DXF: what you should know about this file format

DXF, file icon

You may have come to this article because you know the DXF files and you need to know more about them, or simply out of curiosity because you didn’t know them. In both cases, I will try to show you all the basics you should know about this important file format in the design field.

Also, you should know that there are many software compatible with this format, and not only AutoCAD can store designs or open them in DXF. In fact, the possibilities are quite numerous…

What is DXF?

CAD design

DXF is the acronym for Darwing Exchange Format. A file format with a .dxf extension that is used for computer-aided design or drawing, i.e. CAD.

Autodesk, the owner and developer of the famous AutoCAD software, created this format, especially to enable interoperability between the DWG files used by its software and other similar programs on the market.

It first appeared in 1982, along with the first version of AutoCAD. Over time, DWGs have become increasingly complex, and their portability via DXF has become more difficult. Not all DWG-compatible functions were moved to DXF and that leads to compatibility problems and mismatches.

Besides that, DXF was created as a type of drawing exchange file to be a universal format. That way you could store CAD models (or 3D modeling) and have them used by other software or vice versa. That is, everyone could import or export from or to this format with ease.

DXF has an architecture similar to a dice base of drawings, saving information in plain or binary text to describe the design and everything needed to reconstruct it.

Compatible software

FreeCAD

There are a lot of ‘string’ software applications that can handle these files in DXF format, some can only open and display the designs, others can also import/export, as well as modify the designs.

The list of known software that can be DXF compatible would stand out:

  • Adobe Illustrator
  • Altium
  • ArchiCAD
  • AutoCAD
  • Blender (using import script)
  • DVD Cinema
  • CorelDraw
  • DraftSight
  • FreeCAD
  • Inkscape
  • FreeCAD
  • Microsoft Office (Word, Visio)
  • Paint Shop Pro
  • SketchUp
  • Solid Edge
  • SolidWORKS

Depending on the platform you are working with, you can use one or the other application. For example:

  • Android: you can use AutoCAD which is also available for mobile devices and accepts DXF.
  • Windows: you can also use AutoCAD and Design Review among others, such as TurboCAD, CorelCAD, CorelDraw, ABViewer, Canvas X, Adobe Illustrator, etc.
  • MacOS: there are several known design programs, one of them is AutoCAD, but also SolidWORKS, DraftSight, etc.
  • Linux: one of the most known and used is LibreCAD, but you can also use DraftSight, Inkscape, Blender, FreeCAD, etc.
  • Browser: to open a DXF online, without the need of programs, you can also do it from your favorite browser from ShareCAD or also ProfiCAD.

And of course, there are online and local tools to ‘convert’ between different file formats, including DXF. So you can convert from or to other formats without problems. Although I don’t guarantee that the design will be the same or that something will be wrong…

3D and DXF printing

impresora 3D

If you use a 3D printer you have to know that there is also software to convert between different formats very interesting. This is the case for these two alternatives:

  • Meshlab: an open source, portable, and widely used software for processing and editing 3D meshes. You can generate objects in different formats, such as OBJ, OFF, STL, PLY, 3DS, COLLADA, VRML, GTS, X3D, IDTF, U3D and, of course, DXF. It is available for Linux (both in universal Snap packages and in AppImage for any distro), macOS and Windows.
  • MeshMixer: is similar to the previous one, an alternative. In this case it is also free and available for MacOS and Windows.

DXF for 3D and CNC printing

CNC machine

With the proliferation of 3D printing and CNC machines in the industry, DXF files have become quite important. You should know, that there are some websites that allow you to download DXF files with ready-made designs to facilitate the construction of objects. That way, you don’t have to create them yourself, which is very helpful, especially if you don’t know how to use CAD software.

There are some sites that are paid for, that is, you must pay a subscription to be able to access the designs and download them freely. Others are free, and you can find a bit of everything. From simple logos so you can create them from the DXF downloaded with your machine, to objects, ornaments, furniture, plates, etc.

For example, if you want to start testing the DXFs in one of the software programs listed above, I recommend that you make use of one of these free websites:

Thus you will become familiar with the format and with these designs, or test the machine you have purchased to see if it does its job correctly…

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