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Speak CAD Like a Pro: 13 CAD File Acronyms Explained
3:30 am  .   March 3, 2014  .   admin

Guest blogger and CAD expert Shaun Bryant offers up today’s post on how to speak CAD like a pro, breaking down 13 common CAD acronyms that you might come across whether you’re an architect, designer, contractor, PM, or installer. Enjoy!

CAD is a BIG subject nowadays, and for the CAD Jedi padawans new to the CAD environment, it can be somewhat daunting—lots of abbreviations and acronyms that can confuse and, sometimes, take you down the wrong road. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve had to assist a classroom trainee to distinguish the difference between an AutoCAD drawing file (.DWG) suffix and an AutoCAD drawing template file (.DWT) suffix. To the uninitiated, they look exactly the same when you work on them, but the suffix difference means that they perform very different things in AutoCAD.

Today we’ll look at some of the CAD acronyms that commonly cause confusion and chaos in the CAD world. I could literally write a book on CAD jargon, abbreviations, and buzzwords, so this list is by no means exhaustive!

1. GUI

Sometimes pronounced affectionately as “gooey”, GUI stands for Graphical User Interface. If you use a computer each day, you’re using a GUI each day, whether you work on a PC or a Mac. It is that screen in front of you that uses graphic symbols (icons) and a keyboard and mouse (or, if you’re really slick, one of those new touchscreens). We have moved along from the abacus, don’t you know?


Fig.1 – The AutoCAD 2014 Graphical User Interface

2. DWG

This is the native AutoCAD file format, e.g HOUSE_ELEVATION.dwg. It stands for DraWinG and is one of the most recognized file formats for CAD drawings, as specified by Autodesk. Autodesk develops the DWG file format regularly, and you’ll notice that it changes every three subsequent versions of AutoCAD. However, you can always save back to older versions of the DWG file format using the newer versions of AutoCAD, thus preserving backwards compatibility and legacy data. We’ve already talked about how to open DWG files in AutoCAD 360, but if you need a refresher, check out this blog post.

3. DWT

As mentioned above, the DWT is the AutoCAD drawing template file format. It stands for DraWing Template. You use a DWT file to open new drawings (DWG) in AutoCAD. You can create user-defined DWT files that bring in all the drawing settings necessary to work productively, such as layers, lineweights, units, and so on, but it is NOT a file format used for active design and working drawings. Rather, it is a drawing/file management tool.

4. DWF

Sometimes affectionately pronounced “d’wiff”. (Which begs the question, can we call a PDF a “p’doof” or a DWG a “d’wig”? Sorry to digress, but there’s plenty of geek banter in the CAD world, and that was some of it.) DWF stands for Design Web Format and is an Autodesk-specific electronic file output format used in the majority of Autodesk products. DWF files can be viewed in the free Autodesk Design Review software.

5. DXF

DXF stands for Drawing eXchange Format and is a commonly used file format (published by Autodesk) that allows for the exchange of binary CAD data in open file format that can be recognized by other CAD platforms. DXF can also be published on other CAD platforms in a more compact version. Historically, it was used much more before CAD software vendors released their native file formats to each other in an effort to ease the transition from one CAD platform to a different CAD platform. For example, I would use DXF to work between earlier versions of AutoCAD and MicroStation.

6. XPS

XPS stands for XML Paper Specification. Originally created by Microsoft, the XPS file format allows for a compressed open file format for document exchange, supported by the likes of Microsoft Office and Internet Explorer, among others. You’ll notice that later versions of MS Office save to a default file format such as DOCx in Microsoft Word and XLSx in Microsoft Excel. Even AutoCAD can output to a DWFx. This encourages the use of documents and designs in a web-centric environment which, let’s face it, we can’t escape from nowadays, right?


I love this one. It sounds like a cartoon character who should be up there with Woody and Buzz Lightyear (to infinity and beyond!). In fact, it stands for a highly complicated mathematical algorithm called Non Uniform Rational B-Spline which AutoCAD and many other CAD software platforms use to create a method of geometric, free-form surfaces used for modeling complex shapes, based on spline curves. If you remember logarithms from school, it uses them…somewhere, I believe (he says, trying his best to remember his school days).


