Frequently Asked Questions 7 – How Can I Afford Jewellery CAD Software? And Are There Cheaper Alternatives?

18 February, 2013

(Jewellery CAD Cheaper Alternatives List Updated September 2020)

Probably the most common (and heartbreaking) question I get from aspiring CAD designers keen to develop their skills is “How am I supposed to afford jewellery CAD software? It costs thousands of pounds, and I’m only just starting out!”

Let’s discuss this, and what we can do about it.


Balancing Users Needs versus Developer Needs

There’s no way of saying it in any nicer way– CAD software isn’t cheap. Costs run anywhere from £1000 (for the latest version of Rhino without any plugins) to over £7000 for MatrixGold. For some heavier industrial CAD software packages such as CATIA, this can easily go into the tens of thousands!

The cost of software is a dilemma all potential users of industrial design software face, and have faced since CAD even became a potential career. It is also tied in with the software developer’s dilemma over intellectual property: If they try to make the software too cheap, they’ll never make any money. But if they make the software too expensive, then nobody can afford to use or learn it unless they’re lucky enough to learn on the job.

Demo software was introduced by many companies to bridge this for learning purposes, but it only opened up another question: how functional do you make the demo? If it’s not functional enough, it becomes a badly maintained cousin of the main software. If it’s too functional, then why should anyone bother with the real thing? To answer this software companies came up with temporary licences, which hatched dilemmas over how much time to give and how much to charge. And this cycle went on through monthly rental copies, student discounts, and of course outright piracy. All of them keep coming back to the same ultimate problem: how do you keep the software developers from going out of business without starving the users of the ability to afford jewellery CAD software?

There are answers, but all of them are compromises, just as with the above dilemmas.


It’s Not Software, It’s a Business

The main thing to remember with software of this level is that it is not a piece of software, but it is an industrial business tool. To afford an industrial business tool, you need to think like a business. Therefore, one of the best things you could do before you start deciding to purchase CAD software is to consider yourself as if you’re starting a business, and approach the purchasing of equipment as if it is an integral part of the business plan you’re trying to set up.

The common term for this is called budgeting for your business, and by going through all these steps of considering what you want to do, you’ll know whether the money spent is justified.

This may seem quite a lot to do, but if there is anything which will focus your mind on what tools you need to do what you ultimately want to do, it is this.


Cheaper Alternatives for Industry Standard Jewellery CAD Software

Having said all that, new users have to start learning somewhere. If you cannot afford jewellery CAD software at full price, most software providers have come up with cheaper alternative solutions to reduce the cost of their software for entry level users. In some cases, there are also lower-priced alternatives on the market where you can learn the basics before moving up onto other types of CAD modelling. While these aren’t quite the same thing as practicing on the real thing, they certainly make for an affordable solution for learning:

Adobe Photoshop

  • You can get Adobe Photoshop temporarily on a monthly or annual Adobe CC subscription
  • This subscription is also offered with a student discount.
  • You could use free open source alternative GIMP (free)

Adobe Illustrator

  • You can get Adobe Photoshop temporarily on a monthly Adobe CC subscription
  • This subscription is also offered with a student discount.
  • You could use free open source alternative InkScape (free)


  • MatrixGold offers temporary student versions for those taking short courses (2 week) or in full time education (6 months). Contact MatrixGold sales rep GVUK Design for more details on those.
  • You could start with Rhino (free 90 day trial).
  • GVUK Design does offer a payment plan for the full version of the software.


  • 3Design offers two lower end versions of the software: Designer license and Atelier license. Contact 3Design sales rep Sierra Consultancy for more details on these.
  • Sierra Consultancy does offer a payment plan for the full version of the software.


  • Rhino comes with a free 90 day trial version
  • Rhino offers a student license for those in full time education



The catch with most of these is twofold: firstly, the lower cost versions are usually limited in some way, such as having fewer feathers or a time limit for use. Secondly, it seems training options aren’t as plentiful as they are for more expensive software packages either. I always thought that was unfair, but I suppose it makes sense given that a software developer isn’t going to invest as much money in training tutorials if they aren’t getting any money for them.

The result is widely varying quality control on the tutorials which are on offer for the above software packages. To alleviate this, I offer my own pages of links to selected online tutorials, as well as offering private CAD tuition either as one to one masterclasses or short courses in all the above mentioned programs.


The Problem With Piracy

I should make a mention of piracy at some point here, as it inevitably comes up with the subject of software costs.

There is no disputing that piracy is a contentious subject in the field of software, particularly when the software in question costs thousands of pounds normally. It seems if a program is popular enough, people will try to steal it. The more expensive it becomes, the more people will try to get it illegally. Harder copy protection? Viciously aggressive license enforcement? Neither does anything to dissuade piracy. Warren Buffett himself famously called DRM technology “the gates of Hell”, as it opened up a never-ending arms race with cyber criminals. You could probably make an argument that software is overpriced precisely because of criminal downloading, but since nobody can agree on how much illegal downloading actually takes place (the RIAA and MPAA have more than once misrepresented statistics on this subject), this is a hard one to quantify.

