How to Import PDFs as AutoCAD Geometry in AutoCAD 2017.


AutoCAD users like us use PDF files in our day-to-day workflows, exporting them to share design content for review and importing them into our AutoCAD files as underlays to add valuable existing content to our designs without having to recreate the content. These out-of-the-box capabilities, however, have always come with some limitations.

While we could display the content and have some control with Object Snap and Layer Display settings (if set up properly when the PDF was created), we could never change the geometry itself within the AutoCAD software.

AutoCAD 2017 finally makes this much-needed change.

Importing PDF Into a Drawing as Geometry

The newly enhanced Import command now supports importing PDF geometry as AutoCAD objects. You can access this from the newly added Application option, Import > PDF, or from the Insert Ribbon tab in the Insert panel fly out.

autocad import command

Once the Import File dialog box is displayed, you can see that the PDF has been added to the list of the supported file formats.

autocad supported file format

You can also type in the PDFIMPORT command and use the File option to display the Import File dialog box above from the command line to bring a new PDF converted into your drawing file.

pdf import

Once you have specified a PDF file to import, the Import PDF dialog box will display, allowing you to apply the settings and options on how to import the PDF file in as geometry. You have a variety of settings that you can choose from:

  • Choose what page to import as geometry from a multi-sheet PFD file.
  • Set the Scale, Rotation, and Insertion point of the imported geometry.
  • Set the type of data that is imported: Vector geometry, Solid fills, TrueType Text, and Raster images.
  • Control layer assignments for the imported geometry.
  • Set a variety of Import post-processing options on how to convert and handle the incoming geometry.

import pdf dialog box

Most options for importing PDFs are self-explanatory, but there are a few that may need some additional explanation to illustrate their nuances.

Raster images get extracted as .png files and then attached to the drawing file. The created image files are stored in the path location in the Files tab of the Options dialog box. Paths can be absolute or relative to the location of the PDF file being imported. (See illustration above.)

The PDF format does NOT recognize SHX text. The data from drawings with SHX fonts, when plotted, is stored as geometry. When imported back into AutoCAD, it is recognized and created as AutoCAD geometry and NOT as AutoCAD TEXT. Drawings with Windows TrueType Fonts are stored as Text and imported back into AutoCAD as AutoCAD TEXT.

The “Converting solids fills to hatches” option joins 2D solids with coincident edges to create hatch objects. This option will increase the processing time.

If “Apply lineweight properties” is on, linewiehghts are applied. AutoCAD’s default lineweight is applied if it’s off (not checked).

The “Infer linetypes from collinear dashes” option looks at collections of collinear dash and dot segments and will create it as a single polyline, helping reduce the number of objects to make it easier to edit the geometry. Some fidelity, however, is lost. A dashed PDF_IMPORT linetype is created and assigned to the polyline and assigned a linetype scale that is based off the length of the dashes. If this option is off, each dashed segment in the linetype will be imported as a separate polyline.

Converting Existing PDF Underlay

If you already have an existing PDF underlay in your drawing file and you want to convert all or some of the geomentry into AutoCAD objects, you can use the PDFIMPORT command to pick the PDF.

pdf import 2

Then choose how you would like to select your objects by a Window, Polygon, or ALL for everything in the PDF.

pdf import 3

Next, specify what you want to do with the existing PDF Underlay you selected: Keep, Detach, or Unload.

Choosing the Settings option from the first prompt will display the PDF Import Setting dialog box similar to the Import PDF options discussed prior.

pdf import setting dialo box

Another easy way to convert the geometry is to use the built-in functionallity inside AutoCAD object properties by selecting the edge of the PDF on the screen (with nothing else selected). This will display the PDF Underlay contectual ribbon tab. Then select the Import as Objects tool on the PDF Import panel and follow the prompts as discussed before.

pdf import as objects

I have seen this tool have some difficulties or fail if the file is too cluttered (busy) in its display or has a poor quality. I recommend cleaning up the PDF file (if all possible) by turning off certain layers inside the PDF (like Dimensions) and rebuilding the file in smaller pieces. If that does not work, I would look to software that was built for converting raster images to geometry like Autodesk Raster Design.

Every AutoCAD update makes workflow for AutoCAD users a little easier. Keep checking back more for insight into the evolution of AutoCAD and how you can maneuver it for better, more convenient designing.