A man, facing away from the camera at an angle, looks at two computer screens. The first screen is on a laptop and shows a black-and-teal-blue design of a key-shaped machine component made up of an open circle attached to a rectangular piece. The second screen sits behind the laptop and is a much larger monitor. It shows a zoomed-in 3D look at the circular part of the component.
CAD — or computer-aided design — programs are used to create digital models of products. — Getty Images/Laurence Dutton

Imagine you have an idea for a new product. How do you get that idea out of your head and into the real world? You may start with a low-fidelity prototype using household materials. Eventually, however, you’ll want to design something that can be turned into a finished product.

This is where product design software can help. Luckily, you don’t need to be an expert to use some of these tools that can help bring your vision to life. Depending on what it is you’re designing, some of these tools are even free.

What is CAD software?

Before we get into some of the popular design software tools for beginners, there’s one key term that you should know: CAD. CAD stands for computer-aided design. CAD software enables you to create a model defined by geometrical parameters — e.g., a 3D model represented on a screen. CAD software also allows you to view and manipulate a model in different simulations and from different angles. CAD software is a great option for entrepreneurs that are designing a new or technical object, rather than a website or service.

With that in mind, here are a few different software options for beginners.

[Read more: How to Create a Product Prototype]

SketchUp

SketchUp has a range of different CAD software products, including a free version for personal use. It’s a very simple 3D modeling tool that’s completely web-based, so no need to download a piece of software. SketchUp offers advanced tools for architects and building designers, so there are plenty of bells and whistles embedded into the platform if you become more advanced.

eDrawings Viewer

eDrawings is a good tool for both beginners and professionals. It allows you to draw a 2D schematic and then preview your work in 3D. It also has an AR preview mode so that you can see what your prototype looks like in augmented reality. eDrawings focuses on simplicity, advertising that even those with no design skills can get started using their product quickly.

Fusion360

Fusion360 has a free 30-day trial if you want to try the tool before investing. This CAD software is unique in that unifies design, engineering, electronics, and manufacturing in one platform. It’s certainly more advanced than SketchUp, but for entrepreneurs working with a team of engineers and manufacturers, this platform has everything you need to get started.

CAD software enables you to create a model defined by geometrical parameters — e.g., a 3D model represented on a screen.

For working on a virtual product, like a website or an app, you may want to go a different route than a CAD solution.

Adobe XD

Adobe XD also offers a free trial for designing digital products. On Adobe XD, users can wireframe, animate and prototype quickly and easily. The platform is equipped to create websites, apps, voice products and more. And, since it syncs easily with other Adobe products, you can work collaboratively with freelancers to bring your vision to life.

Mockplus

Another tool for prototyping web-based products is Mockplus. Mockplus is great for beginners because it comes with ready-to-use templates for web and mobile, plus a library of colors, logos, icons and text styles from which to build your app or website prototype. It includes many other features that help manage the development process, including the ability to send your prototype straight to a developer who can bring your creation to life.

What to consider before using product design software

Virtually all product design software tools are going to come with a learning curve. And, if you’re going to be creating products regularly, it’s a good investment in time and money to learn the basics.

Many small business owners, however, only release a few new products every year. It may be more time and cost-effective to work with a professional product designer. Look to sites like Behance or Carbonmade to find 3D designers and UX designers with the right experience to translate your idea into a finished product. Or, try a course in design sketching. A pencil and paper may be all you need to create a usable product design to show investors or manufacturers.

[Read more: Thoughtful Design Drives Growth at Luxury Notebook Startup Appointed]

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Published October 13, 2021