As it relates to our subject here, though, this arms race between increasingly draconian groups of content providers (who would rather treat their customers as criminals than admit they’ve wasted money on copy protection) and increasingly angry groups of users (who don’t have that much money to begin with) makes for a hot-headed debate and a growing raft of legislation which is best to stay away from. Let the lawyers slug this one out, I say, while you run your business in peace.

I am aware that “yesterday’s pirate users are tomorrow’s power users”, but I also know the vicious penalties any new business would suffer if they were caught using pirated software as the basis of their work. For this reason, I would recommend starting as legitimately as you can and staying that way, and would say it’s suicidal to even think about illegal software when starting your business properly!



While nothing can ultimately take away from the fact that £5000 software costs £5000, there are several ways in which you can approach the problem of affording jewellery CAD software creatively, which can either save you large amounts of money or at least give you the financial discipline which would make this software affordable.

(This post is part of my series of Frequently Asked Questions. See the rest of the FAQ pages.)



Jack Meyer

Bespoke jewellery designer, and specialist in jewellery CAD/CAM and emergent technologies that affect jewellery.

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23 Comments Frequently Asked Questions 7 – How Can I Afford Jewellery CAD Software? And Are There Cheaper Alternatives?

  1. On the subject of: “Start With a Cheaper Software and Move Up” 3design offers a “design” version for £1,780 (at least in the US) which has the same tools and features but no STL. Apparently there is a network of 3design affiliated wax printers that will accept the native files. Later you can upgrade for the delta in price.

    1. Thank you Charlie. You are absolutely right. I’ll confirm the European price for this myself.

      It’s not as low a price as Moment of Inspiration (which is $295 US), or Inkscape (free), but £1780 is a lot cheaper than most professional CAD software, and is a fraction of the cost of a full 3Design license.

  2. Hi Jack, just wanted to say great post, especially because you provide solutions to the problem by mentioning the alternatives. I think you’re right about staying out of the ‘hot water’ with illegal downloads, although the price of course still irritates me because it prevents the layman from advancing to that specific level. I would be interested in finding out more about what you think of the cheaper CAD software for jewelers. Have you used it? Have you written a review?

    1. Hi Candice:

      Thank you for the feedback. As you say, the ever-growing cost of software has always been a thorn in the side of designers (jewellery or otherwise) for as long as we’ve been using computers.

      Regarding cheaper CAD software, were there any particular CAD software packages you had in mind? I’m happy to answer any questions about the software I mentioned in the above article.

  3. I had a jewelry business until my partner pulled the plug in 2010. We had invested in Matrix software and I learned (and loved) it, but I haven’t touched it since the business closed and I don’t make jewelry anymore. Is there a market for used software/keys?

    1. Hi Jude:

      Good question. Normally I would say contact the Gemvision Forum, but that’s only for existing users.

      Tell you what: I’ll ask around.



    2. Hi Jude,

      I am looking into purchasing Matrix, Modo, or Artcam (haven’t decided which yet) to add to the Zbrush and 3ds Max workflow I’ve been using. I am interested in getting into coin/medallion design, and am wondering if your used copy of Matrix is still available? Can you contact me at

      Thank you,


    3. Hi Jude. Surely there is. On one hand note that the Gemvision has a plan for users who bought 2nd hand dongles and wish to be included in normal updates (i.e. become normal, registered Gemvision Matrix user with all benefits of that, not only user with a possibility to legally use the software). On the second – right now I’m looking around to find a source for 2nd hand Gemvision Matrix (and check its price – if the company can afford it at all, as the new is totally out of the reach at this stage). So you can clearly see that there is a market for that.

      1. Hi Ister:

        It’s an interesting question you pose. Dealing with students from the various CAD programs, I have received requests to sell on second hand licenses from different softwares before. Yet I have never seen a website or other official exchange place for dealing in second hand software licenses.

        Considering how this expensive software can be, it isn’t a bad idea. But I can understand why software developers don’t like the idea of people selling on the ownership of their proprietary software for a number of reasons (hard to keep track of customers for support purposes, the perception that their software may look unwanted, price competition worries, etc.)

        I guess your best bet would be the informal economy within various training centres and academic institutions. If you have enough students passing through a classroom, it’s only a matter of time before someone changes their mind about owning the software, regardless of how good the software is.

        Having said all that, I don’t have any of my students looking to sell on their software at the moment. But if you want, I can keep a lookout for you.



