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CAD tip CAD tip # 9972:

Question CAD 
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Q - question

Create free 3D PDF output files from any CAD software.

A - answer Many users need to export interactive 3D PDF documents from their CAD, CAE or math/scientific software package. But not all application offer direct output of 3D .pdf files.

You can use the following procedure to output 3D-PDF from virtually any 3D software - and get this generator for free. The resulting PDFs may not be fully optimized as for their performance and the style control is rather limited but ... it is a free toolset.

You will need these two free software packages:

  • Meshlab (a 3D mesh processor)
  • MikTEX (a TeX/LaTeX implementation), will automatically download "movie15" and a couple of other plugins on its first run

How to get a 3D .PDF file from your CAD model? Step by step instructions:

  1. Use your usual favorite CAD/CAE tool to export your original 3D model to any of the following 3D mesh formats: OBJ, STL, VRML(WRL), PLY, X3D (you can get e.g. STL from the "3D Print" function in your CAD)
  2. Start Meshlab and import the mesh file using the File > Import Mesh (Ctrl+I) function. Confirm "Unify duplicated" if prompted.

  3. Export the loaded mesh with the File > Export Mesh As (Ctrl+E) function, select the output format "U3D File format" (.U3D). Choose a name without any spaces for the output filename!
    • If you process a color model, check the "Face>Color" option in the "Choose Saving Options" dialog (otherwise your PDF model will be grayscale only).
    • You can adjust "U3D quality" (compression ratio) to set the quality/size of your 3D PDF

  4. Start MikTeX TeXworks, use File > Open (Ctrl+O) to open the just created TEX file (created automatically by Meshlab along with the U3D file), in the top left select box switch to "pdfLaTeX" a click the green arrow to convert the file to PDF.

  5. That's all - you can now open the 3D PDF file in standard Acrobat Reader

NB: You can automate this proces using U3D-2-PDF (converts STL or WRL file directly to 3DPDF).

NB2: for Revit you may need to install the "STL Exporter" plugin (Exchange Apps)

NB3: for AutoCAD and Inventor you can use CADstudio VRML Translator to create WRL files from your 3D models

Feel free to use this proces to output 3D PDF files from AutoCAD, Inventor, Revit or any other CAD software. See a sample (660kB). But please note that there are more effective ways how to present 3D CAD models, on any device - e.g. 3D DWF or cloud-based native ("format-less") Autodesk 360 viewer.

100% *  CAD 
23.8.2014    101164×   FAQ  
applies to: AutoCAD · Inventor · Civil 3D · Revit ·

See also:
Tip 13800:Visually compare 3D geometry in CAD and BIM files.
Tip 12600:Parametric 3D curves in Fusion 360.
Tip 12297:Which CAD formats are supported in the Autodesk Manufacturing Data Exchange Utility?
Tip 12184:Overview of CAD formats supported in Inventor 2020 (import/export/AnyCAD).
Tip 11337:Convert 3D PDF files back to CAD models.

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