Drafting software for Mac: Archicad or Turbocad or Autocad?

Just got a new computer - MacBookPro, OSX 10.7.2.  On my old Mac I ran Parallels 3 with Autocad 2002 flawlessly.  But I don't think Parallels 7 will support 2002, and have always wanted to work native.

So, I need software that lets me import .dwg files from consultants.  For the most part, I do remodel work, so very small files and drawing sets, and I never do 3d (except in Sketchup, poorly).

I think I can get AutoCadLT for Mac with my educator discount for a few hundred bucks.  But I've heard pretty negative comments about it.

Does anyone like TurboCad or Archicad?

Nov 21, 11 11:28 am

DraftSight! It's still in beta and therefore has some annoying bugs, but it's free.

Nov 21, 11 11:36 am

a-f, do you use Draftsight?  Do you use it on Mac?  Does it have similar interface to Autocad? What are some of the bugs?

Nov 21, 11 11:47 am

I love archicad but considering you are on a budget, don't use BIM technology or 3d modeling it may be excessive. 

Nov 21, 11 11:54 am

Yes, I use it on an iMac, for smaller professional work. The interface is almost identical to an older Autocad LT version (2004 or 2006). It even has the same command aliases! There are still some annoying bugs, like a broken "from" snap, occasional crashes (very rarely though) and a slightly annoying properties window interface. Then there are some missing features like cycle-select, non-destructive editing of dynamic blocks & saving of print configuration in model space. 

I also prefer to run software natively, but AutoCAD LT for Mac is not available yet in Europe. I tried the trial version of full AutoCAD, but was very disappointed. So, DraftSight is my only option, although the missing dynamic blocks might make me switch to AutoCAD LT in the future. 

Nov 21, 11 12:04 pm

draftsight is awesome.  it is, in my experience, a very competent, free, autocad lt clone.  i've used it for about a year for some technical detailing.  at least give it a try.


Nov 21, 11 12:21 pm

Thanks for the detail, a-f.  And jmanganelli, I will give free Draftsight a try - it was your opinion on Autocad for Mac: 

autocad is a nightmare wrapped inside of a natural disaster smushed into the shape of an anal probe folded into the ass-crack of Inefficiency and Poor GUI design

does that about do it?

oh, and i forgot that it hates kittens, too

that partly makes me want to avoid it, even for a low price!

Nov 21, 11 12:27 pm

hi DS, try looking at Vectorworks on mac.  it's cross-platform, imports/exports dwg (just need to understand how layers/classes translate), has bim (if you're into that kind of thing), but what I really like about it is the ability to do Illustrator-like graphics within your drafting program.  it's very much wysiwyg, have used it really well in small offices.  way easier and cheaper than Archicad (which is deluxe, but more than you need it sounds).  Vectorworks parent company is german and makes Allplan (more significant in european construction).

Nov 21, 11 1:17 pm

I work in 2D like you do. I use TurboCAD LTE for Windows. It was cheap but I don't like it. It looks like AutoCAD but does not work like it. I downloaded a 30 day trial of an AutoCAD clone called ProgeCAD and I plan to buy it. You will be pleased at how close it is to AutoCAD and it's about half the cost. Good luck!

Nov 21, 11 2:06 pm

Vectorworks is a great program and relatively affordable and compared to AutoCAD, more bang for your buck.

Nov 21, 11 3:25 pm


Nov 21, 11 4:48 pm

PowerCADD is pretty good but it's a little expensive for what you get. 

Nov 21, 11 8:28 pm

oh, i almost forgot, donna, that as an educator,  you can buy rhino from novedge for about $140 and all academic versions of the software may be used commercially without restrictions.  so you could probably move to rhino very cheaply, and its interface and commands are enough like autocad that it is surprisingly easy to pick up.  i learned it about a year and a half ago and it quickly became my go-to modeling app, and i've done some drafting in it, as well.  it has enough drafting features that it is possible to draft and annotate in it, but i do not think the annotation or plotting is even as complete as the autocad clones, so i'm not as thrilled with it for 2d documentation, though they are improving this.  great company, great people, great community. 

so if you got the academic version of rhino plus a free drafting tool like draftsight, you'd only be out $140 and have pretty robust, powerful capabilities.

here is the link for the place on the rhino website where it tells you that academic versions are unrestricted commercial versions:

Nov 21, 11 9:40 pm

These days how can you NOT work in 3D. ArchiCAD is not 2D or 3D but VIRTUAL. Learn to use it & it will pay off in the long run. You can easily import & export .dwg's from consultants who use AutoCad. I hate to sound like an ArchiCAD rep.  I'm not!  However, I have used lots of programs in my career;  Autocad, Powercadd, Turbocad & Vectorworks.  ArchiCAD is by far the best, whether you want it only for 2D or 3D.

