Editor's Window

30 Nov, 2006 By: Sara Ferris

2D—Alive and Well: In an increasingly 3D world, our old familiar friend holds its own.

Though vendors are trying, and often succeeding, in coaxing 2D CAD users to make the leap to 3D solid modeling, 2D design software is thriving. An online survey of 520 manufacturing firms by Aberdeen Group found that 77% of those who currently use 3D modeling also do 2D drafting.

 Sara ferris
Sara ferris

In subsequent interviews with respondents, Aberdeen discovered that "for some, 2D drafting is better-suited for conceptual engineering when users don't want to commit to part numbers and the complexity of assemblies. Others are constrained by the absence of 3D modeling in their supply chain. If their suppliers can't use 3D models, they certainly can't provide them as a deliverable."

Despite the persistence of 2D, Aberdeen found that the most successful manufacturers did not separate 2D and 3D in the workflow. Instead, designers and engineers handled both the 3D modeling and 2D drafting tasks. (For more on this report, including the factors that distinguish best-in-class manufacturers, see the Cadalyst Daily article, "Survey: 3D Modeling Paves Road to Success," at

Even more surprising is a tidbit from Autodesk's third-quarter financial report: Though sales of 3D products are taking off (36% growth year-over-year), the 2D line is turning in respectable growth rates as well. That means only 10% of customers have adopted 3D, a figure that hasn't changed much during the past few years. Autodesk CEO Carl Bass explained it this way: "The denominator is the problem with this equation. The 2D revenue and 2D installed base just keeps growing. And so it makes it hard to make a meaningful impact on it."

As 3D gains momentum, we'd expect to see a slowdown on the 2D side, but that doesn't appear to be happening. Even in manufacturing, where 3D has made the greatest inroads, good old AutoCAD Mechanical continues to shine in terms of sales.

The past few months also saw two established CAD vendors giving away 2D drafting tools: UGS with its Solid Edge 2D Drafting and think3 with its free2Design application. UGS sees 2D as a commodity—a product that's basically the same no matter which vendor is selling it. (Think pork bellies.)

Think3's freebie is aimed at users in developing countries such as China and India, based on the belief that companies would otherwise end up using pirated software. Low-cost manufacturing apparently leaves no budget for design software. Think3's hope is that once such companies use the free2Design application, they'll eventually move up to 3D modeling software, though it's not clear to me how they'll pay for the 3D software if they can't afford a 2D tool.

I tend to think 2D hasn't reached the commodity stage yet, especially among those who use it exclusively. 2D designs may always look the same, but the methods and tools used to create them will vary. Free 2D, I believe, is most likely to appeal to those running 2D alongside 3D.


About the Author: Sara Ferris