Best for CAD work – mouse, trackball, 3D device?

While on the topic of gadgets (check out this groovy curved screen I wrote about) I stumbled upon some awesome hmm... let's call them input devices, designed specifically for CAD engineers. And if you're spending 8 hours a day staring at CAD models you want a really good monitor and really good and mouse, trackball or one of these over-the-top devices. Here's a run down of those that should be the best for CAD work in my opinion (updated: May 2014).




Let's kick the list off with a humble trackball. TrackMan (pictured above) from Logitech are perfect, humble, well designed, built to last and buying one doesn't break the bank. As @ml13ml commented on Twitter there's no arm movement required, minimal movement of thumb which in the long run means less stress to arm and shoulder muscles. He shot a pic of his own setup of TrackMan and Space Navigator. Price: $56 on Amazon right now.


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best for CAD work Razer Naga

Next up is an amazing mouse that is built for gamers but with it's 17 buttons gives enough setup options for geek engineers - the Razer Naga. The design is an acquired taste, I personally think it looks awesome and really weird at the same time. Those 12 buttons suggest that a mouse got naughty with a mobile phone… Price: $129 on Amazon right now.


best for CAD work belkin n52te

Enough of the boring trackballs and mice, let's bring out the big guns. Belkin's n52te is another loan from the gamers (they always seem in need of more buttons) and what a beast it is. You get fully customizable 15 keys, 3 keymaps, 8-way thumb pad, adjustable wrist pad, the whole thing is backlit and is just bad ass. You use it with your left hand, pointing around with a mouse in your right hand. Should be versatile enough for even the most demanding geek. Price: $80 on Amazon right now.


best for cad work spacecontroller

Leave it to the Germans to top that. Space Controller is a 3D mouse designed specifically for CAD work. Its 3D controller allows one to manipulate an object in all dimensions making panning around, zooming in etc a walk in the park. Plus you get to choose if you want a cap or a ball. Add 17 buttons, LCD screen and again the fact that your right hand is free to use a traditional mouse. It doesn't come cheap but could be a good investment if it saves time. Price: $309


Best for CAD work - Spacepilot pro

"But that's not all!" as the saying goes. The ultimate device for CAD work must be the SpacePilot Pro. Don't be alarmed by the price (it's $399), I'm sure this thing practically designs stuff on its own. Everything is built around a huge 3D knob, next to that you'll get 21 buttons, big LCD screen, tons of CAD specific functions and ergonomic design. You can use the LCD screen to keep track of your emails, calendar and tasks and keep your main screen clutter free. Best check out their website and demo, this thing is crazy.

The best for CAD work device all comes down to personal preference

While browsing around the web researching for this article I found one interesting comment. Worth considering before you put in an order for that new gadget.

Anyone who uses any Autodesk Autocad knows that typing is a hell of a lot faster than using a mouse to click and drag, especialy when precision is neccissary. I really don't see much value (esp. not $500 worth) using this mouse within Solidworks either. With one hand on a simple two button mouse and the other on the keyboard, on can access any tools you may need at a moments notice. If you really want to get fancy, get a better mouse with a few extra buttons (though I'm not sure how much functionality that would truely add). And if you don't want to clog up yourscreen with a bunch of garbage you don't need at the time, get a second monitor, it does me wonders!

What's your weapon of choice? Let us know in the comments!

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  • Interesting collection. I am not a designer but I have used SpaceNavigator from 3Dconnexion connected to my laptop to present models opened with our CadFaster Collaboration Tool. It has the same 6DoF technology as SpacePilot Pro and control is very good once you get the grip of it.

  • Trackballs, especially like the one illustrated in your article, drive me nuts. I’m all thumbs and not in a way that enhances use of that device.

    The 3D mice from 3Dconnexion are quite addictive for some of our staff and our customers. I know of customers who found these devices indispensable by the end of their first day of usage. [Disclaimer: I have not used one.]

