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Our architecture software picks for 2024

By: DAN KENITZ | Fact Checked By: JAMIE OSTROE | Updated: December 19, 2023

We started with an extensive list of 59 potential vendors before whittling it down to 15 finalists—at which point we compared key points like customer service, brand reputation, available features, and the transparency of each offering’s pricing. To find out more, view our methodology and see how we codified these features into comparable numbers.

Our Top Picks

  1. Blender – Best Free Architecture Software
  2. AutoCAD – Best 3D Architecture Software for Engineers
  3. Lumion – Best for Visual Design Software for Architects
  4. Archicad – Best Home Architecture Software
  5. SketchUp – Best Beginner Architecture Design Software

Architecture Software Reviews

Your job as an architect is to deliver a great series of designs for your clients. But even before that happens, you need a platform for 3D renderings, 2D drawings, or data visualization so you can “preview” a site before it’s ever built. From wowing the client to completing the specifications of a project, design software for architects can streamline the entire process. But that still leaves one question: what is the architecture design software that truly delivers? Below, we’ll run through a list of our favorites.

blender logo

Blender – Best Free Architecture Software

Free. It’s a word that just has a ring to it, doesn’t it? The appeal of Blender, however, isn’t just that it’s free—it’s that it’s a surprisingly well-reputed and robust option. As open source rendering software, it may not be the complete architectural solution a company needs—but it sure is an affordable way to get started.

We find it best for showing off renderings in an agency-based situation, such as presenting plans for potential clients. Its lack of mobile features mean you’ll be using it at the office or at a desktop rather than sharing on the phone.

One thing we liked: its active online community (it’s free, after all) made it easy to find resources on using Blender.

  • Robust design features
  • Frequent updates from active community
  • Easy to import visual “objects”
  • Lack of project management features
  • Steep learning curve

Blender features:

  • 3D Modeling – People love the 3D modeling capabilities of Blender, including easy-to-import visual objects that give your projects a custom feel. There is a steep learning curve here, but since it’s free—hey, you’ve got time.
  • Animation – Bring your renderings to life—make candles flicker, make grass seem to wave in the wind. Animation in Blender is especially good at lighting, which many people found made scenes come to life beyond your basic “free architecture software” use.
  • 2D Drawing – Although the 3D modeling and animation have enough to keep you occupied, there are plenty of 2D elements as well, which is great for quick sketches and blueprint planning.

What markets does Blender serve?

Blender is great for any small-to-medium-sized business that wants to create 3D renderings that could win jobs or impress clients. Although it’s not explicitly targeted at new users, its free features make it a great open source option for anyone trying to learn architecture software.

autocad logo

AutoCAD – Best 3D Architecture Software for Engineers

Architecture isn’t all about creativity and bringing designs to life in 3D rendering. It’s also about handing off great designs to the engineers.

Enter AutoCAD, one of the most complete architectural CAD software offerings on our list—and a great option for anyone focused on the engineering aspect of design.

AutoCAD offers all sorts of rich compliance features that help you sort out the specifics of the building you’re creating, which is great for turning visions into ironclad plans.

  • Robust data exchange system
  • Electrical engineering features
  • Helps preview regulation compliance
  • Great for weighing compliance needs
  • 3D designs not as creative
  • Interface is bare-bones

AutoCAD features:

  • 2D Drawing – The 2D drawing features might not be the most exciting feature, but they’re robust enough to weigh compliance needs—ultimately spitting out designs that are more usable than many other options on this list.
  • Animation – Although users didn’t rate the animation for AutoCAD quite as well as they did for, say, Blender, the features are still present. Just don’t anticipate animating a “Pixar”-quality movie any time soon.
  • 3D Modeling – Additional features like adding electrical engineering lend credibility to the 3D models you produce here. Users report a steep learning curve, but many users believe AutoCAD to be the gold standard once you get things running.
  • Project Management – This is a true tool for engineers and businesses. It integrates well into modern project management systems, giving your team a great bird’s-eye view of everything that needs to be completed before sending out an effective design.

What markets does AutoCAD serve?

Great for engineers and more serious architectural design firms, AutoCAD isn’t exactly free. But considering how rare “free” is in architecture software offerings, that’s just fine by us. The price here is more than justified by the robust features, down to making sure that the designs you create are regulation-compliant.

Read our full AutoCAD review

lumion logo

Lumion – Best Visual Design Software for Architects

The “wow” factor. That’s what you get out of Lumion, a 3D rendering software for architects that sets the stage for wow-inducing architectural designs that include everything from small details to big, sprawling landscapes.

