PDF3D Frequently Asked Questions

We hope our FAQ section will provide all the answers to your questions on our products and technology.  If you need any further help, please ask.

“3D PDF” is a PDF file with 3D geometry inside. Using any 3D PDF enabled viewer, rotation, zoom and part selection is available within the 3D view. This is often used for documentation, sharing and collaboration. 3D PDF is just like a normal PDF (Portable Document Format) file, which contains a 3D view somewhere on some page. Just like a PDF containing an embedded image, except when you put the mouse over it, you can rotate, zoom, pan and explore the scene in 3D (three dimensions). The file actually contains a 3D geometric representation of the scene, not just images from different viewpoints. Not all PDF viewers support 3D – if in doubt, use the Adobe Reader for viewing 3D PDFs. PDF itself is ISO32000 a published ISO standard used by many vendors and industries. It is a container, wrapper for many types of content, most often text and images within a document. It can also contain rich media, interactive content, including full 3D view ports. A special type of 3D PDF called PDF/E is used for long-term preservation. The 3D portion within the PDF can be composed of either a U3D or a PRC encoding type.


A PDF file is a self-contained document file. PDF files can be displayed for reading using various PDF viewers. A 3D PDF is a little special, inside the document there is a 3D viewing window, where you can rotate, zoom and pan the contents of a 3D scene. The actual data for the 3D view is embedded inside the PDF file. Not all PDF viewers support 3D – if in doubt, use the Adobe Reader for viewing 3D PDFs. How 3D PDFs are constructed is covered by internationally agreed ISO standards.

The 3D Model is actually inside the PDF. 3D PDF files are a standard PDF file, with the addition of an embedded 3D model, or “annotation”, visible as a 3D viewport. The actual 3D coordinates, shapes, vertices, polygons, lines, etc., are encoded in either a U3D or PRC binary encoding, stored entirely inside the PDF file. This can optionally be set to the PDF/E compliance subset. So it does not reference any external file, website or other software for 3D.

A 3D PDF can easily be created using the PDF3D ReportGen application software or plugins. Take a look at this 3D PDF Conversion introduction video which will shows the process.

The PDF3D SDK development toolkit at the core does not depend on any GUI, user-interface, or menu system. Any of these may be added according to application developer choices. In fact it can be used without any menus, such as within a batch or web-server environment. Various examples are packaged for configuring user-interfaces with QT, C# WinForms, PHP, Delphi and Python which help developers quickly get started.

PDF3D PDF conversion software works with numerous files and formats. You can view a list of all the supported software and plugins here.

You can view an instructional video here: PDF3D_Video_DWG

When a 3D PDF model has multiple parts, each part can be hidden or shown using the “Model Tree” menu. This can be enabled by an icon button on the toolbar over the 3D view, or by using the right mouse drop-down menu. When the 3D model parts are organized into a hierarchy, each level can be opened with the “+” symbol. A tick-box next to each part name sets current visibility. The PDF3D generation tools also allow the author to specify initial part visibility.  Views can be defined where part visibility is set on a view by view basis.

ou can watch a step by step video here: PDF3D_Video_Motorbike

You can watch a video guide on how to do this here: PDF3D_Video_FME

You can use our PDF3D SDK (Developer Toolkit). You can watch a video on how easy it is to add 3D PDF functionality to your technology here: PDF3D_Video_SDK

3D PDF files can be emailed and distributed in the same way as other PDF files. However, 3D PDFs can sometimes be large, beyond the capabilities of email servers. DropBox, Google Drive, FTP, or other file transfer systems can also be used.

PDF3D software has a built-in facility to insert into the current PDF page or append new pages into existing PDF documents without using any external tools. Views with 3D can be placed precisely into existing page layouts. Alternatively, the PDF3DMerge utility can be used to combine pages. In addition PDF3D can output a U3D or PRC file which can be loaded into Adobe Acrobat Pro or LaTeX. Further, there is a template replacement system, where an existing 3D PDF file with a dummy 3D view containing a simple place-holder object can be replaced with an actual 3D model for a final PDF result.

