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18 Resources for Learning Mechanical CAD from Beginner to Expert Level

18 Resources for Learning Mechanical CAD from Beginner to Expert Level

Introduction to Mechanical CAD Design

Mechanical CAD (computer-aided design) software allows engineers and designers to create accurate 2D drawings and 3D models of mechanical parts and assemblies. It is an essential tool for any mechanical engineering or manufacturing related field. The goal of this guide is to provide a thorough overview of learning resources to master mechanical CAD, from beginner to expert level.

Mechanical CAD software includes programs like AutoCAD, AutoCAD Mechanical, Inventor, Creo/Pro-Engineer, SolidWorks, CATIA, NX Unigraphics and Solid Edge. These tools allow users to draft 2D geometry, create 3D part and assembly models, generate detailed engineering drawings, simulate motion or stress analysis, and document product specifications. Most platforms also include capabilities for sheet metal, weldments, surfacing, CAM and more.

Learning mechanical CAD requires understanding the software, interface, settings, drafting tools, modeling techniques, and industry practices. A combination of methods like online courses, blogs, tutorials, instructor-led training and hands-on practice is key. This guide will provide a roadmap of the top learning resources across all the key mechanical CAD knowledge areas. With structured and guided learning, anyone can master mechanical CAD design from beginner to professional levels. The resources shared will introduce the fundamentals, build key skills, and help you become an expert CAD designer or drafter.

Getting Started with AutoCAD

AutoCAD is a complex software with many features and capabilities, but you don't need to learn everything at once when you're just starting out. Here's an overview of the key concepts and tools you need to begin creating 2D drawings in AutoCAD.

The AutoCAD Interface

When you first open AutoCAD, you will see the main application window which contains the ribbon interface at the top with various tabs like Home, Insert, Annotate, etc. These tabs contain related tools and commands to create and edit your drawings.

The drawing area is blank at first, that's where you'll create your drawing by adding lines, circles, text and other objects. On the left you'll find the tool palettes which provide quick access to commonly used blocks and tools.

At the bottom is the command line, this allows you to type commands and values instead of using the ribbon. The status bar runs along the bottom displaying the current properties like the coordinates of your cursor.

Creating Objects

To begin a drawing you need to create lines and shapes. The common tools for this are located on the Home tab. Some basics:

  • Line: Draw straight line segments.

  • Circle: Draw circles by specifying radius or diameter.

  • Arc: Draw curved arcs.

  • Rectangle: Draw rectangles by specifying opposite corners.

  • Polyline: Create connected straight and curved segments.

You can enter exact values to place objects precisely using the dynamic input at the cursor.


Layers allow you to organize different types of objects. For example, you may have separate layers for walls, doors, text.

To create a new layer, type `LAYER` or use the Layer Properties Manager. Then you can assign objects to different layers as you draw.


Adding dimensions is crucial for conveying the precise size of objects in CAD drawings. Use the Dimension tool on the Annotate tab to add horizontal, vertical, aligned and angular dimensions.

Select the objects to dimension, then choose the dimension type and place the dimension line. You can fine tune the appearance and precision of the dimensions.

This covers the very basics of starting a drawing in AutoCAD. Next we'll look at more advanced 2D drafting and detailing capabilities.

2D Drawing and Drafting

Orthographic projection is essential for any 2D CAD drawing. This involves creating different views of an object - front, top, side etc. - that accurately represent the object's dimensions. When creating these views, it's important to follow orthographic projection rules to get the correct perspective and proportions.

Section views are useful for showing internal features and details that aren't visible in regular orthographic views. To create a section view, you draw cutting lines to indicate where you want to cut the object, then use hatching, shading or other techniques to indicate the cut. Aligning section views properly with orthographic views is key.

Annotations like dimensions, notes, symbols, and callouts are critical for conveying design intent and manufacturing specifications. Dimensions should be placed appropriately, formatted correctly, and use the proper dimensioning standards. Notes and callouts must clearly indicate what they refer to. Creating blocks for common symbols and annotations helps streamline the detailing process.

Applying annotation styles helps maintain consistency and automatically update annotations if your standards change. Drafting tools like object snaps and polar tracking aid in precisely placing detailling geometry. Using layers organizes object types and allows controlling visibility. Proper detailing principles and CAD techniques are key for 2D documentation quality.

3D Modeling

One of the key aspects of becoming proficient in AutoCAD is learning 3D modeling techniques to create and edit 3D objects. While 2D drafting is essential, 3D modeling allows you to design for real-world objects and environments.

There are several important 3D modeling concepts and tools to learn in AutoCAD:

Extruding and Revolving

Extruding and revolving 2D objects are two of the most basic ways to create 3D forms in AutoCAD. The EXTRUDE tool allows you to select a 2D object like a line or polygon and extrude it into a 3D object by specifying a height. The REVOLVE tool lets you revolve or rotate a 2D object around an axis to create a 3D object. Mastering extruding and revolving is key to constructing basic 3D forms.

