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Acrobat X Pro and Tetra 4D’s 3D PDF Converter

Adobe Acrobat X Pro with 3D PDF Converter, shown here displaying a CAD assembly as an STL file.

Acrobat Pro X with 3D PDF Converter, shown here with the comment fields and markup tools enabled.

Adobe Acrobat X Pro with 3D PDF Converter, displaying a STL model in cross-sectional view.

Most people think of Adobe Acrobat as the format for exchanging graphics-rich documents, like the cover of a magazine or a product brochure. With Tetra 4D’s plug-in 3D PDF Converter, you could be using it to exchange 3D CAD designs, along with comments and custom views.

Tetra 4D is a founding member of the 3D PDF Consortium, the industry group “with a vested interest in seeing 3D PDF and the PRC [product representation compact] data format continue to be developed as a truly open standard for visualization, collaboration, data exchange, and the long term archiving and retrieval of engineering, manufacturing,AEC/BIM, geospatial, and scientific and cultural and historical information.”

Previously, Adobe had actively pursued the manufacturing market, emphasizing Acrobat’s ability to convert 3D CAD files into 3D PDF documents. But the company seemed to have diverted its attention elsewhere after Acrobat 9’s release. With the formation of 3D PDF Consortium, the move to promote PDF as 3D design exchange format may regain momentum. (For more, read “The Return of Adobe 3D PDF,” February 1, 2012.)

With Tetra 4D’s 3D PDF Converter installed, you can use Acrobat X Pro to view, inspect, annotate, and republish 3D design files. (Tetra 4D’s documentation lists CATIA V6, PTC Creo Elements and Parametric, SolidWorks 2010/2011, Siemens NX 7.5, Inventor 2011/2012, and Solid Edge ST3 formats as supported files. In my tests, the software performs better with neutral formats, such as IGES, STEP, or STL. It sometimes produces error message when converting native CAD files directly.)

Acrobat X Pro allows you to inspect the feature tree of imported assembly models, giving you more than a single piece of geometry or a collection of surfaces and solids. Furthermore, the software let you create customized cross-sectional views to highlight certain internal regions. A slew of display options (shaded, illustrated, solid with outlines, and so on) give you a way to create the look you want for owner manuals, technical illustrations, and instructions.

New version of Acrobat X Pro gives you the option to add comments and annotations and share it with someone for collaborative design reviews. The software also accommodates synchronous collaboration, with more than one users reviewing the same document and comment stream online.

Published documents with embedded 3D designs can be viewed by Adobe Acrobat Reader, available as a free download. If you check off the Reader Extended PDF option during export, recipient will be able to view not only the 3D model but also the nested comments.

Extended use of CAD data, or the use of 3D design data outside engineering, will most likely be driven by the efficiency, accessibility, and robustness of neutral formats, such as Siemens PLM Software’s JT, SolidWorks eDrawings, and others. The less cumbersome it is to use, the more likely the format will gain acceptance. In that respect, Adobe’s 3D PDF has one serious advantage: The free PDF reader required to view Acrobat-generated 3D files has already been widely adopted by engineers and non-engineers alike.

For another 3D PDF solution, read “Quadrispace: Template-Driven 3D PDF Authoring,” August 2011.

For more watch the video clip below.

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About Kenneth

Kenneth Wong has been a regular contributor to the CAD industry press since 2000, first an an editor, later as a columnist and freelance writer for various publications. During his nine-year tenure, he has closely followed the migration from 2D to 3D, the growth of PLM (product lifecycle management), and the impact of globalization on manufacturing. His writings have appeared in Cadalyst, Computer Graphics World, and Manufacturing Business Technology, among others.


  1. Does Tetra’s product allow manufacturing data per the ASME 3D Digital drawing standard to be included in the 3D model via export from the CAD software? If yes, that’s a big plus, if not, it’s a big minus.

  2. Yes, 3D PDF Converter allows PMI (including view information as well as GD&T) to be included in the PDF file. This PDF file can then be viewed using Acrobat or the free Adobe Reader.

  3. The 3D PDF Converter can also read CATIA V4 and V5 models (the article just mentions V6).

  4. Hi Phil,

    That is fantastic and good to know as I may be moving forward with switching software that will export that 3D data with the model. Currently, I use thinkdesign, which in the past I haven’t seen much luck with exporting the PMI. Perhaps I should try your 3D PDF to see if I can get it to work with thinkdesign. Thank you, JPW.

  5. Hello, Neat post. There is a problem with your website in internet explorer, would test this? IE still is the market chief and a large element of folks will omit your great writing due to this problem.

  6. Dear sir
    When I activate 3D drawing, the date which I writed in disappera. why?

  7. When I activate 3D drawing, the date which I writed in disappear. why? –

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