An Introduction to Onshape: Is It the Best CAD Tool for beginners?

What is Onshape?

Onshape is a computer-aided design (CAD) cloud software originally designed in 2012 by former Solidworks CEOs, John Hirschtick and John McEleney. In 2015, Onshape launched a cloud-based beta version and apps for iPhone and Android devices. However, in November 2019, Onshape was acquired by Parametric Technology Corporation (PTC), a software development company to better scale growth. 

Onshape allows users to collaborate on a design from any location that has internet access. Companies can use Onshape to design industrial equipment, machine parts, and products with input from a team no matter the location. This creates a broad appeal for a range of companies looking to streamline processes. 

This system is the only Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) product development platform; it also pulls together elements from CAD, built-in PDM, and real-time collaboration tools/business analytics. 

Onshape examples

Online Onshape Support

Beginners working in any CAD-based software may be surprised by the nuances, but Onshape’s support options ease the process and make it that much more collaborative. Their resource center is extremely descriptive, including case studies, eBooks, and videos among even more support offerings. 

Onshape even has a free version available for students and educators to learn/teach without the worry of payment. Their attention to the education of future professionals further proves how collaborative this system aims to be. However, if you don’t fit into the educator or student category, they do offer standard, professional, or enterprise subscriptions.

Who Uses Onshape?

With 2 million users, Onshape is one of the fastest-growing CAD systems in the world. And much of that may be due to wide appeal. This design capability appeals to design students, just learning how to design 3D models, or experienced 3D CAD designers looking for a cloud-based product development platform. 

And as 3D printing has revolutionized product development for so many industries, you can now print individual components or complete 3D models to examine how every aspect of a design will function. This product development process not only saves time developing your product, but it also saves money used to produce beta versions to test before going to production.

Design students can learn the basic functions and features of Onshape's product development platform through the free version. This enables them to practice cloud-based collaboration in a school environment. Professional designers can choose from Onshape's subscription options to gain access to more features including several personalized features for data management and company-specific uses of the cloud-based software. The enterprise version includes guided onboarding so you can get all of your design staff up-to-date quickly.

Main Features of Onshape

Onshape offers a long list of features that users can access, but the three main phases of the design process include sketching, creating, and assembly. While there are many more features to aid with communication, the main tenets involve the actual creation of a product. 

And to further the point of collaboration across platforms, Onshape is available for PC, Mac, Chromebook, and Linux, which allows anyone to give it a try. Onshape also creates cause for collaboration with a team of users, to experiment with design alternatives without losing other team members' work.

Onshape also offers real-time data management, so you can see what other people are working on immediately. Program updates are added to the web interface without any necessary action from your team. Onshape shares URLs instead of copying files from one person to another. And this data management and CAD system can be used on any device. Their files can be exported in DWG, STL, and DXT formats.

To fit their growing community, users can use the system in several languages including English, Korean, German, and Chinese. 

Onshape Sketching, Part Studios, and Assemblies

Use of Onshape usually falls into one of three categories - to sketch or create in a Part Studio, and/or assemble in an Assembly. There are also drawings, data management features, FeatureScript, and merging and branching, but we won’t dive into all of those more advanced topics in this post. You can see a list of all the basic features here.

Sketching in Part Studios

In-sketch tools are used to make a sketch before it's turned into a 3D model. This means that designers create a 2D model and can then turn it into 3D if desired. The functions used are quite simple and use basic design forms and shapes. 

sketching in part studios

Modeling in Part Studios

The modeling process is continued with something Onshape calls out-of-sketch tools. This involves the actual 3D portion of a design. Designers can manipulate the sketch to show the design from different angles, planes, and even shape/size. This is an immersive aspect of the design that many users can spend plenty of time on, without the bugs or hassle found in competing programs. 

modeling in part studios

Onshape Assemblies

This part of the Onshape design process allows users to assemble parts from Part Studios into assemblies and combine them with other part studios and even with other assemblies to create a model of the entire product. Assemblies allow for mating components together in ways that define how the parts move relative to one another, or if they are to remain still. From assemblies, you can create drawings, and exploded views. Mating in Onshape is easier than mating in other programs because of a tool Onshape created called mate connectors, which speed up the process of creating part relations.

onshape assemblies


Key Considerations Before Starting a Project with Onshape

Onshape is a proven CAD software platform for 3D printing, but what should you think about when considering this CAD system? 

