Can I save 3D measurement markups in PDF?

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this question in the past 12 months, but it’s quite a lot. We’ve heard your voice and the short answer is now you can save 3D measurement markups in Acrobat/Reader 9 and I am going to teach you how! So, if you haven’t yet discovered this new feature, I strongly invite you to read further to learn the basics of adding and managing measurement markups as well as a few interesting tips you will certainly appreciate.

Accessing the 3D measurement tool

We’ve had a measurement tool since the first release of Acrobat/Reader supporting 3D and we’ve tried to enhance the tool in every new release based on customer feedback. To access the tool, you have several options that are all equivalent, choosing one or another only depends on whether you prefer using the main menus or toolbar icons. Before you follow any of the 3 methods below, make sure you have a PDF with 3D open and that you have activated your 3D model.

  1. Go to Menu>Tools>Analysis>Measuring Tool
  2. Go to View>Toolbars>Analysis and click on the icon circled in red 
  3. On the 3D toolbar, click on this icon   (if you can’t find the tool, click on the drop down arrow next to the Rotate tool)

Note: you have to hover the mouse over the 3D model to turn the 3D measurement tool on. Otherwise, you may see the 2D tool controls appear.

If you have correctly followed one of the methods described above, here’s a snapshot of the 3D measurement toolbar you should be able to see on your screen:


You will notice at first sight a significant change in the user interface. Notably, we have separated out the control modes, such as the snap modes and the measurement types, from the feedback window that you should see displayed in the lower right hand corner as represented below:


We’ve also added a context menu to give you acces to the most common tools that you may need while in measurement mode. Here’s a snapshot of what you should see when right-clicking on the mouse while in measurement mode:

Feel free at this point to spend more time discovering the different options exposed in the menu above before moving on to the next section. To go back to the starting point, you can exit the measurement mode by hitting the ESC key and start over beginning with one of the three methods described above.

Creating a 3D measurement markup in Acrobat

Let’s first look at the user experience for creating a measurement markup in Acrobat, then we’ll continue with how it applies in Reader. First, we’ll start with the most natural method, then I will describe an alternative method to better control how to organize your measurement markups.

Start by clicking on the Home view  and use the mouse to set your camera view for best accessing the part or area you want to measure. Feel free to use the context menu to turn on/off the display of some parts or change the rendering mode to transparent for optimal display.

Tip: to use the mouse controls for navigation, hold the ALT key and click on the mouse buttons like you would normally do when the measurement tool is not turned on, i.e. LMB to rotate, RMB to zoom, LMB+RMB to pan.

Then pick any snap mode, edge points for instance , and any measurement mode such as point to point  and measure a distance on your 3D model.

Note while you are moving your mouse to select your measurement end points, the feedback window is updated in real time and displays important information, similar to this:


Now select one of the hilighted points in red as you hover over your 3D model and select a second edge point highlighted in red to obtain the desired dimension. At this point, you should have the choice to place the measurement markup anywhere you want along the line connecting the two edge points you have selected. Click one more time and the markup will be placed relative to the current position of the mouse cursor.

Tip: while in snapping mode to select the end points of your measurement, use the right-click context menu to cancel the current selection by selecting the optin Cancel Measurement at the top.

If you see a green markup with some dimension like the one below, then you have successfully created a 3D measurment markup that you can now save with your PDF:

One more thing to note though is that a new view was automatically created for you. If you open the Model Tree and look at the list of views in the Views panel, you will notice a new view at the bottom of the list labeled something like MesurementView11 with a measurement markup attached to it. This is exactly the same way the Comment & Markup tool works with 3D models.

I will now teach you how to manage your 3D measurement markups by controlling which view they are attached to. Let’s imagine you have 3 parts in your model and you would like to create a series of 3D measurement markups for each of the 3 parts. The way 3D measurement markups and views work is very simple. If you have a view selected in the View panel, and you just add a new 3D measurement markup, the markup will automaticall get attached to the view selected. You can keep manipulating the 3D model for adding more dimensions, and all of the markups added will attach to the same view currently selected. Once you are ready to switch to another part, create a new view with that part and start adding new measurement markups. From this point on, the new 3D measurement markups will get added to the new view created. It’s only when no view is selected, that a new view will be created for you automatically. You can joggle from one view to another at any time to add more markups to a particular view. Check out the snapshot below of an example with 2 views and multiple measurement markups attached to each:

Finally, as you probably guessed by now, the 3D measurement markups are similar to any other markups you can apply using the Comment and Markup tool. The only difference i
s that 3D measurement markups are not necessarily converted into Comments, but you can selectively decide which ones to promote as a Comment. In order to turn a 3D measurement markup into a Comment, select the markup from the view panel or in the viewport, right-click and select the option Convert to Comment. After doing so on one of the measurement markup you created, if you open the Comments panel at the bottom of the Acrobat window, you will find your 3D measurement markup accessible there as well. Direclty clicking on the markup entry will take you directly to the view to which the markup belongs and display all of the other markups attached to that view.

Creating a 3D measurement markup in Reader

I am sure you are very familiar with the Reader Extensions concept. As a quick reminder, to enable a user to access the Comment/Markup, Measurement and Cross-Sectioning tools in the free Adobe Reader, the author of the PDF needs to enable that function using Acrobat. Here are the steps to take for doing so:

  1. Open any PDF with 3D in Acrobat
  2. Go to Comments>Enable for Commenting and Analysis in Adobe Reader
  3. Save the file

The PDF saved as described above is referred as having Reader Extensions enabled. This simply means that if the PDF is opened in the free Adobe Reader, the following additional tools are turned on: Comment and Markup, Measurement, Cross-sectioning.

The reason it is important to mention the Reader Extensions capability is because otherwise anyone opening a normal PDF with 3D in Adobe Reader will not have the ability to make measurements nor add 3D measurement markups.

So go ahead and use the PDF previously created and apply Reader Extensions to it using Acrobat as indicated above. If you have Reader available on your machine, open that PDF in Reader and observe the Reader toolbar area and the 3D toolbar. You will notice that the Reader toolbar includes the Comment and Markup tool icons while the 3D toolbar includes the measurement and cross-sectioning tool icons. Here’s what you should be seeing:

If you open the Model Tree, and look at the list of views in the View panel, of course you will find the views you created previously and the 3D measurement markups attached to each view. Try clicking on one of the views or the markups directly and experience the exact same behavior as in Acrobat.

One difference though you will notice is when adding a new 3D measurement markup. Suppose you want to add a new markup to an existing view or you want to create a new view and attach a 3D measurement markup to it. The difference will simply be that any 3D measurement markup is automatically converted to a Comment. The reason for this behavior is that we don’t want a user participating in a review workflow to alter the original PDF without tracking each modification as a new Comment. Look at the snapshot below and notice the icon circled in red indicating the markup is also a Comment.


I hope you have enjoyed the material reviewed. Having the ability to save 3D measurement markups is indeed a key feature added in Acrobat/Reader 9 that many of you I am sure will get to use more and more. Here are some examples of use cases where saving 3D measurement markups would be most useful:

  • Internal cross-functional design collaboration
  • Extended design reviews with suppliers
  • Feedback reports from shop floors

As always, we welcome your feedback and any suggestions you may have as well as your experience using Acrobat/Reader 9.


Pierre Tager, Acrobat Product Manager


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