Pros and Cons of the DXF File Format

Updated Apr 15, 2017

If you’ve read our Scan2CAD blog before, you would’ve learnt of our adoration for the DXF file format. After all, our Scan2CAD program is built to support converting images and PDF files into DXF. Of all the vector file formats available in this world (DWG, DWF, SVG, EPS and so on), we chose to support the DXF file format. In this article, I’ll break it down into a list of pros and cons. We’ll acknowledge the few demerits of the DXF file format that you should be aware of before using it too.

Pros, or reasons to love the DXF file format

1. The DXF file format is the most compatible vector file type.

You can view and edit DXF files with almost any CAD, CNC and GIS software. This includes AutoCAD, Adobe Illustrator, Scan2CAD, SolidWorks and CorelCAD; just to name a few. In contrast, the other popular CAD file format, DWG is supported by fewer programs such as AutoCAD and RealDWG.

What do all these acronyms mean? CAD, CNC, GIS...
I know, any beginner would be overwhelmed at the number of acronyms and fancy lingo!

  • CAD stands for Computer Assisted Drawing – as you can tell from its name, CAD is the use of computer technology for design. Engineers, product designers, architects – professional or amateur – use CAD programs like they would use paper and pencil.
  • CNC stands for Computer Numerical Control. Here, a computer converts a CAD design into numerical coordinates. Once a DXF file is loaded onto a CNC program, the computer can generate instructions to a laser cutter or 3D printer for example.
  • GIS stands for Geographic Information System. It enables us to visualize and interpret spatial or geographical data, so we can make sense of real-world trends. For example, a cartographer can plot the pollutant-creating factories onto an aerial photograph, and later identify the areas most vulnerable by pollution.

2. DXF files are used to exchange data between different CAD programs.

This point follows from the Advantage #1. The high compatibility of the DXF file format leads to its greatest benefit – DXF file format acts as a bridge between different CAD programs and users. You can share designs between old and new software, software with different specialized purposes and with colleagues of different CAD skill sets.

Architectural Drawing DXF FIle on Scan2CAD - After conversion from a scanned raster image

An architect, electrical engineer and construction manager can use this same DXF file for different purposes!


3. The DXF file format is easy to parse.

In computing speak, this means that it is easy to process DXF files and divide it into small components that can be made useful for a specific program. If you convert files from another format to DXF, you’ll be presented the option to keep or remove fills, hatches and other details.

4. The DXF file specification is publicly available.

This benefit would be most appreciated by programmers and developers tasked with creating CAD programs. You can access the DXF file specification online. This can be seen as a reason for the DXF format being so widely adopted.

Cons, or few things to be wary of the DXF File Format

1. DXF does not support application specific CAD elements

For example, you cannot represent AutoCAD’s dynamic blocks in the DXF file format. There are many other objects that are developed specifically for specialized (vertical market) CAD software. These object types are only partially documented in the DXF specification document. As a result, some programs ignore these object types altogether. Be careful that you don’t lose some data when transferring DXF files between programs.

2. Complex DXF files can become large in size.

Layers and large file size - Vector file format, DXF

Complicated drawings with lots of layers may result in a very large DXF file.

This is a less common issue but I will cover it here. A complaint that we come across once in a while is the large file size, which makes file transfer a little cumbersome. As a general rule, the more complex your vector file, the larger the file will become.

It should be quite rare that your DXF file is large in size (i.e. number of bytes.) The format should usually be much smaller than any comparable image in raster format.

If your DXF file seems needlessly large, then it may be because you have a large number of hidden vector elements which may have been erroneously created. Perhaps these unwanted vector elements are hidden in the vector software you are using due to the vector being the same colour as the background.

In general, the DXF file size will be surprisingly and pleasingly small.

DXF files will usually be larger in size when compared to the same file in DWG format. This is because DXF files are created using the ASCII text standard and DWG files are created using binary with AutoCAD’s own embedded data for compressing the file size.

3. Some applications can not deal with line widths in DXF Files.

As previously mentioned, the DXF file format is an open format widely adopted by the majority of CAD and CNC applications. Due to the mass adoption, line widths are not part of the format’s standards.

This is because some CAD and CNC programs are unable to handle line widths.

For this reason, some applications (such as Scan2CAD) allow you to ‘turn off’ line width data before exporting your DXF file to another application.

scan2cad advert for free trial