How to Choose Between AutoCAD and AutoCAD LT

Or LT.
Build beautiful houses in AutoCAD. Westend61 // Getty Images

The simplest way to describe the difference between these two software programs for design and drafting is the ‘extra D.’ AutoCAD LT offers two-dimensional/2D capabilities, whereas AutoCAD brings users three-dimensional/3D power. As you might expect, more limited functionality in AutoCAD LT also means a lower price. Yet for many building contractors and construction companies, there are additional factors that should also be taken into account when choosing between the two versions.

A Quick View of AutoCAD LT

AutoCAD LT is essentially “AutoCAD minus several functionalities.” It was brought out by Autodesk, Inc., the maker of AutoCAD, as a stripped-down version aiming to attract customers in a lower price range. It’s almost easier to say what AutoCAD LT is not, rather than what it is, but here’s an overview:

  • Creation of 2D CAD drawings
  • Smart dimensioning to create measurements automatically within drawings
  • Locking of system preferences to prevent unwanted changes
  • Flexible ‘revision clouds’ in drawings to indicate updates and changes
  • Ribbon galleries for accessing drawing content directly from on-screen ribbon menus
  • Exists for Windows, Mac, mobile and cloud access 

What AutoCAD Gives You that AutoCAD LT Does Not

AutoCAD has all of the above and more. 3D solids modeling and rendering are immediate differences, including wireframe views, shadows, and reflections. Other significant functionalities that differentiate AutoCAD from AutoCAD LT are:

  • Built-in programming capabilities, like AutoLISP for creating your own programs to automatically generate drawings
  • Network licensing for using and managing AutoCAD on multiple machines over a network
  • CAD standards management tools to let you check that AutoCAD drawings you make or that you receive from others conform to your in-house drafting standards.

    How Much Size Matters

    The points above might suggest that bigger outfits should use full-function AutoCAD software, while smaller contractors would be happier with the AutoCAD LT version. After all:

    • Bigger construction companies have more people to learn how to use the additional features, more opportunities to leverage the labor-saving tools built into full AutoCAD, and deeper pockets to pay for all, or so the logic goes.
    • Smaller companies, on the other hand, can forego some of the technical wizardries and rely on tried and trusted manual methods to fill in the gaps (like manually sketching 3D diagrams), and solid business relationships, rather than snazzy virtual reality.

    Yet other factors can also affect whether you finally plump for AutoCAD or AutoCAD LT.

    Your Company Aspirations and Customer Requirements

    We may have left it till last, but it’s still one of the most important parts of the equation. It’s what your customers want. In other words, if your market insists on 3D design and drafting files, AutoCAD LT will not be enough. Similarly, if you work as a partner or subcontractor for another construction company that has standardized on full AutoCAD with 3D, then you may have no option but to make the same choice.

    Conversely, developing a capability to use full AutoCAD could open doors for you to new business opportunities and chances of company growth. A decision whether such a choice makes sense for you will depend on:

    • The types of market you want to aim for (commercial construction may offer more opportunities to leverage digital 3D design, compared to residential construction)
    • The resources you have in-house, not just in quantity, but also by type: some people love full AutoCAD, but others may find it tough going. Consider a trial version to see how things are likely to work out with your own staff.
    • Learning curves. Notwithstanding user likes or dislikes, it may take a while to get to grips with full 3D AutoCAD. Again, a trial version will give you a hint of the time and effort required.
    • Budget (of course), but also return on investment. Any extra cost and extra functionality should let you create more value and generate more profit.