DXF vs DWG Files: Which One Should You Use?


AutoCAD software gives you options for file formats you can use to save your designs or drawings. Two main examples of file formats that you can use include DXF and DWG. Most people prefer a DXF file for collections of CNC designs while another group would want to use the DWG format. So, what’s the difference?

DXF stands for drawing interchange/exchange format. On the other hand, DWG stands for drawing. The main difference between the two is that while a DXF file retains only the dimensions, line work, and text, the DWG file retains all colors, layers, and line weights.

When to Use a DXF File?

If you have an application that can’t access a DWG file format, then it could make a lot more sense if you used a DXF one. Most applications can open DXF files but may fail to open DWG ones.

When to Use a DWG File?

You can only use this format when you access the drawing through the AutoCAD software. Also, you can use it if you have any other software that can open the file with its components. For instance, some versions of Google Sketchup can do this quite effectively.


How is a DXF File Similar to a DWG File?

Both a DXF and a DWG file belong to a group we term as vector graphic file formats. At any given scale, vector images will retain their quality. This is why they’re so great for designing purposes.

In addition, editing individual elements that form a vector image is easy, including the addition or removal of elements. In most cases, a lot of 2D vector drawings will have:

  • Text
  • Arcs
  • Bezier curves
  • Polygons
  • Circles
  • Lines

The features that you see in vector images are quite distinct from what you’ll see in raster images. The latter has pixels, which makes it harder to edit and ideally impossible to scale accurately.

Files in DXF format and DWG differ by the type of information that you can store in each one. They also differ in how you can encode information into both. A similarity, however, is that both of them work with CAD software. For those who are wondering what CAD software is, it is a program that produces 2D and 3D drawings. It’s quite necessary and you’ll find it in different industries all over the world.

Some of the industries that employ the use of CAD software include engineering, architecture, manufacturing, product design, and project management, among many other industries.

The data present in both the DXF files and DWG files work to render drawings. The data here will describe the object being modeled in mathematical terms.

Notable Differences between a DXF File and a DWG File

There are some differences you will spot immediately when discussing both DXF and DWG files. For starters, DWG encodes information in the 1s and 0s. While on the flip side, the DXF format will simply encode information in plain text. Therefore, this feature makes DWG files more compact.

DWG Files Are More Compact

For DXF files, all of the elements of the drawing are either in ASCII format or in plain text. This means that they have a complete range of alphanumeric characters. This means that the file takes up more bytes than a DWG file. In fact, a typical DWG file is 25% smaller.

Depending on the specification, a file in DXF format can go up to hundreds of MBs in terms of size. An example to see here is a landscape drawing. Such a drawing can have more than 100 layers. For such a file, making a transfer can become a little bit cumbersome. Thus, you might have to split the drawing into several files. Otherwise, you can compress it.

The basic rule of thumb to follow in this case is that a normal drawing should be about 10 MB in size.

DXF Files Are Open Source While DWG Files Are Proprietary

You can use DXF with about any CAD software. You can also use it with CNC and GIS software too. This is due to its open-source nature, which means that it is free for anyone who wants to use it.

On the other hand, the DWG file format is proprietary to Autodesk. Due to this reason, they can design and modify it the way that they want to. You also need to be wary of the fact that not all software can read DWG files. Without AutoCAD, you may have to improvise your ways to read DWG files.

Which One to Use?

The choice of which depends on what you’re trying to achieve. You can consider a DXF file if you want the freedom to access it through numerous applications. Also, if you’re sharing the file with other collaborators, it could be useful to use the DXF format.

Final Thoughts

So that’s how you differentiate DXF and DWG files. Each format has its own advantages and drawbacks, so opt for the one that suits what you need. However, as far as the file format that you should pick, we highly suggest that you work with the DXF one due to its versatility.