If you’re looking to improve your skills with 3D computer-aided design (CAD), but your budget can’t afford some of the individual license packages available, then the next best thing is to utilize the free trial versions available. Trial software provides users a way to test out a digital program product for free without any financial commitment up front. After a set time period, the program is coded to block any further use until the user pays the requisite cost for the license, at which point the program is then made fully available again. Some trial versions of software simply provide everything and then shut off after a given time window. Others provide some of the basic features but not a fully-loaded program, although if the license is purchased all the tools turn on and are available without having to download a lot more data all over again.
The Basic Play on Trial Software
The trick to using trial software is understanding the timing of the window provided and knowing when it’s time to drop the old trial copy and switch to a new one. In some cases the situation may be as simple as just uninstalling the program and installing it all over again. However, programmers are not dumb, and they can easily code in a feature that leaves a registry trail in your computer’s operating system. It works similar to a cookie in an Internet browser, essentially telling the program when it is installed again a copy already existed. In other cases, the program communicates with home base over the Internet, and a database of usage is kept there. So if you register your name as a user, it confirms a second use and blocks the trial feature as well. Which program does what is the sort of thing a user would just have to find out through trial and error and then work through the challenge as it occurs. Alternatively, one could look or ask on heavily used tech forums like Reddit or similar which programs offer what in terms of trial benefits and restrictions. That could be faster research after a bit of reading and sleuthing.
Here are some of the big names and the trial version offers they make:
- Autodesk – This jumbo player in the CAD market is heavily used by many employers and offers a trial window for 30 days. A user has to download the AutoCAD software versus use it in the cloud, which will take some space on the user’s computer. And, if you just want to view CAD files to study how they look, Autodesk provides a free viewer that is no cost at all.
- Siemens – Siemen NX CAD is also available for 30 days as a free trial, and it doesn’t require a download. The access is provided over an Internet portal, so major browsers are all a person needs (Chrome, Safari, Edge and Firefox are recommended).
- TurboCAD – TurboCAD is a bit stingier, only giving a user 15 days for a trial window. However, they do make all of their products available as a trial version instead of just giving people a bare-bones version. So, in theory, one could squeeze at least 45 days of use by bouncing from TurboCAD Platinum, to TurboCAD Premium, to TurboCAD Deluxe. And one could get yet another 15 days after that with a trial of DesignCAD as well.
See If Your Library Can Help
Bigger city libraries get a lot of digital resources now where users can take advantage of free licenses. The limitation is one has to be at the library to use them or use your library account. However, software is becoming part of literacy and libraries are expanding their options, they just don’t market them very well. Poke around with your local library and see what they have for free access. If they don’t, talk to the library manager and make a suggestion. If they know there is a demand, libraries can access free training resources consumers can’t otherwise get without a cost. They can always arrange to get the free software resource if it’s not a big challenge. That’s basically one of the functions of a library in the first place.
Go With Older Versions
There is also the option that a user could get an older copy of a professional CAD package for cheap. Multiple web resources have plenty of older software packages needing to be unloaded that can work just as well as the latest version in terms of learning advanced CAD. No, it won’t be the bells and whistles of the 2020 version of the program, but it will be just as good in terms of output and advanced tools, at least in terms of the principles that apply. Good places to look for older software copies can include eBay, used software sellers, surplus lots from commercial liquidators, Craigslist, and similar. These sources do take a bit of looking, so while you’re enjoying one of trials above just keep checking eBay for example and snap up a deal when it appears.
Get the College Version
Given how many college classes are now online and available through distance learning in 2020, you may be better off getting a CAD class at a local community college and utilizing your student status to buy a heavily discounted CAD license for a full program. The typical 3-unit class only costs about $140, which is far less than most CAD programs, and much of the college software these days is practically made available for free as long as you have student status. Granted, it will be a cloud version probably, but it’s a great way to learn advanced CAD on the cheap. Plus, you get usable credit for the class you complete, which you can show employers to verify your training.