After months of speculation, rumors and various tidbits surrounding “the future of CAD”, Onshape – the browser-based parametric CAD program that’s been in the works for years now – is finally live.

Founded by SolidWorks founder Jon Hirschtick and a team of ex-SolidWorks corporate all-stars, the free (yes – free) program is being hailed by some as “the next generation of CAD” with nearly all of the same features and functionalities as existing CAD programs directly in the Cloud.

What does this mean for CAD users?

For one, OnShape is the first full-cloud 3D CAD system that can run on most web browsers on any computer. Aside from the obvious benefit of being able to work from nearly any device, this also means that every user who works within Onshape will be working on the same version at all times with zero constraints relating to the major inconvenience of data incompatibility. Additionally, this means that Onshape will deliver workstation-level performance on entry-level computers, phones and tablets – meaning that a $200 Chromebook will operate just as well as a $3,000 optimized workstation. Since Onshape uses thousands of cores in the Onshape Cloud, it is technically faster than traditional Desktop CAD systems that use 4 or 8 cores.

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As for engineers and designers who have previously been using other 3D CAD programs for years, Onshape has developed an intuitive interface within the browser that is designed to help make a transition (or a first time experience) easy to navigate. All of the familiar parametric and direct modeling techniques are there – and there are even enhanced capabilities that allow teams to control versions easily for fail-proof iterative modeling and file saving without the hassle of file linking and other time constraints. Additionally, features such as animations, drawings (soon to be added) and other methods of communicating a design are built directly in to the Onshape experience and can be done with ease. Since Onshape has full control of every version that everybody works on, improvements and new feature updates happen in the background and all users will be updated to new features immediately as they roll out from the Onshape mothership.

Traveler Hauptman - CNC Carriage

…speaking of “everybody”, seamless collaboration was considered from the start with Onshape and the final, included collaborative features are the best in the industry.

Cantilever Clamp - sketch (final)

Among others, teams can access the same documents simultaneously while directly working on the same part or assembly. This means that during a meeting (either on-location or via a video call), all viewers can watch in real-time as design changes are made directly on their own computers, tablets or phones. To differentiate between users, simple visual indicators help determine who is who. Once updates have been made and design improvements have left old design decisions no longer necessary, team members can choose to merge these “branches” of the design and save only the best ideas – all of course while automatically saving previous versions for reference if needed.

Tablet Collaboration

Among other hurdles that Onshape is likely to encounter however is the transition from existing CAD programs over to their new platform. However while it will likely take awhile for users of other programs to transition over, Onshape has made every effort to make working with and sharing existing CAD files as seamless as possible.

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According to the company:

  • Onshape can be used to share existing CAD files without the need to make multiple copies. You can control levels of access, grant and revoke permissions, and version control the uploaded files.
  • Onshape can be used to store, manage, and version control any CAD file or translate it into Onshape’s native format to be viewed and edited within web browsers or on mobile devices.
  • Translated CAD files can be modified using Onshape’s direct editing toolsets.

Bevel Gear Assembly

But perhaps the most important feature of all is the cost of entry: Onshape is free (sort of). Check out Adam’s pricing post for more on that.

Of course, Onshape has to get paid somehow and they’ve justified this by setting up a Professional subscription model for $100/month that enables individuals or teams to go over the five active documents + 5 GB of storage within their Onshape cloud account – which we go more in-depth about here.

Of course, we could go on – however the best thing to do is to try it out for yourself.

Are you ready for Parametric 3D CAD in the Browser with a modern-day pricing structure and real-time collaboration capabilities? We are.

Head over to Onshape to request a beta invite and try it out.

Onshape + SolidSmack Professional Subscription Giveaway

To celebrate the launch, Onshape has teamed up with SolidSmack to offer a one-year Professional subscription for anybody who can combine the same words (chosen from a hat) in a single Tweet: Onshape, cephalopod and mayonnaise.

Be sure to use hashtag #SSOnshape over the week and we’ll be picking the best Tweet on Friday.


Josh is founder and editor at, founder at Aimsift Inc., and co-founder of EvD Media. He is involved in engineering, design, visualization, the technology making it happen, and the content developed around it. He is a SolidWorks Certified Professional and excels at falling awkwardly.