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Entry-Level 3D CAD for Electronics and Boxes?

Wirth's Law

New Member
One question I've been meaning answer over the past few months is how to get started miniaturizing old projects using 3D CAD software.

Not long prior to that, I was finishing up a filter project complete with circuit board, circular connectors, and panel-mount LEDs. It was functional, it was fairly water-tight, it looked reasonably cool; but it was BIG. This excess size was more of a painful design choice: where I opted to make the box over-sized and not risk having too little space for the internals once I closed the lid. Normally, to make sure things fit, I'll sketch things out on paper before-hand, but usually in 2D. And usually, that drawing changes way more often than I would like. It would nicer to have a CAD program do it.

Question: Can anyone recommend a free or inexpensive 3D CAD program for this type of dilemma?

I've seen Altium products do this, but the price is high compared to what I can get out of it as a beginner. If your suggestions can import .stp and .igs files; or function in either Windows or Linux, that's a nice bonus.


Well-Known Member
Most Helpful Member
BricsCAD doesn't look too bad and it's both W an L. My favorite package is Vectorworks which is Mac and PC. I used early versions that were cheap for acedamea.. It was so easy to get stuff done. I did only do 2D at the time.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/QCad is a 2D package for all three platforms.

On big problem for me would be a license manager server. None of the license managers seem to like Virtual machines. I would like to consider a system running a license manager. My server is Linux and ARM based, so the lm software won't run. The CAD programs don't like to support dongles.

I'm not sure if the CAD packages would run say under VNC on a separate box just for that?

I's like to see working in both environments. Virtual machines for say laptops would still be better with a license manager.


Well-Known Member
Most Helpful Member
If you're willing to be tied to a single fabricator you can use proprietary software such as that from ProtoCase or FrontPanelExpress.

eMachineShop also has software that is a bit more general that can do something similar. At the very least, even if you don't get it fabricated with their service, the eMachineShop is good for quick and dirty sketches that can be repeatedly updated and modified more easily than your hand-drawn 2D drawings. You could also print it out with dimensions in PDF and give it to another fabricator if you wanted to.

Wirth's Law

New Member
Interesting. This BricsCAD looks like a really good start. I think I'll start with that one; and try it for the trial 30 days and see if it works out pretty well.

It's funny you mentioned eMachineShop. I just tried the service for the first time less than a month ago, and it turned out really well. Very satisfactory! I'm still learning the basics, but I think as long as the tutorials are followed step by step, it's pretty easy to pick up.

[edit] Here's a quick photo of the finished eMachineShop tray. I made this tray to hold my keyboard and mouse as part of standing workstation project. (I know my lower back likes the difference). The whole thing is carbon steel with a protective finish and VESA mounting holes. The design is really basic, but I might write up a short walkthrough on the steps I used if anyone is interested.


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