When a PDF page is printed containing a 3D model, the 3D image will appear in the printed copy, exactly the way you left it during viewing. For example, open a PDF with a 3D window, zoom in, and click Print, and the printed version will have exactly that view. The 3D scene is printed at full device resolution, not just at computer screen resolution.

We recommend you install the latest. PDF3D-SDK is maintained with compatibility with the latest versions. The 3D PDFs come to life in Version 9.4 or X,XI (version 10,11) of Adobe Reader. Earlier versions of Reader will tell the user they need to upgrade. Until the upgrade is done, a static 2D image will appear in place of the 3D experience. About 90% of internet users have some version of Adobe Reader installed. Adobe have distributed over 1.5 billion copies of Adobe Reader, so many will already be at the correct level.

Yes you can upgrade for free. Follow this link to get the latest version of Adobe Reader: Adobe Reader Download

As long as you have a recent version of Adobe Reader to view the PDF files. Note the built in “Preview” in Mac OS X does not show interactive 3D PDF content.

No, the built-in viewer currently does not support 3D. You will need to install and use the Adobe Reader browser plugin to view the PDF files.

No, the built-in Windows PDF viewer currently does not support 3D at this time. Install and use the Adobe Reader to view the PDF files for best results.

No, the FREE Adobe PDF Reader is all you need. Click on the following link to get the latest version. Adobe Reader Download

No. Adobe PDF Reader has a basic 3D capability built-in and the 3D PDF files contain all the added functionality required.

3D PDFs work just fine when you are disconnected from the internet.  They are loaded and displayed as a local stand-alone file, with everything self-contained inside the file.

No. You can use the 3D PDF files as much as you like, for as long as you need, with no recurring license fees. Any PDF files produced using PDF3D technology may be distributed royalty free; the licenses only refer to the content generation software. It is only the 3D PDF generation tool which requires a commercial license.

No. The 3D experience viewing window can be as large or small as you like, and you can use whatever aspect ratio works in your layout (as long as it’s rectangular).

The 3D PDF will play on just about any computer with Adobe Reader Version 9.4, X, XI or later. On slower machines, the 3D image will update less frequently during animation. On machines with good graphics cards, the visual appearance will be much better – as the Adobe Reader uses the 3D graphics hardware to accelerate the display of high-quality visuals, using DirectX, OpenGL or a built-in software renderer.

Generating the 3D PDF content takes more memory and more CPU time than viewing the result. As a consequence, the minimum specs are higher than for the Acrobat Reader. See current product details and release notes.

Please contact us for access to the trial version. The trial version will be valid for 30 days.

After requesting a trial or purchase, you will receive an email with a download link. Download and save to your local system, then install following the menus.

After installing, run the PDF3D license utility and select “Request License”. You will receive an email with a license key to enter into the menus or a key file to select via path.

PDF3D licenses are available as fixed PC locked, or as a floating network server, where N-simultaneous sessions may be enabled on a local department network. The floating network version also allows for licenses to be borrowed for business trips, conferences, where connection to the license server is temporarily not possible. The floating network license may be accessed by clients running on Windows, Linux or Mac.

Adobe Acrobat Professional Extended 9 or X, XI gives you controls for 3D content similar to the free Adobe Reader, plus the ability to change the 2D layout, enable extended user rights, mark-up, etc.

Yes, any 2D or 3D geometric object can be used to generate a 3D PDF file. However the user will be able to rotate freely in 3D, so it depends on how you want to organize your scene content. Optional mouse constraints can be specified to disable rotation, if this is appropriate for pan-zoom only over 2D content.

No, VOXEL models, or 3D space-filling grids are not supported. The input model should be composed of geometric primitives such as triangles, points, lines, quadrilaterals, NxM 2D grids, etc. Similarly, 3D volume elements such as tetrahedral or hexahedra are not supported, only surfaces. PDF3D supports models containing triangle meshes, lines and points, arrows, cubes, spheres, cylinders, cones, 3D labels, elevation grids, etc. See technical documentation and sample gallery for more details.

Yes, Adobe Reader 9 for Linux includes 3D viewing support. See the Adobe Reader website for details. The PDF3D system is also available to generate 3D PDF files on both 32 and 64-bit Linux platforms. See Release notes for the current platforms. Linux viewers may not have the same features as other platforms.

