PDF In-Depth

Review: Adobe Acrobat 3D

Import and capture in 3D

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In order for 3D-enabled PDF files to really take off, Adobe endowed Acrobat 3D with an unprecedented support for a broad range of CAD applications.

The first and most obvious method for capturing 3D data in a PDF file is through file format conversion. Acrobat 3D can read an impressive variety of CAD/CAM/DCC files, including 3DS, 3DM, ASE, DXF, DGN, IGES, OBJ and VRML. This method preserves additional information such as model hierarchy, part names and metadata and does not require you to run or own the authoring application.

Capture from 3D

Adobe Acrobat 3D's second approach to acquiring 3D content from Manufacturing, AEC and BIM (building, information, modeling) applications which support the OpenGL rendering mode might surprise you. Acrobat 3D allows you to capture the data stream which contains the model's description in OpenGL from an application running in the background by hitting the "Print Screen" key. So if you don't have access to the 3D CAD file or if the file format is not supported, Acrobat 3D can retrieve the geometry information.

Acrobat 3D Conversion Settings

Acrobat 3D runs only on Windows. For Unix applications, Adobe supplies an Acrobat 3D Capture Utility (for Sun Solaris 2.8, IBM AIX 5.2, HP-UX 11 and SGI Irix 6.5) on the second CD. Mac OS X is currently not supported.

For the Capture feature to work reliably, a few options must be set properly. Acrobat will automatically recognize fully supported applications and autoconfigure itself for the process. Other applications, such as Autodesk AutoCAD or Autodesk Architectural Desktop, need certain adjustments, most notably an activated hardware acceleration with the proper driver selected (wopengl8.hdi). Besides, unsupported applications require some minor adjustments in Acrobat 3D itself, particularly in the "OpenGL" tab in the "3D Capture Settings" dialog window ("Frame Buffer Mode" and "Transformation Mode"). Once you have figured out the correct configuration for your CAD application, you can save your settings and never give them another thought again.

These two underlying methods are made accessible in a variety of ways.

First and foremost, you can create PDF documents from supported file formats using the command "File > Create PDF file > From ...". Alternatively, you can grab the 3D model directly from its originating application opened in the background, if it supports and runs the OpenGL rendering mode, with the command "File > Create PDF file > From 3D Capture".

Acrobat 3D can also place 3D content in an existing PDF document using the 3D Tool ("Tools > Advanced Editing"). In the dialog window which follows both the capture method and the import from a file are supported.

You can even drag-and-drop 3D CAD files, including 3DS, 3DM, ASE, DXF, DGN, IGES, OBJ and VRML, onto Acrobat 3D. All it takes to start a conversion from within Windows Explorer is right-clicking a file and selecting the "Convert to Adobe PDF" command from the contextual menu. The ease of use is jaw-dropping. Right-clicking on a 3D model in Acrobat 3D allows you to send it to Acrobat 3D Toolkit for editing (more on that later).

Acrobat 3D: Within a "Walking" Distance...

Adobe Acrobat 3D even adds a special icon to the PDFMaker toolbar in Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel and Microsoft PowerPoint. This little enhancement allows you to embed a 3D file in an MS Office document, a slideshow, or a spreadsheet. Once the Office file is turned into a PDF, every 3D object displays the properties of a dynamic Acrobat 3D model.

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