Its hard to believe that the PDF file format is over 20-years old. Over those 20-years it has become the defacto standard for the exchange of data.

We were presented with an opportunity to review a product from Investintech called Able2Extact. As Investintech is a Canadian firm I suppose who better to review it than me? Investintech.com Inc is a developer of PDF technology. Its flagship product Able2Extract converts PDF documents into a wide range of formats including Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, PowerPoint), images, html, and AutoCAD DWG. From their website they are “accountable, conscientious and we pride ourselves on delivering the best customer service in the business.”

When I try software I like to open it up and take a spin without reading any of the help. I then circle back after and use the help to become more familiar. I will admit that I never have had to use the help system with this product. The UI is clean, modern, and simple to understand. The ribbon is laid out in the order of operation… open the PDF, select the objects to convert, set the output type, and you create your document. Pop up bubbles aid in prompting the right step, which helped greatly the first time. These bubbles are easy to dismiss and simple to disable once you become more confident with the software.

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I was caught off guard when I took a PDF and converted it to Microsoft Word, in that not only did it convert the text but also the background images as well!. Here’s a short clip where I take the Solidworks MBD PDF and convert to Word. Notice not only is the selected text converted but also the imagery, very impressive.

Able2Extract also works as a simple PDF viewer with the ability to pan & zoom, search, and print. I will admit though to missing holding the spacebar (as in Adobe Acrobat Reader) to pan within the document.

PDF to DWG

Able2Extract has the option to convert PDF to DWG. From the Able2Extract website…

“the Portable Document Format is a tool frequently used by architects and designers, because it ensures that digital drawings are viewed by the recipient properly, without any misaligned graphics and text. Though obviously indispensable, the PDF is only a sort of intermediary between collaborators and cannot be worked in. So, when designers receive PDF plans that are the foundation for a new project, they need to extract those plans into original, editable drawings in order to start working on them. “

As a test I converted the 8-page drawing set of my house that I received when we built it. I know that it was not created using AutoCAD, nor a flavour of AutoCAD, but thought it would be a good test of the conversion process. Able2Extract was able to convert the PDF to DWG (or DXF) very quickly and extracted each page of the PDF into its own drawing.

An inherit issue with any translation to the DWG format is not with missing or inaccurate geometry, but how it deals with the “extra” things. How did it deal with annotation objects like hatch, dimensions, and text? What about layers?

With the translation of my house plan I received lines & polylines. Text was generated as individual letters and not as text, but as polylines with a solid hatch. Dimensions were converted to lines, polylines, and the same solid hatched polylines as with the text. Hatch was generated as separate lines, not as hatch. There were limited layers created, three to be specific, including layer 0.

When I used different options to convert the PDF I received off results, the objects were set to almost black. A white solid hatch was created in the background so the drawing appeared to be on a white piece of paper… why it didn’t do this the first time I’m not sure.

Next test, to make it a bit easier, I created a PDF from AutoCAD using the DWG to PDF pc3 printer. The results converting this back to DWG was no different than previous… no layers, no text, no hatch, no dimensions. I also noticed that lines with a linetype other than solid is converted to individual line segments. So the balloons that existed in the drawing on a hidden-line type layer, with a very small gap, came in as 1000’s of line segments. The PDF did contain layers as I included them when generating the PDF, but these layers were not created during the conversion.

In Review

PROS:

  • Very clean, modern, easy to use interface and workflow process
  • Quick to convert PDF’s to other formats
  • Wide range of formats to export too
  • Extracts images, not just text
  • Previews the PDF with the ability to select the objects to convert
  • Available for Mac, Linux and Windows
  • Low cost ($99 electronic online purchase)

CONS:

  • No recognition of dimensions, text, or hatch patterns
  • Lines with a linetype are exported as individual segments
  • Does not recognize layers, even if they are contained within the PDF

VERDICT:

If you are receiving many PDF’s with data that you require in your AutoCAD drawings, this might help. Using Able2Extract in many instances will be faster to copy out the required geometry opposed to redrawing or drawing on top of a PDF Underlay. However, if the PDF drawing is “heavy” with text, hatch, dimensions, and non-solid linetypes then you might find it more time consuming to use Able2Extract..

My verdict? If you receive many PDF’d drawings in which you need access to the geometry then consider adding Able2Extract. With the low cost, the easy to use interface, and the quickness of the conversion, it is a tool to have in your toolkit.

Feature image credit: Cdr Aitch via photopin cc