PDF to CAD: How to Convert Your Files

Updated Feb 13, 2023
Laptop on Desk - How to Convert PDF to CAD

No matter what industry you work in or how familiar you are with file formats in general, you’ll undoubtedly have encountered PDFs at some point or another. One of the most popular file formats around, PDFs are the perfect way to share and exchange documents. Despite their many advantages, however, they do come with some shortcomings. As easy enough as it is to view PDFs, you’ll run into a variety of problems when trying to edit them. This can be problematic if you want to use them in CAD software. The easiest solution? Convert PDF to CAD.

Scan2CAD’s latest guide will show you exactly how you can convert PDF to CAD in a few simple steps. Plus, we’ll show you how you can get Scan2CAD for free!

What are PDFs?

PDF LogoPDF, or Portable Document Format, is easily one of the most popular file formats you’ll find. Why exactly? Since its first release in 1993, PDF has become the go-to format for exchanging documents. Unlike many other formats—like Microsoft Word’s .doc—the text or images displayed on a PDF tend to be displayed in an identical manner across all types of devices. In industries like media, this is ideal—you can rest assured knowing everyone you share your PDFs with will see the exact same thing you do. 

Another major benefit to the PDF format is that you don’t need specific software to view them—you can do it from the comfort of your chosen browser with absolutely no issue. Alternatively, you can use software like Adobe Reader, which tends to already be installed on most PCs. One of the most interesting aspects to the PDF format however, has to be its ability to support both raster and vector elements. As such, it can be difficult to categorize the file format as strictly “raster” or “vector”. 

While PDFs are great for displaying documents or general information, they’re incredibly difficult to edit. In fact, if you wanted to edit the information in a PDF, you’d generally have to convert to a different file format entirely. If you’re looking to use information in a PDF in CAD software like AutoCAD or SolidWorks, for example, you’d have to convert your PDF to a CAD-friendly file format. We’ll show you exactly how you can do this below—and the issues you might come across along the way!

Converting to CAD

When we talk about converting PDF to CAD, we don’t mean “CAD” as a file type. Instead, we’re using it to refer to file types that run in CAD applications like AutoCAD. So if you’re looking to convert to use your PDF in CAD software, you’re going to first have to convert your PDF to a CAD-friendly format. In this case, you’ll be looking to convert your PDF to DXF or DWG


DWG iconDWG is the native file format for none other than AutoCAD, one of the most popular CAD programs around. A proprietary file format owned by Autodesk, DWG has had a long and interesting history since its first release in 1982. Being a proprietary file format, any developer that wishes to use the format in their software has to first get a license to do so. Fortunately, nowadays, there are plenty of ways to view DWG without AutoCAD.

As you’d imagine, being the native file format for one of the leading CAD software packages on the market, DWG is used extensively around the globe. The format comes with a wide variety of advantages. To start, it comes with a small file size, as it is a binary file format. In turn, the compact nature of DWG files makes them perfect for sharing and collaborating. Of course, its compatibility with AutoCAD means that almost all CAD professionals and hobbyists will have encountered it at some point—making it a great format to use.

Furthermore, DWGs are able to support both 2D and 3D geometry. For example, it would be simple enough to create a 2D drawing of a design which can then be modified to 3D using Autodesk software. In addition, DWG files come with the ability to support AutoCAD elements like dynamic blocks and line weights.


DXF iconAs popular as the DWG file format is, it does come with some drawbacks. Paramount amongst these is that, despite the broader support that exists for DWG now, the format primarily exists to serve as the native file format for AutoCAD. But imagine if you wanted to share your CAD files with a collaborator who doesn’t use AutoCAD. You can’t guarantee that their program will support DWG files—something which could be potentially problematic. This is where the DXF file format comes in. An open standard format, DXFs are the closest thing the CAD industry has to a universal file format

So if you’re a designer who likes to use different software to AutoCAD, the DXF file format is an ideal solution—you’ll struggle to find a CAD software package that doesn’t support it. If you’re sharing CAD files with someone else and you’re not sure whether they have AutoCAD, you’re best off sending a DXF. 

Unlike DWGs, DXFs are not binary files—they’re made up of letters and numbers, so you’re facing a larger file size. Additionally, they don’t support some of AutoCAD’s specific CAD elements like dynamic blocks. As a result, you might find yourself losing data when opening your DXFs in programs like AutoCAD. 

How do I convert?

There are two ways to convert PDF to CAD: through manual or automatic tracing. As the name suggests, manual tracing will depend entirely on your input. That is, you have to open your PDF in a program and draw over it with an additional layer. You’ll trace over all the lines, shapes and text that you wish to convert. This method has the benefit of human understanding—you know exactly what you’re converting, unlike conversion software. While it can be time-consuming, it’s a great option if you’ve got plenty of time to spare. You can manually trace using the following software: 

Bear in mind, however, that you’ll come across a few issues when attempting to manually trace PDFs. To start, some software packages don’t support PDFs—so you won’t be able to import them. Additionally, with the wide variety of information that PDFs carry, you might struggle to trace everything you see. 