Nov 21, 11 9:42 pm

and with respect to other free cad programs you may want to try, here is some additional information

when i first tried out draftsight, i also tried doublecad by the maker of turbocad b/c it is also a free autocad clone, as well as siemens' free solid edge 2d app, which is also an autocad clone.  i ended up sticking with draftsight b/c for me, it felt the most like old autocad, especially the short-cut commands, with which i am very fast and efficient.  having said that doublecad and solid edge 2d seemed very competent for 2d drafting.  doublecad might offer some more of the advanced features that current autocad lt has and it also has a $500 version that is supposed to have as many or more features than autocad lt, whereas draftsight and solid edge 2d are a bit more basic and do not offer upgraded versions at a cost.  solid edge 2d seems very stable, but its interface and short-cut commands are the least like autocad and i just didn't want to take the time to learn a new interface.

back about four years ago, before such high quality free 2d autocad clones were offered, i tried the demo of turbocad and ultimately purchased a copy of cadopia intellicad for a few hundred dollars (b/c I could not afford real autocad lt).  cadopia intellicad, which is an autocad lt clone offered from several companies (including proge cad by progesoft mentioned above) worked very well, but i have not upgraded the license as the free tools now offered are more than enough for my basic drafting needs

links to all of the free program sites:

for the next step up, vectorworks interests me and a colleague tells me it is very good.  rhino + visual arq may also be an option in that price range if you pay full commercial retail or for less than $400 combined if you can get the academic versions.


Nov 21, 11 9:44 pm

Thank you for all this advice you wonderful people!

jmanganelli, the Rhino is not for Mac, correct?  Or it's only in beta for Mac?  I enjoy watching my students use it, seems like a very useful software, but none of them run it on Mac (that I recall).

Nov 21, 11 10:19 pm

there is a beta version for mac.  one of my macophile colleagues uses the mac version and loves it --- he does not boot to windows just to run the windows version anymore

one thing to understand about rhino's development cycle is that it is very slow (going on 5 years now from release of 4 to release of 5, which is about typical for them) and the WIP and beta phases are so prolonged and thorough that their beta version is actually very stable

in fact, i have been using the rhino 5 WIP and now the beta for about a year and almost never go back to rhino 4, except to use one or two plugins that are not yet fully compatible with rhino 5

Nov 21, 11 10:34 pm

Hey Donna, you can get the Rhino Beta for Mac for free with no restrictions. We did some basic modeling in it for our summer studio and its essentially a beefed-up version of SketchUp (I saw you mentioned above you had previous experience with that). I found Rhino fairly intuitive to pickup with SketchUp knowledge, and like jmang said, its very stable (its never crashed on me) and much closer to a "finished" software than a beta one. The prof teaching the class had extensively used Rhino5 for PC and felt that the Mac Beta version was quite good.

I also recommend VectorWorks for a Mac CAD program; I've tried 3 different cad programs in all on my MacBook and its by far the easiest to use in my mind (although I'm probably biased since its also the one I've used the most). If you download the free school version, be forewarned that the exported pdf's cannot be opened in any Adobe program or similar (they are encrypted; you have to buy or receive some other way the legit version for that).

Nov 21, 11 10:43 pm

correction to my reply above, there is a WIP version of rhino for the mac

and doublecad and solid edge do not offer mac versions of free cad, though draftsight does have a free mac version as a beta

Nov 21, 11 10:47 pm

For Rhino 5 WIP, some features haven't been completed yet, but chances are you'll never use them anyway. Also since you're using Mac OS X Lion, you'll want to read up on the different saving method:

Short version: Rhino is constantly saving and updating the file while you work so you don't need to actively save and it saves the file whenever you close the window or quit. Trying to save the old way (using Command+S or File>Save) could cause Rhino to freeze and you'd lose all of your work up until the last autosave.

