The CAD marketplace is getting very busy and it's becoming increasingly difficult to know which program is best for you. Here's how Inventor, Inventor LT, Fusion 360 and Solidworks compare.
Autodesk has built a sound reputation as the industry leaders in CAD software. Since the first AutoCAD was released in 1982, the company has gone on to develop a suite of design software that has often been the first choice for designers, engineers, architects and a myriad of other professionals. Fast forward to the present day and Autodesk has kept pace with changing industries and new technology to provide software that helps users from the earliest stages of design through to the final product.
Inventor was introduced in 1999 as a CAD application for creating 3D prototypes in product development. Autodesk released Inventor LT, the lighter, streamlined version of Inventor in 2007. Fusion 360 hit the market in 2013 and was the first 3D CAD tool of its kind, offering users cloud storage as a means to improve access, collaborative projects and interoperability across multiple systems. While Autodesk's products often complement each other, Solidworks directly competes.
Solidworks has three tiers; standard, professional, and premium, which are often seen as competing alternatives to Autodesk programs. Of course, every CAD user cites the software they use as the best. There's a lot of competition in the CAD market, and it can often be overwhelming trying to determine which software is best for your needs. Redstack is here to help - let's introduce each option for those unfamiliar, and take a closer look at how these programs compare to one another.
Introducing the key players
Due to Fusion 360's cloud storage capabilities, it can run smoothly on both macOS and Windows, offering the exact same functionality on both operating systems. Cloud support also allows for easy storage of files, and can be accessed from multiple machines and shared between any number of collaborators. Fusion 360 features a highly intuitive user interface with familiar Autodesk hot keys and a condensed toolbar where each icon offers a range of tools. This toolbox can also be customised through a command search feature. Fusion 360 also offers a robust suite of modelling tools and the software can easily handle multiple parts and components for assembly in a single project, and also import and export a huge range of file types.
This aircraft concept dubbed "The Sandpiper" by Christian Grajewski is a great example of what can be acheived with Autodesk Fusion 360.
A post shared by Autodesk Fusion 360 (@adskfusion360) on Jul 31, 2017 at 8:11am PDT
Inventor LT is the streamlined version of Inventor that offers the basic features of its professional counterpart in a smaller package. This program has a much smaller learning curve than other CAD programs and as such it's relatively easy to pick up and offers a great solution for fledgling designers looking to employ CAD in their work. Inventor LT is used best for designing and creating 3D parts, as well as adding these into 2D workflows using part-level parametric modelling. This program can also produce DWG drawings for fabrication. Similarly to Fusion 360, the user interface is highly intuitive and those with experience in Autodesk products will have no trouble adapting. With direct editing tools and freeform drawing capabilities, this is a highly flexible tool ideal for smaller projects, especially given its interoperability with AutoCAD LT. These products are thankfully bundled together in the AutoCAD Inventor LT Suite.
The full professional version of Inventor offers the same features as Inventor LT, plus a lot more. First and foremost, Inventor is extremely flexible in terms of design approach, offering three different modes: Freeform, parametric and direct. This allows users a greater array of tools to complete a project to the highest quality with minimal stress. While Inventor LT's focus is limited to parts and component design, Inventor Professional allows you to aggregate components into one file to visualise product assembly, as well as offering photorealistic rendering.
As with the previously discussed Autodesk products, the interface here is very intuitive - however Inventor also allows a huge amount of customisation. You can set up a configurator for your designs without having specialist programming knowledge by using your defined parameters in conjunction with snippets of code that you can easily drag and drop to set up rules and logic. This can save designers a massive amount of time. Inventor can also import and export virtually any CAD file while maintaining essential associative links.
Solidworks is perhaps best compared to Inventor Professional in terms of how it relates to Autodesk products. This software is capable of 3D part and assembly modelling as well as 2D drawings. The premium version has advanced rendering tools as well as a host of other features. Solidworks offers a fully customisable keyboard, meaning you can program shortcuts and hot keys, coupled with the programmable mouse gestures that allow the interface to be shaped to user's intent. With features like Insta3D (Solidworks version of Autodesk's push/pull modelling feature) and filleting tools there is a lot you can do here. Solidworks' parts referencing process can be tricky in top-down assembly projects, however the tools to do the job are all there. Solidworks runs on Windows only, so any macOS users may have to choose an alternative.
How do these programs stack up against each other?
Inventor vs. Fusion 360
Firstly there are some cosmetic differences between these two programs. Fusion 360 is sleek and modern, while in comparison Inventor has more of a complex, industrial focused design, while both utilise a marking menu and context sensitive commands. Fusion 360 offers less in the way of diverse 3D modelling tools, while Inventor's assembly capabilities outperform Fusion 360's. The assembly mode in Fusion 360 allows all parts to be built in the same environment, while Inventor references components for assembly. Fusion 360 is somewhat limited in drawing tools as it relates to the Inventor.
