DWG files.

Project engineers, designers, and suppliers use the DWG file format to create technical drawings and blueprints on Autodesk’s AutoCAD program, among others. DWG enthusiasts swear by its standardized approach to architectural and engineering projects. Find out more about how to use DWG files.

DWG marquee image

What you’ll learn.


  • What is a DWG file?
  • History of the DWG file
  • What are DWG files used for?
  • Pros and cons of DWG files
  • How to open a DWG file
  • How to create and edit a DWG file
  • DWG files: frequently asked questions



What is a DWG file?

DWG files are closely associated with CAD (computer-aided design) programs. Originally named as an abbreviation for the word drawing, it’s a file that contains two and three-dimensional vector graphics. Typically, drafters, architects, and engineers use DWG files to develop design sketches. 


There are several other file types associated with DWG, including:


  • .bak
  • .dws
  • .dwt
  • .sv$


This “open but proprietary” format serves as the building block for new projects across different industries – mainly digital engineering. The level of detail achievable is important for helping architects and engineers visualize their designs. The files are readable on many programs — including those in Adobe Creative Cloud, like Illustrator.



History of the DWG file.

The .dwg filename extension was created in the late 1970s as the native file format for the Interact CAD package. As computers began transforming the design industry, Autodesk licensed the DWG file type for its first iteration of AutoCAD in 1982.


As hardware became more powerful, so did designers’ and architects’ imagination. The DWG file became the empty canvas from which world-changing ideas have sprung. With various CAD programs now on the market, DWG has become more accessible to mainstream users. 



What are DWG files used for?

The primary use for DWG files is drawing specialist blueprints and designs spanning a variety of industries. From engineers poring over the latest design specs for a new project to architects and town planners creating public spaces, a whole range of professionals rely on DWG files to bring designs into reality.


You’ll need specialized CAD software to open a DWG file. Once you do, you’re likely to find complex layers of detailed technical specs along with drawings and diagrams. 


DWG files contain both vector images and metadata to support the designations of those vector images. This gives the author the ability to fully flesh out their own 2D and 3D ideas on the screen, rather than relying on off-book information to support their work.


Discover more vector files



Pros and cons of DWG files.

DWG may be the go-to for graphics when putting together new engineering or architecture projects, but there are also a few drawbacks.


Advantages of DWG files.

  • AutoDesk is the industry standard software provider for technical drawings and blueprints, so DWG files work seamlessly with their products — no file conversion necessary.
  • The binary makeup of a DWG file makes it a smaller file by far than its leading rival DXF, which uses plain text. This makes it much more suitable for sharing with colleagues and saving on storage space.
  • The real beauty of the DWG is its ability to map 2D and 3D images together, so the two versions are always compatible at different stages of design.


Disadvantages of DWG files.

  • Though AutoDesk is the software of choice for industry professionals, DWG has limited capability. DXF is a more widely supported file on other CAD packages, which means collaboration between agencies and their clients tends to happen in DXF form.
  • The DWG format has changed a lot over time. This means more than one version of the file extension currently exists, which can be confusing. Plus, older software may not recognize newer features built into later versions of DWG, making entire files potentially unusable. 
  • DWGs can’t be opened or accessed by anything other than CAD software without converting first. Again, this can be problematic when it comes to collaboration.



How to open a DWG file.

If you don’t need to make edits, you can use a DWG viewer to open the files. With the right software on your computer, you shouldn't have any trouble viewing your DWGs.


Here’s how you can open a DWG with Adobe Illustrator on desktop:


  1. Right-click on the image file on your desktop or file explorer window. (On Mac, press the Command button and click the mouse.)
  2. Scroll down to Open With, then scroll right to view the list of programs that can open a DWG file.



How to create and edit a DWG file.

As mentioned, you need one of the CAD programs to create and edit a DWG file from scratch. However, if you’re using Adobe Illustrator, you can create a file and export it to DWG so it can be opened using CAD software.


Just follow these steps:


  1. From the File menu, select Open.
  2. Locate the file you want to open using the file explorer window.
  3. Click to open the file.


To export it as a DWG file, do the following:


  1. Choose File, then Export.
  2. Select a location for the file and enter a filename.
  3. Select the DWG format from the Save As Type (Windows) or Format (macOS) pop‑up menu.
  4. Click Save (Windows) or Export (macOS).


Remember, you may experience issues with versioning – so make sure your recipient can open the file.



DWG files: frequently asked questions.

What does DWG stand for?

The term DWG is a shortened version of the word drawing – a reference to the action associated with the file type.


Can I view DWG files on mobile?

Yes. There are many mobile apps available that allow you to open DWGs on the go – enabling users to edit and share the file remotely.


Is DWG open source?

Unlike other CAD files, which are free for anyone to use, DWG is a proprietary AutoDesk format. Authorized use of the DWG format is subject to permission by AutoDesk.


Is DWG a 3D format?

Back in the early days of DWG, computers could barely handle 2D graphics, let alone 3D. But as the hardware improved, the DWG format became much more capable of handling robust displays, including 3D graphics — now a standard of the file format.


What is metadata in DWG?

In software files, metadata includes information and instructions to help the software (and the user) find out more about how the file is formatted. In DWG, this applies to the relationship between 2D and 3D versions, as well as other metatags.


DWG is the native file format for Autodesk’s AutoCAD® software and is a trademark of Autodesk, Inc.

Learn about similar file types to DWGs.

STL file image

STL files

Referring to stereolithography, the STL file is used in 3D printing and prototyping.

DXF file image

DXF files

Developed by AutoDesk, this file type encourages interoperability between different systems and users.

XVL file image

XVL files

This file format is typically associated with 3D computer graphics.

JT file image

JT files

Another 3D object visualization format, JT was developed for data sharing and collaboration.

Compare DWGs with other file types.

DWG vs DXF file image


Which is best for collaboration – and does size matter? Learn everything you need to know to choose the best file type for you.

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