CAD Conversion: Do It Yourself Or Outsource?

Updated Nov 3, 2023
CAD Conversion: Do It Yourself or Outsource?

If you want to produce a CAD file or vector from a paper drawing, you need to use a technique called image tracing—otherwise known as vectorization. This process is a way of immortalizing your legacy drawings, as you no longer have to worry about them deteriorating over time. CAD files come with a variety of advantages—they can be modified, shared easily and viewed in a 3D format. Manual or automatic tracing can be time-consuming however, which is why many opt to outsource their CAD conversion. But is this really the right step to take?

Scan2CAD aims to help you answer that question. This article will explain what CAD conversion is, how outsourcing works and its overall pros and cons. We’ll even show you how you can convert your technical drawings yourself with a free download of Scan2CAD. 

Table of Contents

What is outsourcing?

Outsourcing involves contracting someone outside of your business to complete a service. Many businesses nowadays opt to outsource certain work to people in other countries—places like China and India in particular are popular. But why do people outsource? It’s simple, really: it can be a lot cheaper to outsource tasks or projects instead of hiring a new employee to do it all for you. With an outsourcing business, you don’t have to provide a salary, benefits or other overhead expenses—you’re just paying them for the time they’ve spent on your project. 

With technological advances nowadays, it’s become much easier to outsource work. CAD in the cloud, for example, has enabled engineers and designers across the world to work on the same files. Whether you’re a small business or a huge enterprise, it can often be challenging to make the most of your time—especially if you’re running on tight deadlines. One of the easiest ways to deal with this, therefore, is to outsource the work to someone else.

What is tracing?

Image Conversion - Pixelated raster to vector Image tracing is the process of drawing over a raster with vectors. This is the only real way to produce a vector image from a raster. This process is otherwise known as vectorization. Tracing can be done manually or automatically. 

Manual tracing involves tracing over the image by hand. You can use a mouse to draw over every line, or use a graphics pen and a tablet to draw over it. Automatic tracing, in comparison, makes use of raster-to-vector conversion software (like Scan2CAD) which detects the lines and edges of your raster and redraws them as vector entities including lines, curves and polygons. Some people make use of both processes—printing out a raster image and tracing over it, and then scanning it into vectorization software. 

CAD conversion outsourcing therefore involves getting an outside business or freelancer to convert your paper drawings or your raster images to a CAD file. This then enables you to work with the file in CAD software of your choosing. 

Why is tracing important in the CAD industry?

Image of a question mark in a box

Raster-to-vector conversion is both common and incredibly vital to the CAD industry—specifically for the conversion of technical drawings like electrical plans and architectural drawings. Typically, large businesses and individuals accumulate a large share of paper drawings or “legacy” drawings over the years. The problem with physical drawings is that they can deteriorate over time, they’re hard to share and it can be expensive if you damage or lose them. 

These 2D designs are even more disadvantageous when you have to show them to colleagues or clients as they tend to lack any realism, and they’re hard to conceptualize. If you have a design in a CAD format, you can look at 3D photo-realistic renders. You can also present clients with a 360-degree 3D model or even a virtual tour.

CAD drawings are easier to edit, modify and share than paper drawings. They’re high in quality and are easy to store—their file size isn’t too large. Formats like DXF and DWG in particular allow for greater accessibility.  

Do I have to trace my designs?

The process of conversion starts with you scanning your drawing. This scanned copy will then be manually traced over or automatically traced with software. You could choose to just work with your scanned raster image. It’s inexpensive and it can be a fast process if your drawings are high in quality. You could even leave this job to less experienced people. 

However, you’re left with the same problems we highlighted in the previous section—your design is still 2D and lacks realism. You can’t open this scanned drawing in CAD software, you have to convert it first. 

Want to know more about the pros and cons of vectors? Check out raster versus vector

Why do people outsource CAD conversion?