  • Dave

    I use and have been using a trackball for at least 10 years now. My first was the Logitech TrackMan Marble FX Trackball. It was a great trackball after I wore it out and Logitech saw fit to discontinue it I switched to the Trackman Mouse and have been using it for almost 5 years now. I do not do a lot of 3D CAD work so I don’t see the need to spend the money on a pricy 3D gadget that would be more of a toy than a tool. We just upgraded our PC’s here and I am now looking for a replacement of the Trackman and I have not come across a suitable replacement, so it looks as if Logitech will be getting my business again.

  • Our CTO Indrek is a big fan of SpacePilot Pro. He used it in his previous company and still claims it’s the best gadget for CAD work. Guess we have to buy it to him once GrabCAD gets into black :)

  • Here’s another great 3D mouse:

  • You can find bigger pictures of the 3D mouse from SpaceControl at

  • I have become a big fan of the SpacePilot Pro. With a mouse in one hand and the SpacePilot Pro in the other, I can manipulate the mode, select commands and then drop back to the keyboard if i need to.

  • Jeff Williams

    I am also looking for a suitable replacement for my favorite Logitech Trackman Marble FX since I finally ran through my stash of them. Once you get used to trackballs you will never go back to a mouse. I am looking for feedback on the Kensington Expert trackball and specificallyhow its scroll ring works with CAD.

  • How could I do with out my Track ball from Logitech…and never look’d back. I use this to eliminate the wrist pains from a mouse and its some much more productive, and now I also use the New SpacePilot Pro that I preview at the Design Engineering Trade show in Anahiem. Wow ..that is a smooth tool …and it will work with my Tracl ball in right hand , SpacePilot Pro in left…cool….

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  • cptcolo

    RAZER NAGA – I am lad to see someone else recognize this as a fabulous product for CAD. It is the ultimate CAD mouse and would work well with a Space-Navigator for near keyboard free CAD work. Here is my review from Amazon:

    RAZER NAGA (~$70) – The Ultimate Mouse for CAD.

    *Very comfortable, designed for all-day gaming but works great for all day CAD work
    *Middle mouse button works well and is within easy reach
    *Macros like crazy. Every button can be programmed. For example Scroll-Up on the mouse wheel can now be Zoom-In like on SolidWorks or Pro E (I do not use Inventor much)

    *Expensive, but actually a great value
    *A gaming mouse, has light-up LEDs (these can be turned off)

    *I have mine setup with each workbench of CATIA assigned to the different 1 to 12 buttons. Example in the Sketcher WB “1” starts a Profile, “2” starts a 3-pt tangent, etc… Since each WB in CATIA has exclusive buttons, I have the macros programmed as lists that do whatever command I have set for the button in the workbench. It takes a while to sort out the macors but it is very very fast and part generation is instantaneous!

  • Maria Haugen

    I use AutoCAD daily, as an Architectural Designer (Residential Home Designer). My favorite are the 5-button mice by Microsoft, but just discovered that they are no longer making the FULL-SIZE 5-button (wireless) Intellimouse, so I just snatched two up on These two left buttons are essintial for ‘Snap’ & ‘Ortho’, features, could not do without these. Don’t need more buttons than this, but would not r recommend LESS than a 5-buttom mouse for CAD, ALL users. Good luck!

  • H Flores

    I have used and really enjoyed the ITAC Systems evolution MOUSE-TRAK ( It is very ergonomically designed with programmable buttons that I use to set my most common functions like ‘ortho’, ‘osnap’, ‘zoom extents’, ‘pan’ etc.. It save space and is easy on the wrist. I must admit I still use a Logitech MX Revolution for some programs but for CAD(ACAD and SoWks)I like the ITAC.

  • Louis Hearn

    Programs used(SolidWorks, Solid Edge, Rhino,and AutoCad)
    I have use a spaceball 5000 usb for 7 years. If you don’t use cad you don’t get it. There are some graphics programs that use it. This is the best tool for 3D since 3D. It allows you to draw in 3D with no limits. It is fast also. Any Solid Designers out there will tell you the same thing.

