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SolidWorks File Formats (Import and Export)

This article examines the various file formats that design engineers come across when working with suppliers and customers who use alternative CAD packages. We look at the restrictions and considerations you need to understand to successfully manage models that have been imported in different formats and your options for exporting for other CAD users to accept. There are a multitude of 3D and 2D standards that a SolidWorks user may wish to import or export. There are over 30 different translators available with every copy of SolidWorks. Some formats can only be imported or exported. Many of the export only formats have reduced accuracy and are designed for rapid prototyping or web pages.

(This article was created March 2015 and is still accurate form many file formats. However, new in SolidWorks 2017 is 3D Interconnect, a new way of working with non-native file formats. No need for translators as none-native files can be opened, seen and referenced like any other SolidWorks file. Read our blog article “Importing 3rd Party CAD Data Made Easy” to find out more.)

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2D image formats

JPEG, TIFF, GIF … Screen images can be exported in a variety of resolutions (see options: the default export resolution is screen) to a variety of file formats.

Formats with lower accuracy used for visualisation only (i.e. not suitable for modelling)

HCG                       (Catia compressed graphics)
VRML                    (Mainly used for web pages)
HSF                        (Hoops web format use to stream models to webpages)
3DXML                 (Can be read by the free Dassault Systems 3DVia/Composer Player)
3DS Autodesk    3D studio files (Used for rendering)
eDrawings           View only
PDF
PRC

Typically we can export in these formats for presentations etc. Alternatively they are imported as either a decal or a sketch picture. We can then trace the outlines to create geometry.

3D printing and rapid prototype formats (export mainly)

AMF (3D printing export only)
STL (Can be imported to a SolidWorks model in SolidWorks Premium but it is a time consuming process)

Electrical formats

IDF (Import only unless you have the CircuitWorks add-in)
ProStep (CircuitWorks Only)
IDX (CircuitWorks Only)
PADS (CircuitWorks Only)
ASC (CircuitWorks Only)

The main 3D modelling standards include:-

Unigraphics

We can import uncompressed/compressed UG part files. However, due to missing reference files this occassionally fails. The free Unigraphics Viewer AeroVue by Oracle can be used to identify problems with this translation. It is also possible to import uncompressed UG assembly files but we cannot import compressed UG files.

SAT/ACIS            

This is a good method for files from Autodesk products e.g. AutoCAD, Mechanical  Desktop , Inventor etc. These models are imported as “dumb” objects with no feature information and no mates.

Solid Edge

We can import Solid Edge files directly but cannot export into a Solid Edge format. As both SolidWorks and Solid Edge use the same kernel (Parasolid) therefore export/import should be fairly flawless between the packages. However the models however are imported “dumb” with no feature information and no mates.

Note: Parasolid files can also very effectively imported/exported between the two packages. SolidWorks export options also allow us to choose the export version of Parasolid which may be useful if the files are destined for an old version of Solid Edge.

Pro Engineer

Attributes, Features, Sketches and Dimensions can be imported. Most mates are recreated on import as well. Export not supported. If this is not possible or the results undesirable, you can choose to import as a “dumb” model. Pro-Engineer files from 17 through to Wildfire 5 are supported by SolidWorks 2015.

Rhino 3dm

Rhino surface models can only imported not exported.  For this to be possible Rhino must also be installed on the machine. If you don’t have Rhino installed on your SolidWorks computer, you can request the files be exported as STEP or IGES files from Rhino.

VDA-FS

Similar to Step used by many German companies. Both Import and Export is possible. The models however come in “dumb” with no feature information and no mates.

STEP

Probably the best of the universal file formats. Two versions are available AP203 and AP214. We can both import and export step files. The models however come in “dumb” with no feature information and no mates.

Parasolid

SolidWorks is based on the Parasolid Kernel so imports whilst “dumb” should be perfect (providing they have been exported correctly). We can import and export Parasolid as a variety of versions.

IGES

The oldest and most common, 3D file format.  At Cadtek it is our least preferred format as complex models can have missing or corrupt faces. STEP is the modern replacement. We can import and export IGES files with numerous settings for Surface Representations.

CADKEY

The extension must have lowercase (.ckd) to be recognised. (.CKD) will fail. This is an Import-only format and the models come in “dumb” with no feature information and no mates.

Misc Formats

IFC is similar to STEP containing BIM (building Information Modelling) info. Primarily aimed at the civil and architectural market.

Most 3D imports/exports do not support features. Models import “dumb” often with a single imported feature or multiple surfaces. If you import any 3D models you should immediately run “Import Diagnostics” to repair any faults in the model.

Once any additional features are added to a model you will be unable to run “Import Diagnostics” even if you roll the model back. Users with FeatureWorks can recognise features on a “dumb” model turning creating a conventional feature based model.

In the last few releases of SolidWorks the direct (i.e. non feature-based) modelling ability has improved to make changing these imported models much easier even without recognising features.

Imported assembly files won’t have mates. The models will be in the correct position and ideally you should either mate into position in the normal manner (if the assembly is a moveable mechanism) or simply add a “fixed” condition to prevent accidental movement.

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