Exporting data to CAD drawings

You can export feature classes, feature layers, or shapefiles to native AutoCAD or MicroStation CAD formats with the Export To CAD tool. The tool creates new CAD files or appends data to existing CAD files.

Basic operation of the tool requires the input feature, output CAD format, and output path and file name. You can export data directly or combine the tool with other tools in a geoprocessing model or script to automate conversion tasks.

There are several ways to open the Export To CAD tool:

Default output

The type of data that is exported to a CAD drawing is determined by the destination CAD format and the limitations of its native CAD platform. By default, the Export To CAD tool creates a drawing layer for each input feature class or layer and generates the following entities or elements:

Input feature

Output to DWG and DXF

Output to DGN



Zero-length line


LWPolyline, line, arc, circle, or ellipse

Complex chain, line, arc, or curve


Closed LWPolyline

Complex shape




AutoCAD drawings

By default, output to DWG formats (version 2007 or higher) includes CAD-defined feature class schemas and attributes attached to AutoCAD entities.

For each input feature class, the Export To CAD tool embeds a feature class definition in the AutoCAD drawing file, comprising the default AutoCAD entities that are generated for the feature. All feature attributes are exported as AutoCAD xrecords and linked to the appropriate entities. Similarly, the coordinate system is also exported and embedded in the DWG file.

CAD-defined feature classes are directly usable by ArcGIS, and they can be edited in the AutoCAD application using ArcGIS for AutoCAD. You can also export empty feature classes to generate schema-only DWG files.

This geodata is nongraphic and does not interfere with standard AutoCAD geometry or native functionality. The AutoCAD xrecord objects that define the feature classes and coordinate system are stored in a standardized framework of AutoCAD object dictionaries. Similarly, entity-linked attributes are stored in the AutoCAD extension dictionary referenced by each entity.

For detailed information about how this data is structured, reference the ESRI document Mapping Specification for CAD available on the ArcGIS for AutoCAD Resource Center.

Overriding the default output

You can override the tool's default behavior and generate CAD data that conforms to specific standards using reserved CAD fields or a seed file.

Related Topics

Published 6/8/2010