What’s New in AutoCAD 2017? PDF Import

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By Heidi Hewett

Welcome to the first entry in my “What’s New in AutoCAD 2017?” blog series. (For a quick overview of all the top new features in AutoCAD 2017, see “AutoCAD 2017: It’s … Alive!“)

With AutoCAD 2017 you can convert PDF to AutoCAD geometry, TrueType™ text, and raster images—either from a specified page in a PDF file or from all or part of an attached PDF underlay. If you’ve already attached a PDF file to your drawing, you can select it and choose the new Import as Objects tool from the PDF Underlay ribbon tab. You can then import everything or pick a polygonal or rectangular selection around the geometry you want to import.

To see PDF Import in action, check out the PDF Import overview video.

Pretty cool, huh?

Below we take a quick look at how AutoCAD got here. If you’d rather get right to the meat of the feature, skip to the next section, “AutoCAD 2017 PDF Import: A Walkthrough.”

PDF and AutoCAD: A Shared History

PDF files are a common way of publishing and sharing design data for review and markup.

AutoCAD 2007 was the first AutoCAD release with PDF support; it included a PDF plot driver that enabled you to easily print your AutoCAD drawings to PDF file format, no additional software required. AutoCAD 2010 gave you the ability to attach PDF files as underlays to drawings. Since then Autodesk has continued improving the quality and performance of the software’s PDF output and underlays.

We previewed the AutoCAD 2017 PDF Import functionality at Autodesk University 2015 and then polled the audience to gauge their interest. The response was overwhelmingly positive: About three-quarters of attendees strongly agreed (and overall nearly 95 percent agreed) with the statement “I will use the PDF Import feature.”

Poll results for using PDF Import

Poll results for using PDF Import

So here we are at another milestone… the much requested ability to import geometry from a PDF file.

AutoCAD 2017 PDF Import: A Walkthrough

Import selected objects from a PDF file

Import selected objects from a PDF file

Use the Settings option to control how the geometry is imported.

PDF Import Settings dialog box

PDF Import Settings dialog box

For example, you can specify:

  • The type of data imported from the PDF (geometry, solid fills, text, and raster objects)
  • How layers are assigned to imported objects
  • Different post-processing options for imported geometry

If the PDF file includes raster images, you can extract them as .png files and automatically attach them to your drawing. Since those images are referenced from the AutoCAD drawing, choose the Options button to ensure the new PDF Import Image Location is appropriately set for your workflow.

PDF Import image location

PDF Import image location

After selecting the geometry to import and specifying the appropriate import options, you can choose what to do with the PDF underlay when the import is complete: Keep the original PDF underlay, detach it, or unload it.

PDF Import options

PDF Import options

When completed, the selected geometry is imported as native AutoCAD objects.

Imported objects from a PDF underlay

Imported objects from a PDF underlay

You can also import PDF geometry directly from an unattached PDF file. Use the new PDFIMPORT tool, or even the regular Import tool, which now includes PDF as a supported file type.

PDF Import and Import tools on the ribbon

PDF Import and Import tools on the ribbon

If you use the Import tool, you’ll need to choose PDF Files from the File type list.

PDF file type in Import File dialog box

PDF file type in Import File dialog box

If you use the PDF Import tool, you’ll need to select the File option. The PDF Import default behavior prompts you to select a PDF file that is already attached, as I described previously.

PDF Import command line

PDF Import command line

With either method (Import or PDF Import), the Import PDF dialog box displays after you select a PDF file. If the PDF file has multiple pages, you can visually select the one you want to import or you can enter the page number. All the objects on that page will be imported based on the settings you specify: Insertion point, scale, and rotation in addition to the settings that control how the geometry is imported, which I described previously.

Import PDF dialog box

Import PDF

Note: Objects imported from a PDF file will lose some accuracy because, well—PDF ain’t no DWG™ when it comes to the accuracy it can support. If you’re using PDFs for visual purposes, such as for importing catalog items, the loss in accuracy may not be significant.

For more information on PDF Import behavior and limitations, check out:

Next up in the What’s New in AutoCAD 2017? series: Autodesk Desktop App

Want to see the entire series at a glance? Visit the “Blog Series: What’s New in AutoCAD 2017?” page.

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  1. Avatar

    Good Evening Heidi, I was wondering how accurate you think for estimating purposes in relation to the constructuon field you would say working straight from the pdf files this new feature would be? Basically i guess what im trying to say is do you think it would be accurate enough to completely avoid using the architect's ruler? Please advise, Thanks in advance! Best Regards, Freddy Aguilera

    1. Heidi Hewett
      Heidi Hewett

      That's a great question. The accuracy of it depends very much on the quality/accuracy of the PDF file much the way your accuracy when using a ruler depends on the quality of the "blue print" you're measuring. If the paper drawing was copied many times, is fuzzy, and was drawn at a very small scale, your ruler measurements could be pretty inaccurate. The same idea applies to PDF. In general though, if you have the same PDF file printed or imported into AutoCAD, your accuracy measuring in AutoCAD will most likely be better than using a ruler on paper. That's mainly because the data is similarly accurate (or inaccurate) but at least you can avoid the human error associated with eyeballing it using a ruler.

  2. Avatar

    As long as the PDF was computer-generated (vector PDF), the conversion from PDF to DWG should be precise as long as you use the correct scaling factor to turn the PDF page into the original CAD drawing dimensions. This should work great every time, even with complex files. If the PDF file was scanned, hand-drawn or otherwise digitized, it is a raster PDF file and needs to be traced making accuracy hard to guarantee. PDF import will be in AutoCAD 2017. If you need to import PDF into earlier AutoCAD versions, there is the PDFin plug-in on the Autodesk Apps Store or pdf2cad from Visiual Integrity.

  3. Avatar

    Will the DWG to PDF plot export all text, including .shx as text searchable entities, i.e. will highlight when Ctrl A is selected in Adobe Reader?

    1. Heidi Hewett
      Heidi Hewett

      That's a good question. SHX fonts are not selected with Ctrl-A and are not searchable the way other text is. However, starting with AutoCAD 2016, SHX fonts appear in the Comments window in Adobe reader enabling you to search text that way.

  4. Avatar

    Can you import multiple pages of a PDF at one time? It looks singular above. Thanks

    1. Heidi Hewett
      Heidi Hewett

      That's a great question. You can only import one page at a time.

  5. Avatar

    Related to the PDF import function in AC 2017 will it now also allow us to embed PDFs? Similar to the IEMBED function. thanks

    1. Heidi Hewett
      Heidi Hewett

      Good question Dave. However that is not possible. PDF files can only be attached (as reference files) or imported (as AutoCAD geometry).

  6. Avatar

    can't convert old pdf drawing to dwg in autocad 2017. suggestions?

    1. Heidi Hewett
      Heidi Hewett

      Unfortunately if the PDF file was created before AutoCAD supported PDF output or if it was created from some method other than PDF output from AutoCAD (such as scanned), there is no relevant data for AutoCAD to import. It's like any other raster (image) file. You might want to try AutoCAD Raster Design. It's not as smooth, easy, or accurate as importing a newer/more intelligent PDF but it's better than nothing. http://www.autodesk.com/products/autocad-raster-design/overview Otherwise, your option is to attach the PDF file to your drawing and "trace" over it with AutoCAD drawing tools.

  7. pbadam

    Thank you, I'm sharing this on my blog

  8. russcomstock

    Is the PDF import feature available in LT 2017?

    1. Leah E. Friedman
      Leah E. Friedman

      Hi Russ, Yes, PDF Import is available on AutoCAD LT 2017. More information can be found here.