Both of these programs have similar simulation capabilities, and they also feature different (though functionally equivalent) rendering effects. Fusion 360's cloud storage capabilities will be a huge drawcard for those who work collaboratively, but the same service is available for Inventor with the A360 upgrade. These two CAD tools don't compete as much as they service different sides of the industry. Inventor is far better suited to engineering or mechanical applications, while Fusion 360 is better suited to consumer product design. There are many designers who use both for their different features, which is why Autodesk compiled the Product Design Collection, which includes both Inventor Professional and Fusion 360, as well as AutoCAD and a number of other great features.
Inventor vs. Solidworks
While Solidworks gets points for the high level of customisation available in it's user interface, and does feature of host of good design tools, there is simply so much that it lacks in comparison to Inventor. Firstly, Inventor has a hybrid modelling feature that uses parametric and direct modellers, however you can use parametrics to define the parameters of your direct modelling. Inventor's highly flexible modelling is based on T-Splines and allows you infinite sculpting options without sacrificing surface continuity. Inventor also features a design automation tool that can essentially automate anything in 3D modelling or 2D drawing.
Solidworks features an add-on that can do this, however it is still relatively limited compared to Inventor. Finally, Inventor can produce both 3D electrical harness design as well as synchronising 2D schematic drawings (and vice versa) that automatically update with changes made in either environment. While Solidworks Premium, the uppermost iteration of the software can also design 3D electrical harnesses, Solidworks ultimately has quite a way to go to catch up to Inventor Professional. We've gone into a bit more detail on how Inventor and Solidworks compare right here.
Inventor vs. Inventor LT
As previously mentioned, Inventor LT is merely a cut down version of Inventor Professional. The primary difference is that the aptly titled Professional features tools that are professional grade. These include capabilities for assembly that allow you build functioning mechanical designs, as well as providing the tools you need for analysis. Additional design features include sheet metal, electrical systems, tubes and pipes, as well as the ability to produce documentation. Inventor Professional also allows users to dynamically simulate real world conditions to ensure their designs will meet the quality the final product demands. Inventor LT is by no means an ill-equipped CAD solution, however it is better suited to smaller, simpler projects.
Fusion 360 vs. Solidworks
Comparing Fusion 360 to Solidworks is a bit trickier. Solidworks ultimately offers more tools for mechanical design, but because Fusion 360 allows users a great deal of flexibility as well as having a well-developed, versatile suite of tools, it does compete with Solidworks. There is no shortage of op-ed pieces online discussing how the two compare, and there is a large contingent of designers that have made the jump from Solidworks to Fusion 360 in the last few years.
Ultimately it comes down to what you are using the program for. Many designers prefer the modelling capabilities of Fusion 360, while others believe that Solidworks provides a better framework for complex top-down assemblies. Those that find Fusion 360 doesn't quite have the capabilities they require would likely find something more robust like Solidworks or Inventor Professional to be more than adequate. It should be noted though, that the transition from Fusion 360 to Inventor is far easier adjustment to make than moving from Fusion 360 to Solidworks. For a more in depth discussion of Fusion 360 and Solidworks, check out our recent comparison.
Fusion 360 vs. Inventor LT
Inventor LT comes up somewhat short of Fusion 360. While Inventor LT is fantastic for 3D part modelling and 2D documentation, Fusion 360 ultimately offers users greater flexibility and a better experience when it comes to sculpting unique projects. Fusion 360's cloud capabilities, rendering ability, and assembly feature bring it to the front of this race. As discussed in our comparison of Inventor Professional and Fusion 360, these programs service different professional disciplines and as such can not be compared easily.
Inventor LT vs. Solidworks
Though Inventor Professional generally outperforms Solidworks, the same can't quite be said for Inventor LT. The key difference that makes Solidworks come in ahead of Inventor LT is its assembly capabilities. Solidworks ultimately has more to offer than Inventor LT and as such it's far more appropriate to compare it with Inventor Professional, which, as previously stated, provides designers with better tools to get the job done.
Get it all in the Autodesk Product Design and Manufacturing Collection
One of the big advantages of Autodesk software over competing options like Solidworks is the full breadth of interoperable technology. With software ranging from AutoCAD and Inventor for 2D and 3D design through to CAM, simulation, data management and visualisation solutions, Autodesk delivers software that enables you to put an entire workflow together. With the Autodesk Product design and Manufacturing Collection, you can get all of this one convenient and affordable package. Autodesk also offers flexible subscription options, allowing you to subscribe for 1 month, 3 months, 12 months, 2 years or 3 years.