General Software

First Look: DWF Composer

15 Aug, 2004 By: Ron LaFon

Design review and revision.

IN A MOVE THAT GIVES the DWF file format functionality comparable to rival Adobe's PDF format, Autodesk shipped Autodesk DWF Composer for viewing, markup, and revision of design files. In tandem with DWF Writer 2 , this application is a powerful collaborative tool for design professionals.

You can mark up and revise a DWF file using DWF Composer and then send your changes back to any of the AutoCAD 2005 family of products. A free DWF Viewer is available for those who need to review DWF files, but not mark up or modify them. Unlike the PDF file format, the DWF file can make the round-trip through revision and markup and then back to AutoCAD.

 Autodesk DWF Composer
Autodesk DWF Composer

If you want to make DWF files but don't already use an Autodesk application that has built-in DWF capabilities, DWF Writer 2 is for you. It's included with Composer and also available for free download at the Autodesk Web site, DWF Writer 2 acts as a printer driver for Windows and produces a DWF file from any Windows application so you can, for example, bring timelines and specifications from Microsoft Word or Excel into your DWFs.

The DWF file format is compact, CAD-oriented, and capable of moving high-fidelity design information. DWF files are compact, but contain such information as drawing scale, assorted views, and hyperlinks. The files are so highly compressed that you can transmit huge design models by e-mail or the Web. DWF files support multisheet drawings sets, so you can build a complete set of complex design documents into a single DWF file. DWF is an open format that can be published by many different design applications.

While operating, DWF Composer is generally fast and flexible. However, its interface can be confusing at times. The toolbars use several different conventions—sometimes you click on the toolbar item, sometimes you select a drop-down, and sometimes you make a menu selection. You get used to it after a while, but for the novice or inexperienced user, the symbols for things such as a callout and a revision cloud are not immediately clear.

DWF Composer's array of markup tools let you share feedback through redlines, annotations, and comments within the design sheet sets. You can add text, shapes, and stamps, which are all automatically recorded in the Mark Up tab of the Sheet Set Navigator where you can view them by status. Within a single Autodesk DWF Composer session, you can work on multiple document types, including images, sketches, project timelines, specifications, and bills of materials.

DWF Composer displays DWF and DWG files with its Autodesk DWG Viewer component, including details such as layers, views, and measurements. With the Sheet Set Navigator feature, you can select from thumbnail, list, bookmark, and markup views to browse multisheet sheet sets. A hyperlink features makes it easy to jump between sheets and views. Composer also lets you perform accurate measurements using the Dimension tool.

Teams can work with Autodesk DWF Composer within the Autodesk Buzzsaw service to keep each other up-to-date on changes and revisions. Users can open and save DWF files created with DWF Composer directly to and from Buzzsaw software.

Figures 1. Autodesk DWF Composer provides tools to view and mark up design files and integrate the changes directly into the AutoCAD 2005 family of products.
Figures 1. Autodesk DWF Composer provides tools to view and mark up design files and integrate the changes directly into the AutoCAD 2005 family of products.

At this time you can't integrate markups from DWF Composer into Autodesk Inventor or the Autodesk Revit building information modeler. If you use one of these applications, you can use DWF Composer to review, mark up, and track information. You just can't complete the data roundtrip back into these applications.

Until the end of 2004, DWF Composer is available for an introductory price of $99. Regular pricing is $199. Even at full price, it's a good deal considering all the functionality of the product and the two free and freely distributable components.

About the Author: Ron LaFon