An XREF is an eXternal REFerence file. Typically used in AutoCAD, for example, to reference or link an external drawing to your current working drawing. You might want to XREF your plumbing layout drawing (XREF) to the structural drawing (CURRENT) to check for pipework clashes with structural walls and steelwork. XREFs are a great method of saving on drawing file space, since an XREF normally only increases your current drawing file size by about 10% when referenced to the current drawing. A superb drawing management tool when used effectively on large CAD projects.

9. BIM

Now here’s an extra-large topic, all wrapped up in three little letters. BIM stands for Building Information Modeling, the subject matter of which is just HUGE!

Wikipedia outlines the origin of BIM as follows:

“The concept of BIM has existed since the 1970s. The term Building Information Model first appeared in a 1992 paper by G.A. van Nederveen and F. P. Tolman. However, the terms Building Information Model and Building Information Modeling (including the acronym “BIM”) had not been popularly used until Autodesk released the white paper entitled “Building Information Modeling”. Jerry Laiserin helped popularize and standardize the term as a common name for the digital representation of the building process as then offered under differing terminology by Graphisoft as “Virtual Building”, Bentley Systems as “Integrated Project Models”, and by Autodesk or Vectorworks as “Building Information Modeling” to facilitate exchange and interoperability of information in digital format. According to Laiserin and others, the first implementation of BIM was under the Virtual Building concept by Graphisoft’s ArchiCAD, in its debut in 1987″.

BIM is certainly the flavor of the last few decades when it comes to CAD, with numerous CAD vendors developing specific packages that facilitate BIM in the design process. Typical examples include Autodesk’s Revit, Graphisoft’s ArchiCAD, and Nemetschek’s VectorWorks.


Fig.2 – Autodesk Revit with a typical project


The word RENDER has numerous definitions. Artistic rendering is the shading or texturing of an artistic image. A house can have cement rendering (or stucco) on its outside walls. On a CAD platform, rendering is the generation of an image from a 3D model by way of a computer program. This is the basis of CGI (Computer Generated Imagery) and CGI animation in Hollywood blockbusters like Transformers and Harry Potter. You can render in AutoCAD, you can render in 3ds MAX, you can render in most CAD products. The main aim of rendering is to generate a realistic raster image from your 3D CAD model, normally for presentation purposes. Architects now use games console 3D artists to generate their architectural 3D renderings!

11. DWG TrueView

DWG TrueView is a software application developed by Autodesk that allows for the viewing of native AutoCAD DWG files. It also includes DWG Convert, which allows the user to convert from one DWG format to another—for example, from 2013 DWG file format back to 2010 DWG file format. You can find a download of DWG TrueView here on the Autodesk website . Now, if you’re using a Mac, need to edit as well as open DWG files, or are just looking for an easier way to open and view drawings, you might want to use AutoCAD 360 instead or alongside TrueView. AutoCAD 360 provides an on-the-go, web-based alternative to TrueView (you can learn more here).

12. WCS

WCS stands for World Coordinate System in AutoCAD, and it is the default coordinate system for all AutoCAD drawings. It uses the X and Y axes in 2D drafting and the X, Y, and Z axes in 3D modeling. I always teach this in every AutoCAD class I run, so that my trainee CAD Jedis understand the basics of how AutoCAD works. You would be amazed at how many AutoCAD users don’t know what WCS is, let alone what it stands for!

13. UCS

UCS stands for User Coordinate System in AutoCAD. The UCS uses the WCS (above) as its base, but allows the AutoCAD user to customize the coordinate system to aid 2D drafting and 3D modeling by creating temporary coordinate origins and angles (2D) and coordinate planes (3D) that can be saved and restored when needed.


In Conclusion, dear CAD Jedis…

As I said earlier, I could write a book on this stuff. There’s so much to learn, and I know it can be daunting. But the answer is simple. We now have a great resource for checking out jargon—it’s called the Internet. Just Google what you need to know and dazzle your friends and colleagues! That way, you’ll know your D’WIFF from your P’DOOF. Right?

Shaun Bryant provides Autodesk product consultancy and training as the director of CADFMconsultants Limited and serves as a director on the board of Autodesk User Group International (AUGI). You can reach him at shaun.bryant@cadfmconsult.co.uk




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