Choosing The Right File Format/Vector Files

Understanding Vector Formats


Vector Formats represent shapes by describing their geometric properties in points, lines, curves, and polygons. It follows mathematic calculation and commands to render a graphics. The difference between vector and raster images, and when to use each, is important, but outside the scope of this document.

Sadly there are no widely adopted standard formats for vector images. Part of the reason for this is the variety of uses for vector images. At one extreme of complexity is a DWG (pronounced drawing) file from AutoCAD which can represent a multi storey building in three dimensions. At the other extreme is an SVG (Structured Vector Graphics) file for the elegant graphics used in digital cartoons.

So which format one uses depends a lot on how long you will need the information to be stored and who will need to have access to it.

As a starting point here are some vector formats and things to consider:

Typical usesFormatsStatus
Architecture, engineering and constructionDWGProprietary format of AutoDesk. The Open Design Alliance asserts that DWG 2004 is partially encrypted.
DWGAlso known as OpenDWG. The Open Design Alliance's version of the DWG file format used by Autodesk. Published as an open standard.
DXF (Drawing Interchange Format, or Drawing Exchange Format)Promoted by AutoDesk as the preferred format for interoperability with other CAD software. Partially documented with partial support for functions contained in DWG files. Its limitations are described in more detail in the white paper "Why Isn't DXF Good Enough?"
DGN (DesiGN file)Also known as OpenDGN. The native format of MicroStation, a product of Bentley Corp. DGN is

In 2001, the Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) format became a W3 recommended standard.

DOT files are a very compact graph description that can be read and written by many applications.

Dia ".dia" files are resolution-independent vector format for diagrams and schematics.