Boolean Operations

Boolean operations like UNION, SUBTRACT, and INTERSECT allow you to combine and manipulate 3D objects. The UNION tool merges two 3D objects into one unified object. SUBTRACT allows you to subtract one object from another. INTERSECT lets you create an object from the overlapping volume where two objects intersect. Boolean operations are critical for creating complex 3D models by combining and altering basic 3D forms.


Rendering generates lifelike visualizations of 3D models by applying realistic lighting, materials, backgrounds, and effects. AutoCAD's built-in rendering engine allows you to create stunning rendered images directly from your 3D models. You can control lighting, materials, and backgrounds for photorealistic renderings. Rendering is important for visualizing and presenting 3D designs with real-world context and appearances.

With these core 3D modeling tools and concepts, you'll be equipped to take your AutoCAD skills to the next level by designing, visualizing, and presenting 3D models. Hands-on practice with extruding, revolving, Boolean operations, and rendering will build expertise for tackling both simple and complex 3D projects in AutoCAD.

Piping and P&ID Design

AutoCAD provides dedicated tools for piping and process plant design.

Piping Tools and Setup

The AutoCAD Plant 3D toolset includes Pipe Network tools to layout and route piping systems with fittings, connectors, valves and supports. You can select pipe specs like material, diameter and standard from built-in catalogs. Pipe supports can be inserted and moved along the pipe runs according to code requirements. The Pipe Edit tool allows you to insert or move points on your pipe networks for optimal routing.

Creating Schematics

Process & Instrumentation Diagrams (P&IDs) are key schematics for industrial plants. In AutoCAD P&ID you can create these diagrams with a drag and drop interface of fluid and electrical schematic symbols. You can also build Instrument Lists and AutoCAD P&ID automatically updates your schematic drawings. Data-rich AutoCAD plant databases link your schematics with 3D models and plant item specs.

Libraries and Blocks

AutoCAD P&ID and Plant 3D come with many standard symbols and schematic components to streamline plant design. You also have the option to create custom symbols and save them to your own library folders. Block libraries help you effectively reuse components like pumps, vessels, piping specialties, instrumentation and structural items across your projects.

CAM and Generating Toolpaths

Computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) software converts 3D models into instructions for CNC machines like milling machines, lathes, routers, lasers and plasma cutters. The process of generating these toolpaths is called CAM programming.

Some of the common toolpath types in CAM include:

  • Contour toolpaths - Follow the contour of a part to machine the outside shape. Used for finishing and profiling operations.

  • Pocket toolpaths - Clear material from inside a closed boundary to create a cavity or pocket in the part. Used for roughing internal areas.

  • Drilling toolpaths - Add holes specified in the 3D model. Used for drilling holes.

  • Thread milling toolpaths - Cut screw threads into a hole. Used for adding threads to holes.

The basic CAM programming workflow involves:

1. Importing or creating 3D geometry in the CAM system.

2. Defining the stock boundaries. This represents the raw material block size.

3. Selecting tools from the tool library like end mills, ball end mills, drills.

4. Generating toolpaths - selecting geometry and choosing suitable toolpath types.

5. Simulating the toolpaths to detect collisions, inefficiencies and errors.

6. Post-processing the toolpaths to the language understood by the CNC machine.

Simulations are critical to verify the toolpaths before machining the actual part. They help visualize the material removal process and identify issues like:

  • Gouging - Tool extending below the target surface

  • Undercuts - Areas missed by the tool

  • Collisions - Tool intersecting with clamping fixtures or other obstacles

Advanced CAM software can simulate material removal, tool wear over time and machine behavior to ensure efficient and error-free machining. Accurate CAM programming and simulation results in higher quality parts, safer machining and lower cycle times.

Collaboration and Data Management

Working on projects with large teams or managing large datasets requires collaboration tools to coordinate workflows. AutoCAD offers several features to facilitate collaboration and data management:

Working with References and Xrefs

External references (xrefs) allow you to link drawings rather than importing geometry. This enables collaborative workflows by allowing multiple designers to work on the same master drawing simultaneously. Xrefs also reduce file size and help organize complex projects.

To work with xrefs you need to first create a drawing file that will be externally referenced. This xref can then be inserted into other drawings. You can control the visibility, binding, and other properties of the xref. Any changes made to the xref drawing file will automatically update in the host drawings.

Collaboration Tools

AutoCAD supports built-in collaboration tools and integrates with Autodesk cloud services:

  • Autodesk Drive enables you to store and share both 2D and 3D designs from AutoCAD in the cloud.

  • The Autodesk desktop connector synchronizes your AutoCAD designs and custom tool palettes with the cloud.

  • Autodesk Anywhere helps coordinate design projects across extended teams.

  • The Autodesk Viewer allows anyone to view 2D and 3D designs through a web browser.

