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4 Points You Need to Know about CAD Software File Formats

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4 Points You Need to Know about CAD Software File Formats

ZWSchool 2021-06-18 10:11:00

4 Points You Need to Know about CAD Software File Formats

Files serve as the core of computing, where information about various processes is stored. Because of the diversity of functions and programs in computing, numerous file extensions exist as a unique means of identifying and accessing these pieces of information for the corresponding software. In this regard, CAD programs are not left out. There are quite a several digital CAD file formats present today that store data about drawings and objects generated by CAD software programs. One of the CAD file types popular with many designers is the DWG format. 

In this post, we take an in-depth look at some of the available file formats and why they are crucial to every design enthusiast.


What is a CAD file?

A CAD file is something every design professional might have come across or heard of, at least once during carrying out their job. But what does it mean? 

In simple terms, a CAD file is a digital file format used by computer-aided design programs to store relevant drawing information. 

A CAD file holds data generated from CAD software involving design-related information. Everything from image (2D or 3D) data, geometry, metadata (data about data), and the likes, are stored in a CAD file. These CAD data are usually in either ASCII or Binary format that is accessible using the appropriate programs. 

A CAD file's relevance is tied to its functionality, which fundamentally is on its capacity to store design-related information, and it is possible to transmit this information to other users who can now extract and use them for various purposes.

The various use-cases of CAD files and innovations in CAD systems warranted that some of the files are stored and encoded in a specific way, which was how many of the numerous file formats came about. These formats enable users to access newer features, which ordinarily may be restricted if there was only one standard format as it leaves room for innovation and expansion of CAD software features.


Proprietary versus Non-proprietary CAD file formats

The concept behind these two forms of file formats is decipherable from their names. They refer to CAD formats that have distinct ownership. While proprietary represents CAD file formats that are specifically created for use on a particular program and as such, using it on another program may lead to some form of malfunction. Non-proprietary, on the other hand, refers to a generic or neutral CAD file format.

Proprietary formats are quite useful because they maintain every design detail with no losses whatsoever when accessed through its original program. Even though sharing designs with work clients can be a nuisance since one is not always sure what CAD program the other party uses.

Non-proprietary CAD file formats address this since it is a more neutral format compatible with most CAD software packages. Although, the possibility of losses in design data exists during data conversion despite its ability to open such files.


Benefits of the DWG format

As we earlier mentioned, the DWG (short for Drawing) file format, which most designers are familiar with, is a proprietary file format from ACAD. 

The heightened popularity and ubiquitous nature of the ACAD software, especially just before the turn of the new millennium, led to the informal adoption of the DWG file format as sort of the default file format in the global CAD design community. 

DWG is a proprietary binary file format used for storing two- and three-dimensional design data and metadata. It is compatible with a wide range of CAD programs, although most of these programs require a license for its use. Our ZWCAD software is one of the CAD software that is compatible with DWG format. It is very crucial for designers to factor in the compatibility of a CAD program with the DWG format and other relevant design formats before making a CAD software purchase.

Besides its ubiquity, the DWG format is popular in the design community for a couple of reasons:

  1. It is compatible with several CAD software packages.
  2. DWG is encoded in binary form, resulting in its relatively small size than other counterparts, thus making it more convenient for file sharing and collaborations.
  3. The format supports vector images, which usually produce lossless quality designs. Vector form enables the scaling of designs to enormous proportions without a drop in quality.


Other CAD file formats

So far, this article may have only touched on the DWG file format, but what about other relevant CAD file types? The design community has other common CAD file formats that are currently in use today. Some of these formats include:

DWT file format: This is yet another proprietary CAD file format of AutoCAD. But unlike the DWG format, which adopts the binary form of encoding, DWT is based on ASCII encoding. It is worth pointing out that both CAD file formats are fundamentally the same, only that DWT is more of a template file with pre-defined values for the designer to use, especially when providing the values to settings like; title blocks, layer names, and the likes.

DXF format: DXF is short for Drawing exchange format and was created by Autodesk as a viable means of viewing and producing DWG drawings on other CAD platforms. Today DXF is the standard for file exchange within the design community.

Despite being created by Autodesk, DXF, which is ASCII-based is an open-source project that enables other software makers and the general public to efficiently adapt the file format to their platforms for easy interoperability.

SAT format: SAT is a text-based CAD file format for storing 3D geometric information. It is encoded in the ASCII setup from Spatial's 3D modeling software ACIS, but there is a binary encoded option (Called the SAB file format). 

Even though it is proprietary, it functions on a variety of ACIS-based CAD software packages.

STL: This is a proprietary CAD file format from 3D systems that stands for stereolithography or standard tessellation language. Its use involves storing information solely on the surface geometry of 3D objects by adopting tessellation in the encoding of data. STL has carved a niche in the design community and is the go-to file format for 3D printing and CAM.

Other popular CAD file formats (both proprietary and Non-proprietary) include STEP, QIF, JT, IGES, PARASOLID X3D, and many more.




Many CAD file formats exist for several reasons. So, designers must always understand some of the essential CAD file formats, and how it affects their designs. Along the same line, a design enthusiast needs to go for products that are compatible with most of the crucial CAD file formats to boost design time and productivity. Using ZWCAD software gives design professionals an edge over their counterparts due to its compatibility with a host of CAD file formats.

ZWCAD is a CAD design software from ZWSOFT, a Chinese-based company with 20 years of relevant industry experience and a community of over 900,000 users that traverses 90 countries in the globe. Visit our website today for more information on products and services.

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