Web-based CAD Software vs. Desktop CAD Software: Which is better and is SelfCAD the Future of Online 3D Modelling?

6 Mins read
Web-based CAD application
Above: SelfCAD is a powerful web-based CAD software/Image Credit: SelfCAD

As 3D printing technology penetrates newer markets, the need for designers and compatible designing software also rises. While designing software has been in existence for decades but recently, with the development of strong web-based algorithms, the delivery of software applications is experiencing a new shift towards a web-based approach instead of the traditional downloadable format.

Adobe, one of the world’s leading computer Software Company, who used to provide downloadable software has also started delivering cloud-based software suites and have stopped downloadable version of their software applications like Photoshop. An indication of the growing trend.

So, why is this sudden change towards web-based applications, and in the purview of this article, the change towards web-based CAD software? And what are the benefits of having an online version in addition to the downloadable software? Can such web-based CAD software be used for running powerful and demanding tasks?

Let us compare both types of software applications to determine whether web-based CAD software like SelfCAD are the future of 3D modelling.

SelfCAD – A Web-based CAD Software

Web-based CAD application
Above: Launch screen of the SelfCAD editor/Image Credit: SelfCAD

SelfCAD is a web-based CAD software that allows users to model, sculpt, draw, sketch, animate, slice and print online all under one program. It was developed and launched by Israeli entrepreneur Aaron Breuer in 2016 and it released its most successful version, SelfCAD 2.0 – its most recent upgrade in 2019.

SelfCAD believes that 3D CAD software, in addition to being intuitive and easy to use, should still include advanced tools for modelling, sculpting, and preparation for 3D printing, to ensure that the design process is as real-world and authentic as possible and presents no barriers to creativity.

With this aim in mind, the SelfCAD team has been able to create a world-class blend of a powerful software package with the simplest user interface ever.

Web-Based CAD Software VS. Desktop CAD Software

Comparing the applications through 11 important parameters as below:

Computing Power

Nowadays, browser-based apps can be just as powerful as desktop apps. Traditionally, a web-based CAD software will have less computing power from a desktop version. That’s why many browser-based apps are cloud-based. It means that computations are taking place in the cloud, so it can be even faster than a local machine, so people without the newest and most powerful computer can find a web-based CAD software performing better.

Minimal System Requirements

Web-based CAD application
Above: SelfCAD can run even on Chromebooks/Image Credit: SelfCAD

Most of the complex apps like Adobe Photoshop, or 3D CAD and 3D Modelling applications like AutoCAD, Google SketchUp, Autodesk Maya, etc., require having the most up to date graphics cards. Software like SelfCAD, on the other hand, can easily run on most laptops and even on Chromebooks!

Device Compatibility

Most CAD Software requires different installations for Mac and Windows, and many of them do not support both systems. So if you change the system, you will be forced to purchase a new license to install it on your new device.

The SaaS Business Model

When you purchase a SaaS (Software-as-a-Service), you do not purchase a license for a single device. Rather, you’re buying an online subscription that will allow you to log in from any device, in any country, and some cases like with SelfCAD, you can even allow you to use it simultaneously on multiple devices. All for the price of a single subscription.

Ease of Use and Accessibility

Web-based CAD application
Above: SelfCAD can be used and accessed from anywhere through literally any computer/Image Credit: SelfCAD

The fact that you can use it from any browser and any location makes it much easier to use, especially if you are on the go or lack a good computer. It is also very helpful when using any public computer that does not allow installing custom software. For example, students can use the same app in school, and later do homework in the library and continue designing under the same subscription account.

Stable Internet Connection

One of the biggest downsides facing cloud-based 3D modelling applications like OnShape, and TinkerCAD, is that it requires having a good continuous internet connection. That is less of a problem with web-based CAD software like SelfCAD because it runs in the browser and uses the cloud only for backing up your data and to make it accessible from any location and any device but once loaded, SelfCAD will continue working without an internet connection and will automatically back up all data when reconnecting the internet. This makes SelfCAD the only on-the-go 3D modelling application.      

