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How to Convert a PDF for SketchUp

pdf file sketchup icon

SketchUp is one of the more well-known 3D modeling programs out there. Its user-friendly design, smooth workflow, and accessibility make it a popular program of choice for various design and engineering students, weekend inventors, and even professionals. There are both free and paid versions – with their particular differences fairly noticeable – that are available for download on their website. Because of it being such a user-friendly program, it has a fairly gentle learning curve.

SketchUp has gone through the hands of many owners, starting from @Last Software back in 1999 to Google after acquiring @Last Software in 2006, and finally to its present owner, Trimble Inc. after it acquired the software from Google in 2012. Due to its flexible modeling tools, most designers and engineers use this software to play with forms, create initial schematic models, and effectively visualize 3D volumes. As such, the program plays a vital role in the early stages of design and engineering workflows.

basic sketchup interface screenshot

Basic SketchUp Interface

For most professional users of SketchUp, it is not an uncommon thing to start off with 2D plans drafted using dedicated CAD software which then gets imported into SketchUp for the subsequent 3D modeling of the said 2D drafts. Lots of these 2D drafts will come in the form of PDF documents. The problem is, PDFs are not files that can be directly opened or uploaded onto SketchUp. PDF is simply not a file format that SketchUp supports. That said, there are plenty of ways to convert the image data in pdf files such that they can be opened in SketchUp.

If you’ve ever handled a PDF file, you’d know that it’s not the easiest file format to edit. It’s best for writing and sharing documents when you want it to be basically frozen. So it’s not a complete surprise to know that you can mostly only edit pdf files with Adobe products. Adobe Acrobat Pro, Photoshop, and Illustrator are the main programs meant to handle these file formats. Of course, there are alternative ways to do it using conversion software but you’ll be hard-pressed to find ones that are reliable and accurate. In this article, we’ll cover the different methods to convert a pdf into a usable format for SketchUp.

File types to import into SketchUp 

The two main file formats that SketchUp can handle are editable raster and vector files. The exact files that you can import will depend on the version of SketchUp you’re using, with the free version being able to handle the least amount of file types and the paid Pro version being able to handle almost anything you throw at it. There are key differences between the two file types and it’s important to talk about them since PDF files can come with both raster and vector images.

Raster images, sometimes called bitmap images, are files that portray images through a bunch of clustered pixels. The pixels are all assigned a certain color and put together, they form a coherent image. The visual definition of the image also depends on the size of the raster image. Larger raster image usually means they have more pixels. These types of images come in formats like BMP, PNG, JPG, and TIF.

Vector images, on the other hand, are formulas and mathematical instructions that are interpreted by the computer as images. A vector image of a curve, for example, is not made up of pixels but is made of data and information that describes the thickness of the line, the curve of the line, the length of the line, and the color. Regardless of file size, vector images are of high definition and are generally, easier to use when imported into SketchUp.

SketchUp can open and handle the following file formats:


Image Format

Can be imported

Can be exported




















Image Format

Can be imported

Can be exported













As you can see, PDF files by themselves cannot be imported directly into SketchUp. We can, however, convert it into a file type that can be opened by the program. Let’s discuss how to convert a PDF into a suitable file type and the steps it takes to import the images for use in 3D models.

Converting a PDF with conversion software 

There are 3D modeling programs that have automatic conversion tools for raster and vector images. SketchUp is not one of those programs by default, but even those that have that functionality will have a harder time with PDF files.

There are services online that would provide conversion for PDF file types but often with a catch. Most times, the quality of the output is just downright bad. Other times, you will be getting output that is either incomplete or has a watermark until you choose to purchase the “full” version of the software. And if the quality issues aren’t enough, most of these websites will require you to upload or email your PDF for conversion and that has numerous privacy issues that some people might not be comfortable handling. In all honesty, the best choice would be to opt for a specialized conversion program like Scan2CAD.

Scan2CAD is one of the leading programs when it comes to dealing with raster and vector conversions. It can handle all types of file types including PDF and the CAD/CAM formats that work well with SketchUp. The past 20 years have been spent growing and developing Scan2CAD to make sure that the needs of its users are sufficiently met and the experience while doing so is convenient and easy to understand. Scan2CAD will efficiently save effort and time when it comes to handling files that will typically be hard to convert, such as PDF files.

Simply put, if you have PDF files that need to be converted into a readable and editable format for SketchUp, Scan2CAD offers the best and cleanest converted files in the market. It even offers OCD – Optical Character Recognition – for when you need to convert raster text into editable text objects.

How do you convert PDF files for SketchUp?

