8 Best Free Software Programs for Viewing DWG Files
In the field of drafting and 3D design, few names are as well-known as AutoCAD. First launched by AutoDesk in the 1980s, AutoCAD was considered THE standard software platform for drafting for decades. Until today, there are still so many AutoCAD users that the standard AutoCAD output file – the DWG – can be found everywhere.
However, not all people have the budget to buy the AutoCAD software platform, which costs more than $1000. For users, who just want to view DWG files, a free DWG viewer software could be really useful. If you’re one of these people, then read on as we look at the best alternative DWG viewers. Best of all, they’re all free!
What are DWG files?
DWG (from drawing) is the native file format for 2D and 3D drawing created in AutoCAD, as well as in other CAD packages such as BricsCAD and IntelliCAD. It is a proprietary binary file format. Since it contains vector image data, the drawings in each DWG file can be scaled while still preserving resolution. Each DWG files contains metadata that describes the contents of the file. Its interchange file format is DXF, which is an ASCII version of the contents of a DWG file.
The top 8 best free DWG viewers
DWG TrueView is the official free DWG viewer software from AutoDesk which can be downloaded from their website. Aside from being able to view DWG drawings, DWG TrueView was for the conversion of DWG and DXF files into 3D DWF for quick markup and publishing.
Since the software is built on the same architecture as AutoCAD, you are assured of drawing fidelity and integrity, even when you switch from one format to another. This is very useful if you need to collaborate with other users who are using different versions of AutoCAD.
DWG TrueView is made even better with Design Review, a free add-on also developed by AutoDesk. Design Review allows you to make length, area, and angle measurements on the design, as well as add annotations and comments. Again, these are great tools for collaboration. With the add-on feature, you can pretty much do everything you want with your DWG file short of editing it.
LibreCAD is an open source platform for viewing, editing, and converting DWG files. Being an open source software, it’s completely free with all functions included. However, its biggest limitation is that it can only display 2D views, which helps keep the size of the software quite small. It can also display isometric views but lacks any sort of 3D navigation.
Aside from the lack of 3D viewing, you can do just about anything with LibreCAD. You can add basic lines and polygons, take measurements, and export your files into other formats. It’s also quite easy to learn, and the interface is user-friendly, features that are unusual in open source software platforms.
The main limitation of the open source nature of LibreCAD is that some of its versions can be unstable. Before updating to another version, you need to read up on update notes and feedback from other users to make sure that you are updating to a functional build. As a free software platform, LibreCAD certainly gets the job done – just don’t expect anything fancy.
FreeCAD is certainly one of the most feature-rich free DWG viewers out there. Calling it a DWG viewer might even be a disservice to FreeCAD, as it can be considered a full 3D parametric modeling software. Best of all, FreeCAD is open source, so everything is completely free.
With FreeCAD, you don’t have to begin with an existing DWG file and simply make edits. You can use FreeCAD to come up with your very own 2D sketches and model them in 3D space. From these models, you can take measurements, adjust dimensions, and extract various design details. The program has a steeper learning curve compared to LibreCAD, but it’s not so overwhelming to be inaccessible. Still, we wouldn’t classify FreeCAD as beginner friendly.
Being another open source software, FreeCAD can be prone to bugs, especially when new builds are released. Although it’s one of the most feature-rich free CAD software platforms, it still doesn’t compare to the full range of functions of AutoCAD, but perhaps that’s an unfair comparison.
Instead of a software that needs to be installed, ShareCAD provides an online browser-based platform for viewing of CAD drawings. It supports the proprietary DWG, DWF, and DXF file formats plus a host of other formats for 3D drawings, raster, and vector images, and even archives. The service does not require any downloads or registration, but the file you need to view will have to be uploaded to their server. The file size is also limited to only 50 MB.
The features of ShareCAD are quite limited but are enough for a quick inspection of 3D drawings. You can view individual layers, zoom in on features, or change the background color for easier viewing. You can also print out the drawings. If you’d like to share your drawings with other contacts, ShareCAD can generate a link that you can share.
