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What is Computer Aided Design?

By Erika Peterson
Updated: May 16, 2024

Computer aided design is a creative design process that is based on a computer system. It can be either hardware or software based; however, it is usually a software based program that is used for design purposes. This design process uses computer technology to assist certain types of professionals in the design and drawing of technical drawings. It is also referred to as CAD or computer aided drafting.

Many professionals use computer aided design in the day-to-day operations of their business and most of these people are specially trained. Design and drafting programs can be difficult to use, and people cannot just log on to a program and begin a drawing. Users need to become familiar with certain tools and mathematical equations. Without special training in the basics of the program, precise technical drawings are not possible.

Most computer aided design programs are expensive to purchase; however, there are cheap or free versions also available on the retail market today. There are drawbacks to the inexpensive or free CAD programs, however, including the lack of tools and drawing functions available to users. That is why so many people spend a great deal of money on the appropriate design programs for their business.

Computer aided design and drafting programs come in two main forms: 2D and 3D. 3D programs are often more advanced than their 2D counterparts. Both architects and engineers, the two professions that most use computer drawing programs, typically prefer the 3D option. 3D provides additional details in design that are not available in 2D versions. For example, in 3D CAD programs, designs can be viewed from any angle and measurements and other specifications can be change with the touch of a button.

Some of the first CAD systems had to run on specific computers; however, today they can run on any computer that is adequately outfitted with the appropriate parts. Computers that run these programs need a high quality graphics card, a good mouse and a light pen or digitizing tablet. These computers also need to be paired with a special printer or plotter for best results.

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Discussion Comments
By turtlez — On Sep 19, 2010

@lmorales - I agree with you. There are so many more companies now a days looking for someone who has taken computer aided design courses. Computer aided design jobs vary from place to place, though, and you would be better off obtaining a degree in CAD in a place that's more technologically advanced. I know someone who graduated last year - or two years ago I think - that still has not found a job. It's always good to have a fall back.

By Kamchatka — On Sep 19, 2010

@empanadas - I like the final product of hand drafting as well, but when it comes down to a time crunch and to heavy deadlines, it's wise to stick with computer aided design systems as there is little room for error. AutoCAD is just one of many, there is also Google Sketch-Up which I have used with several classes in my Design School and absolutely love.

By empanadas — On Sep 19, 2010

@lmorales - I am going to have to disagree with your last statement about hand drafting. I absolutely love the finished product of hand drafting. Even though there are a lot of computer aided design courses out there - especially in the Interior Design and Architecture industries - I think hand drafting shows dedication and a commitment to your design job that CAD simply doesn't show.

By lmorales — On Sep 19, 2010

The most popular computer aided design software is AutoCAD which is used in literally hundreds of professional aspects worldwide. I have studied design, but since moved on to working for an Architectural firm who uses computer aided drafting and design every day. Hand-drafting is pretty much out the window at this point.

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