Sharing Drawings With People Who Don't Have AutoCAD
By Rick Ellis,
Solutions, Inc., April 3, 2003
Sharing drawing information with people who don’t have
AutoCAD has always been a problematic issue for AutoCAD users.
In this article we'll look at some of the most common format
solutions to this problem, including the updates to the DWF
format and the new, free Autodesk Express Viewer.
PDF (Adobe Portable Document Format) seems to be one format that I get questions about all the
time. The Adobe Acrobat Reader format is popular and has almost
become the standard for exchanging documents of all types.
Almost everyone has a copy of the free Acrobat Reader installed
on their computer and most people are comfortable with receiving
a PDF file and know what to do with it. However, the PDF format
wasn’t exactly designed with CAD files in mind and there is no
way to create them in AutoCAD without buying a third party
program, either from Adobe or a variety of other developers.
Advantages: Popular format for all documents,
difficult for someone to edit
Disadvantages: You must buy a third party utility to
create them; Raster based format so as you zoom in you lose
quality; difficult to control scale when printing; no control
Process: Install a third party utility that creates
a new plot device. Plot to a file using that device to create
Conclusion: A reasonable alternative, but not the
best option for most people.
TIFF and other Raster Formats
Raster formats such as TIFF (which stands for Tagged Image File Format -
also licensed by Adobe) don't seem as popular as PDF, but I know
that some people are using them. The raster option also solves
the compatibility problem well because almost everyone has a
program that can display and print most common raster image
formats. For that matter Internet Explorer will handle most of
them. The problem is that these are raster images, so to get
very good quality you will probably end up with very large
files. And there will always be a limit to how close you can
zoom in to the image because eventually you will only see the
Advantages: Common format; difficult for someone to
Disadvantages: Large file size; Raster based format
so as you zoom in you lose quality; difficult to control scale
when printing; no control over layers
Process: Use the Add a Plotter Wizard to create a
plot device that plots to your desired raster format. Then
plot to a file using this plot device. You can also use Raster
Design if you have it.
Conclusion: Only a good option if your organization
has standardized on this format for other reasons.
Autodesk's DWF (Design Web Format) file format is a 2D,
vector- based description of drawings and illustrations. DWF
seems to be coming of age and could be a real answer to the
drawing distribution dilemma. For starters, its vector format
allows users to zoom in infinitely on a drawing without a loss
of quality. A line always looks like a line, rather than a
collection of pixels. It's also a very compressed and efficient
The new DWF6 format - available in AutoCAD 2004 and in 2002
by installing the Design Publishing Extension - is the next step
in the evolution of the DWF format. It adds the ability to
create a single, multi-sheet DWF file that contains an entire
set of drawings. The DWF format is also more secure because it
is not editable. The new DWF6 has even added the option of
password protection. Viewing and printing DWF files is similar
to working with a PDF file, you just need to install a viewer.
You can view them with the new Autodesk Express Viewer, Volo
View Express, or Volo View. Both the Autodesk Express Viewer and
Volo View Express are free downloads. The new
Autodesk Express Viewer may be the best option for most
people as it is only a 2MB download. On their website, Autodesk
viewer comparison table so that you can decide which one is
best for you.
Advantages: Not editable with security options;
ability to control layers; option to print to scale; small
file size; vector format allows zooming while retaining
Disadvantages: Not as well known or recognizable as
other file types to non-Autodesk users.
Process: Plot to a file using a DWF device or use
the PUBLISH command from the Design Publishing Extension. DWF
files can also be created as part of the Publish to Web
Conclusion: Probably the best option now available
for sharing CAD files and one that's bound to only get better.
You'll just need to educate people about the format when you
send them a DWF file for the first time.
About the Author
Rick Ellis is the co-founder of Cadapult Software Solutions,
Inc., a member of the Autodesk Developer Network; and author of
several AutoCAD training manuals, including “Digging into Land
Desktop.” He teaches classes focusing on AutoCAD, Map, Land
Desktop, Raster Design, MXRoad and MXRenew for skill levels
ranging from beginner to advanced users. Consulting services
range from installation support to the implementation of
If you have any questions about this article or for more
information you can call Rick at (503) 829-8929, email
firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit the Cadapult website at