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Recommendation of Free Software for Architects and Architecture Students

The work of architects and architecture students inevitably involves the use of software or applications. Some architectural and design software can be quite expensive. If you have the budget to purchase them, that's not a problem. But what if you can't afford them yet? Don't worry, there are plenty of free and legal software options that can serve as alternatives to the expensive ones. If you're currently searching for free and legal software for your design needs, here are some recommendations.


LibreCAD is an open-source 2D design application based on CAD (computer-aided design) available for Linux, MacOS, and Windows operating systems. Its interface is similar to AutoCAD, albeit simpler, making it more user-friendly for those who have experience with AutoCAD. Basic tools such as lines, rectangles, and circles in LibreCAD are similar to AutoCAD. With a little adaptation, users familiar with AutoCAD will find it easy to operate this software.

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The architectural details in LibreCAD. Image by Adityuwana

Every architecture student is likely familiar with this software. Besides the paid version, SketchUp also offers a free version called SketchUp for Web. Being free and non-commercial, you can use SketchUp for Web to learn 3D modeling without spending money. As the name suggests, this software is web-based, meaning you can use it through a browser like Chrome on your PC. Because it's web-based, you can access it from anywhere with a device or gadget that has a browser (which, essentially, is every device). All you need is internet access with a recommended speed of 10 Mbps. SketchUp also provides 10 GB of free online storage. So, for those who want to learn 3D modeling, this software can be a great choice.

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The design of the house in SketchUp for Web. Image by Adityuwana

Inkscape is an open-source vector-based design software, serving as an alternative to paid design applications like CorelDraw and Adobe Illustrator. Its simple interface and easy-to-learn tools make it a perfect choice for beginners in graphic design or for designers and illustrators seeking a free vector design program for digital work. I use Inkscape for graphic tasks such as creating logos, presentations, and design concepts. Its limitation lies in not being suitable for publishing and printing due to the absence of CMYK color mode, which can result in significant color differences when printed. However, for digital use, Inkscape is highly competent.

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The design concept in Inkscape. Image by Adityuwana

GIMP is an open-source layer-based graphic editor used for image manipulation, retouching, image editing, freehand drawing, transcoding between different image file formats, and various other tasks. It functions similarly to Adobe Photoshop and comes with a comprehensive set of tools, including Airbrush, Pencil, Clone, and Brush. GIMP is a powerful image editing software, comparable to others in the category. If you're willing to invest time in learning it, this software can be an excellent tool for creative work.

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The appearance of GIMP for macOS. Source: fileinfo.com

An open-source software for 3D modeling, rendering, and animation, Blender stands out as a powerful 3D software with extensive features, and most importantly, it's free! Blender caters to both beginner and advanced users, offering compatibility for importing 3D objects in various extensions such as DAE, OBJ, and more. With each update, the available tools continue to expand. Being cross-platform, Blender runs on Windows, Mac, or Linux. Over time, Blender has improved, becoming a popular choice among professionals and corporations, especially small teams.

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Creating a simple 3D model in Blender. Image by Adityuwana

If you enjoy video editing and want premium software for free, go for DaVinci Resolve. Used by professionals in Hollywood, this software provides a complete set of features. In addition to video editing, you can also edit audio, color correct, add visual effects, create motion graphics, and handle audio post-production. It is used by both novice and professional editors. However, be aware that this software is quite resource-intensive and requires a mid-range to high-end PC.

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The editing interface of DaVinci Resolve. Source: blackmagicdesign.com

LibreOffice is an alternative application to Microsoft Office, available for Linux, Windows, and macOS. Compatible with other office software, including Microsoft Office, through import/export features. Microsoft Office file formats are supported well, especially in the latest version that brings improvements to docx, xslx, and pptx document formats, although some adjustments in layout and format attributes may be needed.


For Mac users, iWork is more than sufficient. This software can handle almost everything you need, from creating articles or reports in Pages to budget calculations in Numbers or designing portfolios using Keynote. iWork is also available on iPadOS, making it suitable for those with high mobility. You can get it for free and use it immediately on your Mac device.

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Creating a design portfolio in Keynote iWork. Image by Adityuwana

Additional:

This software isn't free, but it is reasonably priced at $39.99 (Rp 129,000 for the mobile version). For Mac users looking for an alternative to Photoshop, I recommend this software. Why include it as an addition? Like many others who were frustrated when Adobe shifted to a subscription model with a relatively high cost, including myself, Pixelmator is the answer when seeking a replacement. Its interface and commands are intuitive and similar to Photoshop. It effectively meets the needs of photo editing, digital manipulation, and other tasks, is easy to use, and reasonably priced. I highly recommend it.

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Pixelmator is used for photo editing. Image by Adityuwana

These various software alternatives provide us with choices for free and legal options. I hope this post serves as a reference if you're uncertain about which software to use for designing and working on architectural projects.

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