Nov 22, 11 12:55 am

Indeed, Vectorworks is also interesting. I've tried it out a little and was impressed by how versatile it is (dwg and sketchup import, simple 3D editing, illustrator-like functions, basic BIM capabilities, a very easy to learn scripting language). The class/layer structure can be confusing at first, but is actually a very clever system, where you can stack different drawings on top of each other. However it might be overkill if you only need a simple 2D drafting program. 

Nov 22, 11 6:14 am

Donna - thanks for starting this thread, I was planning on asking exactly this question.

One thing: what was the educational price you saw for Acad LT for mac? Would it have the educational version watermark? And what were the negative comments you heard about the software?

Thanks to everybody who chimed in on the thread, very helpful. *goes off to download draft sight*

Nov 22, 11 11:54 pm

Well, someone told me I can download it free by inputting the dates of my educational contract.  It *is* watermarked, however, and can't be used for commercial uses.

My husband heard through his school that people are buying it at an educational discount, so their not doing the free download, it's purchased, for a few hundred bucks - but I don't know if it has the watermark and/or can be used commercially.

Nov 23, 11 12:00 am

I became productive very quickly with PowerCADD years back. For me it is the best CAD package for 2D drafting I've encountered. I really loved it because it is simple, intuitive, keyboard or toolbar programmable, very transparent. It was cheaper back ($600?) then but totally worth it. The tools are very sophisticated. Unfortunately, it exists only on the Mac side. Currently (for the past 10 years) I use AutoCAD 2011 due to the firm I work at which is PC based. Yes, autocad is a dog, BUT... once I discovered how to program the heck out of it, it became a lovable dog ;) 

The autocad out of the box stinks, but you can tailor it pretty well... but this takes many hours. When I started at this firm I figured you could program it. After putting many hours into learning the programming side of it, I was able to coerce it into working like I wanted to. I still miss PowerCADD sometimes...

I'm kind of a CAD junkie so I've seen a long list of packages which include: vectorworks, miniCAD, archicad, archidot, radarcad, intellicad, denebacad, microstation, architrion!!! (my first cad:), sketchup, maya, 3dviz, formz, many flavors of autocad since v9, including DS on Linux and PC... list goes on and on. By far the most memorable ones are PowerCAD and Autocad. Powercad simply cause it was a pleasure to use and had such a quick learning curve. Made many beautiful drawings with it... quickly. Then, Autocad, because of necessity... and I'm currently using it... and was finally molded to my needs... but primarily because we trade drawings with multiple engineering firms via the .dwg format. If you send those guys anything other than .dwg they short circuit and everything is a problem. So clean .dwg files are a must for us. Many other programs claim translation to .dwg but these are never that great... there is always additional work to be done cleaning drawings up, and you don't want that. I currently have DS installed and have been fiddling around with it. They did a heck of a job cloning classic autocad. I was able to draft full speed with just minor obstacles. You can't beat the price and the .dwg files are seamless. So if you are going to be interacting with other offices, this may be the best way for you to go. Learning curve is about the same as autocad. If you only care about your production and your sanity... then PowerCAD hands down. You'll be up and running in a weekend if you read their manual... at least that is how it was for me. Just my humble opinion. Good luck.

Nov 23, 11 12:28 am

Thanks Vitruvius!  I remember classmates using Architrion back int he day - we loved saying that word out loud in studio.

I just loaded Draftsight onto my computer and opened one of my old drawings on it - opened flawlessly, all my layer types and even dimension styles seem to be in there!  And the interface feels very familiar to the cad I was used to.  I'm fairly excited!


Nov 23, 11 12:33 am

Still cannot get AutoCad to be stable on my machine for more than 5 minutes at a time.

Just jumped this week from PowerCADD 6 to 9 - much, much better-

Nov 23, 11 6:48 pm

I dunno I've been drafting on MacCad since it's come out. I have no problems with it. I prefer it to windows CAD actually. 

