Adobe Acrobat 6.0 Professional and AutoCAD 2004

Overview ---- Body ---- Conclusion

Acrobat for AutoCAD

Adobe has released an update for 2004 users so now you can use all these features in AutoCAD and ADT 2004.
Adobe Acrobat 6.0.1 Professional update

Adobe currently offers two versions of Acrobat 6.0, a Professional version and a Standard version.  It appears that you can also buy into some custom packages for corporate accounts and customize your version but it's the Professional version that I will focus on in this article.

Before I continue, you should know that older versions of Acrobat will work with AutoCAD as well so before you drop more cash on yet another product, find out if this version actually delivers on what you need.  And at the end of this article, I have a list of other .pdf sources that might save you a few bucks.

A long time ago I wrote an article on how to use the PDF Writer in AutoCAD and I figured that that was all anyone would need to know about this product.  The primary problem was that the Acrobat installation did not include the PDF Writer by default ( still perplexes me ) which left many AutoCAD users trying to use the PDF Distiller.  The PDF Distiller is not what you want.  You see, the PDF Writer emulates a Windows System Printer thus allowing you to Print or Plot to it like any other System Printer with the result being a .pdf document.

Years have passed and more and more firms are catching on to the relative ease of using .pdf documents for architectural and engineering sheets but there were some problems that frustrated a lot of AutoCAD users.  One of the worst problems with the older versions of Acrobat was the limited paper size problem that, even when set to custom paper size, tended to max. out around 24x36 or a little above.   Other problems came from the debates among users, managers and industry representatives that want their document format to become the standard and this type of struggle tends to lead to mythological stories.

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Ralph Grabowski's Upfront.eZine, for example, had one of the longest debates about this topic months ago and I was amazed at the arguments various people presented.  I don't want to elaborate on this debate other than saying that if you haven't used PDF because of concerns presented by others, don't let that prevent you from growing.  My personal list of how PDF's have improved my business is long and it didn't come easy because I was never a big fan of pixels ( I am still not, actually ). I tried everything from .vrml to .dwf but all that did was frustrate the recipients of our data.  After standardizing our documents on .pdf, the only problem that comes up, on occasion, is when some one prints full size sheets with "Fit to paper".

Facts and Fiction

Acrobat 6.0 Professional was sold as the Acrobat for AutoCAD users but what wasn't clear to many who have been complaining on the Adobe web boards is that the AutoCAD Adobe was referring to was AutoCAD 2002.   So, the fact is that Adobe Acrobat 6.0 Professional supports AutoCAD 2002.  It happens to work in Flavors of AutoCAD 2002 as well.  The fictional part is that it does not work within AutoCAD 2004 because the .arx application isn't compatible with AutoCAD 2004 and you don't get the custom pull-down menu, custom toolbar or the commands that help to create .pdf's in AutoCAD.  You can, however, use the .pdf Printer as many have been doing for years now. 

Illustrated to the right is one of the AutoCAD 2002 specific tools that Acrobat 6.0 Professional offers; the option to include Layers.   Another feature that you lose in AutoCAD 2004 is the option to "Convert to PDF" but since you can use the PDF Printer, I don't see this as any major loss.   The most important feature that you lose in AutoCAD 2004 is the option to Batch Convert to PDF.  Though I tried all sorts of tricks, including using the new AutoCAD 2004 Publish tool, the results always ended up in a crash of one sort or another but I report any break throughs on this subject if I find any.

Acrobat 6.0 Standard can be used for AutoCAD but the problem is that the extra sheet or paper sizes don't come with that package and that's one of main reasons users will want to upgrade.  Of course the Standard version doesn't include the internal AutoCAD tools and a number of other Acrobat specific tools but I don't think these are that important to most users.  The two primary things we want is unlimited paper size options and the ability to batch convert.

Other PDF solutions are available and some can even be acquired at no cost but the missing part is Acrobat, which is a separate program that allows you to work with your .pdf files to create things like eBooks, add security settings, notes, comments, simple drawing shapes, hyperlinks and a multitude of other features.  If none of these things matter to you look into the other PDF printers like the one offered by Autodesk.

The custom pull-down menu and toolbar that loads in AutoCAD 2002 is actually rebuilt each time you launch the program via the PDFMAcad.arx application but this limits the ability to control where these items are positioned.  In addition to that, the added information is indiscriminately introduced to the last menu in your menu list without your knowledge and could thus end up on a custom office menu.  I'd rather see a separate menu that reads correctly across different AutoCAD Profiles.

Layers in my .PDF?

Well, okay here they are.  By printing from AutoCAD 2002, I can show what a list of Layers look like in a .PDF document.  Since I have yet to issue a set of documents with Layers included, something I really don't want my subcontractors or blue printers to deal with, I haven't had that much practice with it but I did find it a bit unreliable.  On several trials I wound up getting .pdf documents with missing data unless I included all of the layers.  When I attempted to print with the layers that contained the missing objects, I still didn't get them.  The majority of layer problems seemed to revolve around Xref layers so that might have something to do with it.

The thing about layers is that most AEC offices would freak about the ability to change documents that are contract based. The whole beauty of the .pdf is for it to come as close as possible to an actual piece of paper yet provide the benefits of the electronic age.  Layers, however, might be an interesting option for client presentations but if we go down that route, I'll want so many other features that I end up describing what the .DWF is supposed to evolve into.

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Making a decision

For the majority of AutoCAD and ADT users who have been working with Acrobat over the years, the most common complaint I have heard related to the strange paper size limitation previous versions had.  Even getting a common 24x36 D-size sheet required setting a custom paper size that then had to be cleared for smaller sheets.  It was really irritating.  Therefore, for many, simply having paper sizes that match their needs will be all that is needed to make it do what they want. 

Acrobat 6.0 Professional offers bigger sheet sizes and these work in AutoCAD 2004 since they come via the Adobe PDF Printer Properties and not the .arx application.  Included with Acrobat 6.0 come so many features that I'll probably never go through all of them.  The new help menu system is very user friendly and if you have never used Acrobat, you'll probably find this version a good place to start learning. 

Acrobat 6.0 Standard could be a good option for AutoCAD users who just want the Adobe PDF Printer except it doesn't include the large paper sizes.

Illustrated to the right is what Acrobat 6.0 Professional offers for AutoCAD and Architectural Desktop 2004 users.  Though you may not be able to use the three internal commands, you can still use the Adobe PDF printer as illustrated to the right and it will now offer far more options via the Properties button; including an extensive list of paper sizes.

Listed below and right are hyperlinks to numerous other PDF output solutions: - this one is free and has a large following. - Acroplot receives a lot of favorable reviews by our readers.

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These have been mentioned to me but that's all I know.

Chris Sweetnam of  Trix Systems, Inc informed us of their .pdf maker.

"Our Trix RasterServer batch converts DWG, DXF and HPGL to image-only PDF. We are supporting AutoCAD 2004 DWG in the new version which we are releasing this month"

Copyright 2003 ARCHIdigm. All rights reserved.