SOLIDWORKS, 3D CAD

Importing Files into SOLIDWORKS

By John Hall on September 10, 2018

Many people deal with importing models and translating data back and forth between SOLIDWORKS and other software on a daily basis. Requesting the proper file format for this move is imperative, but can be overwhelming. Read our blog to discover how to avoid errors and learn about the different options. 

File Type Options

File Type drop-down menu in SOLIDWORKS

When importing 3D models from another software, requesting the proper file format can be daunting and prone to errors if you're not sure what you're looking for. During an import, you can access a full list of file formats that SOLIDWORKS can open up from the File Type drop-down menu.

However, some formats have more functionality than others, and some work better as a translation path. So, before we get into how to get solids to and from SOLIDWORKS, I want to explain all of the different file formats that SOLIDWORKS can open up, and what each file does.

Below is the full list of file types SOLIDWORKS is able to import.

  • Drawing Exchange Format (.dxf)
  • Drawing (.dwg)
  • Adobe Photoshop (.psd)
  • Adobe Illustrator (.ai)
  • Parasolid (.x_t)
  • STEP (.stp)
  • ACIS (.sat)
  • IGES (.igs, .iges)
  • VDAFS (.vda)
  • VRML (.wrl)
  • STL (.stl)
  • CATIA Graphics (.cgr)
  • Pro/E Part (.prt)
  • Pro/E Assembly (.asm)
  • Unigraphics (.prt)
  • Industry Foundation Classes (IFC)
  • Inventor Part (.ipt)
  • Inventor Assembly (.iam)
  • Solid Edge Part (.psm)
  • Solid Edge Assembly (.asm)
  • CADKEY (.prt, .ckd)
  • Add-Ins (.dll)
  • IDF (.emn, .brd, .bdf, .ibd)
  • Rhino (.3dm)

As you can see, knowing which file format to request that will work best can be a bit tricky.

Luckily for you, we have a guide to help. I've broken the files out into a few different groups to help organize and understand the different formats and the variations between them.

2D Paths

  • Drawing (.dwg)
  • Drawing Interchange/Exchange Format (.dxf)
  • Adobe Illustrator (.ai)

The first is a group I'll call "2D Paths." These consist of files that only contain 2D information. These can be opened in SOLIDWORKS and edited as a sketch, or inserted directly into a drawing.

3D Mesh

  • VRML (.wrl)
  • STL (.stl)

The next group I classified under "3D Mesh." These are wireframe geometry, made from a series of polygons (triangular shapes). They are typically used in visual software or for rapid prototyping. 3D Mesh files contain a lot less mathematical accuracy, and do not typically import well into SOLIDWORKS due to their geometry. Usually they have to be changed into a solid using the ScanTo3D add-in for SOLIDWORKS (in SW Premium) or using a 3rd party software to clean their geometry up. Most people use wireframe files merely as a reference to create geometry around. 

3D Solids

  • Parasolid (.x_t)
  • IGES (.igs)
  • STEP (.stp)
  • ACIS (.sat)

3D Solids are the best way to translate solid geometry to and from SOLIDWORKS. These four formats are the typical import/export method for bringing files into and out of SOLIDWORKS successfully. The geometry contained is "dummy" geometry so it will not contain history, but it will have mathematically accurate solid geometry on import. The order of preference is exactly as shown - I would always try to import Parasolid first, then try IGES, then STEP and finally ACIS. SOLIDWORKS actually runs on the Parasolid kernel, this is the mathematical backbone of SOLIDWORKS, therefore Parasolid is always going to be a preferred method of translation.

CAD Files

  • Pro/E Part (.prt)
  • Pro/E Assembly (.asm)
  • Unigraphics (.prt)
  • Inventor Part (.ipt)
  • Inventory Assembly (.iam)
  • Solid Edge Part (.psm)
  • Solid Edge Assembly (.asm)
  • CADKey (.prt, .ckd) 

SOLIDWORKS can import these files directly from the native CAD format. This can have varying degrees of success, depending on the complexity of the source. Some of these formats will allow you to import full history and some will not. For example, Pro/E files will import and give you the choice of whether or not you want to try to rebuild the model so it will have an intelligent feature history, or import just a dummy solid. In order to import Inventor files, you to have the Inventor viewer or a license of Inventor installed on the same machine to convert the geometry properly.

Special Files

  • VDAFS (.vda)
  • CATIA Graphics
  • Rhino
  • IDF, EMN, BRD
  • Point Cloud>
  • IFC

These are all the formats that didn't fit nicely into the other groups. VDAFS is a 3D solid translator, but it's not really used today. It was a German automotive data translation standard that stands for “Vereinung Deutsche Automobilindustrie Flächen Schnittstelle” which translates to “Organization of the Automotive Industry - Surface Translation Format.” It became DIN standard in 1986, but it was replaced by STEP format in the 1990s. Today, this is a very rare file format.

CATIA Graphics are purely graphical information. It's not a format you see often. If you need to import CATIA files into SOLIDWORKS, you can use ACIS as a translation method, but you lose a lot of accuracy and there is room for feature errors. There is a CATIA v5 translator for SOLIDWORKS  available as an add-in, which allows for translation between the two, and it does a nice job of importing CATIA files directly.

Rhino files are surface models, and SOLIDWORKS imports the surface geometry nicely from Rhino.

IDF, EMN and BRD are all circuit board files from electrical engineering software. These can be imported as a block with SOLIDWORKS and used to see the size of a circuit board. If you want to bring in a much more complex circuit board, you can use CircuitWorks (included in SOLIDWORKS Premium), and this will import an entire board and propagate all of the components on the board.

Working with Point Cloud files requires ScanTo3D. This will allow you to import all of your typical point cloud formats like .xyz, .txt, .asc and also mesh files like .nzip, .nxm, .scn, etc.

You can also import IFC files, which are files used to communicate with BIM software. You can save files out for programs like Revit or other architectural CAD, and also set options like OmniClass.

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