CAD on the Go

Autodesk has released several mobile applications on iOS and Android.  Most of the apps are available for either platform.  Some are for creating new designs; others are there for viewing files.  Still others  are used for communicating with your design team.  Autodesk has even released a game for iOS.  With all of the mobile apps out there, what do you need to know about them?

First off, most of the apps are free.  The Sketchbook series (there are three versions) is the exception, but there is a free version of it as well. All of them work with their corresponding Autodesk “regular” versions.  For example, the AutoCAD WS can open and edit regular AutoCAD files (.dwg).  In fact, AutoCAD WS is made to work with AutoCAD.  Why would you want to have AutoCAD, or any of these apps, on your phone?  Who wants to create drawings on such a small screen?  Not me. I have no desire to create a set of construction plans on my phone’s screen.  And that’s okay, because that is not the purpose of these apps (except maybe Sketchbook on a tablet).  These apps are intended not to replace their desktop counterparts but to supplement them.  It is their mobile abilities that make them appealing and useful.

Figure 1: A list of the Autodesk Inc. Apps on the Android Market.


The reason you would want to use these apps is because you can get work done while on the go.  I know, you have a laptop for that and, trust me, you are better off doing heavy drawing with that than with these apps.  But can you put your laptop in your pocket and take it out to a job site?  Can you crawl through the deepest bowels of a steel mill’s blast furnace with your laptop to try to make on-site notes or sketches?  No.  But you can take a phone or tablet quite easily.  These apps do not carry all of their full sized counterpart’s functionality, but you can get them into the tight places.  Let’s take a look at some of the highlights of several of these mobile apps.


AutoCAD WS is one of Autodesk’s major mobile apps.  It is available for iOS and Android devices.  There is also a browser-based format.  Go to, create an account (or log in to an existing account) and get started.  AutoCAD WS is fully integrated into AutoCAD 2012.  There are also add-ons that can be downloaded for AutoCAD 2010 and 2011, and they work on AutoCAD verticals such as AutoCAD Civil 3D. 

Figure 2: AutoCAD WS tools are integrated into AutoCAD 2012. They are found in the Online tab on the ribbon.

You can upload .dwg files directly to your AutoCAD WS account while working in the file in AutoCAD.  Go to the Online tab on the ribbon (see Figure 2) and click the Upload button in the Upload panel.  All of your management tools are there, also.  The Open Online tools will open the Web Browser version of AutoCAD WS, but the theory is still the same.  You can share files or send messages through the files themselves.  AutoCAD WS allows you to work on .dwg files while you are out of the office.  Your data connection means that you always have access to them.  Once you have edited the file using the AutoCAD WS app, you can always access your files in “regular” AutoCAD.  The best part of AutoCAD WS is that it is free!  In addition to its availability on both iOS and Android, AutoCAD WS is also available through the Amazon App Store for those of you using a Kindle Fire.


Autodesk’s Sketchbook has been used by artists and designers for a while now.  Sketchbook is a professional painting and drawing program.  On a tablet, artists and designers can sketch, create, draw, or render just about anything. The mobile versions (there are three) are also very popular, especially for tablet users.  The three Sketchbook apps are Sketchbook Express (the free version), Sketchbook Mobile ($0.99 US dollars), and Sketchbook Pro ($4.99 US dollars).  All versions are available for iOS and Android.  All three versions work the same way.  The free version has fewer features while the Pro version has the most.    The mobile Sketchbook apps may be the one series of apps that can give the full version a run for its money!

Design Review Mobile

The app Design Review Mobile is relatively new.  It was first launched on iOS and was just released on Android.  The Design Review app works similarly to the desktop version of Design Review.  It can view 2D and 3D .dwf files and mark them up.  Imagine that you are out of the office and a drafter needs you to take a look at the drawings she just created for you.  Time is of the essence and it can’t wait for you to get back to the office.  Your drafter, being tech savvy and highly trained, creates a .dwf of the drawing and emails it to you.  You open the file in your Design Review Mobile app and redline the drawing, save, and send it back to her.  That is useful.  And it’s free. 

Here’s another example.  Say you went to meet a client but you forgot to bring the drawings with you!  Your drafter sends you a .dwf file and you open it on your iPad (or Android tablet).  You and your client place notes and other markups right on the file, which you can email to them for their records and which you can email to your drafter back in the office.  While you finish up things with the client the drafter has completed the changes and has sent you and the client the revised drawings.  Who’s happy?  The client!  You might get that raise after all!

Autodesk Viewer Apps

Autodesk has several “viewer” apps for various different file types.  If you use Autodesk Inventor then you may want to check out the free Autodesk® Inventor® Publisher Mobile Viewer app available on iOS and Android.  This app can view and interact with instructions created with Autodesk’s Inventor Publisher software.  It is a mobile manual for looking at your products information.  It can access files via Autodesk’s Cloud Storage, email, or intranet. 

The Buzzsaw Mobile app (only on iOS) provides secure access to a project’s Buzzsaw accounts.  It can view 2D and 3D files, view the meta data, other project documents and can upload project photos to Buzzsaw.  If you are working on a project that uses Buzzsaw, you need this app.

Autodesk ForceEffect

Autodesk ForceEffect is an iOS-only app.  This app is used for simulating design concepts.  ForceEffect does all of the simulation, calculations, and equation crunching for you.  This allows for quick simulation efforts and concept designing. 

Figure 3: ForceEffect allows for fast design simulation and calculations on your mobile device.

123D Sculpt

A member of Autodesk’s 123D series of programs, 123D Sculpt is an iPAD-only app that allows users to sculpt and paint 3D shapes, models, and objects.  It does not allow you to save your 3D models, but you can save 2D images of what you create.  It is meant as a 3D modeling introduction tool and not as a professional 3D tool.  It’s an app that is fun to play with, but is limited because of its inability to save the models created.


There are several mobile apps available from Autodesk.  Many of them are useful on a professional level while others are just fun to play with.  Some fit into both categories.  The use for mobile design apps is limited only by our imaginations.  They allow us to share our work with others and to let us take our work with us.  Explore how you can use these apps in your workflow.  Most of them are free and the others won’t exactly break the bank either.  Try them out.  I think that you will find a use for them.

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