AutoCAD vs AutoCAD LT: What's the difference?

AutoCAD vs AutoCAD LT: Which One Should You Choose?

Should you choose AutoCAD Full or AutoCAD LT for your next design project? The answer ultimately depends on the complexity of your project and your needs. Whether you are designing panel layouts, drawing electrical schematics, implementing electrical control or complex automation systems, the answer might vary on a case by case basis.

In general, the key difference between the full version of AutoCAD vs the light version AutoCAD LT is the 3D (three-dimensional) capabilities: the full version of AutoCAD offers the ability to 2D and 3D CAD designs, while AutoCAD LT only offers 2D (two-dimensional) capabilities.

Obviously the more limited features offered by the light (LT) version, also translate to a lower price tag. Yet, there are other factors that should be considered when choosing between the two versions.

Autodesk AutoCAD Versions Side-by-Side Comparison

AutoCAD vs AutoCAD LT: Comparison Table

Autodesk AutoCAD LT Overview

First, let’s discuss AutoCAD LT, which costs less than 25% (a quarter) of the full-fledged AutoCAD. Since the cost difference is significant, a deciding factor in choosing between the two AutoCAD versions could be this? Unless you need the extra features and 3D modeling capabilities offered by the full version, stick with the LT version.

So, what makes AutoCAD LT so much cheaper? Above, we have discussed that the main reason for the price difference is the 3D capabilities. So, you won’t see any Z-axis on the interface, or any features related to 3D.

However, here is what AutoCAD LT offers:

  • Subscription includes AutoCAD LT and is web and mobile friendly
  • 2D geometry, drawing, and annotation
  • Smart dimension feature, automatically create measurements within drawings
  • Store your system preferences to prevent accidental changes
  • Cloud storage connectivity, flexible revision cloud capability to show updates and changes
  • Compatibility with Windows and Mac
  • Access drawing content directly from the on-screen ribbon menus (ribbon galleries)
  • Dynamic block features, ability to share drawings, and access to AutoCAD web.
  • Single license purchasing

AutoCAD LT utilizes a similar interface as the full AutoCAD version, which is famous for its ease of use. This means the learning curve and workflow required to go from 2D tools, to 3D tools, will be similar.

If you are a complete beginner who is only learning about the basic features of AutoCAD. You can first master the LT version and upgrade to the full version later if necessary.

Autodesk AutoCAD Full Overview

Image showing futuristic plane design leveraging autodesk products and services.

Since the full version is more than four times more expensive than the LT version, the main question to ask yourself is: What does the full AutoCAD version give me that the LT version does not?

We have established above that the most important difference between the two is the 3D capabilities, including 3D shadows, wire-frame, and reflections.

However, there are other notable features that are only offered by the full AutoCAD version, namely:

  • AutoLISP and other built-in programming capabilities to generate 2D and 3D drawings automatically and create various programs as needed
  • Network licensing (can be purchased from Autodesk resellers) so you can use and manage AutoCAD on several machines over a network
  • Industry-specialized tool palettes for electrical design, mechanical design, architecture, and other applications.
  • Standards management tools from CAD to help check and validate whether the AutoCAD drawings you design or receive are appropriate.

AutoLISP is an especially notable feature to discuss here. AutoLISP is Autodesk’s unique programming language that can be utilized to implement automation, for example, to automate repetitive tasks and even generate drawings.

Also, a unique feature that you may consider is AutoCAD’s specialized tool palettes that are categorized by industry. They include tools and drawing information that is specialized for industries including construction professionals, architects engineers, which can help to add a more professional look to your drawings (and adds another layer of ease of use).

Another key factor you might want to consider is the multi-user network license. If you are going to work your designs with a team, then this might be a very important feature to consider so you are not limited to a single-user license as with the AutoCAD LT version.

10 Factors to Consider Before Deciding Which Version is Right

Image showing checklist to consider when choosing the correct CAD software.

Above, we have discussed the overviews of AutoCAD and AutoCAD LT and their key features. By now, you might have an overall idea of which of the two is appropriate for your current needs. Yet, if you still can’t decide between the two, here are ten important factors to consider:

1. Cost Differential Between the Two Versions

The most obvious difference and most important for most users. AutoCAD LT is only $710/year while the full AutoCAD will cost you $2720/year. So, the difference in cost is very significant.

If you are going to work exclusively in a 2D drafting environment and if you don’t need AutoLISP customization and automation languages, then the much lower cost of the AutoCAD LT might be the most important factor.

2. Three Dimensional Drawings Capabilities

If you need to draft and model in 3D, then you have no other choice but to get the full AutoCAD version. It’s worth noting that AutoCAD LT can open and view 3D models, but you can’t make any edits or create new ones.

Also, only limited preset viewing positions are available in LT, so you only have limited ways to orbit or rotate about 3D objects. However, you can still apply the height property to a 2D line (to add thickness) in AutoCAD LT, which is technically a 3D function.

Thickness in AutoCAD strictly means perpendicular to the drawing plane, while width is applied to objects on your drawing plane. Don’t confuse between the two.

