Ultimate Guide: PDF to DWG Conversion

Updated Mar 7, 2020
Convert PDF to DWG

Widely used across a wide range of industries, PDF is one of the most well-known file formats around. Practically every device on the market can support PDFs, making the format perfect for exchanging documents and design information.

However, whilst PDF files are easy to view, editing them is much trickier. If you wish to edit, use, or repurpose your design (or any elements within it), you’ll need to convert it to a vector image format.

Converting your PDF to DWG means that you can edit your design in many of the most popular CAD programs, including AutoCAD. In this guide, you can find out exactly how to convert your files using Scan2CAD, complete with comprehensive, step-by-step instructions. We’ll even show you how to get your own copy of Scan2CAD—completely free for 14 days.

Table of Contents

PDF Logo What is a PDF file?

PDF, or Portable Document Format, is one of the most common file formats in the world. It has become the standard file format for document exchange due to its wide compatibility across devices. PDF files also popular in the CAD and design industry due to their ability to store both raster and vector elements. It doesn’t matter what hardware or operating system you’re using: PDF files will maintain the same data and formatting across devices.

In comparison to many CAD file formats, PDF has the advantage of being viewable without any specialist software. All you need is Adobe Reader (which comes pre-installed on many PCs), or just a simple web browser.

With small file sizes and the ability to support both raster and vector elements, PDFs are a perfect choice for faithfully displaying the original design with no alterations. You can even add comments to a PDF, making the format a useful part of the CAD workflow. Plus, it’s easy to password-protect a PDF, which makes it easier to manage your files and keep them secure.

DWG icon What is a DWG file?

DWG (Drawing) is the native file format for AutoCAD, the most popular CAD software on the market. Anyone who works with CAD will be familiar with this format, and if you’ve followed the Scan2CAD blog, you’ll know that we’ve written extensively about this format previously. Created in 1982, the DWG is a proprietary file format owned by Autodesk. This means that developers need a license to use the DWG format in their software.

Due to its status as AutoCAD’s native format, DWG boasts one of the broadest range of features of any vector file type. It supports the full range of vector entities—including elements specific to AutoCAD, such as dynamic blocks—and allows for both 2D and 3D graphics. A DWG file is also usually typically smaller in size than an equivalent DXF file, due to its binary makeup.

The ubiquity of AutoCAD amongst CAD users means that the vast majority of designers will be familiar with this format. Nonetheless, though designed to be used with AutoCAD, there are now many ways to view and edit DWG files with other programs—including Scan2CAD.

CAD software to view and edit DWG files

Some examples of CAD software that you can use to view and edit DWG files

Why convert PDF to DWG?

PDF is the perfect format for sharing your designs, safe in the knowledge that any collaborators will be seeing exactly what you see, no matter their operating system, hardware or software. However, it hits a major stumbling block when it comes to editing. PDFs are typically very difficult to edit, meaning that they need to be converted to another format in order to be edited.

A further issue is that PDF files can store both raster and vector elements. The raster elements in a PDF are, by nature, not easily editable. In addition, their quality depends on the resolution at which they are displayed. When you alter the scale or zoom in, the image will lose definition and appear blurry and pixelated. Meanwhile, though PDFs can display some vector elements, the range of available entities is very limited. Most vector image editing software is also unable to edit PDF files.

Scan2CAD is able to convert both the raster and vector elements in a PDF file to DWG format, ensuring that you are able to edit the entire file. By converting to DWG, you can also scale the image, and edit and reuse individual elements.

How does the conversion process work? 

The conversion process can be completed in one of two ways: manual or automatic tracing. Each have their own advantages and disadvantages.

Manual tracing

This process involves tracing over the entire image by hand. This can be done by using a mouse to trace over every line, or by using a tablet and graphics pen to draw over the raster. This process has quite a few advantages. It has the added benefit of human understanding being the driving force behind it—conversion software won’t be able to figure out what a faded line means, and will just ignore it, whereas you have the knowledge of what the drawing should look like. This means that you can work with images of any quality, because you’re familiar with the drawing or you can make a well-informed guess.

There are a few setbacks to this process, however, as it can be very long and strenuous. The more complex the image is, the more time it will take. Plus, despite the higher level of understanding, humans are still rather inaccurate—a computer is efficient and precise by comparison. 

Automatic tracing

Raster to Vector Conversion - Scan2CAD This process makes use of raster-to-vector conversion software like Scan2CAD which detects the lines and edges of your raster image and redraws them as vector lines, curves, polygons and other vector entities. It has many advantages over manual tracing: for starters, it is a very speedy process—Scan2CAD takes mere seconds to convert! Meanwhile, OCR tools are perfect for dealing with any text that may appear in your PDF file, and can convert it to editable text.

