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Developing an AutoCAD Plug-in vs. Developing with AutoCAD OEM

David Grieve • 
September 13th, 2023

Autodesk is the global leader in CAD applications for many reasons, and many developers look to this as a foundation for their own product ideas. Whether you are looking to create an entirely new application using AutoCAD as a base, or simply looking to cover a gap in what the Autodesk product can do, there are options available. By using AutoCAD as a foundation, you can ensure reliability and familiarity for your customers, while drastically reducing your own development time and costs.

This piece will directly compare and contrast developing a standalone product using AutoCAD OEM to developing an AutoCAD plug-in designed to be hosted on the Autodesk Exchange Store.

One of the most important things to discuss right away is the development overlap of taking advantage of the AutoCAD OEM platform versus solely developing a plug-in for AutoCAD. When building your OEM application, you will also create an AutoCAD plug-in.

AutoCAD OEM + Plug-in AutoCAD Plug-in Alone
Main Use Case Developers looking to create a custom-branded, standalone product with AutoCAD and its capabilities as a foundation Developers looking to add additional functionality to the existing AutoCAD product
Branding Full branding customization, from splash screens and logos to file images Operates within AutoCAD products, with Autodeskbranding
Distribution Independent distribution under your company business model Sold through the Autodesk Exchange Store, and your website/sales channels
Licensing Total licensing model freedom, with no software requirements Licensing freedom, but customers must have an existing AutoCAD license
Restrictions Cannot directly compete with an Autodesk offering*
*Exceptions exist, please contact us for more information
Branding, licensing, and distribution limitations listed above.Limited by AutoCAD availability

If you would like a comparison between the white-label version, AutoCAD OEM, made for developers, and the end-user product AutoCAD, check out the piece below.

Developing With AutoCAD OEM

AutoCAD OEM is a white-label version of Autodesk AutoCAD that allows you to fast-track the development of your own standalone application. This product will have your branding and your functionality, all built on the foundation of the world leader in CAD development. You can take your product and sell it on your own terms, entirely independent of Autodesk products. Done well, AutoCAD OEM can enable you to save development time and costs, focus on your area of expertise, and improve your margins.

In the graphic below, we show the four steps of OEM development:

AutoCAD OEM Steps

Creating Your Plug-in

As mentioned, AutoCAD OEM is not a replacement for creating a plug-in. The first step of development with AutoCAD OEM is to create your own plug-in with unique, specialized functionality. There are plenty of APIs available to you with the ObjectARX SDK including C++, .NET, COM/ActiveX, VBA, plus AutoLISP

AutoCAD OEM Make Wizard

This is where you begin to make the AutoCAD foundation your own. The Make Wizard is where you add your custom application and then set to work making the product look, feel, and function as you need it to. This includes branding, splash screen, menus, and file images. You can add to and customize the over 2000 commands that come with AutoCAD. Crucially, you can also disable unneeded features. From here, you can test and debug as needed. 

AutoCAD OEM Installer Wizard

The installer wizard enables you to create a ready-to-distribute deployment of the product you have created. You have full control over the installation process for your users and can add templates specific to the industry you service. Installation branding elements and user experience are entirely up to you and your product vision.

Ship Your Product

From here, you are ready to distribute your product as you see fit. One of the major advantages of developing with AutoCAD OEM is the freedom of distribution. Your users do not need any pre-existing software on their machines. You will have no issues with version compatibility, and you do not have regional access issues that can come with Autodesk's hesitancy for global reseller agreements for its products. Your product stands alone, fully functional, independent of Autodesk.

Benefits of AutoCAD OEM

The majority of benefits from developing with AutoCAD OEM come from the fact your product will be just that: yours. You will create a standalone offering, independent of Autodesk’s branding, infrastructure, and many of their limitations. While the engine of AutoCAD is under the hood, this is your car, functioning and branded to match your vision.

Complete Customization 

OEM developers have the crucial ability to remove features that exist in the current AutoCAD product. AutoCAD is a massive program that has existed for more than 30 years. During this time, it has had countless capabilities added to it, many of which will be surplus to requirements for a huge number of use cases.

OEM steps visual 2

If you are developing a product in a niche that doesn’t need many of these, OEM allows you the freedom to cut out whatever you would like. This frees up space and processing power, allowing for a faster, more resource-efficient experience for your eventual customers. 

Creative and Distribution Freedom

The AutoCAD OEM enables complete freedom of branding in a way developing a plug-in cannot match. Everything from the icon your users click on, to the interface they interact with, right down to the file thumbnails can be customized to your organization's brand, not Autodesk’s. AutoCAD is the foundation under the hood, but what this looks like and is capable of is entirely up to you. 

The biggest series of benefits come from the autonomy provided by developing with AutoCAD OEM. The product you make stands alone. Your customers do not need any existing Autodesk products to run it, and you can even sell to those working in entirely different ecosystems. 

AutoCAD OEM Costs and Limitations

For many, the AutoCAD OEM will save overall costs by reducing developer hours and resources, when compared to creating your product from scratch. With that said, this is a paid service. 

