EDIT: New to AutoCAD 2017 is a native way to convert vector PDF into CAD geometry!!! Thank you Autodesk!

So I open up a Zip file with some brand-spanking-new drawings. There is it is like a big steaming pile of shit... PDFs...

There is nothing wrong with PDFs in general, but when you explicitly and contractually ask for DWGs and they send this PDFs its extremely upsetting. Like is said nothing inherently wrong with PDFs, and for many purposes I use them frequently my self, but they are terrible if you need the CADs.

So I find my self on the road to PDF conversion to DWG. Luckily these drawings are in the PDF vector format so I will actually be able to convert them and not have to go through the whole raster process. For the noobs who don't know the difference between vector images and raster images a quick way to tell the difference between the two types of PDFs is by zooming in. If you can keep zooming and it doesn't get all fuzzy that's a vector format. CAD is a program that uses vectors to draw its pictures. Something like Microsoft paint is a raster image program where you manipulate individual pixels to create an image. So what I've got to figure out is how to make a PDF talk to CAD. I must extract the vector data out of the PDF and convert it to an AutoCAD format.

There are several solutions out there and some day I'm sure Autodesk will incorporate this, but as it sits I have an older version of CAD and no budget to purchase any type of conversion software. So I'm boned right? Wrong!

Lets get our conversion on!

  • Step one - Get Ghostview

Ok I realize "get Ghost view" is a little simplistic, but I cant really go into the installation process at the moment so unfortunately I have to leave that portion of the solution up to you. From my memory I had to get Ghostscript first and then Ghostview. There are different versions and what not and I installed Ghostscript 8.53 and Ghostview 5.0. I believe I got the from the site below. If you are doing this commercially check their license requirements but I think for general use its free. As far as I understand it, what happens in this program is that it makes like it is sending the data to a printer and then instead shoots it to a file. This is great news for us!


  • Step two - Go through the installation process and hopefully we will see you on the other side.

With all the issues with compatibility etc, all I can do is hope you can make it through it. As a noob I know it can be difficult, but never underestimate the threat of physical violence on inanimate objects. Look that computer straight in the eyes and let it know that you want this software installed and you don't need any lip in the process.

  • Step Three - Lets get to extracting!

When you run Ghostview it should look something like this.



If you have a different version it may look different. click on the file menu and click open and select the PDF you would like to convert to CAD. The PDF will open in Ghostview so you can preview an make sure you have selected the right drawings. Next you want to click on convert to vector format in the edit drop-down menu.



I keep getting an error at this point but it doesn't seem to affect the result so I just go with it... yup... noobing things up across several programs! Let me put it this way, if I could use duct tap to fix computer problems I would.

So I bypass the error and expertly fill in the options. Well I don't really fill it out I just kinda guess. I know the main option I'm looking for is the format. I select the dxf format. I've played with the other options and have not had much luck as to actually affecting the out come. I'm not sure if my error has anything to do with it, but as I'm just looking for the vector extract I don't worry about it too much. Click Ok.


The next dialog is if you had multiple pages. So just select the page you need.

The following dialog is a standard save dialog so just save your dxf file to what ever location is good for you.

Next it will put up one of those scary looking black windows with a bunch of gibberish moving quickly. This is just it doing its thing. Once its done that window will close and the conversion is done. If you are finished converting files all that is left to do is convert dxf to dwg.


To do this just open the dxf file with AutoCAD. Just go to the file menu or the a and select open just like you would for any other dwg. The only difference is that you have to change the file type to dxf at the bottom of the open dialog.


You should take note that this conversion does not preserve much of anything in the drawing aside from geometry. Currently all my text is basically exploded and all lines and blocks are exploded. Something to watch as well when bringing these types of conversions in is that it jacks around the units as well. So if any of these are important to you task pay close attention.

So there you have it. Your vector PDF is now in AutoCAD.