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The Basics: 3 Fundamental Questions and Answers About DWG Files
3:30 am  .   March 10, 2014  .   admin

A while ago we posted about how you can open CAD drawings using AutoCAD 360 on your smartphone or tablet, but then we realized maybe we were getting ahead of ourselves. If you don’t know a .DWG from a .JPG, this post is for you—we’ll get back to basics and break down what a DWG file is, and what to do with it when you receive it from an architect, engineer, or anyone else.

What is a DWG file, anyway?

First things first. DWG files are CAD drawing files; DWG is the file format supported by most CAD programs. DWG files can contain two- and three-dimensional design data—they can range from simple technical drawings and design plans all the way up to full-blown 3D building layouts. DWG files are used by architects, engineers, drafters, artists, and others. (To learn more, check out our recent guest blog post demystifying DWG and 12 other common CAD terms.)

How do I open a DWG file?

You can open DWG files a few different ways—with a desktop viewer, in a browser, using a mobile app or by converting it to another file format. There are pros and cons to each option.

Via a Desktop Viewer:

One advantage of opening DWG files using a desktop viewer is that you don’t have to rely on an Internet connection to make it happen. That being said, there are some drawbacks: files take time to download, you can’t do anything with the files other than simply viewing them, the load time of software can be variable and relies on operating system compatibility. And of course, you’ll need to download the software initially, and then update it with new versions as they become available (if you choose to keep up with the latest versions, that is).

Via a Browser-Based App:

One of the benefits of using a browser-based app to open DWG files is that you can open files on any computer, workstation, or laptop with an Internet connection. You’ll also be able to do more than just view your drawing files, since browser-based apps (like the AutoCAD 360 web app) will offer some light editing and markup functionality. Browser-based apps do require you to set up a (usually free) account, and are constantly being updated with new versions, which can be great or a pain, depending on your perspective. They do also rely on an Internet connection, which is something else to take into account.

Via a Mobile App:  

A mobile app (like the mobile version of AutoCAD 360) lets you open drawing files using a tablet or smartphone. This gives you tons of freedom—you can open DWG files wherever you are, when you’re on the go, onsite, in meetings, etc., without a dedicated Internet connection. Mobile apps will also give you more than just viewing options, offering some light editing and markup functionality. Some things to keep in mind, though, are that you need to have a smartphone or tablet to open files on, and you have to download the app and set up a (usually free) account. As with browser-based apps, you’ll want to download updated versions of the mobile app as new versions come onto the market.

Via CAD Software:

AutoCAD and other desktop-based software programs support DWG file format, so if you own one of these programs your computer should automatically detect and be able to open the file. With CAD software, you’ll also have the greatest range of viewing and editing capabilities, as you’d expect. The downside is that these programs do require a fairly hefty up-front investment.

Via Converting the File to Another Format:

Online file converters can convert DWG files to other file formats that you can open on your computer without owning CAD software. These file converters are relatively quick and easy to use, but some of the file’s data might get lost in translation, and files cannot be edited once converted to a non-DWG format like PDF. Also, while some converters transform DWG files to vector PDFs, others convert them to pixel-based files—which means the more you zoom in to your image, the more pixelated it will become.

Hire an Expert:

In the absence of all of the options above, you may just want to hire a CAD draftsman to deal with the DWG files of whatever the job is. This has cost implications, of course, but a CAD draftsman will know what they’re doing, and can help with anything DWG-related that might come up during the entire job.

How Do I Edit DWG Files?

So now that you’ve figured out the best way (or ways) for you to open DWG files that you receive, you may want to get into the file to do some editing. You can download free software if you want to be able to do basic editing—for example, AutoCAD 360 lets you move, scale, rotate, erase, copy, trim, or extend objects in your drawing files. Alternatively, you can invest in software programs like AutoCAD or AutoCAD LT for more complex editing of 2D (or 3D) files. There are pros and cons for each option. You’ll need to take into account the price difference of each program, the number of tools you need, the level of complexity in the editing you want to do, and the capability and performance level of the hardware you’ll be running the program on.

So now that you’re an expert in opening—and maybe even editing—DWG files, what comes next? Check back next week for some great tips on optimizing what we think is one of the best options to open, view, and edit DWG files both in the office and on the go—AutoCAD 360. In the meantime, get familiar with one of our favorite AutoCAD 360 features: Design Feed, which can make your projects easier and more efficient in lots of ways. See you next week!


  • alessandro

    does it run on windows 7 ultimate 64bit?

  • Soz

    I am new to this so apologise in advance if my question sounds cynical. My Architect sent me a DWG file which I have managed to load, how to I view the drawings and make any adjustments ?