Nov 23, 11 9:26 pm

Will also voice support for Vectorworks. I used it for about 7 years and recently had to switch back to cad for a new job, and I have to say I like VW much better. Learning it can be a bit frustrating for cad users, the interface, command, and drawing organization is structured much differently, but once you get the hang of it, it feels like a much more intuitive programs that doesn't run so much on points and lines as it does objects and space. The latest version has really improved the 3D/Bim capabilities, and while it's still eons away from REVIT, it's progressing quickly. You can download a 30 day trail of the latest version if you want to take it for a test run.

Nov 23, 11 10:52 pm

2nd jcr

Nov 24, 11 12:35 pm

jcr & 439:  are you in major cities?  smaller regional cities? smaller towns?  I've definitely heard and read (in reviews) that ArchiCAD is at least as powerful and full-featured a tool as revit, just with different strengths and weaknesses.  my impression is it is a legitimate, worthy competitor.  but then it seems in smaller markets, like where i am, no one strays from using autodesk for fear that a consultant or sub will complain about (real or perceived) incompatibility, either to other team members or the owner, and it will negatively impact bringing in future work.  in your experience, are you able to just work with engineers and subs who support the use of non-autodesk tools?  or do you find that you can exchange files with anyone without issue? 

Nov 24, 11 4:53 pm

I love VW - I was raised on AutoCAD and find it ridiculously unproductive. It is a comprehensive CAD software but far too exhaustive for 90% of it's users and if you think you are in the 10% chances are you aren't. We undertake about 150k sq ft of building per year and VectorWorks suits us just fine.

But that said I think I'm going to download DraftSight! - because we always have ACAD files that need opening from contractors, etc

Nov 24, 11 7:59 pm

Simple - don't use a mac....

Nov 28, 11 1:59 pm

jmanganelli: I was in a major city using ArchiCAD for many years until the recession hit. I am now in Santa Fe & I've found a little work with a local architect using ArchiCAD. You're at a disadvantage if you don't use AutoCAD but if you find someone using ArchiCAD you're definitely ahead of the game. It's a great program for creating virtual 3D models that are easily used to produce 2D C.D.'s & renderings. From friends I've known who have had to learn Revit after using ArchiCAD there is no comparison. ArchiCAD is quicker to learn & easier to use than Revit.

Nov 28, 11 11:48 pm

Donna, I live in a 3rd-world country known as "Florida" and you can always outsource your 3D work for me in exchange for Wild Turkey.

Nov 29, 11 1:12 am

jmanganelli: I am in northern europe (excuse my mistakes, not native english speaking). Exchange with engineers works via dwg or ifc. You might need a short period to adjust your .dwg import/export filters but than it works okay. I guess not as seemless like when you exchange from AutoCAD to AutoCAD but who wants to work in 2011 on a digital 2d drawing board? In my opinion AutoCAD is already dead, it just takes a while in a conservative business like construction to disappear.
I work on midsize to large projects and the clients usually expect to see everything in 3D from the very beginning, therefore no sole 2d solution for me. I didn't like Vectorworks, found it very inaccurate, the layout solution is pure horror and I had issues with stability. I started with ArchiCAD before Revit materialized and would say both have pro and cons but are the two packages to choose from nowadays as long as you are okay with the price.

Nov 29, 11 2:29 pm

Hi dears,

I want know if it's possible to use Revit for mac?

and which is better,Archicad or Revit?what's your sugestion?

Jan 17, 12 6:56 am

Question for Draftsight users:

I've been using it for 5 months (on a Mac Lion machine) and overall love it.  However, when I print to a pdf I get enormous files - 3MB for a simple 24x36 sheet.  I think this is an issue with Lion, as all my word processing documents convert to huge pdfs too.  So I found a trick online to set up a pdf reduction widget on my desktop, but it doesn't work in Draftsight!

Any clues how to make my pdfs manageable? It's taking me 5-8 minutes to send them to the printer - I feel like it's 1993 again!

Apr 19, 12 12:25 am

Hi Donna,

I'm late to the your new Mac party! Give a try to Rhino, and you'll love it. You can use it as drafting, if you're not interested in 3D modeling. But all I can say is Rhino can do wonderful stuffs for you. If you use SketchUp and Cad before you'll intuitively pick up the commands.

