ARCHICAD File Viewer – How to view .pln or .pla files?

by GRAPHISOFT · updated: 10.10.2016

This article provides information about how ARCHICAD projects can be viewed and printed by other architecture, engineering, construction or real estate professionals who are not using ARCHICAD, thus not having ARCHICAD license.

About viewing ARCHICAD files for the impatient

ARCHICAD 19 is not only yet another major release of ARCHICAD, but also a free ARCHICAD file viewer for non-ARCHICAD users. These users are typically AEC-industry engineers or facility managers, property managers, real estate professionals involved in the design, maintenance and value assessment of buildings where the architectural documentation has been originally created with ARCHICAD.

Since version 19, you don’t need to register for a serial number to install and use ARCHICAD as a trial or education version, so that you can open, view and print ARCHICAD projects. Just download ARCHICAD for free, install, start it up in demo mode.

Two approaches of accessing BIM data


The Building Information Model of an ARCHICAD project and the documentation derived from the model can be accessed in its entirety only by the same BIM authoring software – in this approach, ARCHICAD.

“Why not have an ARCHICAD file viewer”. As an ARCHICAD project consists of various 2D or 3D model-based project views and additional drawings, it would not be obvious to load all of this hierarchically organised information into an external file viewer application.

Using BIMx

The other way of accessing project data created by ARCHICAD is using GRAPHISOFT’s own BIM presentation software: BIMx. BIMx is an abbreviation for Building Information Model eXplorer: or in other words, a „file viewer” for BIM projects designed and documented with ARCHICAD. BIMx primarily provides an easy-to-use three and two dimensional virtual building and documentation viewer on mobile platforms such as iOS and Android, while also offering a similar desktop variant for Windows and Mac OS X.

Pros and Cons

  • While it is much easier for the clients and other stakeholders involved in the building design process to view and understand the virtual building model and the documentation sheets with BIMx apps,it also means an additional deliverable for architects, as they need to prepare and export the file properly from ARCHICAD to .bimx format so that it could be opened on mobile phones or tablets.
  • Although viewing ARCHICAD projects with ARCHICAD itself requires some additional knowledge about how data associated to the BIM model is stored and how it can be viewed or printed with the application, this is the only way to access and view each and every detail of the design project.

Viewing ARCHICAD files in ARCHICAD – Step-by-step

Prerequisites: the proper file format

.pln formats

Loading an ARCHICAD project normally consists of loading the ARCHICAD project file (.pln file format), and a number of external data references, such as ARCHICAD objects which are basically reusable parametric elements loaded for many different projects. The .pln file format only contains the parameters of the objects placed in the projects, such as doors, windows, furniture or 2D symbols, but not all the necessary information to depict those objects, as in a day-to-day use, including all data of these reusable components would just bloat file sizes.

.pln files with objects

This is why a .pln file might not be enough to reproduce the 3D model or the 2D drawings exactly as they were intended – unless all the referenced objects are sent along with a .pln file. This can be easily accomplished is when a .pln project file contains only references to objects which have been shipped with ARCHICAD: the default ARCHICAD Library. As these libraries are subject to change with every major version and every localised version of the software, it is important that the same libraries should be obtained and loaded with the .pln file that was used when the project was saved.

.pla format

Although it is not frequently used during the design process, there is an other, more appropriate file format for archiving and sharing ARCHICAD project data: this is the so-called ARCHICAD Archive Project Format with the file extension .pla. Whenever a non-ARCHICAD user would like to open and view ARCHICAD projects, the information should be shared in this format, as this format contains all the information needed to reproduce the entire project.

Once you have – preferabily – the project in .pla format, you can continue by installing ARCHICAD.

Step #1: Download and install ARCHICAD

  • head over to to download the latest ARCHICAD version for free
  • install and launch the software
  • to use ARCHICAD as a file viewer, choose the Start in DEMO mode option in the Select License Type dialog.

Step #2: Navigate in ARCHICAD to access project data

An ARCHICAD project usually contains a set of predefined views: plans, sections, elevations, details, schedules, layout sheets, 3D views, etc. You can use the Navigator View Map window to access all these views.

See also more information about navigation in ARCHICAD.

Step #3: Printing from ARCHICAD

You can either quickly print out an on-screen view using the Print dialog, or print an entire documentation set using the Publisher functions.

For more information about the printing process, click here.

Viewing ARCHICAD projects with BIMx – Step-by-step

Step #1: Exporting the BIMx model

The first step of getting access to an ARCHICAD project by BIMx is to export the necessary project views and 3D information to a .bimx file. To accomplish this step, an ARCHICAD license is needed, as one can not save or export files using ARCHICAD in Demo mode.

Here is more information about creating an optimal .bimx file.

Step #2: Install BIMx

BIMx and BIMx PRO applications can be found in the App Store or in the Google Play Store. As a rule of thumb 3D models can be viewed for free, but 2D drawings can be accessed only with a paid license. You might want to buy the paid app so that you can open any files both in 3D and 2D or your architect can buy a license for a certain file to share the 2D information too with anyone.

More information about license types can be found here.

Step #3: Navigating in BIMx

BIMx provides a 3D navigation experience similar to first person shooter games, extended this with a set of clickable markers providing quick access of any 2D drawings, that is: plans, sections or facade drawings associated to the 3D model.

More information about navigating in BIMx can be found here.

Step #4: Printing from BIMx

BIMx PRO for iOS provides wireless printing functions for users of the paid app. Here is more information about the printing process.


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