MCAD Tech News #104 (August 28, 2003)

27 Aug, 2003 By: Joe Greco

When Adobe first introduced Acrobat more than 10 years ago, it was mainly seen as a tool for desktop publishing users, allowing them to securely share files between Macs and PCs. It allowed these users to create files in a new compressed format called Portable Document Format, which everyone now knows as PDF. With the coming of PDF, users on disparate platforms don't have to worry about many of the inherent differences between Macs and PCs, such as how fonts are handled. However, the best aspects of Acrobat are how easily it creates the PDF files as well as the fact that these files can be read with a free viewer.

Over the years, Adobe added more features to Acrobat, including the capability to create forms and tools to mark up documents. While designers and engineers would make use of PDF files, it was more for incidental purposes, such as reading product specifications. Now with their sixth release of the program, Adobe has created Acrobat Professional, which includes tools specifically aimed at these CAD users.

New Features

Perhaps the most important new feature is the program's ability to directly read in DWG files from AutoCAD, or any other CAD application that can create them. The advantage of using a DWG file created from AutoCAD is that its layers will be maintained inside the PDF, with the usual capabilities of turning them off and on as well as locking them. There are basically two ways to convert a DWG file to a PDF file. One is from the CAD application. You just go to Page Setup and make sure that Adobe PDF, the print setting installed when Acrobat was installed, is selected. You then just click print, and the result is a PDF file of the current view displayed in the CAD program. If you're using AutoCAD 2002, 2000i, or 2000, you can accomplish this by simply clicking the PDF creation button Acrobat Professional adds to the AutoCAD toolbar upon installation. One of the enhanced engineering features of Acrobat Professional is its ability to let you have pages as large as an E-size drawing, while still having other pages in the same file that can be much smaller.

If there is an existing PDF file, the second way to add DWG files to the PDF is to create a new page with the Insert Pages tab. The DWG file will be inserted into the PDF, as long as you have the CAD program that authored the DWG on your computer. The only potential problem with this limitation that I can see, is that you cannot just send someone a DWG file and have him or her compose the PDF, unless you know that this person already has the CAD authoring application.

Working with DWG

Once the drawing has been inserted, Acrobat Professional features tools for measuring distance, perimeter, and area in any scale desired. While the actual measurement can't be constantly displayed on the screen, it can be viewed in a note, after double clicking on this note.

I tested a few DWG files, and they imported without a problem, layers included. I was also impressed by the fact that any text on the drawing can be selected and highlighted, underlined, and so on, just like any text in a regular PDF file.

Prior versions of Acrobat incorporated markup tools; however, these have been enhanced in Acrobat Professional. For designers and engineers, there is a new cloud tool that looks similar to the tool of the same name that many CAD applications make use of. Acrobat Professional also makes use of zoom and pan tools that will be familiar to CAD users. In addition, other markup tools are improved. For instance, the pencil tool now seems smoother to operate, and there is also a Pencil Erase tool that can be used to delete all or only part of a markup, which comes in handy.

Another big addition in this Professional version is the way users can track how files are reviewed. The software has the ability to import and export only the comments that have been added to a file, thus saving time by not constantly resending unchanged data (even with the compressed nature of PDF files, they can still get large). The new software also includes built in dynamic stamps such as Received, Revised, and Approved that include the reviewer's name and the time reviewed. There are also standard business stamps such as Draft and Final, and users can also create their own. When accessing these stamps from the Tools Menu, keep in mind that they are buried four submenus deep. So, I would suggest using the toolbar, where they are a little easier to select (but still two levels deep). Acrobat Professional also includes forms to allow users to sign off on projects. It would be nice to have a "PDF Reviewer" that could allow a project manager to review the status of any number of PDF files with a quick glance in a table format.

At a cost of $449, or only $149 for an upgrade, I think Adobe Acrobat Professional would be a useful addition to the toolbox of designers and engineers. Adobe has also introduced two other Version 6 products called Standard and Elements, for those whose needs may be less sophisticated.

Relevant Link