Vault Software

Autodesk Vault provides advanced data management capabilities including version control, workflows, item lifecycles, and reporting. Vault helps organize, manage and track changes across a large collection of AutoCAD files. Key features include:

  • File versioning - ability to track revisions and manage file history

  • Access control - set user permissions

  • Workflows - coordinate design review and approval processes

  • Integration - connect with email, calendars, and other business systems

  • Reporting - generate reports on project status, revisions, etc.

Vault streamlines collaboration, especially for large teams and complex projects. It gives admins control over AutoCAD data while enabling designers to work efficiently.

Rendering and Visualization

Rendering and visualization in mechanical CAD are crucial for bringing designs to life and showcasing your work professionally. At this stage of your learning, you'll want to become familiar with materials, lighting, photorealistic rendering, and animation.

Materials and Lighting

Applying accurate materials like metals, plastics, glass, etc. and setting up proper lighting is the foundation of visualization. Learn how materials interact with different lighting types like point lights, spot lights, and ambient light. Understand how to control light intensity, color, falloff, and shadows.

Advanced Rendering

To take your renders to the next level, dive into photorealistic rendering techniques. Use raytracing for accurate reflections, refractions, shadows, and global illumination. Explore render engines like V-Ray for incredibly detailed and photorealistic results. Learn to adjust samples, noise thresholds, caustics, and indirect illumination for clean, professional renders.

Animation Walkthroughs

Bring your CAD designs to life with animation walkthroughs and fly-throughs. These are a powerful way to tell a visual story and showcase your designs. Learn camera animation techniques like panning, orbiting, dollying, and positioning camera paths. Understand editing keyframes on a timeline for smooth playback. Great animations take practice, so be patient and keep iterating.

With advanced rendering and visualization skills, you can showcase your CAD work in the best possible light. Stunning images and animations will help you win clients and clearly communicate your designs.

Automation and Customization

One of the most powerful capabilities of AutoCAD is being able to automate repetitive tasks and customize the interface for enhanced workflows through scripting, macros, and LISP routines. This allows users to work more efficiently by eliminating redundant clicking and typing.

Scripting and Macros

Scripting in AutoCAD allows you to record commonly repeated commands and playback the script. This automates multi-step processes with a single click. Popular scripting options include:

  • Action Macros - Record and save sequences of commands for playback later. Helpful for automating simple routine tasks.

  • AutoLISP - Program custom functions using the LISP programming language. Widely used to automate CAD tasks and workflows.

  • Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) - Similar to AutoLISP but uses Visual Basic syntax. Integrates with other Windows applications.

  • ActiveX/COM - Allows interacting with AutoCAD objects using Visual Basic, C#, and other languages. Useful for advanced interoperability.

Customizing Interface

You can customize AutoCAD's interface, toolbars, menus and workspace to optimize it for your specific needs. Some popular ways of customizing AutoCAD include:

  • Creating custom tool palettes with frequently used blocks, hatch patterns, etc.

  • Customizing ribbon tabs and panels to quickly access the tools you use most.

  • Setting up alternative workspaces optimized for common workflows.

  • Adding custom menu macros to automate multi-step tasks.

  • Customizing mouse buttons for quick access to commands.

LISP Routines

LISP (List Processing) allows users to write programs that automate complex CAD tasks. Some example uses:

  • Performing repeating calculations.

  • Extracting and processing drawing data.

  • Modifying objects on the fly while working in your drawing.

  • Creating custom dialog boxes and forms.

LISP opens up an extensive range of customization possibilities to enhance productivity.

With AutoCAD's robust automation and scripting options, you can significantly optimize and accelerate your design workflows. Investing time in learning these tools can provide huge time savings over the long run.

Resources for Practice

Becoming an expert at AutoCAD requires hands-on practice to reinforce your skills. Here are some recommendations for practice resources:

Recommended Courses

  • Udemy - CAD Exercises for 2D and 3D Practice

  • LinkedIn Learning - AutoCAD Practice Drawings from Beginner to Advanced

  • Skill share - AutoCAD Workbook with 50 Practice Drawings

These courses provide step-by-step tutorial drawings and models that allow you to practice the AutoCAD skills covered in the lessons. They range from beginner to advanced level.

Practice Drawings and Models

  • CADalyst - Free AutoCAD Practice Drawings to Download

  • Tutorial45 - 28 AutoCAD Exercises for 2D and 3D Practice

  • CAD SetterOut - AutoCAD Practice Drawings Library

These sites offer libraries of practice drawings and 3D models that you can download for free. They cover real-world examples like architectural plans, mechanical parts, civil diagrams, etc.

Certification Prep

  • Autodesk - Certified User and Certified Professional Practice Exams

  • Udemy - AutoCAD Certified Professional Exam Prep Course

Use these practice exams and courses to prepare for Autodesk's AutoCAD certification. They will help assess your skills and get you ready to pass the exams.

Practice is essential for developing the muscle memory and speed needed to use AutoCAD efficiently. It also reinforces your knowledge by applying it to real design tasks. Take advantage of these resources to sharpen your skills on the way to becoming an AutoCAD expert.


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