A360, an official AutoDesk release, is quite different from the other entries in the list. Instead of desktop software, A360 is a mobile app compatible with both Android and iOS. It can view both DWF and DWG files, as well as 50 other CAD file formats. With the ability to make annotations, take measurements, and navigate components, A360 is surprisingly powerful for a mobile app.
The intention of A360 is to allow engineers and project managers to view CAD files anywhere in the world using just their mobile devices. This is a great tool for collaboration and can be very useful during project execution. Of course, the quality of the experience when viewing project files will vary based on the specs of the mobile device being used. If your smartphone or tablet has a low-specs GPU, then merely opening a DWG file can be very slow.
The A360 mobile platform does not allow for editing of files. Although this seems hardly surprising, there are already mobile platforms being developed that have functions that the A360 does not offer. Autodesk seems like they have a bit of catching up to do, but the A360 is a perfectly serviceable mobile app for now.
OnShape is an entirely cloud-based 3D CAD software that has been designed especially for collaborative work. Since everything is cloud-based, there is nothing to install and you can access the platform from any workstation – even on your phone or tablet. It has a friendly learning curve, and anyone who has had any experience with standard CAD software can get the hang of it quickly.
OnShape is capable of just about anything you could want from CAD software. You can create and edit models, take measurements, extract design details, and export to a variety of file formats. Where OnShape truly shines is in its collaborative platform. OnShape allows multiple users to simultaneously a single master file. Everyone shares the same workspace and works with the same dataset, eliminating the need to keep track of different versions of the same file.
The drawback is that OnShape isn’t actually free – they now charge for an annual subscription, and the price depends on the package you want. However, they still offer a free trial. This is something you can take advantage of, although you can probably only use it for a limited time.
Another free DWG viewer from Autodesk, Fusio360 is an all-in-one platform designed for industrial designers, mechanical engineers, students, and educators. It’s a very simple software with basic functions, making it an excellent option for coming up with quick 3D models, simulations, and analysis. Everything is cloud-based, so the platform is quick even without advanced hardware.
Fusion360 is ideal for simple design jobs with assembly and parametric design features. If you’re going for complex models, then you’ll probably have to look elsewhere. However, there’s no reason that Fusion360 can develop more complex functions in future versions.
Models made in Fusion360 can be exported as STL files, which is one of the default file formats used by 3D printers. This makes Fusion360 one an especially suitable design software for rapid prototyping. Moreover, the software is quite easy to learn even for relative beginners.
The downside of Fusion360 is that it’s only free for a 30-day trial. After the trial period, you’ll have to fork out around $60 per month for a subscription. We still recommend trying it out – you might like it so much that you end up paying full price.
IrfanView is described as a free, fast, and compact “graphic viewer.” It can open just about any graphic or design file format. Although it’s more well-known as an all-around image viewer, it’s also capable of opening CAD files in DWG or DWF formats. You’ll need to install the BabaCAD4Image plug-in, but don’t worry – the plug-in is also free.
Granted, there’s not much else you can do with IrfanView aside from rotating your models, adjust its brightness, modify its color, and a bunch of other cosmetic changes. After all, it’s not a dedicated CAD software. IrfanView is still a nice software that you can keep installed in your system. It hardly takes any disk space and could be useful when you encounter a tricky image file format.
3D and 2D models made from AutoCAD have remained the standard file formats in the fields of drafting, engineering, and industrial design for the past few decades. Frankly, we can’t imagine a future where DWG files aren’t the standard way that people share and collaborate on 3D designs. This can be challenging for professionals and small firms that can’t afford a full AutoCAD platform.
The free DWG viewers we have listed here offer a partial solution to this problem. None of them come quite close to the functionality of the original AutoCAD, but they are, at least, good enough to view DWG files. Some of them offer limited measurement and editing features. Most importantly, they are free. If you work in any field that requires sharing and viewing of DWG files, it would be a good idea to have one or two of these installed in your workstation.