Information and Jewellery CAD software comparison list last updated and verified February 2020
(This marks the first of a series of Frequently Asked Questions posts. See the rest of the FAQ pages.)
Which Jewellery CAD Software is the Best?
Over the years, the students in my jewellery CAD courses as well as my private clients have asked me a lot of questions about CAD as it relates to jewellery manufacturing. Many of these questions were often the same. As I thought it better to tailor my answer to each student’s needs, I resisted writing a single standard answer for quite a long time. Then it occurred to me that I could probably answer at least some of the questions all at once, and just fill in the gaps if people wanted to know more.
This is how my series of Frequently Asked Questions began.
On this and subsequent articles in my FAQ series, I will break down the most commonly asked questions from my own particular fields of expertise. If anyone has any more specific questions or is not clear about something mentioned here, just leave a comment below and I’ll add an answer to the entry.
For part 1, we’ll start off with the most common question of them all: “Which jewellery CAD software is the best for me?” This gives us the chance to discuss the different types of CAD software out there, how they are used, and also provide a jewellery CAD software comparison list for specific tasks.
- Why are There So Many Different Kinds of CAD Software?
- What is 2D Design Software?
- Is 2D CAD Software different from 2D Design?
- What is 3D CAD Software?
- What are the Comparative Advantages Of Each Jewellery CAD Software Package (“The Jewellery CAD Software Comparison List”)?
- Do You Have Any Examples of What These CAD Programs are Like to Use?
- Where Can I Purchase These CAD Programs?
I Want To Learn Jewellery CAD. Where Do I Start?
The first thing you should do is figure out how you want to use design software. There are actually several different kinds of computer-aided design software available, each one designed for a different purpose:
- 2D Design Software such as Photoshop
- 2D CAD Software such as TypeEdit, Adobe Illustrator, Corel Draw, and Inkscape
- 3D CAD Software such as 3Design, Rhino, Matrix, MatrixGold Essentials (formerly known as RhinoGold), and JewelCAD Pro
- Customer-Facing CAD Software such as Countersketch
- 3D Sculpture Software such as Geomagic Sculpt, Mudbox, and ZBrush
Why So Many Different Kinds?
You could be cynical and say that it’s different companies competing for a piece of the same market, but in truth the tools are all rather different. Even for tools which serve the same purpose (such as 3Design, Matrix, and Firestorm), they behave in different ways and were built starting from different design philosophies. It’s not uncommon for certain specialists or design houses to use more than one software package in conjunction. Adobe Illustrator and Rhino, for example.
Okay, So There Are Different Kinds of Jewellery CAD. What is 2D Design Software?
2D Design software is a bit like working with a set of paintbrushes and a palette of colours. It’s designed purely for working with bitmap images (such as photographs or illustrations) composed of pixels. Tools like these have been around since the early 80’s, so they’ve had plenty of time to come up with clever ways to paint, manipulate, and apply special effects to images. Pretty much everything you could think of doing with a paintbrush or a photography studio can be done with 2D Design software.
The most obvious 2D design software tool available would be Adobe Photoshop, but it is not the only one. There is also Corel Paint and Sketchbook Pro, among others. There is even a jewellery specific 2D Design software package– Gemvision Design Studio (previously known as Digital Goldsmith). While perhaps not as flashy as 3D design software, these 2D tools are vital in their own right for illustrators and draftsmen, allowing them to make paint-ups and renderings of designs in methods as close to the traditional methods as possible. They also serve a vital role in post-production of photography and CAD renders, preparing and sizing the images for use in print or on websites.
As it happens, I usually recommend that absolute newcomers to any sort of computer based design start with a 2D design software like Photoshop or Corel. Compared to other types of software, their learning curve can be much easier, and can help provide a gateway into more complex ways of working.
Is 2D CAD Software Different From 2D Design Software?
Yes. While both allow users to create designs in 2D, 2D CAD (or vector graphics) works in entirely different way than 2D Design software (or pixel graphics).
Think of 2D CAD software as a technical draftsman’s table, compared to 2D Design software’s paintbrushes and palette. Both can draw a picture, but the purpose of each picture is very different.
The purpose of 2D CAD is precision, usually for the purposes of design communication. Rather than working with bitmaps and pixels, 2D CAD uses vector lines. Whereas pixels are colours at locations on an image, vectors use points on a page with lines connecting them. There are three big advantages to using vectors for technical drawings:
- The lines are not fixed. They can be adjusted, moved, twisted, scaled, bent, even redrawn in sections.
- No matter how big or how small you scale the lines, they will always be redrawn with perfect resolution.
- Vector lines are also used by 3D CAD as well as laser engraving and industrial cutting tools. This means you can export your designs into formats directly useable by both applications, potentially saving the designers or service bureaus time.
What is 3D CAD Software?
