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Cad for OS X (Macintosh Operating System)


In this article we explore CAD software for the Apple® Mac OSX as well as look at CAD for Mac that is not running OSX. We touch on the advantages and disadvantages of choosing a OSX for CAD usage and list the current CAD for OSX available in the market.


In the Past:

Traditionally CAD has been very strong in the Windows and Unix world, whilst the Mac OSX has been best handling the more pictorial realm of desk-top publishing and photo imaging. The processors used in OSX machines were designed around handling large image files that comprised mainly of bitmap data. Bitmaps are a series of dots that make up a photograph or two dimensional picture, they contain data such as hue, colour, light and saturation. CAD software however is mostly comprised of vector based information and the processors used in PC’s were particularly adept at handling vectors. Vectors are a way of describing the world as a series of points in space joined by linear entities. A line for instance is described as two end points and a definition in between those two points and an arc is described as four points, one in the centre, two at either end and another at some point on the circumference. The advantage of vectors over bitmaps is that vectors accurately describe the world in 3D with dimensional precision. Vectors can also be scaled up of down without compromising the appearance of the drawing or model. Bitmaps on the other hand simply end up with bigger dots when scaled up and jagged edges as the dots become more visible to the naked eye. They are also totally inaccurate and therefore cannot be relied upon when measuring or scaling.



In recent times the OSX of Macs Leopard® and Lion® and Microsoft’s Windows 7® are more similar than ever, and with the huge uptake of the Mac OS X in industry, more and more people have been asking for serious CAD for OS X systems.


Two things have happened quite recently in favour of taking OS X machines seriously for CAD work. Developers of many CAD software products have recognised the growth of the OSX market for CAD software and are responding by developing CAD for OSX (especially Leopard and now Lion) either from the ground-up or as an extension of their Windows based programs. Now that it is possible to run Windows effectively on the Mac at the same time as running the Mac OSX it opens up the ability to use existing Windows based CAD software on the OSX native machine.


So now let’s explore these two choices….


Dedicated CAD for OSX:

The choices of programs in this market are now much greater than in the past. Many of the past CAD programs for OSX have started out as simple and quite primitive 2D drafting tools like Mini-CAD that later changed its name to Vectorworks®. This CAD software is the most recognised CAD software in the OSX arena as MiniCAD was the only CAD software for the Mac for a very long time. VW is now a 3D tool as well and has several niche market areas that it seems to have grown into such as stage design, landscape and basic architectural design. Many traditional CAD for OSX products are not particularly intuitive or efficient software, relying on large numbers of icons and detailed dialogue boxes that take up a great deal of screen realestate and can be quite daunting. The double click single button mouse of the Apple® OSX of the past was probably responsible for this.


These days there is a flood of new mid-range CAD software for OSX.  Plug-in applications that work with most CAD for OSX machines are rare, so as long as you are only looking for basic drafting or 3D modelling and do not require more customised tools then working natively on a CAD for OSX machine will be perfectly suitable for you.


Here is a list of CAD software for the Mac OSX

There may other Mac OSX based software released shortly, however this is the current list.


ARES® – AutoCAD like CAD for the Mac OS X by Graebert It is also available for Linux and Windows and runs DWG natively

ArchiCAD® – is architectural CAD for OSX, purpose built architectural software that has been around for years and was the leading Architectural CAD software globally for some time. It is still one of the most popular architectural CAD for Mac programs by Graphisoft®

Argon® – another in the suite of similar CAD for OS X software by Ashlar Vellum

AutoCAD® - from Autodesk is the latest CAD software for OSX and like TurboCAD® has opted to leverage its name to gain rapid market acceptance. AutoCAD for the Mac OSX is a very different beast to AutoCAD for PC as they have opted for a very OSX like interface. One could say that AutoCAD for OSX is not really AutoCAD at all. It does however still natively use Real DWG® from Autodesk®.

You can create custom scripts, line types, hatch patterns, and command aliases, as well as AutoLISP and ObjectARX applications, in AutoCAD 2011 for OSX; however, there is no support for DCL in AutoLISP, nor is there access to some of the custom AutoCAD user interface controls in ObjectARX. Technologies specific to Windows, such as Visual Basic for Applications, OLE objects, and Windows Media Audio, are not supported in AutoCAD 2011 for Mac OSX.

The most commonly used functionality of AutoCAD is included in AutoCAD for OSX. However, there are a few commands that are not included in this first release, including layer filters, layer groups, and layer states; Sheet Set Manager; and DGN, PDF, and DWF underlay support.

BOA – French architectural CAD design software for the Mac OSX that allows users to design projects in 3D easily and obtain 2d drawings automatically.

