OpenSCAD vs. FreeCAD - Software Comparison
Learn more about each software and when its best to use each one.
FreeCAD and OpenSCAD are both open-source CAD (computer-aided design) packages but they work very differently. FreeCAD is designed to be a free alternative to commercial CAD packages and offers many of the same features. While FreeCAD can be more difficult to use than some, it is significantly more accessible than OpenSCAD. OpenSCAD is designed as a CAD package for programmers and relies on a C++ script to generate 3D shapes. As such, it comes with limitations and isn’t good for creating complex multi-part assemblies. However, it is very useful for generating models that are heavily parameter driven. In this case, parameterization means that they can be easily described and modified by altering parameter values stored as variables.
This article will explore the differences between OpenSCAD vs FreeCAD in terms of application stability, use cases, price, customer support, user experience, and community.
What Is OpenSCAD?
OpenSCAD is a free-to-use open-source CAD package that bills itself as “the programmers' Solid 3D CAM Modeler.” This means that CAD models are not interactively created as is common practice with all other CAD packages, FreeCAD included. The 3D models in OpenSCAD are described in a programming script that is then compiled into a 3D model. As such, you must have at least a basic understanding of programming concepts to effectively use OpenSCAD. This approach may seem cumbersome but it allows users 100% control over how the model is created and displayed. It is by far the most lightweight method of creating a CAD model. OpenSCAD can generate models using two techniques: constructive solid geometry and extrusion. The extrusion technique can take 2D profiles and extrude them into 3D models.
What Is FreeCAD?
FreeCAD is an open-source CAD package that makes use of parametric techniques. In CAD, parametric means that the model can be edited by changing dimensions without having to recreate the whole model every time. FreeCAD is open-source and completely free to use.
FreeCAD is more than just a CAD package; it also includes some CAE (computer-aided engineering) functionality such as FEA (finite element analysis) and CFD (computational fluid dynamics). It must be noted that the CFD module is considered experimental. FreeCAD also has limited CAM (computer-aided manufacturing) features for preparing parts for CNC (computer numerical control) machining.
OpenSCAD vs. FreeCAD - Use Cases and Applications
Despite its open-source nature, FreeCAD has most of the basic modeling features you’ll see in more advanced CAD packages. It is specifically useful for the mechanical design of complex machine assemblies and individual components. FreeCAD also has an architectural module that allows you to create architectural designs with relative ease. Finally, FreeCAD boasts a robotic simulation module that can be used to simulate the motion of systems like robotic arms.
OpenSCAD, on the other hand, has a more limited set of use cases due to its complex operation. However, it excels in applications where you need multiple configurations of a design. For example, it would be easy to use OpenSCAD to generate a thousand different theoretical versions of a gear wheel. Each configuration can be created by changing a few parameters. 3D models that are described by complex mathematical formulations can be created and modified programmatically. In some cases, this is easier than trying to directly model it in a commercial CAD package. OpenSCAD is also used to create parts for 3D printing.
OpenSCAD vs. FreeCAD - System Requirements
FreeCAD and OpenSCAD are lightweight applications that can run on relatively low-power systems. For example, your GPU needs only support OpenGL in order to run FreeCAD. OpenSCAD is even more lightweight as it generates models using code alone. Table 1 below indicates the recommended system requirements for OpenSCAD and FreeCAD:
Apple® Microsoft® Ubuntu®
Apple® Microsoft® Ubuntu®
64 Bit Processor (Does not support parallel processing)
64 Bit Processor (Does not support parallel processing)
> 8 GB
> 8 GB
1920 x 1080
1920 x 1080 or Greater
> 1 GB (File size < 50 mB)
> 2 GB
What Is the Operating System for OpenSCAD and FreeCAD?
FreeCAD and OpenSCAD can run on Microsoft Windows, Ubuntu, and macOS.
What Are the Minimum Memory Requirements for OpenSCAD and FreeCAD?
FreeCAD and OpenSCAD are both extremely lightweight. Both can easily run on 4 GB of RAM. Most modern PCs and laptops already contain more than 4 GB.
What Are the Supporting Files Formats of OpenSCAD and FreeCAD?
Both FreeCAD and OpenSCAD are open-source software packages and can work with most open CAD formats. However, they do not support any proprietary formats from other applications. Table 2 below compares the file formats supported by OpenSCAD vs FreeCAD:
OpenSCAD vs. FreeCAD - User Experience
FreeCAD does not have a modern, polished user interface. However, all the functions and tools are easy to find. OpenSCAD users, on the other hand, write code into a text editor to create their models. It has a viewing area where the 3D model is rendered after compiling the code. Some basic manipulation tools like zooming, rotating, and changing the view are available. Finally, a console underneath the rendering area displays feedback when compiling the code.
Learning Curve of OpenSCAD and FreeCAD
FreeCAD can be challenging to learn at first, especially if you’re used to commercial CAD packages like Fusion 360®. OpenSCAD has an even steeper learning curve that requires some basic programming knowledge.
Is OpenSCAD Easier to Learn and Use Than FreeCAD?
No, OpenSCAD is more difficult for most people to learn than FreeCAD. OpenSCAD not only requires an understanding of 3D modeling techniques but also basic programming since the models are built programmatically.
OpenSCAD vs. FreeCAD - Application Stability
OpenSCAD and FreeCAD are both open-source systems, so they do not have dedicated support teams like those available for commercial CAD packages. However, the open nature of the codebase means that bugs get fixed relatively quickly. If you’re so inclined, you can attempt to fix the bug yourself by jumping into the codebase.
OpenSCAD vs. FreeCAD - Customer Support
FreeCAD and OpenSCAD are not commercial products, so they don’t have any formal customer support. However, they both have forums where you can ask questions of other, more experienced users.
OpenSCAD vs. FreeCAD - Community
OpenSCAD and FreeCAD have active communities due to their open-source nature. However, these CAD packages are not as popular as their commercial alternatives, so their communities are relatively small. These are, after all, niche softwares. Both FreeCAD and OpenSCAD have active official forums and various social media accounts where users can ask for assistance.
OpenSCAD vs. FreeCAD - Price
FreeCAD is completely free to use and even modify — the source code is available under an LGPL-2.0 License which means it is free for commercial use. OpenSCAD is released under a General Public License V2. The difference between GPL and LGPL is that the latter allows a user to use the source code of the LGPL software and does not have to release the source code of their entire project. A GPL license basically requires any project that makes use of its source code to also be completely open-source.
Other Alternatives to OpenSCAD and FreeCAD
OpenSCAD and FreeCAD are both champions of the open-source CAD movement and there are not really any good open-source alternatives. However, if you’re willing to go down the commercial route, Fusion 360® is a good alternative. Fusion 360® has many different packages, so one is sure to fit your requirements.
This article presented OpenSCAD and FreeCAD, explained what they are, and discussed the comparisons between each software. To learn more about 3D printing software, contact a Xometry representative.
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Copyright and Trademark Notices
- Fusion 360® is a trademark of Autodesk, Inc.
- Windows® is a trademark of Microsoft corporation
- macOS® is a trademark of Apple Inc.
- Ubuntu® is a trademark of Canonical Ltd.
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