Alibre Design Vs SolidWorks

Traditionally Alibre has always compared its software with that of SolidWorks. Some time ago Alibre had an interesting marketing line which went something like “get 80% features for 20% of the price”. That was when the price of Alibre Design Standard was 20% of SolidWorks. Of late, with Alibre announcing one unearthly discount scheme after another, that line could very well read “get 80% of the features for 2% of the price”. You cannot argue with the 2% number (now 4%) . That is really the price that Alibre Design Standard is being sold at. But I think you could definitely argue about the 80% number.

Recently SolidWorks Certified Professional and Blogger Gabi Jack wrote a piece on Alibre Design titled “What you get for the money” in which she suggests that the 80% number is way higher than what it should be. For example, she notes that Alibre Design has absolutely no surfacing capability. She is right. Alibre Design lacks a full blown surfacing module. But if your life depends on it, you can still create non-prismatic parts using the solid modeling route. Just that doing so is not as easy as using the surfacing capabilities of SolidWorks.

I asked Paul Grayson, CEO of Alibre, about the lack of surfacing capabilities in Alibre Design. This is what he told me:

While some people do require advanced surfacing, most people do not. Our product is oriented more towards mechanical design than consumer design, but we do have a strong set of surface oriented design tools that are capable of designing most consumer products. We don’t hide the fact that advanced, aerodynamic or complex organic surface modeling capabilities are not our strength.

Here is the thing with Alibre Design. No matter what Alibre’s Marketing or their resellers say, Alibre simply cannot match the advanced modeling features of SolidWorks or any other mid-range MCAD system. But for simple prismatic mechanical style modeling, it does the job just fine. I don’t believe I could model the Christmas wreath or rose in Alibre Design without tearing my hair out. But that is not what it is for. I believe people who “look down” (as Gabi put it) on Alibre Design do not seem to understand that.

Understanding the basic idea of Alibre Design is as simple as understanding that you don’t need a sledge hammer to drive a nail into a wooden plank. Somehow, I get the feeling that this very simple message may be getting lost in all the discounting noise that’s being going on for the past few months. One gets the feeling that Alibre’s entire marketing is focused on the fact that their software is cheap. And that is not always a good thing.

  • Deelip, my problem is not with the software, but with the advertising technique, the marketing practice. I wrote that blog post not as a SolidWorks blogger or fanatic, but as a consumer that was considering buying Alibre at one time. The problem is not the software itself. Like you say, for what it does, it does a good job. The problem is they don't advertise it as it is, they just give you all these phrases such as “You get ALL the bang for less buck”. In my opinion, that can be misleading, because unless you have experience with other software and try Alibre knowing what to look for, you'll never know what all the BANG was supposed to be. They should stop comparing it to other softwares as their marketing strategy and start selling it for what it is and what it can do well. Then let people decide if it's good enough for them or not.

  • Gabi,

    As regards marketing, I found this particular part on the Alibre web site ( quite interesting:

    “Who is making the switch?
    Thousands of AutoCAD, SolidWorks, Inventor, and Pro/E users have found they can get their jobs done with Alibre Design.”

    I can understand AutoCAD users wanting to make the switch. Autodesk decided it to educate them about parametric sketching and constraints only a year ago. That particular class of people could be considered behind other parametric MCAD users.

    But to say that former SolidWorks, Inventor and Pro/E users are now using Alibre Design to do whatever it is that they did previously in their original MCAD system implies that these users never really ended up using the full power of the MCAD system. And if that was the case, then the question arises as to why they bought that MCAD system in the first place? Did they actually buy a sledgehammer to drive a nail into a wooden plank?

    • Eric E Fredericksen

      Sometimes you buy more than you need because it is better to have some feature and not need it than to need it and not have it. Does that make sense?

  • See what I mean? Saying that is misleading also. From all the time I spent reading posts in forums and researching about who uses Alibre and what for, what I learned is that most of the former users of some other MCAD system are not really what you would call converts, but people that use or used the other software at work and really like using the other software, but buy Alibre for themselves because they lost their job (and the access to the other software) or can't have the other software at home and are trying to do some consulting on the side while something else comes along. They never owned any software, so Alibre comes along as a nice and affordable opportunity to at least own a tool to do some job. There's also the people that have tried other software before, but end up buying Alibre because it's all they can afford. It's not that they previously bought a sledgehammer to drive a nail into a wodden plank. They didn't even own the sledge hammer to begin with. Not even a hammer!

