? People need that to transfer ideas even if the end product is 3D modeling. Seems like giant oversight to me.

I hope it has a trial version or is free. As I just explained, I am dirt poor. See, I have a rare disorder that affects how much or how often I can work. I had three major surgeries and that pretty much sunk my battle ship. Now I barely survive. I have a chance to build some income and maybe change how things have been… but I keep hitting obstacles. People who suggest I go spend a bunch of money are saying it because they assume people have money. I’m not lazy or stupid, I just have a body that fails me regardless of what I want or need. Not having money is a constant obstacle to getting on my feet.

But I am undaunted. I have to find a way to get this sample work made. Once I have that ONE file, I can start using it to make money and use that money to choose what to buy to keep going - or whether I can farm that out.

I appreciate the lack of assumption in your reply.

Apologies, I wasn’t really trying to say you are cheap.

But good news that you already own the CS4 suite.

illustrator can export either DWG or DXF. Many people on this forum, including myself utilize this feature in illustrator as it is powerful tool converting raster images to vector.
I do not know if this satisfies your cutter folks or not I do not know. Because the folks you are handing it to may require something additional on top of just the file bing DWG or DXF. But if that is the only requirement, I think you are sorted since you already own illustrator!

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CadStd Lite is the free version and features DXF export/import.
Unfortunately there’s no free trial period for CadStd Pro.

The features of the Pro version are well worth the $37.50 USD investment.
Perhaps the free version would suffice for this first project to get you out of the rut.

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It may be important to know the version of DXF or DWG your sheet metal guys can use. Often you have to save as 2013 or R-16 – older formats that many more programs can use.

Even if you get Illustrator to export DXF you may have to futz around with it. Sometimes curves get converted to short straight lines.

I would look at QCad if you are strictly doing 2d and want to work in a cad environment.

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if you wanna check a full blown 2D CAD system too, you might evaluate Dassaults free DraftSight.

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2013 is actually the newest AutoCad file format, with versions 2014, 2015 and 2016 using the same. AutoCad 2017 just came out - I don’t know yet if it introduces a new file format. Wikipedia lists that it still keeps the old one.


Thank you. I wasn’t trying to sound harsh about it… it’s just very frustrating being this strapped when I am trying to get my life turned around and I keep hitting hurdles with the tools to do what needs doing.

Someone else mentioned something about the version affecting the compatibility. I can contact the fabricator and ask whether that will be an issue. I will be exploring illustrator tomorrow to see how the file export works and what I need to do to meet the fabrication requirements. If this is the answer then I am very pleased. I would like to long term get a CAD or drawing program for the design part of this work so I will be going over the suggestions again and hopefully I will have money to get something that is great for the job. At that point I’d be just wanting mostly 2D because the end product will be cut in sheet metal and any 3D components will be cut flat and shaped afterwards by hand tools.

Thank you. I doubt the fabrication shop will be jumping to 2017 version immediately. A lot of their customers will be using a variety of legacy programs to create their own files so it would be unwise for them to upgrade too quickly. They charge $70/hr to do the comp for you but I don’t think they actually prefer to do that. I am just hoping the illustrator version is compatible.

I mentioned the compatibility issue in an earlier part of this response but I absolutely will check out this app. I don’t need 3D that I can even imagine. Even though the objects are 3D they are cut in sheet metal, so they are functionally 2D with regards to the creation process. Is QCAD free or a paid app? Im going to be giving illustrator a try using its export function but I will still be looking around for a good 2D design program for this sort of work. I do want the best tools for the job but I have to work in the limits i have.

At least that fee isn’t so terrible… but yeah, I need free for the immediate issue at hand. I need a sample cut like… yesterday because the landscapers are already in full gear and I need this sample in front of their clients as soon as possible.

And just so people know… once I have that sample cut, the idea is to be cutting many, many more. A lot will be repeats of just a couple designs, then expanding the design range… but the trick will be the custom pieces and each one of those has to be designed from scratch and will be the only one of its kind. At that point I want to be working with something really meant to do this sort of work (and an updated iMac), so i will be buying an app if the best app is a paid one (not always the case).

thanks so much for the help everyone.

see if the the company to can send demo files in all their supported formats…

I delete the ‘demo item’ and use the rest as the template to send back to them…

every brand of machine has had different set demo files, and even same brand machines have varied…


if you can afford the entire Adobe CS 4 suite shelling out several hundred bucks for a tool you wanna use professionally (aka the CAD system) shouldn’t be a big hurdle… software programmers (and their families) need to eat too.

@paperbeagle - I don’t know if financially this would work for you but AutoCAD LT can be rented at a monthly cost of $45 and if you commit to something like a 2 years agreement then the price drops quite a bit per month. I use the $45 a month because my business is up and down and going monthly allows me to turn it off and back on when I need it. The LT (light) version is pretty basic for what you need. Good luck.