There are numerous factors that contribute to the popularity of outsourcing, particularly in the CAD and engineering industries. 

A lot of businesses don’t have the time to convert files themselves. If they have a large number of files, it could take weeks or even months to convert them all. If you’re lacking in the skills to convert to CAD, you would have to hire a specialized technician to do it all for you. With a new employee, you would have to provide a salary, benefits and training. With an outside business or freelancer, however, you only have to pay them for the amount of time spent on the CAD conversion. 

In addition, the process of manual tracing can be long and laborious even for a single drawing. After all, you have to scan your image and then trace over every drawing element with vectors. If you’re using a particularly old drawing, it will take you even longer to work out where all of the lines are. By comparison, outsourcing to an expert can leave it in their capable hands. 

How does the process work?

It’s easy enough to find a business or freelancer that offers CAD conversion services. Typical CAD outsource services include Indovance, The AEC Associates and AR Digitech. Examples of freelance services include Freelancer, Fiverr and Upwork

If you want to ensure success, you need to pick professionals who are experienced. The last thing you want to do is pick someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing—it could set you back weeks or even months. Bear in mind that the price for outsourcing can vary depending on who you’ve chosen. You might be given a flat rate or an hourly rate. If you’re using a freelancer, they’ll use similar methods to those we discussed in Freelance CAD: Everything You Need To Know to calculate their price. 

Once you’ve picked an agency or freelancer, the process is simple enough. All you need to do is provide an accurate representation of your design or structure—usually a scanned PDF drawing. The outsourcer will then create a CAD file from the design. You will then have to check the CAD file and either approve it or provide feedback for another draft. Exchange methods include: 

  • Dropbox
  • Virtual Private Network (VPN)
  • File Transfer Protocol (FTP)
  • Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) systems

This might seem like a lot of messing around—in the time it takes you to vet out the perfect business or individual to outsource to, you could have converted the designs yourself. Before we go into that however, we’re going to take a look at the pros and cons of outsourcing CAD conversion below…



  • Increased efficiency. Outsourcing frees up your time and enables you to concentrate your efforts on other things rather than CAD conversion.
  • Dependency. You’re entirely dependent on the outsourcer which is risky if they decide to terminate their service or increase their fee all of a sudden. 
  • It can be cheaper. You don’t have to pay salaries or other fees to the outsourcer, only their fee or hourly rate. 
  • Impacts your reputation. If the outsourcer doesn’t produce high-quality work, it will impact your reputation—your clients won’t trust you in the future. 
  • Reliable expertise. CAD conversion businesses or freelancers are good at what they do—they probably know more about it than you. 
  • Increased workload. You have to supervise the progress and take the feedback from the client to the outsourcer—essentially becoming the middleman. 

Why you should do it yourself

Many people turn to outsourcing because they feel like they can’t handle the workload themselves, or because they feel like it’s too much work. In reality, it can be a very simple process. 

It’s well within your ability to trace the image yourself. It could save you money and it also means that you don’t have to rely on the outsourcer getting the completed design to you on time. Manual tracing is advantageous due to the fact that you have an understanding of the drawing that software doesn’t, and it means you can work with images of any quality. It can be a long process however, which is why automatic conversion is the preferred method. For more information, check out our guide to tracing: manual or automatic?

It’s not just as simple as clicking on the first online converter you can find. If you’re looking into outsourcing, then you must want a high-quality conversion—you won’t find that with some converters. These types of converters come with a variety of disadvantages. They only allow you to convert a limited number of images, and large file sizes are near impossible. You shouldn’t expect a high-quality output, and if you have text in your drawing it won’t be converted into editable vector text. 

OCR text conversion using Scan2CAD (left) and other software (right)

The text on the left was converted using Scan2CAD. The text on the right was converted using a different CAD program, and hasn’t been correctly reassembled into strings.

Online converters also come with a range of security risks—someone could steal your work or you could accidentally download a virus or a trojan. Take a look at the 5 pitfalls of online file converters for more information. 

