Create Product Documentation with Inventor Publisher 2012

25 Aug, 2011 By: Dominic Cheff

IMAGINiT Tricks Tutorial: Even though you may refuse to read the instructions sometimes, they are important — and the latest release of Publisher includes new tools to help you create them.

Editor's note: This tutorial courtesy of IMAGINiT Technologies.

In our personal lives, almost everything we buy comes with some sort of documentation, whether it's assembly instructions for your kid's latest toy or a manual for a new piece of lawn equipment. And what do we do with that documentation? We ignore it and plow blindly forward, thinking, "I don't need to read the instructions!" Maybe we like the idea of making the task more challenging, or maybe it's just an ego trip that we all need to get out of our system at least once.

After the first bad trip down that ego highway, however, we usually realize that the documentation does matter. Especially after attempting to put that final piece in place and realizing it doesn't fit because something is backward or upside down! Needless to say, the better the documentation, the better the chance for success. In fact, poor documentation can be directly linked to product returns and loss of profits.

As engineering professionals, we want to communicate our designs to others in the best way possible. We create highly detailed 3D models, and seek to leverage that digital design as documentation is created downstream. However, one challenge is that the technical documentation departments are often disconnected from the engineering data. Typically, the documentation is constructed from disconnected illustrations or digital photos that can become outdated quickly if design changes take place.

Autodesk Inventor Publisher 2012

Autodesk Inventor Publisher is technical communications software that can help you tackle this challenge and get more benefits out of your 3D models. It can be used by anyone that needs to create documentation to explain and differentiate ideas, designs, and products.

Publisher enables users to leverage designs across the entire organization, creating appropriate documentation for the technical documentation department, field representatives, customers, or executives. The documentation can begin early in the design process, because Inventor models used in Publisher are dynamic and associative; as updates happen in the design cycle, they are realized with an update in Inventor Publisher.

Support system. Publisher 2012 features the ability to import one or several models into a single documentation project. That includes direct integration into third-party 2D and 3D files such as CATIA, IGES, Parasolid, Pro/Engineer, SolidWorks, and UGS. After working directly with 2D or 3D CAD data to create animated assembly instructions, operating procedures, or repair instructions, users can publish their materials to formats such as Microsoft Word, PDF, PowerPoint, AVI, Flash, various image formats, DWF, and vector.

Materials can also be published to mobile devices such as iPhones, Android phones, and iPads. I recently did just that to share an entertainment center modification idea with an associate in a local do-it-yourself store. I found it very helpful to have the video of how I built the entertainment center, as well as the dimensions, in a portable format.

Snapshots and storyboards. Within the Publisher environment, you can control how your documentation is laid out with snapshots and storyboards. Think of these as the foundation for capturing and controlling all you’re editing, whether it is adding dimensions, placing a detail view of a subcomponent off to the side, or adding a parts list. Each snapshot is placed in the storyboard; you can have multiple storyboards with each publication, and you can link snapshots together or maintain them individually. You can also control the timing, description, transition, and order of the snapshots within a storyboard.


Publisher 2012 allows users to set the Publish area for each snapshot or the entire document, which takes the mystery out of whether the image will fit into the final document.

Dimensions. Another addition to Publisher 2012 is the ability to add dimensions (which are associated to Inventor models, so they can be updated as the model changes). The dimensions can also be placed on any plane necessary, including snapshots of models that are in an isometric view. Once dimensions are placed, the dimension's plane or just about any other attribute — including precision and text overrides — can be adjusted.

Connect with Word.
With Publisher 2012, we now have a way to link our Publisher project directly into Microsoft Word with the Publisher Add-in. You can use any custom template within Microsoft Word to create your documentation, and it is easier than ever to manage the native Inventor Publisher file as well. With the add-in you can link the Inventor Publisher file to the Word document, insert snapshots with the browser, and update the model as the design evolves.


Include a list. The visual parts list in Publisher 2012 allows you to add a parts list into your document. The list can be placed in any snapshot, and can be resized, positioned, and customized to suit the needs of the project. You can change the fields to display, create custom fields, show only selected items, and choose to include balloon callouts or create your own custom callouts.

Adding the Preview column to the parts list generates a thumbnail of the components in the list. Many properties of the preview thumbnail can be controlled, such as the size, the default view of the image, the background of the preview, and the rendering style.

Leverage blocks.
If you have acquired a library of AutoCAD blocks over the years, you can easily insert these in Inventor Publisher and use them just as you would an image file.

Section planes.
One of my favorite enhancements in 2012 is the ability to create section views. Detailed section views are fundamental to explaining how something works or seeing the internal workings of a machine in the context of the overall picture.

The section views can be adjusted in many ways, and creating them is dynamic as well. As you select the plane that you want to use, you can move and rotate it until you have the desired section. You can create and modify full and three-quarter section views, flip the section views, add multiple planes, and more. The section views can also have hatch patterns assigned and customized with ease by using the handy marking menu or going to the toolbar. You can control which components are part of the section to create the perfect picture to include in your documentation.

About the Author: Dominic Cheff

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