  • Mattias

    I got an 3DConnexion SpacePilot Pro right now (I got the old SpacePilot before) and I find it very hard to work without it, I have programmed a lot of the buttons on it and with an small wireless number pad and a ordinary wireless 2d mouse with some extra button I don’t even need the keyboard. 400$ is nothing compared what it does. It’s priceless.
    I’m using it in 3D cad such as Siemens I-deas & NX.

  • Jamie B

    I cannot believe some of the comments in regards to using a 3D space controller. Especially from those who either have never used one or do not work in 3D. I have been using a space controller for the last 10 years working in 3D modelling/engineering applications and it basically gives you the ability to pick up the model with one hand and spin, pull towards, push away, etc… while working with a regular mouse and keyboard with the other hand. The statement that spending money on something that would just be an expensive toy is the most inaccurate statement i have read on here. The amount of time it saves being able to manipulate your model instead of holding down a combination of keys and dragging your mouse around will more than pay itself off in weeks if not days in the amount of productivity these add. If you do not believe me do a little research and you will find studies that can actually put numbers to the payoff and increase in workflow. So here is a big finger for those that are too cheap to buy one and want to make false statements to discourage others from taking advantage of the available technology.

  • JDM

    Jamie B is right. I have a Space Pilot at work, and a Space Navigator at home. I have been using them for 8 years with Inventor and Showcase. Today I could not imagine trying to be productive in a 3D program without them. And I have NEVER met anyone who really works in 3D, that has had one, and prefers not to use it. One can easily double their production, especially when manipulating and modifying large assemblies. For 2D programs such as AutoCAD, the benefit isn’t there. But for our group, drawing in 2D is long a thing of the past.

  • DaveB

    I have been (and currently am) using a trackman marble FX. I purchased a space navigator about three years ago due to the windows 7 debacle and logitechs disinterest in updating the marble fx software for programibility.
    I do a lot of 2D cad drawing, mostly electrical layouts, and I find I am lost without my space navigator. The time it saves in panning and zooming is indispensable.

  • RogerW

    I do a lot of 3D CAD (ProE/SW) and tried the 3D/6DOF controllers a few years ago. It was pretty neat. But, I never thought it made my work more efficient. Mostly, I liked the extra buttons (mapkeys, etc.)

    For me, the mouse/pointer method seems best for positioning myself around the model. I think the lack of a quick/easy way to grap a spin center with the 6DOF mouse was a big problem. I know you don’t need to think that way with a 6DOF, but for me, it seems so much faster to use the pointer to spin on a point on the model surface and then use the scroll wheel to zoom in. Sometimes pan with the mouse (button/key modify mouse movement) to frame the work area perfectly on the screen and go.

    Perhaps I just didn’t give it enough time – or the re-learning curve was too steep and the perceived benefit too small.

  • Henry W

    I’m looking for a controller to use while learning AutoCAD products and soon Solidworks. I wanted something more that just the 6dof cap, so I’m looking at the older Space Pilot products, but I’m a bit leery of 3D Connection as I picked up a used SpaceBall 4000flx and have yet to get it to function in AutoCAD 2012, 2013, 2014 or Corel CAD 2012 products. It also seems that the vendor could care less about legacy support of its devices. as a student I’m usually a release behind the cutting edge. Are SpaceControl and 3D Connexion the only players in the better controllers? Is there any hope for the SpaceBall 4000flx.or should I toss it and move on….

  • WOW! I own three of these products and I CAD everyday. The Belkin peripheral is a cheaper exact copy of the “Razer Nostromo” which I use; an awesome product. No foot controllers yet? :)

    • Siegehammer DP

      The Belkin Nostromo N52 is not a cheaper copy, it’s the original (and very old) speed pad that Razor bought the rights to copy. Also the Belkin software is still better that the Razer software which has progressively gotten worse.