If you’re looking for a high-quality output but you don’t want to outsource or choose an online converter, why not try out software like Scan2CAD?

How to get the best results

If you want to convert paper drawings to CAD, you’ve come to the right place. Scan2CAD supports no less than 33 file types, which includes all major raster file formats, vector formats like DXF and DWG, and PDF. It also comes with a wide range of tools to help users optimize their image before and after conversion.

Pre- and post-processing work

Before we even show you how to convert your drawings with Scan2CAD, we have to address pre- and post-processing work. It’s not possible to convert your scanned raster image straight away—it needs to be processed before you can do so. You need a high-quality image for the conversion to work after all. 

Unfortunately, there are a variety of common problems that can plague raster file types which in turn affects your vectorization output—as you can see below…

Poor image quality for raster to vector conversion

Don’t bother converting any raster image that sports any of these problems…

  • Thresholding. This tool divides your image cleanly into black and white pixels which eliminates the issues caused by grayscale. There are two types: 
    • Simple thresholding: applies the same thresholding settings to the entire image.
    • Adaptive thresholding: applies different thresholding settings to different parts of your image.
    • Simple thresholding should be fine for most images. Simply go to LoadRaster EffectsThreshold and choose Simple or Adaptive
  • Cleaning tools. Scan2CAD comes with cleaning tools that can help you optimize your image before conversion. 
    • Remove holes or speckles
    • Thicken lines to fix broken or dithered lines. 
    • Smooth to remove ‘hairy’ edges surrounding your image. 

This, of course, is just a small selection of Scan2CAD’s many cleaning features. If you’re having further issues, you can look at our raster quality checklist. Alternatively, you can check out our top 10 raster effects to further optimize your drawing before conversion. 

Converting Your Drawings with Scan2CAD

If you thought the conversion process would take hours, think again. Scan2CAD can convert your drawing in a matter of seconds—it couldn’t be simpler. 

  • Load your drawing in Scan2CAD. This is like opening a file in any program: go to FileRasterLoad and select your drawing. 
  • Choose the settings. Scan2CAD offers a range of vectorization settings which are tailored to produce optimal results for a specific type of image. Examples include architectural, electrical and contour maps. Click on Type and choose the appropriate setting. 
  • Convert your image
    • vectorization button screenshot  : which converts lines, curves and shapes to vectors. 
    • OCR button screenshot  : to convert raster text to vector text. 
    • All button screenshot  : which converts the entire image (lines and text) to vectors. 
  • Save your vector. Click FileVectorSave As. You can choose from a variety of vector file formats including the popular DXF and DWG. If you’re not sure which format to use, check out DXF vs. DWG
Floorplan before and after DXF Conversion - Raster to Vector - Scan2CAD

Here’s a floorplan — before and after conversion! We’ve used Scan2CAD to convert it from a scanned image (left) to an editable vector (right); and saved it as DXF

Scan2CAD: Free Download

scan2cad product box Scan2CAD is the market leading conversion software that has a primary focus on converting technical drawings like engineering plans, site plans and architectural drafts to editable vector images in many formats. 

Not content to just stick with conversion, Scan2CAD also offers users a raster and vector editing suite—giving users the ability to optimize your image before and after conversion to achieve the perfect vector output. Scan2CAD also comes with batch processing which enables you to automatically convert hundreds of files in a couple of clicks. The software also has Smart OCR capabilities, which give users the ability to train the software to recognize non-standard fonts and even handwritten text. 

While it can be tempting to download a Scan2CAD crack, it can compromise the security of your files and system. So instead of outsourcing your designs or downloading a crack, why not convert them yourself with Scan2CAD? You can try out Scan2CAD in a free 14-day trial with no limitations—you can convert as many files as you want, with no watermarks. Click the button below to start your download now. 

Download Scan2CAD Free Trial

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