2D Vs. 3D CAD Advantages & Disadvantages

By Ryan Crooks

Updated September 28, 2017

3D CAD offers many advantages over 2D CAD
i atmosphericreflections in a discarded computer monitor image by Steve Johnson from Fotolia.com

Architects rarely design on a drafting table. Now, computer-aided design (CAD) is the preferred design tool for many. Twenty years ago CAD was two-dimensional, but three-dimensional CAD has become a viable option. A few decisions must be made to choose the best option.

Software Use

As the name implies, 2D CAD can only draw two-dimensional objects, and this type of CAD is best for drawing traditional orthographic projections, such as plans, sections and elevations. Three-dimensional drawings can be produced with 2D CAD using traditional perspective techniques.

3D CAD allows the designer to model objects and produce many views of the design by simply rotating the model. Orthographic projections can be produced with special cameras and picture planes.

Hardware Requirements

All computers are able to use 2D CAD software, however the computer's specifications must be checked to verify a particular 3D CAD program's use. Many 3D CAD programs require a higher-performing computer.


3D CAD usually offers more functions for the designer. These functions include 3D arrays and special reference views, But you may find you do not need all of the functionality of the three-dimensional application, and 2D may suit your needs. For most people, the basic functions, such as layers, linetypes and lineweights, are all that is required, and many people never use the three-dimensional tools and features.


Although three-dimensional perspectives can be constructed on 2D CAD software, there aren't rendering capabilities available for these types of programs. The perspective must be exported to a separate paint program to complete a rendering. Instead, most 3D CAD programs are able to render lifelike images of the constructed model within the application.


Because the technology is more advanced, 3D CAD is almost always much more expensive than 2D CAD solutions. However, the prices for both types of CAD have dropped, so purchasing either type of program is feasible for many.