3D CAD is what most people think of when they are talking about CAD. Conceptually, it’s the digital equivalent of fabrication tools and a wax carving kit. Rather than just simply making designs on a screen, the user is actually building his design to exact tolerances and specifications. The end result of CAD can be either rendering (producing a photorealistic image) or rapid prototyping (producing a physical model for use in manufacturing).
CAD models are often (and incorrectly) referred to as “drawings”. Since they are still technically 3D even if they’re only stored on a computer, it’s better to call them “3D models”. Using 3D CAD for product design is not a new thing. The first military applications of CAD/CAM appeared in the 1960’s, and the first commercial product design with CAD started happening in the late 1980’s. But it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that there is no field of product design which doesn’t use some form of CAD for manufacturing. 3D CAD’s advantages include:
- You can view a conceptual design in 3 dimensions, from any angle
- Measurements and dimensions of objects can be specified down to insane levels of precision.
- Since the piece hasn’t been made yet, it’s possible to modify or rebuild part or all of it, or visualise it in any colour or material you like.
What Are Some of the Advantages of Each Kind of 3D CAD?
While each of the different 2D and 3D jewellery CAD software packages were built based upon a different design philosophy, they are all capable of creating the same sorts of basic jewellery forms (eternity rings, solitaire wedding rings, etc.). You can only see real differences and advantages to individual programs when you get to more advanced types of design work.
For this reason, I’ve set up two features in this site:
- I’ve written descriptions for each of the most commonly used jewellery CAD software programs in industry, and included summaries of each jewellery CAD program’s strengths and weaknesses.
- For those wanting to know for what uses and circumstances the program is at its most powerful, I created a list below summarising specific design tasks and which particular jewellery CAD programs are best suited to solve them. (I call it the Jewellery CAD Software Comparison List.)
A Couple of Comments (and Disclaimers) Before We Begin
- All of the information in the jewellery CAD software comparison list is based on my own experiences of each of the software packages through a combination of testing, demos, tutorial videos, and working with others who know their tools. Ultimately, these are opinions, but I’ve tried (and will continue to try) my level best to keep this list as informed and representative as possible.
- Besides a comparative rating of level, I’ve listed each software program in alphabetical order. If there are three different programs in a section labelled Best, they’re of more or less similar strength to each other in that category.
- There is no Jewellery CAD software out there which is good at everything. Indeed, in many cases I’ve had to recommend users combine the strengths of two different CAD software packages together to achieve the complex tasks they’re trying to do. See my FAQ page on ideal CAD software combinations.
- I’ve tried to keep this list up to date with the latest versions of the software, but it seems new software comes out every season. If my list is looking dated, or if a new version of the software has come out which changes how well it performs in various categories (which does happen), please let me know and I’ll take a look and adjust accordingly.
- To those people who have been sending me rude or pushy posts- I teach most of these software packages, and I do not have any vested interest in selling any of these. If you feel I’ve missed something in my lists below, I’m happy to take another look and do another demo. But I daresay bullying someone is not the way to change their experiences and opinions on a piece of software.
- For the full disclaimer, see the bottom of this page.
The Jewellery CAD Software Comparison List
In alphabetical order in each category and level.
Fast Modifications and Reworking of Existing Models
- Fastest (either due to parametric history, direct modelling, or working with libraries): 3Design, Countersketch, Firestorm CAD, MatrixGold Essentials
- Fast (with limited history features or a quick interface): Matrix, JewelCAD
- Reasonably Quick: Any of the others
Making a Size Range From a Single Ring
- Best: 3Design, Firestorm, MatrixGold, Matrix
- Good: JewelCAD
- Can do it, but not really designed for it: Rhino, Carveco
Precision Modelling (ie fitted components, hinges, etc.)
- Best: Rhino, Matrix, MatrixGold Essentials
- Good: JewelCAD
- Okay: 3Design
- Can do it, but not really designed for it: Geomagic Sculpt, Mudbox, Zbrush
Organic Modelling (ie flowers, vines, scrollwork, filigree, etc.)