Team Working Environment

Web-based CAD application
Above: Eliminates the need for manage data centres/Image Credit: SelfCAD

Many of the Fortune 500 companies have to manage data centres for synchronizing the team design projects. Having a cloud-based modelling app solves this problem of managing data centres, especially at a time when managing a global team is becoming an ever more pressing need.

Automatic Updates

Like most SaaS applications, SelfCAD will automatically update to the latest version, without charging upgrade fees, while desktop versions would charge for them. Automatic updates are also great for bug fixes. Most people purchasing a CAD application, upgrade it not to get more features, but rather to fix the issues. That’s not a problem when using a subscription model.

Pay in Advance Vs. Pay-As-You-Go

When purchasing a desktop version, you need to pay out a large sum at once. That can be a burden for small and medium-sized enterprises, and usually, it is not even an option for casual users. With a subscription model, you can simply pay-as-you-go.

With SelfCAD, you can get an annual or monthly subscription and self-serve or email to cancel when the software is no longer in use. All your files will stay available for you to use or download when needed, even when users are not paying for the license.  

Freemium Vs Premium Vs Free

A Free Account sounds incredible without looking at the license terms and conditions. Software like OnShape, Fusion 360, TinkerCAD, and other Autodesk software often promote a free account for students and hobbyists. But it’s the contract that matters, and it’s no free lunch. They get to keep all your files, you can’t sell or use them commercially, and they can cancel the free license anytime they want and force you to pay to download the files you created

While Freemium. Models like DropBox, and now SelfCAD, are simply giving the users the same terms as paid accounts for free. They are just limited to some features so that active users will pay to upgrade.

This means that when you no longer need the app, you can downgrade it and stick with the free account. It will not only allow you to download your files, but it will also allow you to continue using the 3D editor to make new or to modify old files. But what if for whatever reason, you decide to switch to another app? That brings us to an important aspect of the software, Import, and Export options.

Import and Export Compatibility

Most parametric design software has limited import and export options because of the entire concept of parametric modelling, is using parameters that later can be manipulated through the design process. On the other hand, mesh-based modelling applications like Autodesk 3ds Max or SelfCAD, allow you to not only import and export models, but also to convert them from and to almost every file type. It allows you to not only use open source 3D objects but also safely switch between the software. In SelfCAD, you can export your models anytime, and thanks to its compatibility, you can convert them into most standard file formats.


From the above comparison, it can be concluded that web-based CAD modelling software applications are the future and it provides the best possible solution going forward and SelfCAD holds the leading position in the current crop of applications that offer professional features but still are easy to learn and easy to use.

Conclusion based on the user needs:

  • Full-time and Independent 3D Modellers

If you are a full-time, independent 3D Modeller, where team sharing is not an issue, and you can afford to pay out a one-time perpetual license fee, and would rather pay for upgrades if and when needed, you are better off purchasing a downloadable version.

  • DIY, Students, and Casual Users 

If you are just learning 3D Modelling or 3D printing, or if you are using CAD software casually, you can benefit from a SaaS subscription model. It’s also beneficial when you’re concerned with one-time costs and upgrades fees, or if you need to access the app remotely and on the go.

  • Large and International Teams 

If you need to share your files with your team or manufacturers, you should consider using web-based CAD software or cloud-based 3D Modelling software. It’s especially the case when many people need to work on the same project, and creating your own data centre is not an option.

(NOTE: This was originally posted on SelfCAD and readers can read it HERE)

About Manufactur3D Magazine: Manufactur3D is an online magazine on 3D printing. which publishes the latest 3D printing news, insights and analysis from all around the world. Visit our 3D Printing Education page to read more such informative articles. To stay up-to-date about the latest happenings in the 3D printing world, like us on Facebook or follow us on LinkedIn.

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Manufactur3D is an Indian Online 3D Printing Media Platform that reports on the latest news, insights and analysis from the Indian and the Global 3D Printing Industry.
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