Solidworks and Fusion 360 are both very popular CAD software packages used in a wide range of industries.
They are both geared towards the more engineering and product design side of CAD, rather than the artistic side, covered by softwares such as Blender.
But out of Solidworks and Fusion 360, which is the best?
Both softwares are very capable at what they do, and there are reasons why both are so popular the world over.
And because of these reasons, the answer to the question of which is “the best”, may not be as straightforward as it seems.
So let’s demystify that statement, and take a look at what both CAD software solutions can offer.
Fusion 360 vs SolidWorks: 5 Key Differences
So lets us start to compare the two powerful CAD tools.
Below, I’ve listed the 5 key aspects of both softwares and how they differentiate from each other. These are the main aspects that most users (or potential users) are looking at.
Integration and Compatibility
Fusion 360 is compatible with Windows 8 (until early 2023), Windows 10 and Windows 11. It is also available for Mac OSX.
Solidworks is exclusively compatible with 64-bit versions of Windows. Obviously, if you are running an old X86 machine, and you still have a 32-bit version of Solidworks, you can still use that.
Both can run on Linux using VMs and compatibility layers, but as we explained in the previous article on running Solidworks on Linux, it comes with some limitations.
Fusion 360 natively uses its own .F3D file type, and Solidworks uses .SLDPRT files.
Both softwares are compatible with a wide range of other files.
For information on Fusion 360 file compatibility, check out this link.
To find out what file types are compatible with Solidworks, you can find more information here.
You can use Fusion 360 files in Solidworks, and vice-versa (up to a point), but obviously the best compatibility is gained from using the file type within its own software.
Capabilities and Tools
Both Solidworks and Fusion 360 start with sketching, and then convert those sketches into 3D geometry with surface and solid modelling.
They are both parametric, which means you can define relations between geometric features and control the features parametrically (or with equations).
Fusion 360 features direct modelling, which is basically sculpting. You can push and pull bits of geometry and form the model like clay (much like Blender).
Both Solidworks and Fusion 360 have simulation capabilities, but Solidworks has a wider range of simulation options, particularly in the CFD domain. Both are capable of linear and non-linear FEA.
You can render on both Solidworks and Fusion 360. Both have native rendering capabilities, with Solidworks rendering locally and Fusion 360 rendering on the cloud.
Solidworks has an extra option for rendering called Solidworks Visualize Pro. It is superior, and uses AI-based denoising, and it runs on the Nvidia iRay engine.
This is a costly upgrade, but the results are pretty amazing.
In terms of assemblies, Fusion 360 uses a multi-body part system, where multiple parts are modelled together in the same file. Solidworks can also do multi-part modelling, but contains an assembly mode.
In terms of topology optimization, Solidworks and Fusion 360 both have this feature, although it is referred to as Shape Optimization in Fusion 360.
Fusion 360 also has the option for Generative Design, where AI produces different design iterations on the cloud.
Ease of Use
You can produce basic results fairly quickly in both softwares, but mastery of each package can take a long time.
Even after using and working with Solidworks for 13 years, I am still discovering new things.
The in-program tutorials in both packages will help you get productive fairly quickly, and if the tutorials don’t cover it, YouTube is a great source of learning.
Overall, the interface is easier to get to grips with in Fusion 360, and it does have a fairly significant edge over Solidworks in both usability and learning curve.
Both softwares have large resources in the usual internet places, including Reddit and Facebook.
In terms of CAD models, GrabCAD has a great collection of free models, and you can use a search filter to find models specific to Solidworks or Fusion 360.
Solidworks has an official forum on their website at this link.
You can also join the SOLIDWORKS User Group Network where you can collaborate with other users and find many valuable resources. To join the network, you have to create an account at meetup.com.
Another great SolidWorks resource is the 3dexperience platform from the software creator Dassault Systèmes.
The Fusion 360 Community Forum is also a pretty busy place where you find many answers.
In case you plan to use Fusion 360 regularly, you can also support the product development team from Fusion 360. They have a program called Fusion 360 Insider, where you can test new versions and features before they are deployed.
Pricing and Licensing
Fusion 360 is available as a free trial, and then has a subscription-based pricing model with different plans for personal and business, and educational use.
The company also offers free “Fusion 360 for personal” package, which is “reduced” version of the software. To get the 3-year subscription for hobbyist, you need to qualify, proving that you’re using the software for non-commercial design.
SolidWorks, on the other hand, is available through a perpetual license with a one-time purchase fee and also offers educational discounts.
Side-by-Side Comparison of Features and Functionality
You can see a summary of the main features in Solidworks and Fusion 360 in the table below.
|Operating System||Windows (64 bit)||Windows (32 & 64 bit), OSX|
|Direct Modelling (sculpting)||No||Yes|
|3D printing Slicer||No||Yes|
|Sheet Metal Design||Yes||Yes|
|Full License||$4,195 for perpetual license of Solidworks Standard (not including annual service subscription)||$70 per month, $545 per year, or $1,555 per 3 years.|
Which CAD Software is Right for You: Fusion 360 or SolidWorks?
This is the million-dollar question, and it is one that I have been asked in my professional life as a CAD user for as long as I can remember.
And the answer hasn’t changed.
In industry, we as CAD professionals are rarely given the choice of which CAD platform we should use. We use what the company provides for us.
These things are not cheap, and there are many factors affecting a company’s choice of which software it should adopt.
So on a personal level, outside of the workplace, the answer to the question of which CAD product is best for your needs is this:
The best CAD platform is the one that offers you the best combination of affordability, and usability.
But what if you’re a manager with some purchasing power, and you are put in charge of procuring a CAD platform for your workers?
There are many factors that will determine this also, but in industry, there is a tendency to opt for the cheapest software deployment, especially if dealing with potentially dozens of licenses.
If that’s the case, then Fusion 360 may be the better option.
However, while there is nothing wrong with Fusion 360 as a software, it is still viewed by some industries as something more geared towards makers, or product designers more than heavy-duty engineering applications.
This is perhaps a little unfair to Fusion 360, because for the most part, it can do almost everything that Solidworks can.
Yet we don’t see too many professional aerospace or nuclear engineering companies using Fusion 360.
In fact, for design work using really large assemblies, we don’t see too many using Solidworks either. Catia and NX are the preferred tools there.
We cannot say which is best for you as an individual or as a company, because everyone’s needs are different.
All we can say is that Fusion 360 is cheaper, and Solidworks is better at handling large assemblies, and has more features.
There is no right answer here. Always consult the people who will be using the software to help inform your purchasing decisions!