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AutoCAD Designer: Job Duties, Career Outlook, and Educational Requirements

Research what it takes to become an AutoCAD designer. Learn about salary, job outlook, job responsibilities and education requirements to find out if this is the career for you.

What Is an AutoCAD Designer?

AutoCAD designers, also known as AutoCAD drafters, use AutoCAD software to create 2-D and 3-D representations of tools, buildings and products. These drafters can specialize in different areas, including electrical and electronic drafting, mechanical drafting and architectural and civil drafting. They often take rough sketches and drawings from architects or engineers and use AutoCAD to create a precise digital image. Read the table below for a summary of what you need to know about becoming an AutoCAD designer.

Degree Required Associate's degree most common; bachelor's degree and certificate programs available
Education Field of Study AutoCAD, drafting
Key Skills Design, document and illustrate tools, buildings and manufactured products using AutoCAD software
Projected Job Outlook (2018-2028) -4% for all drafters*
Median Salary (2018) $60,070 for electrical and electronic drafters; $54,920 for architectural and civil drafters; $55,920 for mechanical drafters*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

What Are the Duties of AutoCAD Designers?

Your main objective is to visualize, design and document a wide assortment of tools, manufactured products and buildings using AutoCAD software. You also might create illustrated documentation for technical journals or reference manuals. Your collaborators could include architects, scientists, engineers and surveyors.

The tasks you perform in a typical work sequence might include conferring with interested parties about design content and relevant details and applying revisions to a design in coordination with other workers. Other duties are computing mathematical formulas, consulting specifications and reviewing preliminary sketches to create more refined drafts, creating views from multiple angles to clarify the relationships between parts and creating blueprints from final drafts.

Where Do Professionals Work?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), architectural, civil and mechanical drafters had the highest employment numbers among all AutoCAD designers as of 2018. Employment opportunities for architectural and civil drafters is expected to increase by 2% percent from 2018-2028, however, mechanical drafters can experience a 7% drop in employment. On the other hand, electrical and electronics drafters are expected to see a 3% increase in employment during the same timeframe.

The BLS indicated that as of 2018, the median annual salary for electronic and electrical drafters was the highest, at $60,070 annually. Architectural and civil drafters earned a median of $54,920, while mechanical drafters had a median income of about $55,920 per year.

What Education Will I Need?

Although 1-year certificate and 4-year bachelor's degree programs are available, a 2-year associate's degree in CAD is sufficient for employment. Your technical drawing skill and knowledge of drafting standards, CAD techniques, engineering technology and math are likely to be an employer's main interest. Associate's degree programs provide some education in theory, but mainly emphasize the development of professional-quality design and drafting skills. In addition to the features of AutoCAD and other software, you learn design methods and practice freehand technical drawing and illustration. Other courses might cover 3-D modeling, applied statistics and geometry. Some programs may focus on mechanical or architectural drafting in the first year and electronic drafting in the second year.

What Certification Is Available?

Although it's voluntary, obtaining certification demonstrates your knowledge of established CAD design practices. The American Design Drafting Association offers certification exams for mechanical and architectural drafting, civil design and digital design. The mechanical and architectural exams are available at apprentice and professional levels. All certifications are valid for three years - except those for apprentices, which are valid for five years.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

If you're interested in drafting, you may also want to consider careers in architecture or engineering. With an associate's degree, you may pursue work as an engineering technician in civil, electrical and electronics engineering specialties. These technicians work under the guidance of an engineer, completing tasks that help them design products.

Alternatively, students may pursue a bachelor's degree in engineering and become full-fledged engineers. If you're interested in creating buildings and similar structures, you might pursue a professional bachelor's degree in architecture to become an architect. It should be noted that architects need to be licensed in every state, and engineers who work directly with the public need licensure as well.