  4. I saw jude’s comment and would love to know also if the license is transferable. If so I am looking to get either rhino or matrix but after everything I have read online it may be a smarter bet to get matrix. kindly let me know if something like that is transferrable and if so is it updatable after that? As I would prefer to get to the new Matrix 7

    1. Hi Leon:

      Apologies for the slow response. I spoke with Gemvision’s sales rep in Europe to confirm this, and they told me the following:

      “Assuming it is a full paid for package there is no problem changing owners, the support would not carry over. Also it cannot be a 2nd license ie if a business buys 2 copies the 2nd one is ½ price which cannot be passed one except along with the first license.”

      I hope that helps.

      If you want to get it touch with the individual who wanted to exchange his license, be my guest. If I were you I would also talk to Matrix directly about what sorts of options would be available for you for support.



  5. Catia is expensive alright. We use a lot of those engineering software in my old company. We have expensive programs like Matlab, Solidworks and ANSYS. But we were able to cut back on the license cost by using software asset management tools. My former colleague uses Open iT ( )for monitoring license usage.He’s an IT guy there, he’s mainly using it for reporting and facilitating IT chargeback. He’s also using it for negotiating pay-per-use agreement with the software vendors. They say the software also has license harvesting feature. I’m not sure if they have a free program, but i think they have free demo. Anyways the good thing about it is that, it works even without the license manager. Haven’t tried it yet, but i maybe evaluating the Open iT software soon. Will let you know if it works for me.

  6. I want 2 know a price of jewel cad and matrixx software with license in india, as i m a new student of jewel cad.. Plz help me out.

  7. As a former grad student in architecture I have to say its practically heartbreaking when you show up on the first day and they tell you that you HAVE TO have Rhino and AutoCAD and Adobe Suite and then tell you that they can’t help you get it in any way. They actually tell us to ask our peers for the illegal download. First of all no student is ever able to afford $10000 just for software. Secondly its really awkward to be expected by your professors to go around begging for help with your computer from people who have their own lives to run. It seems like only a few people in any given class have this computer hacking skill and by the time they’ve helped their own friends get free software they’re tired of it already. University sketchy policy and corporate greed have forced me into social problems and forced me to become some kind of desperate freeloader.

    1. Dear FML:

      Sadly, this is not the first time I’ve heard people say what you have said.

      Ultimately, I believe schools and training facilities have a duty of care to help students find software (or at least access to the software) they need to learn for their courses. Part of this may be through computer labs, and part of this may be through negotiations and agreements with software suppliers, but either way students need the software to practice on and get confident with on their own. Schools that make no support concession of any sort are not really doing their job properly. And I must say it is highly dubious and unethical for professors to be officially advising students to go find pirate software rather than solving the problem themselves.

      Having said that, I can understand how an educational institution can get to a point like this though– quite a few technical colleges in the USA are so badly underfunded that the students don’t have access to quite a lot of things which would be considered bare minimum to learn those skills properly. In a place like this, tutors’ hands are tied, and they probably hate giving out the advice as much as students hate learning it.

      But, bringing it back to your complaint, the demo versions of the software (and the discount student editions) should make some difference. Google search student versions of the software in question (for example, Rhino offers a student license which costs under £200, and Adobe offers a student license which is a fraction of the price of the main software).



  8. Hi Jack,
    I have done 2 rhino courses at holts academy with you, a few years ago. I use Rhino on a regular basis to produce jewellery pieces, however I cannot render the pieces properly (I have Flamingo).

    I am now wondering if I should buy Rhino Gold, learn Marix (and potentially buy it in the future) or simply continue to use Rhino and have one-to-one tuition on rendering?

    I would be grateful if you could give me your advise. I have contacted Holts but they were unable to advise me on this.

    Many thanks.
    Best Regards,
    Joana Cunha

    1. Hi Joana. Good to hear from you.

      As to whether you want to upgrade to Rhino Gold or Matrix, that really depends on the kind of work you do. Do you work with a lot of pave? Do you need a new renderer? Do you want some tools to save time on some repetitive tasks or certain types of stone settings like channel settings?

      Next time you do contact Holts Academy asking technical CAD questions, ask to be referred to me.



  9. Hi, Jack! What are your comments on Blender? I have seen some tutorials and they didn\\\’t look too bad. I am a complete beginner! However, I do have some basic knowledge of simpler programs like Adobe. I want to be able to print 3d molds that have complex prong settings for stones, and rings with fine details. For example a really detailed skull head or a dragon with detailed scales. I am concerned about the type of software that is used and how that affects the print out of the 3d model. Is there a difference between the expensive software and the low cost software in terms of the completed print out? Also, what 3d printer would you suggest?
    Let me know! Thank you!

    1. Hi Cheyenne:

      So far what I’ve seen about Blender looks quite good, although the interface is very rough around the edges. But I’m still in the process of reviewing it so I can offer a properly informed opinion.

      As for 3D printers, have a look at my blog entry on the subject:

      I’ve heard good things about the Formlabs. And I’ve been consistently a fan of Solidscape and Envisiontec for a long time.

      I hope that helps.



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