    I think after working with Alibre for a while, these people are already aware of the limitations, but they put up with them because it's way better than having nothing. In the forums, they talk about all these workarounds and extra time that is needed in order to do the same that other software can do in one simple operation and a lot less time, but Alibre is all they can afford for now.

    In the end it comes down to being able to afford the software. And there's really nothing wrong with that. I was considering buying for exactly the same reasons, because this is something that I can afford. The problem really is not the software or even the price, it's just the way they market it. And this problem is not exclusive of Alibre; I think many companies out there do something very similar when they compare their products or services to those of their competitors. The thing is, little money or big money, it's still money, and you should have as much information as possible before buying anything. Instead of comparing and promising BANG and all that, Alibre should simply focus on providing this information. I bet many users would still buy the product, but the expectations would be more realistic from the beginning.

  • raulrueda

    I fully agree with you Gabi. being an Alibre and SW user for years I found that whatever Alibre say or do, simply for the 2% of the price you cannot get the 80% of the capabilities! I bet that you don't have even the 60% of the fuctionality. I think ALIBRE has not done enough to generate real value to users, the same interface, the same twenty steps to do something that in SW is done in three, etc, etc, etc. What a frustrating software!

  • Kevin Quigley

    Deelip, the issue is not 80% or 60% or whatever. It is simply how far can you take the design without hitting the “wall”. I think Alibre should stop the nonsense and start comparing with other lower cost applications. As Gabi says, I suspect most users of Alibre Design do so because they cannot afford SolidWorks or Inventor or whatever. Alibre Design is cheap and it is great value for money, but as a production workhorse I have to say those that argue the case for it have little experience using the so called mainstream apps.

    When Alibre was launched originally it was sold as a teamworking application and NOT as a modeller (sound familiar?). As time went on they shifted strategy to a modelling solution, and did the same trick SolidWorks pulled against Pro/E – 80% of the functionality for 20% of the price. The big difference though was that SolidWorks brought a new platform to mainstream 3D CAD – Windows, and it really could do 80% of what Pro/E could, and it was at the time simply the best of the rest, easy to learn and fast. Alibre, for all its lost cost tactics has always been sluggish, limited and annoying to learn (compared to others).

    If it's your hobby fine. If you make your living by it, there are, in my experience, better tools around.

  • The general tone and content of Alibre's marketing is more about the negative aspects of its competitors and less about it own positives. And when they go negative on their rivals, the only direction they can take is price. Which is what their entire marketing has turned out to be.

    In my opinion, Alibre Design is value for money. There is really no need to explain the money part. People get that the moment they see the price. But there is a great need to explain the value part. They seem to be harping a bit too much on the money part.

  • Mark Landsaat

    I will stay away from whether Alibre's marketing is right or wrong. But, I bought a $99.- copy of Alibre out of curiosity. I use SWX premium for my job and no, Alibre doesn't match the functionality of SWX. But I think that's completely missing the point.

    I was pleasantly surprised to find out how much functionality was available for $99.- Depending on what it is you are trying to achieve I can totally see Alibre filling the 3D need for a lot of companies.

    In my opinion Alibre is taking sales away from the big three. If you are currently getting by with 2D, chances are pretty good that Alibre will fill your 3D needs. If that user makes the switch from 2D to Alibre, that's a customer lost for Solidworks, Inventor or Pro-E.

    If you evaluate Alibre and realistically look at the functionality you get for $99.- than it is an incredible value. I will not use Alibre in my work because I do a lot of surfacing. But I have zero regrets buying a $99.- copy and wish them nothing but success.

  • Mark,

    Exactly. Alibre Design for $99 (now at $197) is a kill for someone trying to move from a 2D CAD system to 3D. Very few of these people are going to jump to surfacing and stuff like that. And this is precisely the message that I believe Alibre should be stressing on.

  • Tony

    Deelip & Mark sound right in my opinion. Sometimes people forget that mechanical design is a big area; a lot of people (including my company) never need surfacing, mold design, or complex sheetmetal.

    Gabi does come off as a bit arrogant (maybe not meant, but that's how it comes across to me), especially the bit about “researching about who uses Alibre and what for” — yeah, what did that research consist of, googling for four hours? Sorry, that's not in-depth research.

    Anyway, I have two final comments:
    1. I wish people would truly look at what is available, and not just go with “the market leader” (e.g. SolidWorks, maybe Inventor). There are many other MCAD programs out there, including IronCad, KeyCreator, NX, CoCreate, Rhino, SpaceClaim, and VX.

