CAD data file properties

When browsing for CAD data in the catalog view or Catalog pane, you can view properties for these data files that can give you insight into the contents and completeness of the spatial reference information, as well as successfully geolocate CAD data when the geopositioning information is incomplete.

You can display the CAD file properties by selecting the Properties option from the context menu for a file item in the Catalog pane. Multiple options display the various property categories.

Properties option on the context menu in the Catalog pane

These file properties include information about the design file contents, such as the names of AutoCAD layers or MicroStation levels and the visibility state of those levels, and whether an AutoCAD drawing was created with AutoCAD Civil 3D or standard AutoCAD functionality. Information about the file's relationship to other files can be assessed by reviewing the list of external reference files in the External Reference option. These factors can help you anticipate whether a file you add to ArcGIS Pro will include all the information you expect, or if that information may be contained in an externally referenced file, or if you need to override the default visibility of a CAD layer.


The General tab in the File Properties pane displays a thumbnail image of the file's contents if one is available. Expand File Properties to view information specific to the file. Additional expandable file groups are Spatial Reference and World File Transformation.

File properties options on the General tab

Click the Open with default application button Open with the default application below the thumbnail to open the file using the application associated with the file extension, if that application exists on your system.


The Source tab is available when the file properties are accessed from a feature class of a CAD file.

Source tab on the Feature Class Properties pane

Layers or Levels

The Layers tab in the File Properties pane includes a list of CAD layers that are included in the DWG or DXF file. The information on the Levels tab is also used for DGN files. The Layers and Level tabs include information about the default color of the layer or level, and whether the CAD layer or level visibility is on or off. When a CAD drawing is added to ArcGIS Pro, the visibility state of the drawing's contents is honored.

Layers tab in the File Properties pane

Levels tab in the File Properties pane

You can override the layer and level visibility settings of CAD data that is added as feature layers by modifying the feature layer's definition query after the data is added to a map or scene. To modify the definition query of a CAD feature layer, right-click the context menu of the feature layer in the map or scene table of contents, and click the Definition Query tab in the ArcGIS Layer Properties pane.

Definition Query tab in the Layer Properties pane

Drawing or Model

The Drawing tab contains parameters from a DWG or DXF file and may include information about the version of the file and its creation date, author, and last editor. One property is the linear units that can be useful in selecting the proper spatial reference for a CAD file. For proper data scaling, the linear units of the drawing and the spatial reference must match. The Autodesk coordinate system name information in AutoCAD drawings can assist you in selecting a proper Esri coordinate system.

Drawing tab on the File Properties pane

The Model tab contains properties from a DGN file, and may include information about the version of the file, its creation date, author, and last editor.

The Models group on the Model tab contains a list of models in a DGN file that can each be a separate drawing.

Properties and Models groups on Model tab

Web Layers

The Web Layers tab displays a list of Esri web layers that are referenced within the drawing. CAD authoring software that supports the inclusion of these web layers, such as ArcGIS for AutoCAD can establish links to web layers that are stored within the drawing. This dialog allows you to browse the layer properties of any of these included layers.

Web Layers tab on the CAD File Properties dialog box

These externally linked layers are not automatically included in ArcGIS Pro when the data is added as features to a map or scene. The list is included for your reference and to better understand the data in its original context. If the listed layers are supported and accessible, you can add them to ArcGIS Pro separately.

External Sources

The External Sources tab displays a list of drawings that are linked to the file using the authoring software.

External Sources tab in the File Properties pane

These externally linked files are not automatically included in ArcGIS Pro when the data is added as features to a map or scene. The list is included for your reference and to better understand the data in its original context. If the file types of the listed files are supported and accessible, you can add the files to ArcGIS Pro separately.

Validate Position

The Validate Position tab displays the status of the CAD file's position information. Various status messages are displayed to alert you to missing information and report possible issues. Action buttons are available to guide you in the mitigation of an error or warning.

