Abstract This paper investigates the effect of injection parameters on the characteristics of dimethyl ether (DME) as an alternative fuel in a diesel engine with experimental and analytical models based on empirical equations. In order to study macroscopic and microscopic characteristics of DME fuel, this work focuses on the atomization characteristics of DME and compares experimental and predicted results for spray development obtained by empirical models for diesel and DME fuel. Detailed comparisons of spray tip penetration from three different empirical correlations and from visualization experiments of diesel and DME fuels were conducted under various fuel injection conditions. In comparison with the results of different empirical equations for measured spray tip penetration, the experimental results of this study provide good agreement with the calculation results based on empirical equations, except during the earliest stage of the injected spray sequence. The results of atomization characteristics indicate that DME showed better spray characteristics than conventional diesel fuel. Also, the fuel injection delay and maximum injection rate of DME fuel are shorter and lower than those of diesel fuel at the same injection conditions, respectively.