What you’ll learn.
What is a DWG file?
Autodesk created their proprietary DWG file format to store 2D and 3D images. This versatile image file type uses compact binary code to make it easy to store and move DWG files.
Learn more about DWG files
What is a DXF file?
DXF is another Autodesk creation launched around the same time as DWG. The DXF name stands for Drawing Exchange Format, and its purpose is right there in the name. DXF connects Autodesk files to dozens (or even hundreds) of other computer-aided drawing (CAD) and drafting programs.
Learn more about DXF files
What is the difference between DWG and DXF files?
Both DWG and DXF files are industry standards in CAD. Both files store the same type of data and have a similar level of quality — though they do this through different code.
DWG and DXF are each better for different types of vector images and objects, which can affect their relative file sizes. Their biggest difference is how accessible and compatible they are — DXF files are open source, but you can only use DWG files with Autodesk programs.
The value of vectors.
Vector graphics use mathematical algorithms based on points on a grid to display images. This means that no matter how much you scale them, their proportions remain the same. On the other hand, raster images use grids of pixels to create images. Because the number of pixels within a picture doesn’t change, raster images can blur or pixelate when resized.
Both DWG and DXF files are vector formats. Their images contain elements like lines, arrows, arcs, circles, advanced curves, polygons, and text. It’s easy to adjust, edit, add, or remove individual elements.
File structure and size.
DWG files are more compact than DXF files and can also store a greater variety of files. DWG files use binary code — that is, a computer processing language made of zeroes and ones. DXF files use text-based coding (ASCII). Binary code is more compact, so DWG files tend to be about 25% smaller than DXF.
In DXF vector drawings, every element is “spelled out” in ASCII. This makes DXF larger but also more compatible with other programs. Some DXF files — especially those with many layers — can be hundreds of megabytes in size. In cases like these, a best practice is to split apart the large file, compress it, or both.
DWG is more diverse.
DWG files can handle a full range of drawing types. 3D geometry is an important part of what DWG files do. DXF files mostly handle 2D vector images, especially in early versions of the format. DXFs may also face color limitations. Most special functions and features are also unlikely to be supported in DXF files — they’re stripped down, by design, to make them more flexible, compatible, and easy to share.
DWG is for Autodesk.
DWG is the default file format for Autodesk. You can use DWGs with various Autodesk software applications, like AutoCad Civid 3D (for civil engineers and urban planners), Autodesk Revit (for architects), and Autodesk Inventor (for product developers). Because they’re built to work together, DWGs are the go-to file types when working with these programs.
DXF is for sharing.
If you’d like to share a DWG vector rendering or drawing, DXF files are the way to go. Not only are DXF files compatible with other software, but they can also transfer 2D images to other CAD viewing and editing programs (while DWG files are strictly limited to Autodesk). DXFs are also useful for professionals who use multiple programs on one project. You can even overlay some DXF images onto other file types.
Proprietary vs. open source.
DWG is proprietary — which means it is the sole property of Autodesk. Only the company can alter or modify the file format. To make the DXF file more effective, Autodesk designed it as an open-source file. The format is free to anyone, and anyone can program or rewrite accompanying software. This means that, over time, DXF files get revised, redeveloped, and improve by the people who use it.