AEC Tech News #160

1 Feb, 2006 By: Michael Dakan

Cadalyst AEC Tech News Editor's note: Some information published in this edition of AEC Tech News was updated and corrected in a subsequent edition. Click here to view.

Adobe’s New Acrobat 3D

PDF becoming universal for digital information exchange: Is paperless office in sight?

On January 23, Adobe announced Adobe Acrobat 3D, a brand new addition to its Acrobat family of products -- and a very welcome addition, indeed. Using Acrobat 3D, design engineering, technical publishing and creative professionals in manufacturing and AEC markets can convert 3D models from a variety of CAD formats and embed them into Adobe PDF files -- regardless of whether they have CAD software. PDF recipients will be able to use a new version of the free Adobe Reader to view and manipulate the 3D model as well as add drawing markups and comments.

With this new software, Adobe should further strengthen the already-popular Adobe PDF file format as a ubiquitous, versatile medium for exchanging architectural and engineering information.

Wide Scope of Potential Use
Much of Adobe’s marketing materials and testing for this new product has revolved around the engineering of industrial parts and assemblies, where the value of 3D modeling is obvious and has been well demonstrated. But it’s easy to see an equal value-add proposition for information contained in 3D building models in the AEC industries.

Adobe describes Acrobat 3D as the most comprehensive product in the Acrobat line. It includes the entire functionality of Acrobat 7.1, plus 3D capabilities and more. This means you can leverage Acrobat 7.1 features such as improved document reviewing and commenting, file security authentication and confidentiality, incorporation of multiple documents and file formats into a single PDF, interactive PDF forms creation usingAdobe Live Cycle Forms Designer, archiving, drawing measurement and so forth.

Using Acrobat 3D, you also can use review and markup tools directly on 3D content. Notes and markups can be toggled on and off, turning off automatically when you’re manipulating a 3D model so they don’t distract as you rotate and zoom in and out of the 3D model.

With Acrobat 3D you can import 3D content from CAD models and other 3D programs as easily as drag-and-drop. No separate file translation steps are necessary to incorporate interactive 3D information in your PDFs. You can also import these 3D objects directly into many authoring applications so they will already be present when you create a PDF with the PDF Maker plug-ins that are supplied with Acrobat 3D, such as for Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint.

Open GL Functionality
For applications lacking a PDF Maker, Acrobat 3D uses the OpenGL graphics language specification to the fullest extent yet seen in a graphics application. You just view the model in 3D using an OpenGL-compliant display mode and press the Print Screen key, just as though you were creating a screen capture. But amazingly, the 3D image that’s imported to Acrobat 3D is not just a static image. It’s a fully interactive 3D model of the objects that comprise the CAD model, which you can then manipulate and view within the PDF from any perspective.

This OpenGL Capture utility enables almost any 3D graphics program to generate 3D content you can incorporate into PDFs created with Adobe Acrobat 3D. Any CAD program that includes OpenGL support can use this method , as can many 3D rendering and visualization programs such as Autodesk 3ds max and Maya.

Also included in Acrobat 3D is a new application called Adobe 3D Toolbox. With 3D Toolbox, you can add colors, textures and lighting to the 3D model surfaces. You can also create cross-sectional views and animated views, for example, one that explodes and reassembles the parts of a model. Section outlines are highlighted so you can see exactly how the section plane intersects with the parts of a model. This is very cool stuff!

Adobe Reader Goes 3D, Too
A version of the 3D Toolbox will also be included in the updated version of Adobe Reader for 3D, so PDF recipients can create similar views of models they review. Due to be released shortly, this new version is required to view and participate in commenting and markup of 3D content created with Acrobat 3D.

Adobe recently announced an updated count of Adobe Reader tools in use today: 1.25 billion! That’s up from the previous estimate of a half-billion users. Granted, some of that new number is software that came preinstalled on a new computer and might or might not be put to use; however, this new estimate still makes Adobe Reader a truly ubiquitous tool.

Released at almost the same time as Adobe Acrobat 3D, and almost lost in that excitement, was an update of Acrobat 7.0. Acrobat 7.1 is available for a nominal upgrade cost for licensed users of Acrobat 7.0. It brings several new and upgraded features to Acrobat 7.0, including one that AutoCAD users have awaited eagerly: support for AutoCAD 2006.

Looking Ahead
I was fortunate to preview Adobe Acrobat 3D a few days before its release, and I must say I was very impressed. As we went through the demonstration, I felt I was seeing digital information creation, distribution and storage in the architectural office of the future. The truly paperless office seems to be within reach, and Adobe Acrobat and the Adobe PDF file format are evolving into a potentially essential desktop utility for architects and others involved in the AEC industries.

Adobe Acrobat 3D is available for $995 retail for a new license, and for $545 to upgrade from Acrobat 7.0.

Michael L. Dakan, AIA, is an architect, author and independent AEC technology consultant. E-mail him at

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