    Use the tools (more than one if it makes sense) that work well for your job. Any competent designer should be able to learn a new MCAD program without problems, just as any competent developer should be able to learn a new programming language.

    2. Value is what's important; spending more money doesn't mean the product is better; I think that's especially true for software (the truly expensive software tends to be clunky IMHO). If more expensive means better, then everyone should be using CATIA, Pro/E, and NX.

    As another counterpoint, note that there is a lot of open source software (e.g. Subversion & TortoiseSVN, git, mercurial, Trac, Apache, MySQL) that is better than many (or most) commercial competitors.

  • kman

    I disagree that it is a “kill” for someone moving from 2d. If you did any kind of payback analysis, a regular user would get extremely rapid dollar payback from something like Solidworks. The clunkiness referred to by everyone here is what I am talking about. I bought the $99 deal, and while that is a great buy for home use, I would guess the speed difference is nearly 2:1. That hourly cost would payback for anyone using cad more than 10 hours a week.

  • kman,

    You do make a couple of good points. SolidWorks has way more features and functionality than Alibre Design. If someone moving from 2D to 3D is going to feel the need for a majority of those features then Alibre Design may not be a wise option. But I doubt that will always be the case. I mean there are full time SolidWorks users who do not use each and every feature of the product.

  • kman

    I apologize for not being clear. For a user who would never use the extra features in SW, the speed difference alone would make it worth spending a few thousand dollars if they use it as a significant part of their work. At least in my opinion, Alibre is very slow to use just in the number of menu picks. I haven't seen any comparisons in this, but try modeling a 20 feature part, modify it a bit, make a drawing, etc. It is not very friendly.

  • Piloo

    Who is making the switch? My company.

    After the handover, the first thing I did was to uninstall, the illegal softs used by my engineers on their workstations (SW, NX, Pro/E…). We cannot afford one of these, so we tried Alibre. Now we have licenses, for 4% of the price it's doing 100% of what we need (including product and tools design, CAM).

    • MySchizoBuddy

      this is true for most third world countries which simply use pirated software since they cannot afford them. Alibre is a good choice for them if only to allow them to go the legit route.

  • I am looking to move from 2D to 3D and time savings is an important consideration. We do not have the money to front for a product like Solid Works that may not be necessary. We function well in 2D and an affordable 3D software is ideal.

  • Bill

    I have enjoyed reading these comparison coments. I’m a 79 year old geezer that’s a new kid on the CAD block. A year ago I bought at Office Max a software package by called ViaCAD 2d/3d for $99. Last I looked it was $79. It will do everything that Ashlar’s Vellum will do and more. Sadly, I paid almost $2k for Vellum Solids back in 2000. That was such a bad experience (customer support) that I abandoned the who CAM idea for almost 10 years until a friend told me about ViaCAD. Now, self employed working at home, ViaCad with it’s easy to use “snap” tool, I do 3d solid mechanical design. My designs, often 30 layers deep, now bring me to this web sight because ViaCAD is not parametric. Things are getting pretty complicated over the many layers and the reflected effect of a design change in one part over others makes me nervous.

    So now I cruise around looking for something simple and user friendly like ViaCAD, with parametric features that I can afford.

  • Bill

    So I spent time preparing a comment and on tying to post it I couldn't seem to navigate successfully through your maze and it blew my effort away??? Couldn't post it. I give up. Gotta run for now.
    Bill Volna

  • Kugelsicher

    I agree with Tony and Piloo. I can do 100% of my mechanical design work with Alibre'. I went straight from 2D AutoCad LT, to Alibre Design. Over the years I have upgraded, and, now, I am am running Alibre' Design Expert.

    Here is one point that folks are missing and/or not talking about: YEARLY MAINTENANCE FEES!!! In addition to the up-front savings with Alibre', just go compare SW's yearly maintenance with Alibre's. The choice is an easy one to make – Alibre wins, hands down!!

    I design/build machines for a living – not pretty pictures, advertising stuff, or brochures. I can generate a 3D Model of a machine part or assembly, turn it into a 3D PDF file and email to my customers. They LOVE IT, because they can see, ahead of time, what they are getting – rotating, zooming in/out, panning, etc.. They don't need nor want a lot of fluff.