It’s all about providing architects with the modeling capabilities they need to assemble detailed previews of large-scale projects.

And one feature—being free for students—makes it an essential way to learn the world of architectural design.

  • High-quality images and rendering
  • Includes preloaded environment maps
  • Intuitive drag-and-drop design
  • Limited to Windows OS
  • Upfront pricing structure

Lumion features:

  • 2D Drawing – The planning for 2D drawings is quick and easy, featuring an intuitive drag-and-drop design that’s about as simple to use as anything on this list. Meanwhile, the outputs for the 2D drawings you do create will look ready for professional presentations.
  • Animation – Shift through the preview of your site as though you’re already there. The animation quality here is excellent—though it may take a strong and capable computer system to handle all of the rendering.
  • 3D Modeling – This is where Lumion really shines. With a reputation for some of the best outputs for 3D modeling out there, Lumion will have your projects looking like the real thing even before the groundbreaking.

What markets does Lumion serve?

Not only great for students (free!), Lumion is great for anyone who needs to produce fantastic, 3D-rendered animations of visual spaces. The uses can even extend beyond the world of architecture, but any architectural firm or freelancer will find plenty of use from the 3D and animation features here.

archicad logo

Archicad – Best Home Architecture Software

Archicad by Graphisoft isn’t only for small buildings, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a better pure architectural system on our list than with the features you’ll find here.

With robust project management and design features, it’s a great solution for anyone who makes architecture their living.

Archicad’s flexibility with small projects (a simple, straightforward interface and seamless project management tools) make it easy to repeat for home architecture designs.

  • Robust project management features
  • Doesn’t require expensive CPU
  • Easy to integrate multiple users
  • Requires GDL programming knowledge
  • Buy and pay pricing structure

Archicad features:

  • 2D Drawing – Users seemed to have more trouble in the technical development stage than early development, but that meant 2D drawing was relatively straightforward to use.
  • Animation – Effective animation tools for bringing your renderings to life, which helps you present your architectural designs efficiently.
  • 3D Modeling – The BIM modeling features here are robust, which also help you demonstrate what a building will look like both on the outside and on the inside.
  • Project Management – Designed for businesses who handle a lot of architectural projects, one of the favorite aspects of Archicad by the user reviews we read through were the robust project management tools.

What markets does Archicad serve?

We found that Archicad was generally best for medium-to-large architectural businesses that regularly need to produce custom-designed outputs for their clients. That includes putting together custom-built homes, for example—but it scales all the way up to larger, more ambitious projects as well.

sketchup logo

SketchUp – Best Beginner Architecture Design Software

Excited about what you’re reading and want to immediately get to work? Then SketchUp might be your best bet, as we found this offering rife with great, beginner-ready features that can have you creating designs with minimal onboarding and learning.

Combining a straightforward interface with project capabilities of all sizes (not to mention plenty of mobile capacity), we find it best for beginners who are just getting their start exploring architecture design software.

  • Practical, easy-to-use interface
  • Vast library for features/components
  • Grab-and-go onboarding
  • 3D/2D outputs not the prettiest
  • Better for simpler designs

SketchUp features:

  • 2D Drawing – SketchUp didn’t exactly score high marks from users for the quality of its 2D outputs, but it did score high marks for the ease with which you can get started using your creativity.
  • Animation – A nice feature here is the easy time-shifter, which lets you change the shadows on buildings and other architectural features—and it’s as simple as dragging a slide from one side to the other.
  • 3D Modeling – Though the quality of the 3D models aren’t exactly as robust as you might find in, say, Lumion, the 3D modeling output is enough to begin creating effective, simple designs.

What markets does SketchUp serve?

Featuring both a free trial and a paid version—though some people found the paid version’s price a bit steep compared to the features here—we ranked this as a great option for any beginner who wants to dip their toes into the architectural waters. After that, it doesn’t offer the wide-ranging features you’ll find in the other offerings on this list.

Read our full SketchUp review

Compare the best architecture software side-by-side

Software Name Why we picked It Starting price for cheapest plan Highlights
Blender Best Free Architecture Software Free Open-source with an active online community
AutoCAD Best 3D Architecture Software for Engineers $235/month Great for introducing technical specs
Lumion Best Visual Design Software for Architects $1461/license Beautiful, intuitive design for presenting architecture
Archicad Best Home Architecture Software $280/month Comprehensive project management and business features
SketchUp Best Beginner Architecture Design Software $119/year Free trial with easy onboarding for beginners

What is architectural design software?

