6 Popular File Formats for Displaying Graphical Drafts

File formats supported by CAD are for displaying different shapes and structures. The programs or softwares are often complex and are used by professionals for formulating these formats for their clients.

There are several formats out there that are used for presenting CAD (Computer-Aided Designs), and they fall into two categories: exclusive and neutral. Drawings stored in proprietary formats can only be viewed with their designated programs, and if accessed with another, the image may become distorted, while neutral formats can be displayed with other softwares without the contents changing.

Succeeding is a list of formats that support and display CAD sketches in simple images to help clients understand designs and drawings.



DXF stands for Digital Exchange Format and is a native AutoCAD format. It is widely used for producing 2D drawings. This format is representable to clients. Despite this format being exclusive to its program, it is used by different applications as well. Due to this, DXF is seen as a neutral format for displaying 2D designs.



PDF is a widely used format for various purposes. A PDF format is used to display files including, reports, contracts, e-sign documents, presentations, and 3D drawings. It is a format that is compatible with any program or software to present documents and sketches which is why it is known as a universal format. It is entirely independent of its application and can be converted to files of several formats through any of the efficient converters on the web like the Sodapdf to word converter. PDF can produce files containing 2D/3D designs, and other formats can be converted to it to edit and display in more straightforward terms to customers.



The most widely accepted and used digital format is STEP. It was produced by and is native to ISO 10303 standard. The ISO is a well-recognized program for composing CAD drawings. STEP is popular because of its simple attributes and due to the dependability of its application. This is a median format for displaying 3D designs as it works with various programs while being supported by many CAD softwares as well.


The components of this format can be displayed and edited in various other programs. It is used to represent 3D drawings in the XML format. X3D was built to replace the VRML format as its functions were limited to a few softwares. Graphics in this format can be induced into a few APIs as well.


IGES also comes in the category of program-independent formats, yet it is recommended to not send to people outside a firm where they’re established. The reason is that this format displays wireframes, solid models and diagrams that aren’t comprehensible by people not knowing CAD.



This format is used for viewing structures and shapes that are simple blocks. These files do not contain sophisticated CAD features that include, color and texture, which is why 3D structures in the Stereo Lithography (STL) format are easily understandable by average people.

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