How to Choose the Best CAD Platform

There are so many CAD platforms to choose from, but a lot of the choice depends on what your company is looking to achieve. If you are looking for greater collaboration and an in-depth process, Onshape may be a better choice than others. 

In particular, Onshape is an excellent CAD system for anyone who designs mechanical parts and machines and who would like a cloud-based system. Engineers can even find a public library of parts that will help save time throughout the design process. As a cloud-based system for file storage and collaboration, you can easily share designs with co-workers and collaborate in real-time. And no need to stress over if your work has been saved, Onshape makes sure of that as well. Plus Onshape saves a history of every change you’ve ever made in a document, so trying out new changes to your design is easy to do and risk free. 

Application and Compatibility

Onshape is used by many to construct medical devices, machine design, engineering, and motorsports. This showcases the performative function of Onshape’s business model, which is to collaborate with a variety of industries. 

Application and Compatibility

Customer and Community Support

Users can find excellent support through a blog written by design professionals that includes screenshots to make finding what you need much easier.

There are numerous tutorial videos that cover Onshape features and how to use them. You can also learn basic information on CAD design. If you are already an experienced Onshape user, you can find videos on advanced tools and features. If you prefer watching videos on YouTube you can follow Onshape's YouTube channel as well.

If you prefer community support, Onshape users have YouTube tutorial videos that you can search for. Or you can visit the Onshape dedicated Reddit page.

Pros and Cons of Onshape

Onshape Pros

You can look at reviews of Onshape on several review sites like Trust Radius. Onshape gets high ratings for several features including:

·       Parts can be modeled together easily.

·       Using mate connectors is easier and faster than other CAD systems.

·       Cloud storage eliminates file backup.

·       Data management is easier, managed by Onshape.

·       Don't need to install it on your computer because it's browser-based CAD.

Onshape Cons

However, there are a few drawbacks that users have reported dealing with including:

·       2D drawings don't allow for line types like dashed or hidden.

·       Not enough support for applying surface textures or text.

·       Rendering of parts could be better.

Onshape Cons and pros


Onshape Compared to Other CAD Platforms

Onshape compares favorably when it comes to collaborating. They offer a lot of choices for real-time collaborative modeling, live chat, comments, and markup. Onshape also has multi-user modeling without needing check-in or checkout and infinite undo, redo, and restore.

When compared to Solidworks, Onshape may be the better choice because it is fully cloud based and accessible from any computer and most devices like phones and tablets, and it comes with powerful features like built in data management, mate connectors, featurescript, and branching and merging. Onshape also offers everything you need for product design, like analytics, product data, and collaboration. All crucial elements to streamlining the systems behind product design. 

Similarly, when compared to other platforms, Onshape doesn't need a fast PC or tablet. Because Onshape is a web-based CAD software platform, it will run on slower devices. This includes all the versions, including the free version. 

Other competitors, like Inventor, Solid Edge, Creo, Fusion 360, and other CAD software and 3D printing programs, don't offer many features beyond designing. With Onshape, you can take your designs from sketches to finished products and share the work with others in the international community.

When you compare Onshape to Fusion 360, you can see which features each company is focusing on. Fusion 360 is a great tool for drawing, designing, manufacturing, producing videos, rendering, and making animations. Overall, Onshape gives you the support you need to design parts, model mechanisms, and create assemblies.

Should You Add Onshape To Your Workflow?

If you're looking for a web-based design product development platform, then Onshape is a great choice. Not only can you find excellent tools, superior support, and an easy-to-use CAD design platform, but Onshape also gives you the tools you need to collaborate with fellow designers anywhere there is an internet connection.

If you're interested in learning more about Onshape, contact us


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