Architectural design software provides the rendering and outputs to help you build fresh blueprints from concept to site previews. You’ll also see the acronym CAD a lot—this refers to computer-aided design software. This is the process of using a computer to brainstorm and preview designs that will eventually have to be built in real life.

In addition to these practical features, many architectural design software platforms offer project management features to help businesses coordinate designs with client-facing outputs.

What does architectural design software do?

Architectural software programs produce both technical and graphical schematics for contractors and constructors to produce a building. From your perspective as the architect/designer, this software should give you front-to-end solutions to bring ideas to life—as well as to create the specifications from which a construction firm can work when creating the building.

Architectural design software can also help you adhere to compliance issues when planning the engineering of a project, highlighting any potential issues that come up during the construction. Additionally, we found some design software can offer project management tools that help you run the business of architecture, such as AutoCAD’s ability to create customized workspaces for your employees.

Types of architecture design software

Not all architecture design software is made alike. Some may emphasize one aspect of their offerings, such as:

  • BIM software, or “building information modeling,” emphasizes taking a design and turning it into the model a future builder can use.
  • CAD software is the 2D/3D platform that can help you take design/technical documentation and turn it into an automated process for the output of your architectural designs.
  • Architectural sketch software is a little lighter on the technical specs, but allows you to start “doodling” and draft your designs for later use. You may also find that “architectural drawing software” is a common term, which may have some overlap with sketching software. Think of this software as a great place to start getting your ideas out into the world.
  • Architectural planning software can help you plan the entire site—including landscaping—while also implementing features like project management so you can break down the entire plans for putting the site together.

How much does architecture software cost?

Architecture design software had some of the widest-ranging costs we’ve come across. To illustrate, let’s look at some specific examples:

  • Blender is a free, open source software for rendering architectural designs—with surprisingly high-quality features to go along with it.
  • AutoCAD’s $235/month is a reasonable price for the suite of features it brings to the table, especially considering that it can function well in business environments where 3D renderings are a part of getting work done.
  • Lumion offers free options for students, or a $1,461 license for 1/3rd of their content library.

In other words, architecture software pricing is a choose-your-own-adventure story here. Some will require buying licenses. Some will require paying upfront and then a monthly fee. Some will allow you to choose between annual payments and monthly payments—with price savings for the annual payments. Or you can use free trials or even free, open source programs like Blender here. In other words, there’s no excuse for not trying out architecture software—you can pay whatever you want.

Architecture Software FAQ

Which software is used for architecture?
According to insights gathered by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB), technological advancements continue to shape many aspects of the role of an architect. Based on our analysis, software like Lumion, Blender, AutoCAD, and Archicad are some of the most popular and well-reputed offerings for architectural design and 3D renderings.

What is the best free architecture software?
We liked Blender as the best free, open-sourced architecture software option on this list. However, there are also free trial versions of other types of software, such as SketchUp, which you can also use. And if you’re a student, there may be free payment options for great offerings like Lumion.

Which software is best for architecture?
We liked Blender, AutoCAD, Lumion, and Archicad as some of the best choices for any architectural firm that needs to start designing and producing high-quality outputs. It’s hard to say which is best, as there wasn’t a clear #1 answer for overall use. However, you’ll likely find that if you match the platform to your need as a user, you’ll find a great match for what you want to do.

What software do most architecture firms use?
We reviewed many of the most popular software offerings for architecture firms, but found that offerings like Blender and AutoCAD had hundreds and thousands of online reviews, reflecting their large and active communities.

How we chose the best architecture software

Architecture is some of the most in-depth, highly-involved software out there. In other words, it was a tall task to gauge the best architecture software. To do that, we worked from a long list of nearly 60 architectural design software programs. We then whittled down that list to 15 finalists.

Using these 15 finalists, we used a 1-to-5 system of rating for the brand’s reputation, the features present in each offering, the transparency of pricing, and finally, customer support. How did we gauge each of these individual specifications? We verified what we saw through the following:

  • Vendor/parent company websites: Sometimes, the best way to get information is straight from the company itself. This is where we verified pricing, free trials, and confirmed many of the features written about here.
  • Online reviews: In identifying pros and cons, we didn’t just look through the list of features, but verified the quality of these features by searching through online reviews from many of the top online software review platforms.

We curated a list of potential features to look through, assembling five features to weigh an all-around sense of which offering might be best for which markets the software served.

Some vendors tended to do better with 2D and 3D modeling, for example, while others emphasized the project management side of architectural design software.