  • Paul Smith

    Microsoft Trackball Optical is still the best CAD pointer device ever. It is man hand size, the softest MMB click, lasts for ever(maybe move the steel balls around every few years). NO wrist stran or action of significance. 5 Buttons effective. Full zoom pan, roll and scroll all in one. 1,000s of click a day no problem.
    But the advent of 4k screens mean the pointer speed is now too slow to cover side to side in one thumb movement – a MS device driver tweak would solve this.
    I have on line mine of a small angle pad so the wrist angle is totall natural. Solved a RSI problem of long standing.
    Downside- haven’t been made for a while now. But can be picked up second hand – usually hardly used. Either love ’em or hate ’em.
    FYI The Logitec unit shown above is too small for extended use with male hands and the MMB is to strongly sprung. You will get a very sore finger long term.

  • David Marzocchi

    I bought the Logitech G-13 left handed keypad and have programmed it with all the quick keys I could want. I’ve been using SolidWorks for over 15 years and this is something I wanted from day one. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

    • RobertFusion

      As for me, Logitech G13. Maybe you recive device with some problem?

  • Radu

    Hello there,

    I have read your thread about a couple of years ago, during my winter holiday.
    After getting back to work (CAD design), I have bought one Logitech M570 trackball, for my workstation.
    It was a little bit difficult for 3-4 days but, after that, was purely … symphony …:).
    After some time, I have bought others two, for my team-mates :)
    Conclusion 1: We are not able to get back to “normal” mice anymore.
    The next step (based on your thread again) was to buy the Logitech G13, for the left hand.
    This device is truly awesome for CAD work: I have customized all its keys (after my work pattern), I have reduced the no. of “clicks” by 35-40% and normally, the working speed is great.
    Also, my focus on the drawing “board” and work accuracy are surely increased.
    Meanwhile, I ‘ve bought a second one …. :).
    Conclusion 2: We can’t thank you enough for your article.

    Blessed Holidays,

    • Sean

      Hi Radu,

      Read through your comment and curious how you dealt with inputting numbers in CAD?



      • Radu

        Hi Sean,
        First, thanks for reading my review.
        Second, what do you mean with “inputting numbers” in CAD? It is not very clear for me….

      • Sean

        Hi Radu,
        Thanks for replying! To clarify my meaning by “inputting numbers” in CAD is when you need to enter the dimension for what one’s drawing.
        Do you simply switch back and forth from the Logitech G13 and the keyboard? If not, curious how you have things setup?

      • Radu

        OK, I understand now.
        I have used G13 for commands only.
        The numbers (dimensions, etc.) are inserted from the regular keyboard (num-pad), using the right hand.
        Each key from G13 can run multiple commands, such as:
        – G1: polyline + ENTER;
        – G2: offset + ENTER;
        – etc.;
        So, instead of two clicks on the regular keyboard (one for polyline and the other for enter) you have just one.
        This I consider it to be a great improvement, having a strong dynamic on the “drawing board”.

      • Sean

        I see, thank you for answer my inquiry, much appreciated!

      • Sean

        Thank you for replying!
        If possible could I see how your CAD profile is setup on the G13? Also, elated to see another trackball user. My current setup is the G13 with the G600.

      • Radu

        Hi Sean,
        What precisely do you want to see? The arrangement of commands?
        From my point of view, the general logic is explained above.
        You should make your very own setup, directly related to your work mode – this G13 is really great for CAD: strong, flexible, cool.
        About the trackball, I became a big fan myself: normal mice are …. history :).
        I recommend them all the time …:)

  • JTMC93

    Bit late to mention but… What about the good old Joystick. Lots of buttons. 3-6 axis depending on which one you get. AND can get some good ones like the Thrustmaster 16000m without breaking the bank.

    Some have analog sticks in place of hatswitchs as well. Effectively giving you two joysticks in a single device. One of rotation and another for panning.