How do I learn/practice CAD without solidworks?

Hello, I am a new member on my school’s robotics team, and I joined this part build season. During the season, I helped out where I could, but I was really interested in learning CAD, so in my free time I used the school computers and learnt as much as I could.

Now that there is a global pandemic and school is almost over for me, I have a lot of time, and would like to continue learning. However, my team uses solid-works, and there are only two computers at my house, both mac laptops, meaning I am unable to run solidworks.

Can anyone tell me some ways I could learn and practice CAD? I am currently thinking of using Onshape, but I am afraid that it is too different from solidworks and I would have to re-learn everything when I start using onshape and when I switch the solidworks next build season. If anyone has other alternatives (for a mac) as well as links to helpful online resources that would be great.

Thank you!


Onshape and solidworks have pretty similar assembly and sketching setups. The main differences would be the design style (Onshape heavily leans on multibody parts, SW doesn’t support it), I found them to be pretty similar.

Now, I’m not sure if you’ll want to use Solidworks after :laughing:


As much of a Solidworks shill I am, Onshape does give great tutorials. Sure the assembly controls are a bit wonky, but for learning the basics and getting a good foundational understanding, its a great piece of software.


To point all parametric feature based CAD programs are similar, being able to comfortably use sketches, extrusions, revolves, patterns, and other basics will transfer very easily to other programs. Main difference I’ve seen is in how you assemble or reference different parts together, but getting comfortable with making individual parts is a basic skill for all of them.

I wouldn’t worry too hard about having to relearn things, especially if you keep in communication with whoever spearheads your team’s CAD.


You could look into the possibility of dual-booting windows to run Solidworks.


If you want to run solidworks just use bootcamp which is a built in way to dual boot. The setup is simple and runs very well.

However I’m an onshape shill so I would say use onshape and convince your team to switch :crazy_face:

I’d also recommend learning OnShape. Two years ago my team switched from SolidWorks to OnShape, and all of us (from brand new CADers to seniors with three years experience to mentors who’ve used SolidWorks for nearly 10 years) found it pretty easy to make the switch; I assume it would be just as easy to switch in the other direction. Other than the way assembly mates work, and a few features OnShape is missing, they’re very similar. And CAD software are a lot like programming languages; if you develop a good understanding of the underlying principles, it’s not too hard to pick up a new one.

As far as resources, I honestly recommend the tutorials on Onshape’s website very highly.

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If you are starting out with CAD, I would say that what software you use now isn’t super critical. Others have given excellent advice on setting up Solidworks on Mac and/or using OnShape. Having the knowledge on different design principles and experience applying them will help you when you start CADing for your team.

One source of learning CAD itself is a CAD challenge. These are great if you are looking to learn more techniques with CAD that’ll help you use the software more efficiently. Moving towards design and theory is where the fun begins. Learn more about simple machines, transmission styles, mechanism designs, design choices, etc. to help you get a better picture of how things are done. Behind the Bumpers is a great resource for FRC applications, as it gives you a chance to see how other teams designed parts of their robot to complete the game.

I gotta jump on the Onshape wagon. I use Inventor at work, but I’ve been learning tricks in Onshape tutorials that I can use in Inventor. Between Onshape, Inventor, and Solidworks, the primary difference is where the buttons are located.

On the computer topic: If you’re getting serious about doing CAD at home, you may want to get a Windows computer with decent specs. Other than Onshape and possibly Fusion 360, I can’t think of a single CAD program that will work on a Mac without a dual-boot.

Our team switched to OnShape last year mainly due to the cloud based storage. We transferred our build space from a Community College Tech Center to a Design and Build Manufacturing Facility. Our CAD team did the transaction pretty well. There were a few hold outs to Solidworks that made integration difficult. I never used Solidworks or OnShape for any team related work.

On a personal note I just signed up for OnShape a few nights ago and printed off 10 sheets of parts (very simple) needed for a new project. I am not a CAD expert and have had some Solidworks training. I find OnShape very easy to use. My prior “training” has been with basic architectural design software, designing simple structures or single elevations of casework (cabinets).

I look forward to looking at the tutorials to increase my knowledge of OnShape.

A great free CAD software is a student licence of fusion 360. It works on Mac, and is most importantly free for students. Just fill out the info and you’ll have a free three year licence. its very easy to get the hang of, while still being able to go in depth and make a finished product. You can export your models to be 3d printed or you can also write a CAM program to mill out your part. if you want in depth tutorials on how to CAD and CAM go to youtube and search for “titans of cnc” hell show you the basics of modeling and most of what you need for CAM.

