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DWF-based publication is a powerful and useful publishing methodology in Autodesk Civil 3D. DWF publication is a core AutoCAD publishing functionality. It functions well in Civil 3D projects managed on local machines, networks, and document management cloud-based environments.

Civil 3D users and organizations can thankfully employ DWFs to significantly reduce the complexity of Civil 3D project and drawing publication and at the same improve the performance of those tasks at Crunch Time on Deadline Day.

DWF It at Crunch Time on Deadline Day

A Managed DWF publication strategy is a classic Divide and Conquer strategy we can employ to systematically attempt to reduce our publishing complexity problems in Civil 3D. DWF publicatioin works well for both civil engineering design and survey projects.

A typical classic XREF basemap collection can resolve into hundreds or even thousands of AutoCAD Layers.

DWF printer output set up with DWF Layer control turned on provides us a consistent method to considerably reduce the number of published layers we need to manage by orders of magnitude – an obvious and significant performance advantage.

Managed DWF publication workflows in Civil 3D will also help us: improve our internal QAQC processes; develop and build functional feedback loops into our daily design processes and workflows; and then repeatedly reap the benefits at Crunch Time on Deadline Day.
What’s not to like about that?

The recent Civil 3D and the Plan to Edit Mindset post featured an important video on the topic. The video is worth a replay.


Managed DWF Publication in Civil 3D

Someone asks,

“Aren’t DWF and PDF pretty much the same thing?”

Yes and no. DWF and PDF are not the same. They may share similar properties but arguably exist to serve different purposes.

Both the Autodesk DWF file type and the Adobe PDF file type are vector graphics formats that can include references to fonts and the other graphic resources necessary to reproduce a published drawing representation at a scale.

DWF is optimized and integrated into all the AutoCAD platform products and other Autodesk platforms like Revit and Inventor etc. Technical details aside, most Autodesk products and all ACAD-based products basically employ the DWF publication engine as a precursor to most printed or published vector and/or raster output. Before graphics goes out to the PDF format or other printing technologies the graphics are often vectorized into DWF.

What is a DWF?

The bottom line for us - on the practical and daily production level a DWF is an output optimized preprinted representation of an entire drawing or a named AutoCAD View.

How and Why DWF Helps

Published DWFs are preprinted vector representations of the current state and View in a drawing. Since named AutoCAD Views can become Viewports in Layouts, the DWF technology can help us publish specific details very quickly and effectively.

DWF printers may employ either STB and CTB plotting engine and yet may be reprinted in either output format. In effect this make a DWF output neutral. Now that can be really useful.

DWFs produced in color may be displayed and/or printed  either in color or in monochrome.

DWFs may be referenced (IREF) into other drawings in effect to replace, in part or in total, the drawing contents in modelspace and therefore in Viewports in published Layouts.

Multiple IREF DWFs may be stacked in a container drawing exactly like XREFs. The AutoCAD XREF Manager tool can control and manage the loading and unloading of individual DWFs just like XREFs.

DWFs may be employed as backgrounds and/or combined with actual drawing oontent to significantly reduce plot and publication times. Remember the DWF content is effectively preprinted.

DWF references are (for the most part) transparent to existing Sheet Set Manager technologies and the Autodesk Cloud Document Management and Collaboration applications.

DWF output when included in combination with dwg content may be viewed and even printed from the headless AutoCAD -  the DWGTrueView app. Final PDF publications of drawings with IREF DWFs can be significantly smaller than PDF prints of drawing content or of a drawing with direct DWF attachments.

DWFs can host Markups produced in either the legacy Autodesk Design Review app or in various versions of the cloud-based Autodesk Viewer.

Design Review can both View and Markup DWFs independently from drawings.

For reasons unknown, currently all versions of the cloud -based Autodesk Viewer (including those that support Markup) appear to require a dwg host for the DWF. Now that’s annoying.

DWF Formats

There are technically two file formats for DWF. The standard .dwf format and the older Microsoft Internet Explorer version - the .dwfx format. For practical purposes, the IE viewer version (.dwfx) is now a legacy support version. A .dwfx format files can be converted into .dwf.

PCP Particulars

The capability to output manageable AutoCAD Layers into the DWF is a Custom Property of the DWF printer. These same Custom Properties of the driver control the output DPI details of image output in the DWF as well. Beware of commanding too much of a good thing.

We generally want to create a specific named .pcp file to employ for the appropriate DWF printer driver(s) with the Layer control turned on.

We may also want to create custom Sheet sizes to optimize the output. Your specific details may vary.

Coordinate System Support

These days modelspace published DWFs are Civil 3D and Map 3D coordinate system aware even when they are employed in raw AutoCAD.

DWF deliverables produced in Civil 3D and Map 3D coordinate systems may be employed in raw AutoCAD and/or linked in other Autodesk platform products like Revit.


A published DWF with Layer Control turned on produces an easy to print and Layer controllable vector file version of the original Civil 3D and/or Map 3D drawing content. The DWF is much smaller than a DWG and also represents a data stamped version of the authorized published output.

The Darkside Dangers of DWF

For many projects in Civil 3D this current DWF publication issue may never come into play. When this current and very particular DWF driver  issue does arise, it helps to better understand why.

All the current Autodesk DWF printer drivers available in releases 2018-2023 have a nasty and mysterious bug.

There a functional work around, but the simple workaround (we will cover that below) can create issues of its own.

Born Under a Bad Sign

For reasons unknown all the current DWF printers flip the plotted result when the View rotation exceeds about 60d.

That means if we print a 90d ViewCube  rotated, DVIEW TWIST 270d rotated view, etc the output DWF will end up in the wrong location when IREFed into a dwg. Arrrgh.

The Work Around

Select  the IREFed DWF; employ the  AutoCAD MIRROR command; and rotate the DWF around 0,0 while erasing the previous selection will fix the issue. Whew!

The AutoCAD MIRROR command changes the Rotation and the Scale property values of the DWF IREF.
The Scale property will be notably changed to -1.
This is technically no longer an unacceptable value in the AutoCAD Properties palette, but it works.

The MIRRORed DWF will now display and print properly in all AutoCAD platform products including even in the AutoCAD headless DWGTrueView app.

DWF Lives!

Now for Some Bad News…

All the available Autodesk Viewer apps including Design Review will reject a MIRRORed DWF referenced into a drawing this way. Arrrgh.

Plan View DWFs of DWFs will still work to produce acceptable Markup containers that are viewable in the Autodesk Viewers.

The current bug and Civil 3D User required hassles and nuances aside, the trusty DWF remains a Civil 3D project publication wunderkind.

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