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Choosing the Best PDF To CAD Converter

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Updated 2016: We’ve updated this post based the constant new requirements in conversion software.


Converting and editing files is part of the normal work routine for many engineers, drafters, architectural designers and others. While this is a common function for many individuals, it can become a time-consuming and tedious task that you may want to improve on. Many professionals can find improved productivity and efficiency in their work with the right automatic conversion software. In this post we walk you through the things to look our for when comparing PDF to CAD converters.

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What is a PDF to CAD converter?

Of course ‘CAD’ itself is not a filetype but it has become a collective term for files which would run in CAD applications. If you wish to open your PDF file in a CAD application, it’s probable that you wish to convert your PDF files to DXF or even DWG.

Therefore when someone says they wish to ‘convert a PDF file to CAD’, they actually wish to convert a PDF to DWG or DXF.

DXF is the most widely supported filetype meaning you will be able to open it in almost any CAD/CAM and CNC application (including the giants such as AutoCAD).
Consider what CAD applications you wish to use your newly converted vector files in and then read up on your conversion software options – do they support your required file types?

What file types does Scan2CAD support?

PDF files can differ greatly

PDF files are unique in that they can contain both raster and vector elements. So if you’re looking for a PDF to CAD converter then you should ensure the application is able to convert raster elements to vector.

Raster to vector conversion is by-far the most complex of features you will require in your conversion software. The process requires the intelligent recognition of shapes formed of pixels translating them into the relevant vector types.

Wait, what is raster to vector conversion?

Not all vector images are created equal

We should discuss how vector images can be formed in different ways since this subtle difference can cause lots of needless work.
Here’s an example for you to consider: We will convert the below raster image into vector.

raster image before vector conversion

A raster image before vector conversion

The below image shows how the vector image could be formed of a collection of lines.

A vector image formed of lines

A vector image with curves formed of individual lines

Can you see all of the lines tightly packed together to form this shape? This is not desirable in many circumstances. If all of your vector images are formed of millions of individual vectors when they could be formed of much simpler vector entities then you will make your work much harder for yourself.

Here’s the same image formed of just a few poly-beziers. Notice how few vectors can be used to create much smoother contours.

A vector image formed of poly-beziers

A vector image with curves formed of poly-beziers

Beware of one-click solutions

The truth about conversion software is that it’s a very complex process. Every image is different and every file requires a different degree of processing. If an application only offers a ‘one-click’ solution then it is probably working on the assumption that all images it will convert are of high quality. This doesn’t reflect the real world in which you will regularly need to convert low quality images. One click solutions will not have the required image cleaning/editing tools required to convert low quality images into useable vector formats.

There’s a lot of things to consider when comparing conversion applications. So always ensure you use their free trial before purchasing. Spend time putting the application through its paces to discover whether it’s the best solution for you.

Of course my opinion is always going to be biased towards Scan2CAD. We’re proud of the product and the success stories it has enabled.

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