What is CAD?

Seems like a reasonable place to start if you’re here, contemplating a new career path… Simply put, CAD (computer-aided design) is a catch-all term for the use of software to create two- and three-dimensional models to produce technical documents. You may also notice the variant CADD, which just adds a ‘D’ for ‘drafting,’ or the following variants that commonly appear in the same context:

  • CAx – Computer-Aided Technologies
  • CAE – Computer-Aided Engineering
  • CAM – Computer-Aided Manufacturing
  • CNC – Computerized Numerical Control

CAD software allows drafters to model, test, analyze, and optimize designs prior to finalizing documentation ahead of construction/manufacture. CAD is used in a variety of industries and fields commonly divided into four major specializations: architectural, civil, electronic, and mechanical.

What does a CAD drafter do?

Drafters use software to convert the designs of architects and engineers into technical drawings. Most workers specialize in architectural, civil, electronic, or mechanical drafting and use technical drawings to help design everything from microchips to skyscrapers.

Drafters typically do the following:

  • Design plans using CAD software
  • Work from rough sketches and specifications created by engineers and architects
  • Design products with engineering techniques
  • Add details to plans from their knowledge of construction and manufacture techniques
  • Specify dimensions, materials, and procedures for new products
  • Work under the supervision of engineers or architects

Some drafters are referred to as CAD operators. Using CAD systems, drafters create and store technical drawings digitally. These drawings contain information on how to build a structure or machine, the dimensions of the project, and what materials are needed to complete the project.

For a more personal account of working with CAD and what its like in the real world, please see the interview posted to the Bureau of Labor Statistics here.

What makes a good CAD drafter?

Creativity | Drafters must be able to turn plans and ideas into technical drawings of buildings, tools, and systems.

Detail oriented | Drafters must take care that the plans they convert are technically accurate according to the outlined specifications.

Interpersonal skills | Drafters work with stakeholders and teammates and must communicate effectively to make sure that final plans are accurate.

Math skills | Drafters work may be required to calculate angles, weights, costs, and other values in order to complete technical drawings.

Technical skills | Drafters in all specialties must be able to use computer software and work with database tools.

Time-management skills | Drafters work under deadlines and, as a result, they must work efficiently to stay on schedule.

How do I become a CAD drafter?

Drafters typically complete education after high school, often through a program at a technical school or community college, like ACC. Prospective drafters are typically required to have earned an associate of applied science degree or a certificate in drafting in order to be eligible for hire. Find out more about the opportunities available to you at ACC via the A&E CAD department, below.

Education – Degrees and Certificates

The A&E CAD department offers associate of applied science degrees in drafting as well as certificates across the four main specializations. Generally speaking, it takes about two years of full-time education to earn an associate’s degree while certificates vary in length, but may be completed in less time.

To see a complete list of the degrees we offer, check out our page here.

To see a complete list of the certificates we offer, check out our page here.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

The American Design Drafting Association (ADDA) offers certifications for drafters. Although not mandatory, certifications demonstrate competence and knowledge of nationally recognized practices.

Certifications for specific applications are also available from many of the leading software providers; for example:

  • Autodesk offers a variety of certifications for many of their products here.
  • SolidWorks offers a variety of levels and specializations on their site here.
  • Cadence offers a variety of levels and specializations on their site here.

Please check the software provider of the application for which you want to be certified to see if certification is available.