2D, 3D and BIM – what’s the difference?

When it comes to design software, the choices are endless. To meet the needs of many professionals, the industry provides software solutions for 2D, CAD, and BIM design. What are the strong points for each type, and which one should you use for which kind of work?

In simple terms, we can say that

  • 2D tools are mainly for line drawings
  • 3D modeling is for creating spaces and objects
  • BIM is used to design and document a building.

Let’s dissect each term.


Whatever the project size, or the industry, the most basic building tool of any technical drawing is usually a CAD software. CAD stands for Computer Aided Design, meaning that technical drawings, which up until the 80s were traditionally created manually, are now “aided” by software solutions to boost productivity and speed – but chances are that if you are reading this, you already knew that. Odds are, you also started your designing career learning how to draw lines on a computer screen. To this day, CAD is the most used 2D drawing method in the industry, and most design offices have a few copies of some CAD software products.

zwcad spain

A typical CAD interface and content. Image courtesy ZWCAD Spain

For a long time, the concept of CAD meant the AutoCAD product family. In recent years, many alternative drawing product emerged, including ZWCAD and GstarCAD. The main charm of these products is uniformity: they provide the same CAD drawing tools and commands (polylines, chamfer, heavy use of layers, etc.) language and culture that professionals already know, and always seek. The strongpoint here is that you don’t have to re-learn anything, should you switch from one software to another – if you have used one CAD product in the past, chances are that starting to work in a new software will be a breeze.
Although some CAD products offer 3D abilities, too, most CAD products are still focusing on creating 2D plans and line drawings. CAD products also tend to get specialized, and there are many products tailored for architectural- electrical- landscape design, city planning, and dozens of other areas. CAD is basically everywhere, where technical drawings are required. CAD is great for documentation, but if you need rendered visuals, you need to go a bit deeper into 3D modeling.

Why choose a 2D CAD software? The advantages:

  • Cost: 2D CAD software are very cost effective; requires quite low initial investment.
  • Easy to use: the drafting concept uses well-known tools.
  • Compatibility: saving the drawings in DWG format ensures you’ll be able to exchange data with others.

The shortcomings:

  • 3D capabilities are limited.
  • Changes on plans are time consuming to implement.
  • Repetitive drafting tasks, using the same basic editing commands such as trim, extend, etc.
  • There’s no simple way to create automatically a 3D model, based on 2D drawings.


So what happens if you do need 3D? Especially when your end goal is to create renders, or you need models where things have substance and mass, you need to be able to model 3D spaces and objects. What you crave is the freedom of imagination, to model anything you want, with lightning speed.
Luckily, there are many products for such aims – SketchUp, Blender, 3ds Max, etc. The workflow is simple, but powerful – we draw polylines, extrude and sculpt them, until we hit the desired forms. Then, we apply materials and push our model into rendering. Such tools are great for architectural, interior, landscape or product design, or basically any areas, where computer-generated images are desired. Again, based on what you need, you have tailor made solution for product design, the film industry,


Well-known 3D modeler SketchUp in action. Simple, yet powerful tools to create 3D solids. Image courtesy Ibercad Ida

However, 3D modeling is mostly about appearences, and not product data. If you want to attach information to your models, you will need BIM.

Why 3D modeling software? The advantages:

  • Strong 3D abilities: design ideas are very easy to create
  • Intuitiveness: drafting, morphing and sculpting tools are pretty easy to understand
  • Compatibility: most 3D modelers common file formats: OBJ, SKP, FBX, etc.

The shortcomings:

  • Limited 2D: if you need 2D floor plans, sections or details, additional software solutions are needed
  • Does not handle data: in order to attach data to your models, you will need additional solutions


Let’s talk about data first: in the construction industry, producing a 2D drawing or a 3D model might not be enough. It is ideal that the whole lifecycle (design, building, operation, demolishing) is paved with data and information, which should be accessible to all stakeholders of the building project, at all times. For architects, this means that we not only need to model a building, but also have to work with all kinds of specification and data (construction schedules, information about the materials used, data parameters of the project, and many other miniscule things), which we have to attach to our models – and this is actually what BIM does.
BIM stands for Building Information Modeling, and it is not a software, but a way of managing data, a method for storing and standardizing information, which can be read by other professionals (other architects, interior designers, MEP professionals, etc.), even if they use different software platforms.


A building model, stored in IFC format, is being imported from one BIM software (BIMvision) to another (ARCHLine.XP). Note how the geometry and information is kept. Image credits: CADLine Ltd.

Why to choose a BIM software? The advantages:

  • BIM is the future: the construction industry is heading this way
  • Fully integrated workflow: changes made to the project appear in all views.
  • Time saving: less time on tiresome drawing tasks required.
  • Capacity to manage “real” projects: BIM is useful for every project to achieve optimal result in 3D model representation and quantity take-off.
  • Cooperation: exchanging data and models easily

At the same time, BIM solutions should allow professionals to use their existing CAD knowledge (and files) and 3D modeling experience, otherwise no-one could expect the users to drop everything they know, and relearn a new method. Therefore, BIM should give you the power of data, but at the same time, it should look and feel like the programs you already know.


Just like with CAD and 3D modeling, there are many software choices for those, who seek a BIM solutions. ARCHLine.XP stands out from the crowd of BIM products, because it makes heavy use of traditional CAD drawing and 3D modeling practices, making the transition to BIM a seamless experience. Here’s a few neat things what ARCHLine.XP 2021 provides:

Apart from what has been mentioned in the video, you can also count on these useful tools:

  • Intuitive building design, using tools for walls, roofs, staircases, etc. in multi-storey buildings.
  • Ability to import tons of different file formats.
  • Technical documentation: floor plans, sections, elevations, plot layouts.
  • 3D modeling: quick conceptual building models, lofts, sweeps, you name it.
  • Interior design features: tiling, bathroom, kitchen design, and a parametric cabinetry builder.
  • Built-in rendering, so that you can visualize your plans without the need to buy another software product.

Why not give it a test drive? You can download a 30 days trial from here.