AutoCAD OEM has an Annual Partnership Fee of $15,000 USD/€12,000 year, along with a revenue share. The revenue share is a percentage of the revenue from the developed product. The minimum annual revenue share is $24,000 USD/€18,000 year. 

There are some limitations and drawbacks to developing a product using AutoCAD OEM. An OEM-based end-user product does not expose the AutoCAD API. As a result, OEM products do not support third-party products. You will also not be able to list your product on the Autodesk Exchange store, though the plug-in you create during the OEM process could be, as it will be compatible with vanilla AutoCAD. 

A major barrier appears for AutoCAD OEM developers who are intent on creating a product that would directly compete with an Autodesk offering. Simply, this is not allowed. 

In general, your product must meet the following criteria:

  • The developer solution does not directly compete with a specific vertical product offering that Autodesk currently offers.  

  • The OEM solution you are creating is essentially not a direct competitor to the underlying AutoCAD tool itself.  

  • The solution you are developing must contain enough of a value-add and differentiation outside of the base CAD platform.

This does not mean you cannot create something where your target audience may be serviced by Autodesk. Tech Soft 3D currently has partners in the electrical space, despite the success of AutoCAD electrical. If you have questions about this, please do not hesitate to contact us for more information. 

Benefits of Developing AutoCAD plug-in

Developing an AutoCAD plug-in is a fantastic way to add additional functionality to the already comprehensive features of the Autodesk product. You can fulfill a need the current AutoCAD product does not meet, combining your expertise with the foundation and global reach of Autodesk. 

The Autodesk Network

When you develop an AutoCAD plug-in, you can host it on the Autodesk Exchange Store. The benefits here are clear: instant, direct access to potential customers, in an environment where they are actively seeking out solutions your product may provide. 

While building a standalone product with AutoCAD OEM allows for freedom of marketing and deployment, that requires implementing marketing and deployment. For those with more limited budgets, smaller teams, or smaller product size goals, developing a plug-in for an existing product is a great choice.

Another major benefit of developing a plug-in for AutoCAD is access to Autodesk’s cloud services and BIM360. The cloud services allow access to a few features that OEM developers will not have access to. These include:

  • Trace: Safely review and add feedback directly to a DWG file without altering the existing drawing. ​

  • Share: Send a controlled copy of your drawing to teammates and colleagues to access wherever they are. ​

  • Push to Autodesk Docs: Push your CAD drawing sheets as PDFs to Autodesk Docs from AutoCAD. ​

  • Drawing history: See changes made to your drawing over time. ​

  • AutoCAD anytime, anywhere: Access AutoCAD from your desktop, web, and mobile devices. ​

  • Save to web and mobile: Save drawings & xrefs from your desktop to view and edit in the AutoCAD web and mobile apps. ​

These features come down to the access to the online component that Autodesk offers AutoCAD products, and by extension, your plug-in.

It cannot be understated the benefits of using the world leader in CAD as a platform for your development and selling experience. When you experience issues, troubleshooting will be streamlined by access to the experience of thousands of other developers using the same foundation. 

Development and Pricing

AutoCAD plug-in Developers get access to the AutoCAD API, as would customers of the plug-ins themselves. You are also able to use the API for web and mobile development needs, something lacking in AutoCAD OEM. Notably, AutoCAD support in these areas is still somewhat limited. 

While AutoCAD is now subscription-only, you do have control over the licensing model you choose to go with. Your plug-in can be perpetual, subscription-based, SaaS, whichever is better suited for your organization.

AutoCAD Plug-in Limitations

The major area of limitation for plug-in developers comes from the same source as its benefits: you do not control AutoCAD.

Smaller Margins and Creative Freedom

Your product's pricing, costs, and eventually margins depend on a huge array of factors unique to you, so an exact estimate here is impossible. What is certain is the sizable chunk of revenue Autodesk will get from your customers when you stick with the plug-in approach.

When you develop with AutoCAD OEM, you sell a standalone product. For plug-in developers, your customers will have to have an existing AutoCAD license, and your product is attached to this. Simply, OEM developers sell an entire product and keep more of the sale price at the end of the day. 

In many instances, developing an AutoCAD plug-in as your product will have smaller margins. 

Developing an AutoCAD plug-in also limits creative freedom, especially in branding. Your user's entire experience of your product will be through Autodesk, from purchase experience to usage.

AutoCAD Access and Version Compatibility

As mentioned, your customer will have to have an existing license of AutoCAD to use your plug-in. Depending on their location, this can lead to availability issues and version compatibility problems. When selling an AutoCAD plug-in, you will need to test and support your product on many versions of AutoCAD. With OEM development, you can limit this to just your current and last 2 versions.

More AutoCAD OEM and Plug-in Information

Whether you develop with the AutoCAD OEM or go the AutoCAD plug-in route, using the foundation of a global leader in CAD software sets you up for success. If you want to learn more about AutoCAD OEM and what it can do for you, check out the product page below.

For those looking to get started with plug-in development, Autodesk has a host of information available. We recommend taking a look at the overview below.

If you are interested in learning more about the AutoCAD OEM platform, use the link below to reach out to us. Using the link below, you are able to evaluate the OEM product for FREE for 60 days.

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