    I am not knocking SolidWorks. I have friends that use it, and it is a great program. However, for me, Alibre' is a MUCH more cost effective program. Based on what I do and based on my input of time, as a Mechanical Engineer and Designer, Alibre' Design Expert is the best, most cost effective choice for me!

  • John

    I like Solidworks, and as far as affordability, download the torrent from PirateBay, cost: Nothing! It wins hands down over Alibre.

  • Bill

    You are a low-life thief, and I hope you are caught and prosecuted.

  • Avante

    The problem with AD is that they promise too much and then do not deliver. Their version updates have so little added functionality on a yearly basis is comes down to nearly being useless to buy maintenance because it is just a frustration factor to see what you get for the naintenance fee. Add the “add-on’s” that consist mostly very down limited below standard features of the “standard” editions of their partners and you get still more frustrated as you see that after you bought it. Taking in account that you will be buying those “add-on’s” as full usable packages and add those maintenance fees and initial cost, you get to the point where you can just as well buy a decent package at a $10K value. In the end you will have the correct tools to do the job 2-3 x faster and paying your investment quicker. Big assemblies …naa ..not AD, creating 2D dwgs is a nightmare. The problem in CAD is not creating the models but cretaing 2D drawings as the final working dwg’s. That is where many hours gets lost especially in AD. Production time, lost in waiting, the clock is ticking and the people must still be paid whether AD battle to do the output of decent 2D dwg’s – that whie the people looks at a screen that sits stuck in “updating” a dwg. I still believe that Direct Modelling is the feature.  I would like Deeplip to have a full blown feature investigation into Kubatec. Not having a sheet metal feature put them a bit on the side but still it looks very, very good.

  • Sshroff100

    how to get $99.00 copy of  Aliber Design Personal edition. please post  info.

  • Sauzer

    Alibre is a good software for its price.
    But the real problem is that it doesn’t have third party application, so the risk is to enter in a blind way if you need more functionality, like integrated fem, cfd, piping and structural design, for example.
    And I know really a few users that use it for work, not for hobby.
    I think that it is going to improve functionlity in the 3d printing field, so probably I’ll must switch to other software.
    But these are only my thoughts.

  • Diluther

    Wow folks…
    Two years later Alibre is $199 AND offers surfacing.  Not too shabby from my first test on my airplane design.

  • Loyd

    Yea The SWX nutt hugger at the Office is trying to get the Company to buy off on $6K lic fee’s for SWX… the manager saw Alibre and the discusion was over…

  • timcnc1

    I use both Solidworks Premium and  Alibre Expert; hands down I would rather use Alibre Expert. Solidworks is a great software and has it’s place, but I have 11 mechanical engineers that work for me and each have the choice to use either product and they have all choosen to us Alibre Expert (much easier to learn, and no off site expensive training). Alibre does offer a surfacing package (not used it yet). We also use the intergrated machining program that we use everyday and works great for 4 axis machining (not sure about 5 axis, not capable of doing). Alibre is very capable designing automated machinery. Alibre Expert 2K and the full 5 axis machining program 4K will buy you one seat of Solidworks Basic with the maintenance. Easy choice for me…. Alibre is doing the same thing Solidworks did to Pro E and others when it came out.

  • Mike D

    Hi all,

    Interesting comments!  I’m posting as a long time Rhino user (industrial design professional) who got on board with Alibre when it was release 9. Not sure if I could survive restricted to AD only, but in tandem with Rhino I can do pretty much everything I need. For most projects I’ll do most of the concept development in Rhino, then port to AD for the mfg detailing.

    Most of the time the output for my work is stp or igs files for CNC tooling and 2D is not a key element. When I do need 2D, I revert to Rhino as I’ve found AD very clunky, but maybe I just need to learn how drive it properly. For now Rhino is an easy and workable option. There are a few other things – AD export to stl and stp can be a bit ropey – Rhino is a great backstop to clean up or redo file exports.

    Apart from that, AD has a seriously great feature – 3D pdf output. That’s one of my major communication tools; many things I create in Rhino will get ported back into AD just for the 3D pdf export. It creates a virtual CAD file readable by anyone with an Acrobat reader. Another really great AD add on is KeyShot – excellent for static renderings.

    As it happens I’ve recently started on a new project where my client would like the work done in SW and to facilitate this they’ve lent me a copy of SW 2012 Professional. The task now is for me to get fully up to speed with SW; so far it looks v. clunky compared with AD. I’ll repost in a few weeks as I get more into SW.