Tech for Architects: 7 Top Tools for Architectural Drafting

Looking to take your drawings to another level? Check out our selection of the best drafting tools to use for architecture.

Eirini Makarouni Eirini Makarouni

Calling all architects to join the conversation! Rate and review your favorite design softwares and hardwares on Architizer’s Tech Directorya new library of tech tools for designers.

Software developed for architectural drafting is definitely not a new concept. Nevertheless, its evolution has been remarkable. Over the past few decades, advancements in technology have transformed these tools from basic drafting aids to sophisticated, multifaceted platforms that revolutionize the way architects design and visualize projects. Early CAD programs, like the first iterations of AutoCAD, provided a digital alternative to manual drafting, offering precision and efficiency that manual methods couldn’t match.

Today, architectural drafting software encompasses a broad spectrum of capabilities, from countless line tools, dynamic blocks and annotation systems to seamless communication between drawings and construction documents such as materials lists, bills of quantities and even assembly instructions. In addition, a gradual (and admittedly predictable) integration of AI software in the past two years has taken traditional software to the next level.

Without further ado, here are the top seven tools that unlock unprecedented capabilities in architectural drafting. You can read more about each and search for other tech tools for architects in our Tech Directory:

Autodesk AutoCAD

Best Tool for Advanced Architectural Drafting

AutoCAD is of course the most renowned and popular architectural drafting software in the world. It offers a vast array of drafting and annotating tools, which allowed architects to easily transition from hand drawing to digital drafting in the latest part of the 20th century. Its most advanced features include customizable templates, advanced layering and dynamic block creation. However, its most groundbreaking update is the integration of AI to an already powerful software. Through an AI assistant, architects will be able to automate tasks through AutoLISP, automatically place blocks using Smart Blocks as well as safely compare and review drawings without tampering with the original file.

MacDraft Professional 8

Best Drafting Tool for Illustration

MacDraft Professional 8 is a drafting software exclusively designed for Mac users. It includes an array of tools that help architects sketch, draw and present their designs. From highly detailed architectural plans, to illustrated diagrams and even exploded axonometrics, MacDraft combines the precision of CAD with the playfulness of illustration. It features intuitive vector tools, a symbol library as well as an apple pen compatibility that allows architects to design and sketch straight from their iPad.

CADexe | SpaceTech International

Best Drafting Tool for Interoperability

CADexe - Space International

CADexe is a drafting software that offers architects and designers complete freedom in terms of their file formats. With countless editing and line tools as well as project management features and even 3d modeling, CADexe is one of the most versatile drafting tools on the market. Finally, one of its most useful integrations is its IFC/BIM editor, allowing architects to easily convert and process different types of drawing formats.

Chief Architect

Best Drafting Tool for Residential Design

Chief Architect is a software tool specifically tailored for residential home design with building tools that automatically generate roofs, foundations, framing, dimensions, product schedules, and materials lists. Its integrated smart building technology automatically converts 2D drawn walls into 3D objects, updates the material list as the design progresses and even adjusts cabinets, when appliances are added to the design. Apart from its wide selection of drafting and annotation tools, Chief Architect also offers — in addition to photo-realism — artistic 3D rendering options such as line drawing and watercolor.

Bentley Microstation

Best Drafting Tool for Infrastructure Design

Microstation is the ideal software for infrastructure design. It allows architects to create 2D and 3D drawing using geospatial data and real-world context scenarios, thus ensuring the design is always on point. In addition, Microstation can extract data from existing designs, testing them against real-time conditions. Finally, apart from its impressive drafting capabilities, its biggest asset is its ability to generate all types of deliverables: from detailed 2D drawings to models, visualizations, multi-discipline documentation sets, and embedded BIM data.


Best Drafting Tool for Versatility

ActCAD is the most versatile drafting software in the industry, offering a series of programs not only for architectural drafting but also for engineering as well as mechanical and electrical drawings. Its features include a Self-License Transfer, offering flexibility to construction professionals, along with familiar coding tools such as LISP and a vast Block Symbol Library. ActCAD is also ideal for generating instruction drawings and even data extraction capabilities, used for quantity takeoff and Bill Of Materials report generation.


Best Drafting Tool for Architectural Diagrams

Even through SmartDraw is not primarily a drafting software, it is ideal for generating quick architectural diagrams. It offers basic line and editing tools allowing architects to draw walls, add openings and even annotate their drawings, by simply dragging the line or input specific values for higher precision. SmartDraw also includes a layer manager for tracking complicated electrical, plumbing and HVAC designs on top of simpler architectural plans.

How to Better Leverage Drafting Tools in Architecture

The following tips and considerations will help you maximize the potential of drafting tools in architecture, as well as avoid common pitfalls associated with this fast-emerging technology.

The mouse draws while the keyboard commands: Remembering the meaning behind the countless drafting tool icons spread along a software’s interface is clearly a challenge, even for seasoned architects. The sheer number of icons can be overwhelming, leading to inefficiencies and frustration as users hunt for the right tool. Consequently, keyboard shortcuts become invaluable assets in the drafting process, by providing quick access to commonly used commands and accelerating workflow, thus allowing architects to bypass the need to navigate through endless menus and toolbars.

Dynamic blocks are smarter than you think: By constructing a series of dynamic blocks to create flexible and reusable components, architects can reduce repetitive tasks and ensure uniformity throughout their drawings. Some great dynamic block examples include annotation objects, such as window and door symbols, drawing notation and even different furniture variations.

Coding can be even more effective than an AI assistant: By using scripts, macros and automation tools to handle repetitive tasks architects can breeze through that mind-numbing plotting setups and drawing dimensioning. In contrast, by crafting small LISP scripts tailored to specific design requirements or even drawing aesthetics, architects can efficiently produce drawings at a much faster pace and with far less grunt work.

Calling all architects to join the conversation! Rate and review your favorite design softwares and hardwares on Architizer’s Tech Directorya new library of tech tools for designers.

Feature Image: The Earth Embassy by Christian Coackley 

Eirini Makarouni Author: Eirini Makarouni
Eirini Makarouni is an architect, PhD design-led researcher and freelance architectural writer. Traveling between Athens and Edinburgh, Eirini searches for alternative ways of practicing architecture. She draws inspiration from history, mythology and fiction, paper architecture, and local urban cultures.
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