Learning CAD

I am planning on learning CAD for next season and I am wondering what websites should I use and also is there any good current tutorials on learning CAD?

“CAD” is very ambiguous. Which CAD software do you plan on using? You essentially have 3 options:
SolidWorks (if you have a school license or sponsorship)
Protocad (free, easy on windows, but can be done on other OSs, search “Wine” in the forum search)
Fusion 360 and Inventor (free with a student license)
Or something else?
By specifying, we can help you better. For SW and any Autodesk product, youtube tutorials are good. If you want something VEX specific, just look for building advice on the forum and best practice for building: the same will apply for CAD. When CADing a VEX robot, most of the time, you will be using assembly mode, so focus on that.


I plan on using Autodesk, but I have heard of others like Onshape. I would recommend checking them out and choosing the one that you like the best. I haven’t really used CAD yet either but I plan on using Autodesk. At least for now.

First, you will need to select a CAD application, and there are a few options. All have free educational licenses, but you might have to search around and go through some extra registration steps to avoid a licensing fee that could be thousands of dollars. To help with deciding on a CAD app, consider the following:

  • Are you part of an organization already using CAD?
  • What operating system will your computer be running on? (Windows, Mac, Chromebook…)?
  • Are you OK with a desktop application where you must run an install to get started and then manage program updates?
  • Will you work from multiple computers or collaborate with others on designs?
  • How sophisticated do you plan on making your designs?

If your organization is already actively using a CAD app, then use what everyone else is using.

If you are using a Chromebook or Linux, your choice is Onshape. If you use a Mac, your choices are Fusion 360 or Onshape. Although running a Windows emulator on Linux or Mac is possible, I would not recommend it. Windows users have many choices.

All of the CAD apps, except Onshape will require a desktop installation. Some of the installs are gigantic, or at least they were as recently as a couple of years ago.

Fusion 360 and Onshape have cloud storage, making sharing, collaborating, and using multiple computers easy. Using a shared drive (like Google Drive or DropBox) with other apps is possible, but there will be challenges if they are not designed for that.

Note that Fusion 360 is a hybrid app; it was designed for the desktop, but there is an associated group of cloud features. The downside is that it feels like two separate apps that don’t always work together well. The upside is that you can work offline.

Onshape is a cloud app; it runs on a browser. You can run it on your phone; although you wouldn’t create a design that way, you might want to look at an existing design. You have to be online to use it. A lot of the “heavy lifting” is done on cloud servers, so you do not need a powerful desktop computer to use it.

Protobot is a CAD app just for VEX. I’ve never used it, but here is what I know about it… It’s just for VEX and does not have a lot of additional features that are confusing and not applicable. The parts you need will be right there. It is simple and easy to get started with. However, the designs you can create with it may not be as sophisticated. Using Protobot teaches general CAD skills, but you will not gain experience with a CAD app that you might use again in the future (in college or at a job). Protobot was created and supported by a group of dedicated VEX CAD enthusiasts and continued support for the app depends on those users. There have been other VEX/VexIQ CAD apps in the past; Protobot seems to have a larger support base and is more likely to stick around.

If you decide to use Onshape, here are some training videos:

CAD For Robotics Competitions - Training series created by Onshape

CAD for VEX Robotics - Part 1 of a video training series; I’m the author.


Lots more than 3!

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Great tutorial on Inventor here. Working on a fusion video tutorial rn.

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Just FYI, “Autodesk” is a company…they offer two good entry-level CAD packages: Inventor and Fusion which are both popular among the VEX community. Other software has wider use in certain industries (for example, in Michigan for automotive, it’s SolidWorks and Catia, if you want to work for SpaceX, you’ll need to learn NX).

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You are correct, thanks for correcting me. I typed that quite hastily.

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I use protobot:

  1. its free and really easy to download
  2. really easy to use, i figured it out without having to watch any tutorials
  3. also the different components auto snap together like screws, shafts, motors, and nuts.
  4. the program uses an ai to identify when stuff is screwed together and connected, so you don’t have to group stuff

the only downsides to this is that it doesn’t have EVERY single piece from vex, but most of them, and there is no mirror function so if you want to flip something you have to build an entire another one


Protobot - CAD I’d also like to add this in, it’s more meant for vex, has most of the parts, and will autofit them.

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Having used Protobot, Onshape, Autodesk Fusion 360, and Autodesk Inventor to CAD for vex robots, my personal favorite is Inventor. It is pretty hard on your computer if you are running it on a lower end one, but I feel like the constraint system is the most streamlined to use to assemble vex parts, it has a huge amount of community support in the form of libraries and tutorials, and (IMO) has the sleekest UI. Not to mention it turns out amazing renders.

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I use Onshape, its very easy to learn and there is a premade parts library. Its browser based and cloud so no downloads and your whole team can view and edit. Fusion360 is another great one but its a little more tricky, still pretty easy. Solidworks is the “best” but difficult. Anything will do, but no matter what just get a parts library.