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Ultimate iPad Guide: Mobile CAD Authoring for Architects

Our listing guide of Mobile CAD Authoring apps for iPad includes a fairly short list of tools, an index of the difficulty of programming successfully in this category.

A Word About Mobile CAD Authoring and Steve Jobs

New in 2.0

When it comes to the Apple iOS devices–both the iPhone which came first and the iPad which came after–the tendency in the industry is to view drawing creation on these devices with a healthy bit of skepticism. This is partly because Steve Jobs firmly believed that a stylus pointing device was a failure in the creation of the product (a partially correct view).

He famously said, “God gave us ten styluses–let’s not invent another.”

However, our fingers are quite a bit fatter than the fine lines normally associated with CAD drawings and the precision that CAD is famous for requires a depth of cursor control that makes vectorial drawing challenging with fingers alone. Despite this fact, many developers remain fully committed to the idea that–yes–it is possible to overcome this handicap and make a fantastic CAD authoring app for touch-based devices like the Apple iPad. As you will see from the list below however, none of the CAD authoring apps for the iPad come from any of the major CAD and BIM software developers serving architects worldwide, except the Pro subscription version of AutoCAD 360.


As was partly explained in our 2010 feature, “The iPad: How the CAD/3D industry is being changed”, 10 August 2010, most of the major CAD industry executives feel that the iPad is a cloud-based device whose purpose is to discover new uses in both old and new contexts and for software to be developed to serve those new contexts.

CAD Authoring for Architects on iPad

In this category a CAD authoring tool is a “vectorial-graphics” drawing tool which allows a user to begin a drawing from scratch and is not a site survey CAD tool which is focused on auto-generating drawn data from the iPad’s camera or other electronic devices. We will have a separate list for such apps.

We’ll start our callouts by mentioning iPocketDraw by the French developer of RealCADD. This tools is fairly comprehensive and has a 3 star rating out of a fairly good sized review set. Importantly, this tool comes from a longtime experienced CAD developer, albeit a small one. (see image 01) 

01 – iPocketDraw by the maker of RealCADD is one of the more highly rated CAD authoring apps options and comes from a well-established desktop CAD maker.

02 – GraphPad Pro has gained some attention as one of the early entrants of CAD programs on the iPad. We have written about this on Architosh.

GraphPad R4 Pro has gained a good following as well. This small developer is new to CAD development but got GraphPad going early and gained some key traction. (see image 02) Aside from the one giant in the group, AutoCAD 360 with Pro subscription, the next most interesting qualified mobile CAD authoring tool this year is maybe the new German-produced biiCADo Touch Pro. (see image 03). The product demo videos look pretty solid. (see image 3.1 below)

3.1 - biiCADo Touch Pro is a new CAD authoring tool for iPad out of Germany and looks pretty solid.

3.1 – biiCADo Touch Pro is a new CAD authoring tool for iPad out of Germany and looks pretty solid.

Still, this CAD authoring question lingers. Do professionals in particular wish to use an iPad for starting and making CAD drawings in the field or just on the couch? Is there really a market for “authoring” in the way we already know there is a market for “viewing, editing and markup”?

Going back to the Steve Jobs quote above about our ten fingers, CADO by Orange Juice Studios in London strongly believes people do want to author CAD on the iPad and has solved the fat finger and precision problem. Additionally, Grabert of Germany also is rumored to have a mobile CAD authoring solution as is DraftSight by Dassault. Where the iPad version for DraftSight is at in terms of development is a good question but it has been years since Dassault first showed it at an event.

