Converting Revit to 3D PDF - A Product Review

July 4th, 2013

Introduction

When I was asked to write a product review for an Autodesk® Revit® add-in that converts Revit files into 3D PDFs, I was very excited because I really enjoy testing software and pushing it to its limits. I also knew I had a large inventory of “unconventional” Revit families and projects that I could use to test out this particular add-in. The 3D PDF Converter for Revit took a beating from me and it produced some interesting results that I will share with you here. But first, let’s get into what this software really is.

What Is It?


3D PDF Converter for Revit is an add-in from 3DA Systems (http://www.3dasystems.com) that allows users to make 3D PDF files that are much smaller than the original Revit model. These files are very useful because they can be viewed with the free Adobe Reader. Basically, I see this software as a way for any Revit user to make a PDF and exchange the information in a format that is “light on its toes.”

Installation

Requirements

According to the company website, the 3D PDF Converter will work on Revit versions 2012, 2013, and 2014. One of these versions must be installed as well as Adobe Acrobat version 10 or higher prior to installing the program. I tested it on Adobe Acrobat 9 so it seems that an earlier version of Adobe Acrobat works just fine. I tested this add-in using Revit 2014 and will refer to this version throughout the article; however the earlier versions of Revit could also be used.

Any version of Adobe Acrobat is good enough for the add-in to run properly. This includes Adobe Acrobat Reader, the free version, Pro, or Extended.

Installation

Installing the add-in was extremely simple and I had no issues at all. Make sure to close all versions of Revit and Adobe Acrobat, prior to installing the add-in. Simply activate the executable and follow the dialog box instructions as shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Installing the 3D PDF Converter

Once the program is installed, you could test that it has been properly installed by simply opening up Revit 2014 and under the Add-ins tab there should be three new icons as shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2: 3D PDF Converter icons

Exporting

A Quick Export

If you want to get a quick 3D PDF of your entire Revit model, it is relatively simple to do. First, go to the default 3D view of the model. Turn on and unhide all the elements that you want exported because the add-in will not export elements that are permanently hidden. Go to your Revit Add-Ins tab and click the Create PDF button. This will activate a dialog box as shown in Figure 3. Keep all the default settings and click OK and it will generate a 3D PDF in the Adobe Acrobat program.

Note: It is recommended that you use the default 3D view of the model when exporting because the converter will not work if you are in any type of “perspective” view.

Also, when exporting a Revit model to a 3D PDF make sure that the 3D View being exported is the only 3D View open because the add-in will convert all 3D views and put them together in the 3D PDF.

Figure 3: Exporting options

Exporting Options

I will not cover all the options for exporting because, for the most part, exporting with the default options will get you the PDF that you want. There was one option that I found misleading and it is worth mentioning. This was the “detail level” that includes coarse, medium, and fine. Don’t get these confused with the Revit’s detail levels. I found that for very large buildings when the detail level is set to medium or coarse, the converter will not export some of the smaller Revit elements. I don’t recommend using any setting other than “fine” and if you want to control what is exported, simply turn off those elements using the visibility graphics for that particular 3D view.

Note: I never set the display settings to anything other than default because this setting can always be changed in the Adobe Acrobat program itself.

A very useful option is the “export by selection.” This option allows you to quickly export only a portion of the entire model by simply selecting it in the Revit project. I will use this command most often because when I want to communicate with another member of the project team I don’t want them to see the entire Revit model, so I create small PDFs using this selection tool.

Note: The add-in will export everything in the view even if it is cut off by a 3D section box, so be careful.

The visual style option displays textures or no textures of the materials of the Revit elements within the Revit model. This is a great idea if you want to see materials within the 3D PDF, but use caution because some textures do not look correct as shown in Figure 4.

Figure 4: Visual style display textures: Revit and PDF

Note: This add-in now has the ability to set up templates that show a variety of information including images. 