1. Fire up Scan2CAD and open up the PDF file.

2. Cycle through the raster and vector elements in the document them by ticking and un-ticking their corresponding boxes. PDF files made by scanners will sometimes try to automatically produce OCR text which will be gibberish 90% of the time. Feel free to discard those vector elements if ever they come up.

import PDF Scan2CAD

Importing a PDF document

3. If you’re dealing with a raster image, you can either export that as-is into a raster format that SketchUp can handle. Alternatively, you could convert it into a vector file for easy handling when importing into SketchUp. When you’re dealing with a vector image, you could just save it as a CAD file format that SketchUp can handle.

4. Open up SketchUp. Import the files you have extracted and converted from the PDF.

5. The last step is to extrude these 2D images into 3D files. If dealing with a raster image, sketch and then extrude for the desired 3D forms. If you’re dealing with vector files, it’s as simple as creating a surface on the editable lines and then extruding those. Do this and edit until you’re satisfied with your 3D model.

Extrude 3D Sketchup

Tracing and Extruding Forms

Here’s a quick video to run you through the process:

View video transcript

So let’s open up our PDF file. In this case, I have one ready for demonstration purposes. Some of the PDF files have vector images in them, some of them have raster images, and you can actually cycle through them and see what the raster elements are in the PDF, and what the vector elements are, just by ticking and then ticking these boxes over here. In this case, we only have a raster image for this particular PDF. But for some scans, you’ll see that they’re both raster and vector, and curiously enough, when you look through some scans and then untick the raster image, you’re probably gonna see here in the preview box just a bunch of gibberish. In most cases, that’s just the automatic OCR function of the scanner gone wrong.

Sometimes it doesn’t read the text right and you will end up with gibberish text. In that case, just discard the vector and just open up the raster, like what I’m doing now. From here, we can just go to the file and then save this as a raster image that can be imported into SketchUp, but for now, I wanna show you guys how to convert this into a vector file too, something that can be opened also in SketchUp. First, we have to clean it up. Just go smooth. And then after this, just thicken the lines a little bit. Zoom in on this closely enough. Okay. From here we can just click on this. Let’s go with vectorize and OCR. We have to do OCR because there’s text in the image. Make sure this is ticked off ’cause there’s some vertical text there.

Click on Run. Here we go. Those look clean enough, so let’s just press Okay. Something like this. From here, if you’re on the vector tab, go to the raster tab, and just go to File, Save As, and then whatever vector file type that you want to save as so that it can be opened up on SketchUp. After that, it’s just a matter of… Here on SketchUp. I already loaded them up here, but it’s a matter of going to File, then importing whatever file that is that you wanna import. If you import the raster file, you’re gonna end up with something like this. All you gotta do is just trace the lines, extrude, get the 3D form that you want. If you import DWG and other vector files, you’re gonna end up with something like this. They’re grouped together now, so just go into the group. Then from here, just meet them at the surfaces that you can eventually extrude. Funny, it’s not turning it into a surface. There you go. Extrude that. Basically, that’s how you can convert a PDF using a scanned file format that SketchUp can handle.



Dispelling doubts

 A lot of CAD drafters and SketchUp users will doubt the convenience and accuracy that most conversion software will promise, and for good reason. Most likely, you might have already come across conversion software or services in the past that just don’t deliver, whether it is in the inaccuracies of the output files or the inconvenience of the whole conversion process. In most of these file-upload conversion sites, you won’t have much of a say in the intricacies of converting a pdf file. There are conversion services out there that convert every object in the PDF file into individual vector lines. This is simply unacceptable with files that have hatches, circles, arcs, and text. These elements will be converted into countless vector polylines and would make the file size needlessly, exorbitantly huge as well as making it that much more of a pain to edit and deal with the file on SketchUp.

Scan2CAD boasts not just great quality and accurate conversions, but the ability to recognize vector object types when converting. The program will be able to tell apart lines from arcs and circles and has superb OCR capabilities. No other conversion software or service will be able to deliver the same output.


PDF files are a pain to deal with when trying to use the images in the document as a reference for SketchUp models. You can certainly just take note of the written down dimensions in the PDF document (if it has some) and just recreate the plan manually in SketchUp. If the image is simple enough and you have some time on your hands, that could certainly be the best way to do it. However, most files you will be using are complex and it will be hard to transcribe them onto SketchUp manually. If you’re looking for a convenient and accurate way to do this, there’s nothing better than specialized conversion software such as Scan2CAD.

Scan2CAD is the most convenient conversion program out there and we’re still constantly trying to improve and develop ourselves. With our software, you can save time, effort, and money you’re your SketchUp 3D modeling work.


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One Response to How to Convert a PDF for SketchUp

  1. pallavi Nov 19, 2019 at 6:14 AM #

    @Andoni Your article is too good and informative. I am searching for How to convert PDF files to SketchUp and I get exact article i am thankful to you for sharing

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