Document Types, File Types, and User Types

31 Jul, 2003 By: Greg Jankowski

SolidWorks is a multi-document system, which means there are different types of files that SolidWorks uses for different purposes, such as parts, assemblies, and drawings, as shown in Table 1. What's more, certain document types (assemblies and drawings, for instance) can be used to create other SolidWorks documents. An example of this is a drawing that uses a part to create the detail views. The advantage to this method is the part can be inserted into an assembly to check for form, fit, and function of the component in its assembled state, and a drawing can be created from that same part. The drawing and assembly will automatically update when the part is changed.

The different types of documents are fully associative within SolidWorks. This means that a change to a part will be propagated to any drawing or assembly that uses that part. When changes are made, the documents that reference the changed document are automatically updated.

Each one of these SolidWorks file types serves a different purpose. This allows SolidWorks to display only the information and functions required for the current document type in the user interface. This makes it easier to learn and use SolidWorks. The user interface is context-sensitive, so any function not applicable to the current document (drawing, part modeling, and so forth) is not displayed or selectable.

SolidWorks documents can be opened either through the Windows Explorer or by using the Open function from the File pulldown menu inside of SolidWorks. Since SolidWorks is an OLE-compliant Windows application, parts and sub-assemblies can be dragged from the Windows Explorer into an assembly or drawing document. A SolidWorks document can also be opened inside an OLE-compliant Windows application or dragged directly from the Windows Explorer into another application (for example, Microsoft Word).


Other types of files can also be imported to or exported from SolidWorks. The Open function has a Files of type pulldown menu that offers a number of different file formats for you to open. The options shown fall into the following categories: native SolidWorks documents (parts, assemblies, drawings, library features, templates), neutral file formats (DXF, DWG, IGES, STEP, ACIS, and Parasolid), and formats native to other systems (Autodesk Inventor, Autodesk Mechanical Desktop, CADKey, Solid Edge, and Unigraphics).

Depending on the format selected and information contained in the file, SolidWorks will import the file into the appropriate document. For example, if you open a DWG file, SolidWorks will import it into a SolidWorks drawing document. If you open an IGES file with part information, SolidWorks will import that information into a part document.

The Save As function allows the user to save the active document under a new file name, file format, and/or location. Depending on what type of document is open, the options shown under the Files of type pulldown menu will be different. Only appropriate values are shown.

The file format selected is based on a number of different items; typically it is based on the needs of the person getting the files and the systems used on both ends. While a neutral format seems to be an easy solution, better results are usually obtained by the use of native formats. This could also mean that if the two systems are Parasolid-based, this may be a good format to exchange files. Always find out what the information is going to be used for, and what type of system is creating or receiving the information.

You can use the Open (import) and Save As (export) functions to:

  • import DWG/DXF legacy data into a SolidWorks drawing file;
  • export a DXF or DWG file from a SolidWorks drawing for use within a 2D system;
  • import existing DWG or DXF legacy data into a SolidWorks sketch using the Sketch from Drawing function (once the geometry is in the sketch, geometric constraints and dimensions can be placed on the geometry);
  • create a STL (Stereolithography) from a part to create rapid prototyping parts;
  • export an existing SolidWorks document into another file format (parts, assemblies, and drawings can be exported into different formats based on your needs).


All users need to follow the same method when naming SolidWorks files. The following are some examples of common practices and SolidWorks-related file considerations:

  • Lowercase and uppercase letters are considered equivalent (PartA.SLDPRT = parta.sldprt).
  • Spaces may be included within the file name (test part.SLDPRT). A better practice would be to use the underscore (_) instead of a space within a filename (test_part.sldprt).
  • A file name can have up to 256 characters before its extension.
  • Special characters, such as the asterisks (*) forward slant (/), and percent sign (%), may not be included within the file name.
  • File names should be unique within the data directories. This can help minimize the possibility of someone using the wrong file. It is not a good naming convention to call parts connector.sldprt, assy.sldprt, and so forth, as these names could be used on another project for a different purpose.
  • Multiple documents can be open at the same time.
  • Only one document is active at a time.
  • The active document name displays in the main program window's title bar.
  • A document remains in memory until SolidWorks is closed.

Understanding the different types of files and their usages will make you more effective with SolidWorks. Each type of document or file has its place and usage.

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