Bringing PDFs into AutoCAD

5 Oct, 2009 By: Lynn Allen

Circles & Lines tutorial: Two of the biggest crowd-pleasers in AutoCAD 2010 are its new PDF import and underlay features.

As I travel around introducing AutoCAD 2010 to the user community, I've observed that the biggest crowd-pleasers by far have been the new PDF features in this latest version. Although we've been able to export AutoCAD drawing files to PDF for a while now, we haven't had the ability to bring those PDF files back into AutoCAD. Finally, with AutoCAD 2010, this top AUGI wish list item as been granted.

The PDF file actually becomes an underlay when brought into AutoCAD. You can clip the underlay, snap to it, control layer display, etc. If you are using the Ribbon -- simply go to the Attach option of the Insert tab to import the PDF or you can key in the new Attach command. With this command you'll find the option of inserting a PDF file as an underlay.

Use the Attach command to insert your PDF file.

After selecting the proper PDF file, you'll need to specify things such as the insertion point and scale factor as seen in the figure . You also can choose which layouts you want to insert.

Specify the scale, insertion point and layouts for your PDF.

As mentioned, a PDF file will be brought into AutoCAD as an underlay, much as DWF and DGN files. Unfortunately there's no way to convert a PDF file to an AutoCAD object yet -- perhaps that's something we'll see in the future. Because you can snap to the objects in the PDF file, you at least can recreate the objects by tracing over them. Note, however, that you can snap to objects only in PDF files that were made using AutoCAD 2010.

For all of you who have switched the user interface back to AutoCAD Classic (not the Ribbon), you'll really be missing out here. If you have the Ribbon enabled and you select a PDF file, the Ribbon automatically changes to a new tab based entirely on your PDF, shown in the figure below. I absolutely love this feature!

The context-sensitive Ribbon menu in AutoCAD 2010 automatically switches to PDF Underlay when a PDF underlay is inserted.

This new Ribbon tab shows us everything we can do with our new PDF underlay, making it easier on us to figure out. Let's start with clipping our PDF.

Select Create Clipping Boundary from the Ribbon and pick the area you want to use to clip your PDF underlay. This process works much the same as ImageClip, DWFClip, etc. For those of you still rebelling against the Ribbon, you can use the new Clip command.

The clipped area has a dynamic boundary that can be modified easily with the grips as shown in the figure below. You also can invert the clip just as you can with xrefs so that the inside is clipped rather than the outside. To remove the clipping boundary, select Remove Clipping from the ribbon -- it just doesn't get much easier than that.

Easily modify the clipped PDF using grips.

How about layers? If the PDF was created with Layer information included (see "A PDF Wish Comes True!" for more info), you can turn the PDF layers on and off. Select Edit Layers from the Ribbon, and you'll open the Underlay Layers dialog box shown below.

Easily turn the PDF layers on and off.

You can quickly find out if the layer display has been modified from the original PDF file in the Properties palette shown below.

If the original layer display has been modified in any way, the properties will change the layer display override to Applied.

Double-clicking on a PDF boundary will send you to the Properties palette. Here you'll also find a wide range of options that you can modify, including the original scale factor of the PDF.

The most important new capability probably is being able to snap to the objects. Make sure the Enable Snap option is on, and you'll be able to snap to the PDF objects just as you would with a standard AutoCAD object. This ability makes it easy for you to measure and draw relative to these existing objects. You might want to fade your PDF to see any drawn objects (also easily done in the Ribbon) or even hide the PDF all together by deselecting the Show PDF option. You also can control the contrast and convert the PDF to monochrome.

Maybe it's me, but I had some issues working with the Fade and Contrast slider bars. You might prefer to just key in values rather than fight with the touchy sliders.

If you work in an environment where you frequently are given PDF files to work with, then you're going to love the new PDF underlay capabilities in AutoCAD 2010. I love the ease of use, and I can't wait to see more features for PDFs in the future.

Until next month, Happy AutoCAD-ing!