We moved from Solidworks to Inventor in my freshman year, and I can say that most of the thinking that comes with that move transferred over well. Obviously, it’s a different setup, but the basics of sketching, extruding, revolving, etc I think will all transfer, so I wouldn’t worry too much not having the same program.

In this vein, I know that Inventor can be downloaded for free by students, but I’ve seen a lot of other people use OnShape, which I have never used, but I’ve heard it is similar to Solidworks.

All three are pretty similar. Onshape can be set up to use Inventor or Solidworks controls.

Source: I’ve used all three within the last three years.

Back when I first learned Solidworks, I taught myself using knowledge I picked up from Inventor 6 and 8 (and was able to teach a couple other college freshmen who didn’t know CAD enough to get started). Used that through college. Learned Inventor right back a couple years back when the startup I work at made the same move you guys did. Now I’m learning Onshape for robotics.


Learn OnShape with the understanding that you’re looking for generalized CAD knowledge anyways at this point. You’re going to need to learn a new CAD package further in your career if you go this route anyways. In my 5-year tenure of really knowing CAD, I’ve seriously used NX, Creo, SOLIDWORKS, OnShape, and Inventor. Some have alien controls and different preferred paradigms but they all make pretty shapes.

Yes it does. Don’t tick ‘merge body’ so often. They just don’t become flexible in assemblies. Derived parts also exist.

Further evidence that all CAD is the same. It’s like programming language holy wars.


Solidworks absolutely does support multi-body parts, it’s just that those parts stay fixed relative to each other. Yes, it is a different design style, requiring a bit more back-and-forth between parts and assemblies to make sure features line up.

You can design in a similar way to onshape with a derived part with skeleton planes, sketches and features that is inserted into every part, but that can be pretty cumbersome. I have done this on a bunch of projects at work that needed a LOT of parts to have related geometry that I didn’t want to go in and edit on every single part and each part needed to move in the assembly.

As per the original question, solidworks and onshape are incredibly similar. You may get a bit spoiled by some of the features of onshape, specifically that of multi-part (part studio in onshape lingo) modeling, and you may miss some of the really useful features (assembly mirrors (this will be huge)) but you will not be doing yourself any kind of disservice by using really any mainstream CAD program. Fusion and Onshape are both fantastic programs.

In the bigger picture just jump in headlong and learn as much as you can about as many programs as you can, not just for design, but career and life in general. It may start with CAD, but this also includes photo editing, video editing, animation, etc. You may be hired for your CAD skills, but really impress someone when you make a really cool animation of the system you are trying to design so your peers and customers can understand it better.

Compare it to knowing multiple programming languages; it is never a bad thing to know multiple programs.

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Just want to call this out for clarity: all the software mentioned in this thread (Onshape, Solidworks, Fusion) so far is free to students (and mentors). Free is pretty much the base requirement to even be discussed on an FRC team in my experience.

Also, +1 for Onshape. Great software for all the reasons people have mentioned. The flexible multi-part flow is probably my favorite way of working with FRC-scale designs.

I was just working with something like that in Inventor yesterday. The biggest issue is that for a lot of the parts I deal with, they need to have different materials in the same unit. So I’ll design the unit as a single part, then do a component breakout (which, in Inventor, will assemble them for you with all parts grounded), then go through and properly set everything. It’s a pain when you need to edit later or make a major design change (which is what I had to deal with yesterday!) on a large assembly/part.

For working on your OWN I would say Fusion 360 hands down over Onshape.

Onshape does have the best tutorials I’ve seen for quickly getting into CAD and up to intermediate stuff.
Fusion 360 does have a bit more of a learning curve, but it is by far the most capable of the free software to hobbiests.

Fusion has CAD, renderings, simulation, sculpt, and CAM built in.

We use OS, but that is because it is easier to get the buy in and students can work from anywhere. For my own projects, if they’re complicated I pull out Fusion almost every time.

You can do virtually the same thing in solidworks as well, but similarly it is a pain. You basically save out bodies into individual parts. You can make it so that the saved out bodies will update relative to the base fixed part as well with configurations. I’m doing that on a job right now actually, but it’s still an absolute pain.

Honestly, the work flow of onshape regarding part studios is so much better. Head and shoulders above most other programs, so much so I hope other competitors take note and follow suit because it’s really difficult going back to the old way.


Yeah I’ll take Onshape for pure modeling any day, but for rendering and CAM, Fusion is fantastic. Fortunately they’re both free, and it isn’t too hard to import Onshape documents into Fusion.