Automatic tracing, by comparison, makes use of conversion software which—yes, as you guessed—automatically traces your image and converts it to a vector file format like DXF or DWG. Software like Scan2CAD, for example, will detect the lines and edges in your PDF and redraw them as vector lines, shapes and other entities—if you’re converting a raster PDF at least. In some cases, it can take as little as a few clicks and a few seconds to convert.

Can I use an online converter?

If you typed “convert PDF to CAD” into your chosen browser, you’d undoubtedly come across multiple online converters claiming to convert quickly and efficiently. Unfortunately, as with most things, this isn’t always the case. 

While online converters are generally free, they come with a wide variety of disadvantages. Strictly speaking, online converters can’t offer the same high-quality output as converters that are dedicated raster-to-vector solutions. Additionally, they always come with limitations—a limited file size upload or a limited number of conversions. Worse still, using an online converter can mean leaving your system open to security risks

Instead, you should make use of software that you can trust to keep you safe and give you the best possible output—that’s where Scan2CAD comes in!

Using Scan2CAD to convert PDF to CAD

As a market-leading raster-to-vector conversion software, you can expect only the best from Scan2CAD. With it, you can convert to and from a wide variety of file formats—not the least of which includes PDF to CAD formats like DXF and DWG. 

Unlike online converters and many other conversion tools, Scan2CAD is able to support and convert both raster and vector PDFs—and even PDFs that contain both raster and vector elements. 

Convert a raster PDF to CAD

If you’re using Scan2CAD, it couldn’t be any easier to convert your raster PDF to a DXF or DWG. All you need to do is ensure you’re using a high-quality PDF to start with, and you’ll be able to start the vectorization process. Simply load your raster PDF into Scan2CAD. Once you’ve done so, you can look through the vectorization settings available to ensure your conversion is as precise as possible. 

The steps to conversion are then as follows: 

  • vectorization button screenshot : converts lines, curves and shapes to vectors
  • OCR button screenshot : to convert any raster text to vector text
  • All button screenshot : converts both raster lines and text to vectors

Then, all you have to do is choose the file format to save your raster PDF to—either DXF or DWG. It’s just as simple as it sounds—as you can see below…

Animation Converting Image in Scan2CAD

Converting a technical drawing to vector with Scan2CAD

Convert a vector PDF to CAD

It can be difficult to convert vector PDFs to CAD file formats. Fortunately, Scan2CAD is fully equipped with the necessary tools to make it possible! 

  • File management: in a single PDF, you might have hundreds of small raster images which might be treated separately by other converters—leaving you to have to reassemble your entire PDF by the end. Scan2CAD, by comparison, enables you to save each page as a single file. 
  • Draws CAD arcs and circles: a disadvantage of PDFs is that they typically don’t save CAD arcs or circles—they’re made up of short lines or curves instead. Scan2CAD combats this by replacing these entities with true arcs and circles that are easily editable. 
  • Retains PDF line types: as we’ve said, PDFs contain a wide variety of information, including different line types. Instead of converting these different types to the same continuous one like other converters, Scan2CAD saves them accurately as they are. 
  • Retains PDF line widths: PDFs tend to contain specific line width information associated with each PDF vector entity—Scan2CAD retains this whilst giving you the option to turn them off if you’re saving to DXF. 

Of course, this is just the tip of the iceberg! Click on the link below to see what else Scan2CAD can do…

Convert PDFs with raster and vector elements to CAD


If you’ve got a PDF that contains both raster and vector elements, you don’t have to worry at all—Scan2CAD does it as easy as pie! 

All you’ve got to do is load your PDF file into Scan2CAD as you would with a raster or vector PDF. A dialog box will then appear—it will give you the option to load raster elements, vector elements or both in your PDF. You have to click both to convert all of the elements in your PDF to DXF or DWG. 

To isolate the vector elements in your PDF, simply click View Vector File. You can also distinguish between the different types of vector entities present (such as lines and arcs) by using the View Vector Colors tool. With these tools, you can then figure out which PDF Import Settings to use—re-import your PDF and all of your vector elements should appear correctly. To isolate the raster elements in your PDF, simply use the steps listed above for converting raster PDFs to CAD. All you’ve got to do at the end is save your completed image as a DXF or DWG. 

Scan2CAD: Free Download

Scan2CAD isn’t just great for converting PDFs to CAD, it’s also great for converting any raster file type to a vector file format. Better still, it doesn’t merely apply a generic vectorization process to all images—using specific vectorization settings, Scan2CAD can offer you a specialized solution that’s perfect for your specific files.

Of course, it’s not just all about the vectorization tools—it’s also about the clean up! Scan2CAD comes with a range of pre- and post-processing cleaning tools that makes getting a perfect vector output possible. And with its support of a wide range of file types and market-leading features like Smart OCR and batch processing, it couldn’t be easier to convert to and from your chosen file formats. 

Don’t just take our word for it. Try out our free, 14-day trial with absolutely no limitations or obligations. That’s right—you don’t have to worry about file size limits or a limited number of conversions! Click on the link below to get started!

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