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What are the Best File Formats to Export from SOLIDWORKS?

Wednesday May 8, 2024 at 8:00am


  1. How to Export Different File Types
  2. Preferred File Types for Importing to SOLIDWORKS
  3. When to use Neutral File Formats
  4. How to Share CAD data and protect Intellectual Property

SOLIDWORKS can import and export a variety of file formats to allow you to work collaboratively with other companies and designers who may be using different CAD packages.

Neutral file formats, like STEP and IGES files, aid this collaboration as lots of CAD packages can import them successfully.

But which format is best to use? And when should you use different file formats?

We’ll show you the recommended way to choose what neutral file format you need, and how to export different file types from SOLIDWORKS while protecting your intellectual property.


The first thing to consider when collaborating with other users on a project is which CAD software they are using.

If they are using the same version of SOLIDWORKS as you, then no export is required, other than the occasional Pack & Go.

You can collaborate online through the SOLIDWORKS Cloud Services, or send part files and zipped folders of assemblies and drawings through with the Pack and Go command.

Since SOLIDWORKS 2024, you can also save files as previous versions for opening in SOLIDWORKS 2022 or 2023.

Sometimes it isn’t appropriate to send your SOLIDWORKS files. One reason not to send a SOLIDWORKS file to a collaborator would be to disguise intellectual property.

In this case, exporting as a neutral file format will prevent the feature tree and design intent of the model from being revealed.

Models can also be further simplified by removing internal geometry with the defeature command that we’ll explore later in this blog.

How to Pack & Go Files

Discover how to Pack & Go files from SOLIDWORKS with this short tutorial.

Learn how to safely save and send any and all associated CAD data through one simple tool.


If you must import or export CAD files between different programs, then native file formats will always be preferred over neutral ones.

With the 3D Interconnect import option turned on, SOLIDWORKS can directly import files from Catia V5, Autodesk Inventor, and more, while retaining a link to the original file and preserving data during translation.

Supported native file types SOLIDWORKS can import.

Each CAD package uses different algorithms to represent 3D shapes. When these files are translated, there will always be an opportunity for error to occur due to tolerance and rounding differences.

When importing a native file this translation only occurs once, leading to fewer opportunities for error.

However, if you were to export a SOLIDWORKS file into a neutral file format (such as STEP) and then reimport it into a different CAD system, two data translations will have occurred, increasing the likelihood of geometric errors.

If you receive a neutral format CAD file, it is worthwhile asking how many times the file has potentially been translated between systems.

If the answer is unknown, we recommend re-exporting the file from the original native CAD, to reduce the stack up of tolerances and potential for errors.


Our recommended order of priority for neutral file formats starts with Parasolid, then ACIS, STEP and finally IGES.

Other neutral file formats do exist, such as STL and OBJ, but these will import as graphical bodies which are typically hard to work with.

Parasolid > ACIS > STEP > IGIS > STL/OBJ
Recommended neutral file format hierarchy.

Parasolids are ideal because this format shares the same underlying modelling kernel as SOLIDWORKS. The kernel information does not need to be translated, which results in better model accuracy.

Beyond Parasolid, our next best choices would be ACIS, STEP and IGES - in that order. Each of these file formats requires greater translation than the next, increasing the risk of geometry errors.

We recommend that you always ask the recipient of the neutral file which type of files they can import, and use this information to choose the best option from the above format hierarchy.


As part of the TriMech Group, we help businesses across the world collaborate, design, and manufacture products while protecting their intellectual property (IP).

It’s important to remember that sharing SOLIDWORKS files gives the recipient access to all of the modelling data that is included within the part, drawing, assembly, or Pack and Go.

If you are sharing SOLIDWORKS files, then consider whether the recipient requires all of the CAD data.

You could share an interactive (but still protected) version of your CAD via a link through the Share & Markup function included with the SOLIDWORKS Cloud Services, or save a version of your CAD to view with the free eDrawings CAD viewer.

It's Time to Skill Up

There's no better way to learn SOLIDWORKS than to get hands-on with the software in a classroom environment, under the tutelage of our expert and friendly trainers.

Learn more about the defeature tool or discover our SOLIDWORKS Training Courses and develop your SOLIDWORKS skills!

To protect IP, you can export files as non-SOLIDWORKS files. This removes the feature tree data, as each CAD package has different ways of creating and organizing model features.

You can test this by exporting a file and re-importing it to observe what information is stored in the neutral file before you send it.

If you need to take this a step further, and obscure, remove, or simplify details of the model, then the defeature command can be used.

This allows you to create an independent copy of your model and customise what model components and features you would like to share with collaborators.

This could include removing internal components or features that a collaborator does not need to see.

Take the Next Steps

Take a deeper dive into data management and learn how this highly configurable data management system can work for you and your business.

Or learn to master SOLIDWORKS PDM with our CPD-accredited SOLIDWORKS PDM training courses delivered by industry experts.

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