The List (11 Apps)

Here is the most complete listing of CAD authoring tools useful to architects on the Apple iPad at the time of this writing. If we have somehow missed an app we would sure appreciate your email on the subject. Without further ado:

  • Architect XL — a vectorial drawing program from Italy that has some excellent features and includes dimensions, annotations and import/export options for PDF and DXF file formats. This app is not getting good reviews, however. (9 reviews, 1 star) 9.99.USD
  • AutoCAD 360 (New in 2.0) — this is the only mobile CAD app from a major CAD developer in this category and only the Pro version, which you get through subscription, allows you to create a CAD drawing from scratch. Otherwise, you can only edit existing ones. AutoCAD 360 Pro costs 49.99.USD per year under subscription. In app purchases. (783 reviews, 3 1/2 stars) Free
  • biiCADo Touch Pro (New in 2.0) — this app is new and looks quite solid from the online demo. Creates DXF files and looks good for 2D drafting needs across a range of industries, including AEC. Opens and creates both PDF and DXF. ANSI fonts support, wide collection of common drafting commands and has straight forward and clean UI/UX. (5 reviews, 3 stars) 9.99.USD
  • cadTouch — this is another vectorial drawing application that supports dimensions, annotations and more… including input and output of DWG/DXF files, saves to DWG and can export PDF. It was updated earlier this year and includes in-app purchases. It also supports up to AutoCAD 2013 file format, has Dropbox support, a new layers management system and UI improvements. (46 reviews,  3 stars ave.) Free
  • FingerCAD HD — a vectorial drawing program with dimensioning, annotation and fairly extensive inport and export options, including DWG/DXF, PDF and OBJ. (29 reviews, 1 1/2 stars) 9.99.USD
  • GraphPad R4 Pro — this application is another very solid touch-based vectorial drawing application for producing architectural and engineering drawings complete with dimensioning and annotation tools.  Supports In-App purchases for additional functionality (12 reviews – 4 stars) 19.99.USD
  • GraphPad R4 Configurable (New in 2.0) — this is the same version as GraphPad Pro R4 but features customization capabilities for library items and document templates so companies can be consistent across multiple iPad and users. (no reviews, not rated) 99.99.USD
  • iDesign — this is another touch-based vectorial drawing application that supports accurate dimensioning, annotation and is layer-based. Can export designs to Adobe PDF and SVG formats. In the update in 2014 the program added support for feet, inches and fractions, as well as architectural formatting options and a dynamic grid for architectural imperial units (156 reviews, 3 stars) 7.99.USD
  • iPocket Drawthis vectorial application by the French developer of RealCADD is a robust CAD application with support for dimensioning, annotations and a whole lot more, including RealCADD and DXF interoperability. The latest version supports multi-line text, isometric grid with isometric dimension tool, etc. (33 review, 3 stars) 11.99.USD
  • PadCAD another touch-based vectorial drawing application with support for dimensioning and annotations for producing technical floor plans. Has unique joystick UI element for rotation of elements and supports PDF export. In the latest version it supports export to Au (119 reviews, 3 1/2 stars) 14.99.USD
  • TouchDraw — this vectorial drawing application is closer to an illustration app but does support dimensioning and has text capabilities. (220 reviews, 4 1/2 stars) 8.99.USD

The Gem in the Group

Is there a Gem in this group? Perhaps you readers can write us and advocate for one tool of your liking. At this moment we don’t feel this particular category is getting the attention it deserves. Clearly from the reviews on the App Store folks do want to create CAD drawings from scratch on the iPad. And they want a really great mobile CAD authoring environment.

0x - Autodesk's AutoCAD 360 now supports document creation with Pro subscription plans making it a true mobile CAD authoring tool.

0x – Autodesk’s AutoCAD 360 now supports document creation with Pro subscription plans making it a true mobile CAD authoring tool.

Autodesk is clearly close to creating such an environment but from our view they are focused, correctly, on all the tasks users want to do with an iPad and CAD files in the field. And predominantly that centers on other non-authoring functions.  We are quite interested to see what the folks at Orange Juice Studios create with CADO. The tool, which we are told is just months away from being submitted to the Apple Apps Store for approval, appears to be both powerful and simple to use.

next page: BIM Apps for Architects

series index page: Ultimate iPad Guide: Apps for Architects


[Last updated: 28 Sep 2014 – 5:42 PM EDT]

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