The inception of CAD defined a new way of life for its users. Architects, and engineers, amongst others, can now represent their ideas dynamically in a more visual and accurate display. This way, everyone involved in a project can easily collaborate to identify and proffer real-world problems. That said, there are two forms of CAD: 2D and 3D. And when it comes to deciding which is the best fit for your project, you must consider certain factors. In this article, we’ll help you decide which you should use for your project. But before then, we must establish what each CAD form entails and its various fields of application. So without further ado, let’s dive right in.

2D CAD Drafting

Autodesk refers to 2D drafting as “the process of creating and editing technical drawings, as well as annotating designs.” Therefore, it’s fair to say that 2D CAD drafting/drawing involves using computer programs to create and technical drawings. Examples of projects you can complete using 2D CAD include but are not limited to the following:

  • Floor plans
  • Building permit drawings
  • Building inspection plans
  • Landscaping layouts

Although 2D CAD’s initial function was to replace the tedious manual drafting process, it has since found more sophisticated applications in various industries: Automobile, aeronautics, architecture, engineering, and many more. For example, civil engineers use 2D CAD to create the building’s plan, section, and elevation.

3D CAD Modeling

3D CAD is a step up from 2D CAD. That said, its introduction was met with discontent. This is because when it first hit the CAD industry, it was with the following challenges:

  • Few areas of application. In other words, you could only do so much with it.
  • High hardware requirements to run 3D programs.

However, with the advancement in technology and the increase in computer capabilities, 3D CAD is taking the industry by storm. This product design tool allows users to create realistic models that can be viewed and rotated in three dimensions: X, Y, and Z. Imagine creating a 2D drawing on paper and pulling it out into a 3D object like a cube on a screen. 3D CAD gives us that luxury all in a computer program. However, 3D CAD is way more than rendering drawings on a cube; your imagination is the limit to what you can create and view.

Since its development in the 80s, it’s fair to say that 3D CAD is the foundation of life as we know it today. Nearly every product we use on a day-to-day basis is created using 3D CAD modeling. From every detail of airplane and car parts to smaller items like your TV set, all started as a virtual 3D program. Also, 3D CAD allows you to model the real-world behavior of a product before its production. You can create a virtual product with the actual physical properties of its real-life form: temperature, size, weight, and so on. Additionally, 3D CAD can be classified as the following, based on the types of models:

Solid Model

Most 3D CAD users consider this as a very useful type of 3D modeling. This is the stage where you can determine the viability of the product. Think of it as the closest representation of the final product. Here, you can simulate real-world situations to determine the flaws and capabilities of your final piece. For example, you can test its reaction to applied forces by dropping the load to see its breaking limit.

Surface Model

Like solid models, surface models are used to represent the finished product. However, it is created by combining 3D surfaces. Therefore, you can only interact with the exteriors and contours of your design. On that note, it is useful in fine-tuning the shell of a product. Note that the manner of interaction with solid and surface models is the difference between them.

2D or 3D CAD: Which Should You Use?

While 3D CAD might seem the outright choice here, what you should use depends on your project type and needs. What you want to achieve will determine which software is best for you. It is also worth noting that, although most PCs can run 2D CAD, you’ll require high-end computers to run 3D CAD modeling. This brings me to an important question you also need to answer.

How advanced is your project?

While 3D CAD is the be-all and end-all, in terms of project complexity, If you’re working with a simple project, you don’t necessarily need 3D modeling. On that note, here are factors to consider when deciding between 2D and 3D CAD:

What is your End Goal?

The first step of any project is defining its goal. Generally, a good CAD project is one that best conveys information. Unfortunately, the fun and exciting 3D CAD might not always present your idea in the clearest of ways. For example, if your goal is to design drawings for the wiring of an assembly by an electrical engineer, a 2D drawing might be what you need. However, if you’re looking to create orthogonal projections using three-dimensional objects, for instance, designing a kitchen, 3D CAD is the best way to present your idea.

What Functionalities Does Your Project Require?

Regarding functionalities, 3D CAD provides designers with the luxury of advanced features to better represent their ideas. For example, you can include 3D arrays and special reference views in your 3D designs. However, not all designs require advanced features. For example, if all your project needs are layers, line weights, and line types, with no use for three-dimensional tools, then 2D CAD is your go-to option.

Rendering Capabilities

What are your rendering needs? Most 3D CAD software has in-built rendering capabilities. However, 2D CAD software does not. So even though it allows you to construct three-dimensional perspectives, you’ll have to pass your designs onto a different software for rendering. Overall, if your project is large-scale with the need for depth and detailed representation of design elements, use 3D CAD. However, for less advanced, small-scale projects, use 2D CAD.


So there you have it, 2D and 3D CAD are both useful CAD forms. Therefore, whichever you use, depends on your project type and needs. So, define your end goal, list the needs and requirements necessary to meet your goal, and choose the CAD form that best suits you.