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Monday, July 14, 2008

Plotting Challenges and Answers for AutoDesk Files

By Dan Davis

While many plotting packages claim to provide the ability to print DWG files, there will be times when they do not print all elements correctly. This is because they all use the same imaging library, which is based on a reverse engineering of the AutoCad DWG file Format.

For some reason, AutoCad has maintained their DWG format should be proprietary. As a reprographer and developer I really never understood this, as it limited the usefulness of the DWG format to interact with other software that was used in design and construction. For the reprographer, this meant that if they wanted to provide accurate output of DWG files for their customers they would need to purchase one or more licenses of AutoCad, and keep it current.

Owning AutoCad is really a double edged sword. On one hand, it gives you the ability to plot DWG files for your customers which is good, but it also gives you the ability to edit and change a customer’s DWG file. Once customers learn that you can change a DWG file, they tend to take advantage of that fact by asking you to make any number of changes which are difficult to charge for, but very easy to get blamed for if they don’t like the results! And of course keeping your AutoCad license current is a large expense.

After taking a good deal of heat about the difficulties involved with sharing DWG files with others, AutoCad finally realized they were missing the boat, and developed the DWF format. The original promise of the DWG format was that you would be able to share drawing information without compromising your valuable design files. In its early releases DWF was a “View only” format, which really served no useful purpose for the reprographer.

A few years back, AutoCad changed the DWF format to compete with Acrobat PDF files, which were rapidly becoming a good option for distributing CAD files, since DWF’s were so restrictive. AutoCad reacted by changing the DWF spec to allow better viewing, editing and finally, printing capabilities to the format. This new attitude from Autodesk was enhanced with the availability of free software which would allow you to view and print the two main Autodesk formats.

To view and print DWF files, you will want to download Autodesk Design Review:

To View and print DWG and DXF files, you will want AutoDesk DWG TrueView 2009

Both of these products contain the full AutoCad print engine, which means that they should accurately render all elements of a DWG or DWF file. However, neither product handles batch printing, collated output or many of the productive features that you will get with a high end plotting program like MetaPrint. But it is nice to know that if you do run into a file which contains an element that MetaPrint or another program does not handle, one of these two applications will offer you an inexpensive way to troubleshoot the file.

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