If you’re at the mercy of tight deadlines, and you’re working with relatively simple raster images, it’s definitely beneficial to make use of automatic conversion software. 

Want to know more? Check out everything you need to know about manual and automatic tracing.

How to convert PDF to DWG with Scan2CAD

If you have a PDF file containing vector information, you won’t have to do much with it. All you have to do is load it into Scan2CAD, where it is automatically displayed as a DXF—you’ll just need to click Save As to convert it to a DWG. 

If your PDF file is a raster, then you’ll have to follow these quick and easy steps: 

  • Load your PDF in Scan2CAD. This is exactly like opening a file in any program. Click File > Raster > Load, and select your PDF file.
  • Choose your settings. Scan2CAD comes with a range of specialized vectorization settings which deal with specific image types differently. Use the Type menu to select the settings most appropriate for your image. For extra tips, check out our vectorization settings guide. 
  • Convert your image. To vectorize your image you can either click:
    vectorization button screenshot  : which converts linescurves and shapes to vectors.
    OCR button screenshot  : to convert raster text to vector text.
    All button screenshot  : which converts the entire image (both lines and text) to vectors. 
  • And finally, save your PDF as a DWG. Go to the File menu, click Vector > Save As.

Interested in converting to DXF instead? Learn how to convert from PDF to DXF in our ultimate guide

Why you should avoid online converters

With the strong demand for conversion, a myriad of online PDF to DWG converters have appeared. Each of them claims to offer totally free conversion with great results, with no need to download any software.

However, it’s important to be wary of what online converters claim. Online conversion tools simply can’t offer the same processing power as a piece of software running locally on your PC could. Without this extra power, online converters end up sacrificing the quality of their vector output, and some online tools use very simplistic methods for converting from raster to vector. The end result is that you won’t be able to properly edit the converted vector image, making it useless in CAD software.

Not only are online PDF to DWG converters usually a waste of time, but they can also expose you to security and privacy risks. For more details, check out our guide to the pitfalls of online file converters.

Security is paramount. As well as avoiding online converters, make sure to steer clear of downloading a Scan2CAD crack—and keep your files totally secure.

Why use Scan2CAD for PDF to DWG conversion?

Scan2CAD doesn’t just convert your PDF to a DWG, it also uses a set of tools to optimize your conversion output.

1. Efficient file management

A single page of a PDF file may contain hundreds of small raster images. Some conversion programs may treat each of these images separately, leaving you with the task of converting each of them and reassembling the page later—an extremely time-consuming and tricky process. Scan2CAD on the other hand, saves each page as a single file, making it much easier to convert and producing optimal results.

If you convert your PDF using Scan2CAD, you end up with one single raster image:



If you convert your PDF in an online converter, you’ll end up with hundreds of raster images: 


2. Batch processing

With the Pro version of Scan2CAD, you can make use of our batch conversion tool—enabling you to convert hundreds of PDFs in a single click!

3. Drawing of CAD arcs and circles

PDF files typically don’t save CAD arcs or circles—they’re usually made up of short lines or Bezier curves instead, which can be difficult to edit. Scan2CAD replaces these entities with true arcs and circles that are much easier to edit. 

Circle converted by PDF converter vs circle converted by Scan2CAD

The circle on the left was converted by another PDF converter; the circle on the right was converted by Scan2CAD

4. Retains PDF line types

Some PDF files may contain user defined lines, like a sequence of dashes and dots of varying length and order. Some online converters will convert these line types to the same continuous type. Scan2CAD however, identifies these line types, and saves them accurately to your conversion output. 

Line Types converted by online converter vs Scan2CAD

The PDF converter on the left converted all line types to a continuous type; Scan2CAD on the right, converted all line types to their correct dash types.

Want to find out more? Check out 22 reasons why you should choose Scan2CAD for PDF to CAD conversion

Free download scan2cad product box

Scan2CAD is the market-leading conversion software, with a primary focus on converting technical drawings like engineering plans, architectural drafts, and site plans to editable vector images. It comes with a range of incredible tools, including a raster and vector editing suite which enables you to edit your image before and after conversion. giving you optimal results. Plus, with Smart OCR, you can train the software to recognize non-standard fonts, and even handwritten text.

Supporting no fewer than 33 file types, and complete with batch processing, Scan2CAD is truly the full package, with flexible licensing and 24/7 support.

For a better idea of what Scan2CAD has to offer, why not try out a free 14 day trial today? Click the button below to find out just how much you can do with Scan2CAD. 

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Want to find out more? Find out why Scan2CAD is the ultimate vectorization software, and what makes it a cut above the rest.

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