Exporting Limitations

One limitation of the PDF Converter is that it is only able to work in the Revit project (.rvt) environment. That means that it will not work in any of the family editor environments even though the exporting buttons, shown in Figure 2, show up. If you wanted to make a 3D PDF of just one family that was not in a project, then open that family in its family editor, load it into a blank project, and then export it.

Another limitation is that 3D annotation does not export with the rest of the model.

Reviewing the Exports

How Big Is That 3D PDF?

I observed that the 3D PDF file size relative to its Revit file is about 3 percent. It is extremely helpful to have a file size that small because if you wanted someone to see the entire Revit model and they were out of the office it would only be manageable to view the entire Revit model with a format that is small and light on its toes.

Some Successful Exports

As I mentioned before, I put this add-in through some rigorous testing and I wanted to highlight some of the amazing conversions that it was able to create. I first exported a simple building and it all converted correctly. Then I exported the following with no issues: The Revit Cow, the Human Site Topography Head (as shown in Figure 5), The Revit Elephant, The Revit 747, etc.

Figure 5: Successful exports—cow and head

Some Not-So-Successful Exports

During my testing, I noticed that the only elements that did not convert correctly were elements that were modeled with thin solids or surfaces. For example, the classical architectural Corinthian Column had a lot of surface elements that would not convert as shown with the red circles in Figure 6. Note: The majority of the missing geometry was from repeater elements in Revit.

Figure 6: The Corinthian Column (converted to PDF) 

Also notice, in Figure 7, that none of the “rims” of the tires converted. Those were created using the traditional family editor. I have other examples I could show, but I am using these to let everyone know that there are some issues when converting these files.

Figure 7: The Revit Telehandler (converted to PDF) 

The Adobe Acrobat Reader

What I like about this add-in is that it uses the Adobe Acrobat Reader or any version of Acrobat after 14 to view the converted 3D PDF. This is big, because I enjoy using the Adobe Acrobat environment to view the Revit files.

The Adobe Acrobat user interface is extremely simple to learn and use because all the controls are very intuitive. I will not explain how to navigate a 3D PDF within Adobe Acrobat. More information could be found at 3DA System’s website http://www.3dasystems.com.

What I also like about the 3DA converter is that it converts all the Revit elements and catalogs them in a tree view so they could easily be hidden or isolated in any view as shown in Figure 8. If you want to hide or isolate an element, simply click on it and right-click over the element on the list and hide or isolate.

Figure 8: The Adobe Acrobat environment 

Closing Thoughts

On a positive note, I really like how this add-in allows large models to be reduced. It is an excellent communication tool for use by the different members of the project team because certain areas of the model can be “isolated” and emailed using the PDF format.

The fact that 3D PDF uses Adobe Acrobat as the viewer is great because most everyone is familiar with the PDF format—and the viewer is free.

I use custom families all the time that are similar to the ones that did not convert completely as shown in Figures 6 and 7. In order for a 3D PDF program to totally work for me, it would need to convert all the elements from my Revit model, as modeled. You will have to make your own decison whether this version of 3D PDF Converter for Revit is right for you. Do I recommend this product? I recommend that you test it for yourself on your models. For some projects it will work just fine. So I feel I must leave that up to you, since your needs may be different from mine. 

Go to the 3DA System’s website http://www.3dasystems.com, get the 30-day trial, and test it. If 3D PDF Converter for Revit is able to convert all the elements from your project with fidelity use that to inform your choice. Note that the website lists the price for the Revit 2013 version at $149. As of this writing I do not have 2014 pricing.

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About the Authors

Marcello Sgambelluri

Marcello Sgambelluri is the BIM Director at John A. Martin & Associates Structural Engineers in Los Angeles, CA. He has been using Autodesk products for more than 15 years including AutoCAD, 3ds Max, and Revit Structure. Marcello is devoted to helping advance the use and knowledge of BIM solutions within the AEC community. He frequently presents at Autodesk University and The Revit Technology Conference. He can be reached at marcellojs@johnmartin.com.

 

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