Careers in Computer-Aided Design

Learn all the different ways you can use a CAD degree.
A CAD student smiles as he works

In recent decades, computer-aided design (CAD) has permeated the design and engineering fields. CAD programs 20 years ago were highly specialized tools used primarily for engineering applications, but now, CAD is indispensable to a variety of industries, from architecture and interior design to construction, fashion, animation and manufacturing.

If you want to be a drafter, an engineer or even an animator, a CAD degree will serve you well in your career. In the design field, CAD skills are useful to interior designers and product designers as well as those who work with technical illustration and animation.

Even a certificate program or two-year associate's degree can prepare you for an entry-level position, or greatly enhance your skills and salary prospects if you're already employed in the industry.

CAD Jobs: Drafters, Designers and Managers

The versatility of computer-aided design programs makes them ideal for a number of purposes, but one of their most frequent uses is in the field of drafting. Drafters take data, specifications and sketches provided by scientists and engineers and produce drawings that serve as a visual and technical guideline for the manufacture of products. Drafters' drawings are used in the production of everything from vehicles, machinery and electronic devices to large-scale structures such as buildings, highways and water systems.

Drafting careers may include any of the following:

  • Architectural drafting
  • Mechanical drafting
  • Electronics drafting
  • Civil construction drafting

Drafters are generally lower on the career rung than CAD designers, who earn that designation through experience. CAD designers bridge the gap between concept and production and many in the industry feel that design jobs will overtake drafting careers in the future. Designers are familiar with the standards and requirements of their specific field of interest or specialty, while drafters could be considered generalists. Designers work more individually on a project whereas drafters work in teams and take instruction from designers and managers.

Designers work in an area of specialty for the most part:

  • Architecture
  • Engineering
  • Fashion Design
  • Interior and Exterior Design
  • Game Design
  • Industrial Design

CAD managers are the people everyone turns to when things go wrong. They have a deep understanding of CAD tools such as AutoCAD and MicroStation, and they know what problems are likely to arise when their tools interact with other software and programs. CAD managers also schedule the team's workload, review the team's work before it goes back to the designer, and build the standards for the company. Managers are up on new releases, such as Civil 3D, and ensure their compatibility with the team's current standards.

No matter how large or small your company, CAD managers are a part of it and a crucial factor to the team's success.

Computer Aided Design Salaries

Here is what you can expect to earn in various fields within computer-aided design:

Computer-Aided Design CareersAverage Annual Salary*
Architectural and Civil Drafters$58,080
Mechanical Drafters$60,500
Electrical and Electronics Drafters$65,720
Commercial and Industrial Designers$73,820
Architectural and Engineering Managers$152,930

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment Statistics, 2019 Edition

*The salary information listed is based on a national average, unless noted. Actual salaries may vary greatly based on specialization within the field, location, years of experience and a variety of other factors. National long-term projections of employment growth may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions, and do not guarantee actual job growth.