Validate Position tab on the File Properties dialog box

Status messages

Status messages are generated to report the assigned coordinate system, PRJ file, and any coordinate transformation world file, WLD3 file. A validation process is conducted based on the defined area of use of the assigned coordinate system and the coordinates of the data in the CAD file. This area of use is the geographic area where the coordinate system is the most accurate. Although the coordinate system can be used for data where the coordinates of the data are outside this area, it is not recommended. Data that falls outside this area of use may indicate that the coordinates of the data need to be transformed with a world file, or that a more appropriate coordinate system should be assigned.

Assigned coordinate system

The validation process lists the assigned coordinate system of the CAD file.

The undefined coordinate system is automatically generated when no valid PRJ file is detected. This default coordinate system allows the data to be drawn in ArcGIS Pro without failing. This coordinate system is never appropriate for the data and should be replaced by an appropriate coordinate system. A projected coordinate system (PCS), where the coordinate system's area of use covers the intended location of the CAD data, is recommended.

If the CAD data was authored using coordinates of a valid coordinate system, the assignment of that coordinate system is all that is needed to properly position CAD data in ArcGIS Pro. A PRJ file has the same name as the CAD file with the .prj file extension. For CAD data drawn using coordinates of a projected coordinate system, all that is required is to assign the proper PRJ file. Use the Change Coordinate System button to assign or change the coordinate system.

If the assigned coordinate system is a geographic coordinate system (GCS), a warning appears. GCS are uncommon and not recommended for CAD data. This is a warning message; no immediate action is required.

Area of use

A coordinate system's area of use is used in the position validation calculation. The term area of use refers to the suggested geographic extent of the coordinate system. Data should fit within this area. Data that falls outside this geographic area is not recommended. The area of use is compared to the CAD data's coordinates. Data that falls within the area of use means an appropriate coordinate system is used. Data outside the area of use may signal that you should assign a more appropriate coordinate system for the data, or that the data coordinates should be transformed to match the assigned coordinate system by creating a world file.

Suggested location

The suggested location is initially blank when reading a CAD file. You can inspect the various file properties on the Drawing and General tab for address and location information, or if you know the location, click the Suggest Location button to set the suggested location. The suggested location is used to calculate a geographic location based on the selected locator.

The Transform to Suggested Location button creates a WLD3 file from the suggested location point returned from the selected locator. This modified position may require additional adjustment using the georeferencing tools in ArcGIS Pro but provides the means to position the data close to its final intended location.

A warning appears when the point calculated from the suggested location is outside the approximated extent of the CAD data. A distance is also provided to give context to the comparison. A suggested location outside the approximate extent of the CAD data is acceptable, since the model's location is an approximation and the geographic location calculated from the suggested location may be an approximate location as well. The provided distance informs you how close the CAD data is to the point. If the distance is significant, you may want to transform the data using the suggested location, or use a more precise suggested location, such as a street address rather than a city name, for example.

Action buttons

Action buttons are provided with the various status messages. The buttons can be used to improve the initial placement of a CAD file in ArcGIS Pro.

Change Coordinate System

Use this button to change the assigned coordinate system. This action uses the defined projection interface that allows you to search for and select a coordinate system definition, and saves a PRJ file with the appropriate name to the same file folder as the CAD file. You must have read-write access to this folder to save the resulting PRJ file.

Suggest Location

The suggested location action requires an open map or scene. The action uses the locator user interface for you to select a locator and provide an address or place-name to establish a geographic location. You can use the Transform to Suggested Location button to create a WLD3 file that repositions the CAD drawing to the geographic point returned by this action.

Transform to Suggested Location

This action creates a WLD3 file with the anchor point of the drawing located at the geographic position in the assigned coordinate system returned by the selected locator using the input string of the current suggested location. The initial value of the suggested location is blank for a CAD drawing. You can set the Suggested Location value using the Suggest Location button. The resulting transformation is unlikely to be the actual location of the drawing but is a good starting point for future georeferencing of the CAD data in ArcGIS Pro. If the suggested location is a street address, you will be closer to the final position than if the suggested location was the name of the city. To remove the WLD3 file that is created, delete it from the data file folder.

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