- Best: 3Design (especially with 3Shaper), Clayoo plug-in for Matrix and MatrixGold Essentials
- Good: Carveco, Geomagic Sculpt, JewelCAD, Matrix on its own, Mudbox, Rhino, Zbrush
- Can do it, but not really designed for it: Countersketch
Relief Sculpting (such as coins, medallions, or family crests):
- Best: Carveco (ArtCAM Jewelsmiths’ successor)
- Good: Mudbox, ZBrush (with appropriate techniques), Matrix (with the help of MatrixArt), 3Design, MatrixGold Essentials (with appropriate techniques)
- Can do it, but not really designed for it: Rhino, JewelCAD, Firestorm
Full 3D Carving onto a 3D Surface
- Best: Geomagic Sculpt, Mudbox, Zbrush
- Can do it, but not really designed for it: Any of the others
Applying Texture or Inlay With Shapes Onto a 3D Surface
- Best: Geomagic Sculpt, Mudbox, Zbrush
- Good (due to parametric history): 3Design, Firestorm
- Okay: Rhino, Matrix, MatrixGold Essentials
Creating and Managing Pave Setting
- Best: 3Design, Matrix, MatrixGold Essentials
- Good: Firestorm
- Can do it, but not really designed for it: Rhino
- Cannot do it at all: Carveco, Geomagic Sculpt, Mudbox, Zbrush (there is a way of synthesizing pave in Zbrush, but it’s not usable for production)
- Best: Keyshot (either plug-ins for software or standalone), Matrix, V-Ray (used with Rhino or Matrix)
- Good: 3Design with DeepImage, MatrixGold Essentials with Rhino Cycles, Zbrush on its own
- Passable but not Great: 3Design without DeepImage, Carveco, JewelCAD, Rhino without a rendering plug-in
Working in Front of a Client
- Best: Countersketch, Firestorm
- Very Good: 3Design, MatrixGold Essentials
- Good: Matrix
- Can do it, but not really designed for it: Carveco, JewelCAD, Rhino, Zbrush
Size of User Base
While nearly all of the above CAD software solutions offer great user support, where that support comes from also depends on the size of the user base. Generally the wider the user base, the more places you can go to get your questions answered. However, with small user bases, you’re able to get quick answers directly from the developer, and it also means they’re more likely to listen to your feedback on how to make the software better. So it’s a trade-off.
- Widest User Base (i.e. most people to ask for help, least chance of your feedback being heard): all Adobe software, Rhino
- Big: Matrix, V-Ray plug-in, Zbrush
- Fairly Big: 3Design, Keyshot plug-in
- Medium: Carveco, Mudbox, MatrixGold Essentials, Clayoo plug-in
- Smallest User Base (i.e. fewest people to ask for help, greatest chance of your feedback being heard): Geomagic Sculpt, Firestorm, JewelCAD (yes, even now)
Why Are Certain Programs Missing?
You will notice my jewellery CAD software comparsion list doesn’t include all types of CAD software used for 3D printing. I’ve tried to keep the focus on CAD software used explicitly by jewellers for making jewellery. I do regularly review the contents of the list, so if you think I’m missing something, contact me and I’ll look at adding it in.
Regarding older jewellery CAD software such as RhinoGold, T-Splines, and ArtCAM, I’ve removed them from the list because they are no longer available and supported by their software developers. It is still possible to get copies of them from the Internet, as it is a big place. However, I don’t feel right recommending discontinued software. In many of these cases, the developer has replaced it anyway. This is what happened with RhinoGold (replaced by MatrixGold Essentials), and T-Splines for Rhino (they moved their tools over to Fusion 360, and have been replaced by Clayoo for Rhino).
I am aware that Matrix is also discontinued, but because there is such a large user base out there which still uses it and has not upgraded, it is worth keeping in the list separately.
Do You Have Any Examples of What These Jewellery CAD Programs are Like to Use?
You have two options if you want to see what most of these software packages are like. The first would be to look at some of the tutorial videos for each jewellery CAD program. The second would be to ask for a demonstration from any of the sales representatives of each software packages (contact links below). With a few exceptions, nearly every one of these software providers has sales representatives keen to show off the features of the software to you.
Where Can I Purchase Them, and How Much Do They Cost?
With the exceptions of Adobe and Rhino, I’m afraid you will have to go directly to the software developers to purchase any of these pieces of software. Fortunately, nearly all of them have sales reps, so they’ll be more than happy to help you out. With regards to costs, they range anywhere from £1200 (for Rhino standalone with no plug-ins) to £6000 (For Matrix), including tax. The problem is these costs change somewhat from country to country, and also depending on promotions and other factors. It’s always best to ask them directly. To this end, I’ve provided links to every single jewellery CAD manufacturer’s website below:
- 3D Space Pro (makers of Firestorm CAD, based upon Spaceclaim)
- Adobe (makers of Photshop and Illustrator)
- Autodesk (makers of Mudbox, Fusion 360, and ArtCAM)
- Carveco (successor to ArtCAM Jewelsmith)
- Gemvision/Stuller (makers of Matrix, Countersketch, MatrixGold Essentials, RhinoGold, and Clayoo)
- McNeel (makers of Rhino)
- Pixologic (makers of Zbrush)
- Geomagic (makers of Geomagic Sculpt, formerly known as Claytools), a subsidiary of 3DSystems
- Type3 (makers of 3Design and 3Shaper)
Note that RhinoGold was bought out by Matrix, and has become MatrixGold Essentials.
If affording software is an issue, I wrote an article about managing the cost of software for the FAQ series.
Did I Miss Something?
If you have any thoughts or questions on the jewellery CAD software comparison list, don’t hesitate to comment below, or contact me. This list was and continues to be updated as new information comes in and the landscape changes.