With the full version of AutoCAD, on the other hand, you can freely rotate or orbit about 3D models, and the software can also display 3D models in various visual styles ranging from a simple wire-frame, to full rendering, complete with reflections and shadows.

3. Licensing Options and Configurability

Licensing is an important factor to consider if you are a company with several team members (and even more importantly if you are a large company). With the LT version, you can only get a single-user license and there’s no option to get a network license.

With the full version of AutoCAD, however, you get the versatility to get a multi-user network license, for example, a 5-seat license to let AutoCAD run on 5 machines in your office simultaneously.

AutoCAD is going to launch named-user plans to replace the multi-user network license starting August 2020 (transition begins May 7, 2020). However, the fact remains that if you are going to have more than one person using the software simultaneously, then the regular AutoCAD is generally the way to go.

4. Workspace and Interface Customizability

One of the key highlights of AutoCAD for many years is how we can customize it to our own personal preferences fairly easily. The full version of AutoCAD supports various APIs (including Autodesk’s own AutoLISP), various compiled languages using Microsoft.NET framework or ObjectARX, and more.

AutoCAD LT, on the other hand, only offers fairly simple customization options like modifying your toolbars, writing simple scripts, custom line types, and so on. You don’t get all the versatility of using high-level programming languages in LT.

Also, there are various third-party (unofficial) tools that are written using the APIs above. Express Tools can provide you with various useful drawing and editing widgets, as well as various tools to manipulate dimensions, layouts, texts, and more.

These third-party tools will only work with the full version of AutoCAD.

5. Parametric Drawing Abilities

Parametric drawing is essentially a drawing method of making geometrical shapes with dimensional and/or geometrical restrictions. AutoCAD LT is very limited in parametric drawing features. We still have the Parametric Tab with Parametric Manager, but you can’t really create parametrics in LT.

So, if you draw a lot of geometries and would like the parametric feature to easily change the value of a dimension to change your geometry drawing, then invest in the full version of AutoCAD.

6. Drafting Standards Checking

Standards checking is very important if you work in a (large) team or when you work with an outsourced workers CAD files. Standards checking allows us to compare the current drawing with a DWS file (a file set up with standard layouts, layers, dimension styles, text, etc.). Standard checking is only available in the full version of AutoCAD.

7. Data Extraction

The full version of AutoCAD has a feature called Data Extraction Wizard. This feature provides an easier way to extract information from attributed/unattributed blocks and objects. An attribute is essentially a text string that you can create in AutoCAD as a part of a block definition.

Both the full version and AutoCAD LT can edit and extract attributes just as well, but as mentioned, you won’t get the Data Extraction Wizard in the LT version. If you want to use all the data in a drawing, then you’d need to invest in the full version.

8. Reference Manager

You only get Reference Manager with the full version of AutoCAD, but even then the Reference Manager won’t be a part of your AutoCAD, but it’s standalone software. Reference Manager can ensure files like images, font files, and xrefs are properly included in your set of files (which can be an issue when you export a file).

9. Profiles Customizations

With the full version of AutoCAD, you can save drawing-specific and system settings into profiles, and you can switch between them back and forth on the Profiles tab, which is located on the Options box.

This can be useful when you need to switch between different drawing templates often. For example, you can have one profile with a white background and another with a dark background, one profile with A3 size and another with A1, and so on.

With AutoCAD LT, profiles function is not supported, and any changes you make to the options in LT become the default setting.

10. Multi Line (MLine) vs Double Line (DLine):

With the full version of AutoCAD, we get the MLine command which can be utilized to draw multiple parallel lines. However, the MLine command is infamous for being rather difficult to use and edit. With AutoCAD LT, however, you don’t have the MLine command, but there’s a command named the DLine.

As the name Double Line suggests, you can only draw up to two parallel lines, but it’s much easier to use than MLine with automatic intersection cleanup. DLine, unfortunately, is not available in the full version of AutoCAD.

AutoCAD vs AutoCAD LT – The Verdict

Since the price difference between the two versions is (very) significant, the general principle here is that if the features offered by AutoCAD LT is enough for you – and especially if you exclusively work with 2D drafting and drawing, then you can save your money and don’t need to subscribe to the full version of AutoCAD.

If, however, you do need 3D modeling and advanced automation languages like AutoLISP, then AutoCAD LT is out of the question and you need to invest in the full version.

Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

How much does the AutoCAD cost?

AutoCAD LT is $710/year while the full AutoCAD will cost you $2720/year.

Is AutoCAD easy for beginners?

As with any new software there is a learning curve, however, once you get comfortable in the environment you will be amazed what you can do in this software. Additionally, AutoDesk has plenty of documentation to support you.

Does AutoCAD have a free trial?

Yes, AutoCAD offers a 30-day trial for both versions. After which you can seamlessly convert your trial to a paid version. If you are a student, you can get a free one year educational license, see more below.

Is there a student version of AutoCAD?

Yes, if your institution is setup in their system, you can get educational access to Autodesk products. Simply setup an account by providing an email address and password (make sure to use the email associated with your educational institution for verification). Once verified, you will will get one year educational access to use AutoCAD.