Starting CAD

How do I get started on CAD at home now that I have time. Does how much would it cost to download and what are some good tutorials to do to learn it?

Autodesk offers student licenses for free for Inventor and Fusion and TFI has great tutorial videos:


It depends…

Trial versions and educational versions tend to be free, including through FRC. Most programs will have their training included.

First question: What does you team use for a CAD program? If they don’t, what about your school?

Also: CAD is not a single program. Here’s a list…
Autodesk Inventor
Autodesk Fusion
Google Sketchup

The last three are either really minor or not recommended for FRC use, BTW. Most FRC teams use one (or more) of the top 5. Your school will likely use an Autodesk product (if they have CAD at all) but might use Solidworks.

If I were you I’d find out what either the team, the school, or your technical mentors use to CAD and learn that, as you’ll have assistance available.



Our team doesnt use cad yet (I wanted to learn so I could propose the idea for a later year) but our school uses autodesk inventor. Thanks.

Then I’d use Inventor or Fusion.

I’d also note that Solidworks can be learned from Inventor–personal experience. Fusion isn’t dissimilar to Inventor.

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Personally, I would recommend OnShape, particularly if you don’t have any mentors with prior CAD experience. The reason for this would be that you don’t also have to deal with cloud storage solutions, downloads, licenses, etc while also trying to figure out CAD.

(I say this as a die-hard Solidworks user, though).


I would have to agree with @ClayTownR on this one. Onshape is great because you don’t have to actually download it and it is easy for multiple students to collaborate on a single project. My next recommendation would be Fusion 360, which is similar to Onshape.


I third onshape. The greatest things about onshape is that you dont need a particularly good computer to run it (nothing fancy at least), requires no downloading, multiple people can work on a document at once, and it has a ton of FRC-specific featurescripts that make designing robots very easy. There is an onshape class going on right now on zoom, so if you are interested in learning you can start with the class (it has been great so far). Onshape for FRC 101 - Virtual Course Interest Form


I definitely agree that Onshape is a great choice, and I would like to add that Onshape has their online learning center. Onshape is very similar to Google docs, but for CAD, in the sense that collaboration is easy. Also, it’s incredibly easy to access mkcad, which I have found extremely helpful.


If you go with Inventor (which I personally use) then you should definitely try GrabCAD for file sharing, it’s pretty easy to share files through it as long as you understand pushing and pulling.


Since we use autodesk at my school I’ll probably go with that but I’ll talk to the rest of my team about Onshape.

Out team uses OnShape. We are currently running an outreach event called TechnoGirls where we are teaching grades 5-10 female students how to design a mini robot. the CAD portion uses onShape and is a pretty easy way to get familiar with onShape.


I’ll add to the Onshape suggestion. I am a mentor that has used solidworks and Onshape in the past. The point about Onshape working on lower resource computers and being cloud based has been very important to our team. Also the phone app has been very good for sharing ideas and updates as well as measuring designs during the design/build season. I would recommend completing the online tutorials up through assemblies before starting design work.


Fusion is also cloud based

Keep in mind Onshape can run on any computer with a browser. You dont need to worry about trying to get school admins to download it or update it which was a huge plus for us. In addition to this it can run on basically any computer, even chromebooks. This means even students with older computers can CAD.


+1 for Autodesk products

I got Fusion, Inventor, Alias (Car styling), and Revit (architecture) for free as a student.

But for robotics I use Inventor. Fusion sometimes has issues with larger robot sized assemblies.

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I recommend the best way to start CAD is just by jumping in. Mess around with the tools and functionality to get a basic understanding, and then move into more FRC focused areas. When I started I found that most online tutorials were in Solidworks, so I made a few videos on FRC related CAD using inventor (


My experience with Solidworks is that it’s mostly just a pile of individual tools (Extrude, revolve, cut, etc…) to use in sequence, and I assume other cad programs aren’t that different. So I’d say learn each tool individually first with like youtubes “how to” videos. That way you can do projects as you go and over time learn the entire programs toolbox. You’re probably not going to need to know how to do everything single tool for your first projects so you can skip over tools that aren’t as relevant for your purposes.

I personally learned solidworks through good old trial and error and later with Solidprofessor ( which my team got for free I believe through the virtual kit of parts. Most of the solidprof courses seem to be solidworks (perfect for me) but there are some fusion and inventor courses. But I’ve learned just as much from starting projects like making 3d printables mounts for our teams RoboRios and radios.

Oh, and use grab cad! It’s amazing. Also if you want some fun dowload an entire frc robot and make your own assembly of the thing. Or of course just make a new robot and start from scratch!

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I’ve been using Solidworks regularly for about 15 years now, for school, robotics, and work. It’s a good piece of software that strikes a balance between depth of features and user friendliness. My college used Inventor which I hated. It felt like moving from Lego to Megablocks; just a clumsier experience all around, but maybe it was just my bias as an experienced Solidworks user.

If you don’t have any mentors with CAD experience though, I would also cast my vote for Onshape. It’s got a shallower learning curve than Solidworks and a truly great feature set. In addition to all of the benefits listed already, it’s free for educational use and the signup is really painless.