Only thing that will surely bug you is right click vs left click on mouse. It was their fancy mistake from the Rhino creators.


Apr 19, 12 12:37 am

PDF Shrink is one solution.

Do you find that Draftsight lags? It did for me. Vectorworks is so much more responsive. I do some work with Autocad using consultants but I send them backgrounds and it is easy to deal with.

Anyway, PDF Shrink works pretty well.

Apr 19, 12 12:42 am

William, do I load PDF Shrink as a printer, or is it a widget?

Apr 19, 12 1:03 am

And yes, DraftSight lags a loooootttt… especially when printing.  Every mouseclick is a pause.  not so bad when actually drafting, but working in the print window is painful.

Apr 19, 12 1:07 am


I had the problem of bloated PDF:s with an earlier version, but I suspect it was an issue with the internal PDF driver of OSX. Do you print using "Export" in the print menu? Usually this is the best choice. The files get bigger when using the standard PDF export (in the lower left corner).

I wouldn't switch to Rhino, since it is still in beta stage for Mac.

Apr 19, 12 3:36 am

a-f, I get different results using Export or opening in PDF Preview then saving depending which drawing I'm working on! This is part of what is so frustrating about it, it seems very unpredictable.  Sometime when it's not 2am, as it was when I posted this question, I'm going to investigate PDF Shrink.

Apr 19, 12 6:54 am

Export from the file menu, or export in the print dialog window? I agree it's a bit confusing with four different possibilities of printing a PDF (five if you have Adobe PDF installed). Usually exporting in the print window gives the smallest size and best quality of the PDF. Problem with PDF Preview (using the internal OS X driver) is that fonts end up looking strange, line thicknesses don't match, and the file size is 2x bigger.

Apr 19, 12 8:15 am

You can drag and drop the PDF file on the PDF Shrink icon in the dock. I use the email setting when I have photos in my drawings.

I use the Mac Beta of Rhino and it's great for modeling and rendering. It doesn't have the drawing sheets yet.


Apr 19, 12 10:27 am

PDF Shrink is a separate application. I print to PDF and then drag and drop it on the icon.

Apr 19, 12 10:51 am
won and done williams

Donna, after having used Draftsight for 5 months, are you overall pleased with it over ACAD? The $700 to invest in an AutoCAD LT license doesn't really bother me. I've used AutoCAD for years and don't have the time or patience to learn a new CAD program at this point, but would consider a clone as long as it is not too buggy. If money were no issue, would you choose Draftsight or ACAD? Thanks for your input.

Apr 19, 12 10:53 am

If you're using a Mac and you use the preview function and the printed copy doesn't look like what's on your screen, then there's something amiss with your fonts...

Apr 19, 12 11:03 am

won, I only use cad for basic 2d drafting - I could pretty easily just use a T-square instead! So to me it is perfect (except for printing and some key shortcuts I haven't bothered to figure out how to set up).

If money was no object, I'd hire a student to teach me Revit from a copy I purchase!  But I have zero patience for learning a new cad program, so Draftsight feels very familiar (I was on Auotcad 2002 previously - never went higher).

I just did an export from the print window: preview in pdf, save, quartz filter set to reduce file size.  Great results on THIS drawing, I got a 600K sheet,  but when I did the same thing last night it didn't work - I got an 8MB 24x36 sheet.  That drawing has a huge site plan in it, lots of lines, so I'm feeling like the print pdf size has some relation to the size of the original drawing file, which makes no sense at all but seems to mirror my experience.

Apr 19, 12 10:16 pm

Seriously: my life would be less stressful if I went back to hand drafting with a Mayline and pencil on vellum.  It's 2:30am and I've tried every damn trick in the world to get my pdfs to a manageable size.  No luck, Dassault's community forums are useless, Mac Lion has made managing pdfs (and just about everything else) worse not better.

William, PDF Shrink doesn't seem to be available for Mac Lion.

Apr 23, 12 2:27 am

Donna, hatches always bloat the PDF, but it sounds as if you're not even printing the hatches, yeah? How about purging the drawing or copying what you want to print to a new file?

Apr 23, 12 9:49 am

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