Bonzai® – is a 3d sketch tool for OS X and Windows in the realm of SketchUp (only more powerful) and is a subset of Form-Z

Cobalt® - parametric 3D modelling, product design, development tool, for both Macintosh OS X and Microsoft Windows. It is by Ashlar-Vellum

CorelCAD® - a 2D and 3D CAD for OS X, again based on the ARES system from Graebert of Germany. We are not quite sure why Corel decided to enter the CAD market but can only assume it was to complement their suit of graphics products such as Corel Draw

DenebaCAD – is by Deneba Systems

DigiCAD 3D - for architects, surveyors or others involved in building and construction, by Interstudio

Interiors - 3D interior design software for OS X, by Microspot

DomusCAD - an architectural CAD program for OS X supporting QuickDraw 3D technology and plug-in renderers, by Interstudio

Draftsight® - CAD for the Apple Mac OSX from Dassault SolidWorks is also new in this arena and is built on the same platform as ARES CAD for OSX from German company, Graebert GmbH.

Form Z® – by AutoDeSys is powerful 3D modelling CAD for OS X machines. It has been around for a long time and has recently seen a revival due to modernization changes in the interface.

Graphite - 2D/3D drafting tool, running on Mac OS X or Windows, by Ashlar-Vellum

HighDesign - 2D CAD and illustration application by ilexsoft. Not really a CAD software but an illustration tool for OS X systems

iCAD Mac – OSX is a new player and one we haven’t been able to review as yet. It is by ProgeCAD as far as we can tell and looks by its promised advertising to be an interesting one to watch.

Live Interior 3D - interior design software for OS X. Very Illustrative with great rendering.

Maya® – 3D modelling, rendering and animation by AutoDesk

MacDraft - 2D software to produce simple sketches or complex drawings for mechanical, architectural and engineering designs and technical illustrations; supports AutoCAD files, by Microspot As the name suggests, very Mac OSX centric.

Nonio C - 3D land modelling for large projects and surveys that supports QuickDraw 3D for walkthroughs or flyovers in real time, plug-in renderers and drag and drop technology, by Interstudio. OS X only

PowerCADD - a 2D drafting package for the Macintosh or PowerPC that offers enhanced colour management capabilities and plug-ins for popular file formats, by Engineered Software

Pythagoras® - surveying and civil engineering 3D CAD software offers integrated calculation and drawing functions and runs on both Windows® and Macintosh OS X

RealCADD - 2D CAD for OS x program that works something like MacDraw but with more tools and is written by one person in France using RealBasic. Don’t get RealCADD (with a double ‘D’) confused with CAD International’s RealCAD software for Windows®. Different product, different company. (RealCAD with a single ‘D’ is a much more sophisticated tool with greater ability and ease of use)

Rhino3D - CAD for OS X is a full NURBS modelling product by McNeal. This OS X version of their most popular Rhinoceros 3D for Windows is a most powerful 3D modeller that is particularly good for complex surfaces and used extensively in the product design, industrial design, ship design jewellery design industries.

SketchUp® - isn’t quite CAD for OSX as it is more like a 3D sketch tool than a true CAD tool. It is from Google®, (Well they bought it from @last software) and is a valid 3D conceptual modeller and an excellent tool to use as a compliment to a 2D CAD system

Solid Thinking® – is advanced 3d solids modelling CAD for OS X by Altair Engineering and is also available for Windows®.

StreamCAD - easy translation to other languages, editable user interface, text and dialogs stored in XML files, data stored in XML and DWG/DXF files. This is a CAD for Mac OS X only product.

TurboCAD® - for OSX is a relatively new player using its well-known product brand name to slip into the CAD for OSX market but with a completely different CAD software and very Mac OSX oriented interface. Do not confuse TurboCAD® for Mac OSX with the software of the same name for Windows

VectorWorks® - full featured professional level CAD software, runs on Windows and Mac OS X, by Nemetschek

VersaCAD® – professional 2D drafting program that works well for mechanical drawings and runs on older Macs by Archway Systems.

Xenon®- associative 3D modelling software for both OS X and Windows by Ashlar-Vellum


What about running Windows alongside OS X?

Now this option is more viable than ever before... By installing an operating system sharing software like VM Ware® Fusion® or Parallels® and installing Windows 7 alongside your Mac OS X you will be able to install most Windows based CAD programs on your beloved Mac machine.


This opens up a big question then when it comes to which software to purchase? There are many more options available for the Windows environment than there are for the Mac OS X environment, most of which will be more specialised to specific industry needs. For instance the best landscape design software for the Mac is actually LANDWorksCAD® running on Windows 7®, so you can see how easily you could become confused?


If you find you are unsure which CAD software to purchase for your OS X machine, contact on of CAD International’s CAD gurus as they have no particular allegiance to any one CAD product and are expert in many areas of design software. They will ask you a series of questions to determine your needs and then make a recommendation to make your selection process much easier. You will be able to ask in Spanish or English natively or any language with conversion.





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