DWF vs PDF revisited

Scott Sheppard, current program manager for Autodesk Labs published this comparison chart of DWF and PDF file formats in June of 2006 on the Beyond the Paper blog. With Scott's permission, we have copied this table and added our own thoughts to this comparison based on changes in the last 7+ years.

With the recent acknowledgement that the long time standalone DWF viewer (Design Review) is being discontinued, we wonder if this will have any impact on your usage of DWF files? Please leave a comment with any thoughts on this. Thanks.


Feature DWF PDF
History: Design Web Format, an open, secure format designed specifically for sharing rich engineering design data. Portable Document Format, a generic format designed for textual-based document exchange. A slight underselling of PDF files today. PDF may have been designed for textual-based documents in the beginning, but it certainly is capable of containing vector graphics, raster images, fonts, etc.
Basic Functionality: Enables team members who do not use CAD applications to participate in the digital processes by viewing building, GIS, or product designs. Preserves document integrity, and enables businesses to simplify document processes. There is no reason the DWF basic functionality description could not be repeated here.
Publishable from AutoCAD? Yes. DWF creation is a built-in feature of Autodesk design applications such as AutoCAD, AutoCAD-based products, Autodesk Inventor, Autodesk MapGuide, and Autodesk Revit software. Users can "publish" rich design data with a single click. Yes. AutoCAD versions since 2007 have the ability to plot and publish to single or multipage PDF files.
Scalability for Design Data? Yes. Extensible and highly compressed print-ready format supports multiple pages and design intelligence. No. Limited compression not architected for large data sets or design intelligence. Phrased to make DWF seem superior, but I think the answer varies depending on your needs. I suspect PDF works for a large portion of users.
High Precision for Design Data? Yes. A DWF can go as high as 2,147,483,648 DPI. As such DWF can measure the continental USA with a precision of +/- 2.4 millimeters when using the maximum DPI and paper size settings. No. A PDF for the Adobe Reader is limited to 2,400 DPI. We would be interested in knowing more about applications where DPI greater than 2400 is needed. Not saying it doesn't exist, but what percentage of users require this?
Multisheet Drawing Sets? Yes. The user can publish multisheet drawing sets from multiple DWG source files to a single DWF file automatically. DWF also preserves design coordinates and sheet properties. Yes, but with significantly longer publishing times and resource consumption than DWF. This may have been true at one time, but it doesn't feel that way with current versions of AutoCAD.
3D Models? Yes. 3D can be published from Autodesk design applications or captured from non-Autodesk OpenGL applications. Yes.
Contains Design Intelligence? Yes. DWF files are more than an electronic plot and can contain sheet, object, component, and mass properties, as well as markup data. A DWF knows a door is a door. No. Extra data is limited to markup data only. To a PDF, a door is a collection of polylines.
Optimum File Compression for Designs? Yes. No. PDF files are often three-times larger, straining bandwidth and system resources, and slowing publishing and viewing times. PDFs generated with Autodesk's original DWG-to-PDF driver certainly were much larger, but this was fixed in ±AutoCAD 2010. Currently, PDFs generated with the built in DWG-to-PDF driver are generally larger than the same DWF, but not nearly to the degree they were in 2006.
Open Access, Extensible to Other Applications? Yes. The DWF Toolkit enables users to develop applications that read or write multisheet DWF drawings for free. In addition, the free Autodesk DWF Viewer API makes it possible for end users to embed DWF drawings in HTML and Office applications, or for developers to customize the viewer for use in third-party applications. Yes, but the developer will have to purchase a license to the libraries to create a PDF.
Preserve CAD Layers? Yes, automatically publishes only those layers the author intended as defined by the AutoCAD layout. For security purposes layer information is not published unless selected by the author. Yes, but only with the additional purchase of Acrobat Professional. Uses a layer selection tool separate from the AutoCAD layout, which can lead to standards violations. Layer information is published by default, creating a security issue where end-users may print a document with critical layers inadvertently turned off. Regardless of the defaults, I think the same advantages and pitfalls exist with regard to layers in DWF/DWF.
Print to Scale? Yes. Supports printing of both 2D and 3D drawings, maps, and models. Yes, with some caveats on large format devices. I am not aware of any problems printing "to-scale" PDF to large format devices. We've been doing it for years with no problems.
Supports Different Scales per Viewport? Yes. No. Not sure what this means.
Supports Merge Control? Directly. Indirectly through 3rd party software. This can introduce printing issues. Currently, Yes.
AutoCAD-Based Views? Yes. No. Supported by the raw file format, but not exported by Acrobat Professional.
Hyperlinks? Yes, automatically published from the AutoCAD family of products and Autodesk Revit. No. Supported by the raw file format but not exported by Acrobat Professional.
Redlines/Comments? Yes, with the free Autodesk Design Review. Yes, with the additional purchase of Acrobat Professional or other free or fee based programs
Copy Protection? Available via the free AutoShred-DWF application from Pinion Software. Yes.
Password Protection? Yes. Yes.
Raster Graphics? Yes. Yes.
Vector Graphics? Yes. Yes.
Free Viewer Available? Autodesk DWF Viewer (17MB download).
Autodesk Design Review (27 188MB download). However, Design Review development has been discontinued. Existing versions are still available, as well as a cloud solution in Autodesk 360.
Yes (20MB download). Download size varies depending on product and vendor. There are multiple free PDF viewers available.
Viewer Already Installed? Possibly. Over 12 million users have downloaded and installed the free Autodesk DWF Viewer. These days, virtually everyone has some sort of PDF viewer on their computer, and virtually nobody has a DWF viewer. This statement comes from years of experience dealing with non-CAD users out there in the world. Likely.
Platforms: Windows, iOS, Android; Other platforms supported via Project Freewheel and other third party solutions. Windows, Pocket PC, Symbian, Palm, Macintosh, Unix, Linux, Sun Solaris , iOS, Android
Languages: DWF Viewer: 14
[Chinese (Simplified), Chinese (Traditional), Czech, English, French, German, Hungarian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Polish, Portuguese (Brazilian), Russian, Spanish]
Acrobat Reader: 30


Supports Different Scales per Viewport?

I assume that this refers to the ability of Design Review to take measurements and adjust the values based on the scale. So if there are two viewports with different scales, the measurement tools will display the correct values for each.

I'm not sure if PDF has this ability.

thanks for this information, its helpfull for me

Nice side by side review. The Adobe product is more available across the mainstream of the computer world. From my experience it is the industry standard widely used for drawings and text docs.


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