The PDF3D ReportGen conversion program is available for MacOSX. Please see current release notes for supported platforms.

Yes, PDF3D-SDK is packaged for Windows, MacOSX and Linux. Please see current release notes for supported platforms.

The 3D viewport can be arbitrarily specified to be placed in any rectangular area on the page. PDF3D-SDK also includes a full API for generating 2D text, line and area graphics, and full JPEG, PNG, TIFF, BMP images. Using the injection mode, a 3D view can also be placed in an existing 2D PDF document.

PDF3D tools have a built-in facility insert, append or prepend pages into an existing PDF document without using any external tools.  A PDF generator or print driver program could be used to create the background PDF, including LaTeX or MS-Office.

PDF3D-SDK includes documentation and source code examples of adding 3D PDF support into VTK scenes, including loading VTK files. Many VTK integration code samples are provided.

PDF3D-SDK includes documentation and source code examples of adding 3D PDF support into OSG scenes, including loading OSG and related files types. Many OSG integration code samples are provided.

The PDF3D SDK at the core does not include or depend on any GUI, user interface, or menu system. Any of these may be added according to application developer choices. In fact it can be used without any menus, such as within a batch or web-server environment. The PDF3D Converter application PDF3D ReportGen provides an easy-to-use menu user interface for file conversions, if needed, using QT user interface techniques. C# WinForms, PHP, Python and other UI examples are also available for developers.

Acrobat Pro Extended 9 (from Adobe) is no longer available. Acrobat Pro X, XI plus 3rd party plugins, are commercial applications sold on a per-seat basis allowing set up and generation of 3D PDF files. There are also OEM packaging of Acrobat available for licensing. It assumes you already have a 3D model available, either in some other format for using file converters or by using a screen-grab. If you develop your own software application and wish to add 3D PDF generation for your users, then you could simply export models to an intermediate file format and ask each user to buy Acrobat3D. On the other hand if you integrate PDF3D-SDK inside your application then your users do not have to buy or learn any extra package. With Acrobat X, XI (versions 10, 11), native 3D generation support is no longer available from Adobe. Users must have obtained this option from 3rd parties, including of course PDF3D from Visual Technology Services.

Both U3D and PRC are available. U3D is available through an optimized implementation, including Right Hemisphere Compression extension for smaller file generation. PRC encoding, especially using the highly compressed tessellation methods (PRC-HCT) yield much higher compression rates than U3D, and are generally more efficient for complex scenes.

By enabling a simple toggle control, PDF3D can produce PDF/E compliant files. These files follow the current guidelines in the draft ISO specifications. Since the PRC specification is currently published, however with PDF/E ISO 24517-­2 is still in committee, the generated files assert compliance to a provisional draft standard. The Adobe Acrobat Preflight analysis tools have not yet been updated to recognize PRC encoding, so only U3D encodings will currently show validation. In both U3D and PRC cases, the Adobe Reader will show the assertion of PDF/E standards compliance. Note that if you create PDFs containing other unrelated elements, custom page javascripts, these may break PDF/E compliance. Visual Technology Services is not responsible for any content generated using PDF3D tools.

If you have a collection of 3D PDF files, these can be placed on the website just like any other web content, with viewing either using the Adobe Reader outside of the browser by downloading the PDF first, or by viewing directly inside a browser window using the Adobe Reader plugin.

The PDF3D XML Server system is designed for efficient server-side PDF generation, where all the PDF document content including characteristics of the 3D views are specified by XML. A template PHP website configuration is available for web developers.

PDF3D systems allow for merging multiple files at the same time into the same view, and each file can be a different format. As long as the world coordinate systems match, LiDAR, PTS, XYZ point geospatial cloud files can be merged with CAD 3D models such as DWG, DWF, DXF or STL models, where the result is merged as layers in the 3D PDF.

Yes, the PDF3D implementation of 3D PDF animation works equally well for either U3D or PRC type encoding within a 3D PDF file. Two types of animation may be used, either key-frame motion, or flip-book sequence animation.