The Third Dimension

I just read an interesting and well-written article by Hugh Davies in the December 29 issue of Building Design.  Mr. Davies’ article, was entitled PDFs ready to enter the third dimension. We appreciate the article and the attention 3D PDFs are receiving in architecture, engineering, construction and manufacturing industries.  Indeed, adoption is growing substantially.  As far as I know, Adobe had no role in the article whatsoever.

Mr. Davies ends the article by stating “3D PDFs have huge potential, but perhaps if they are to become an everyday means of communicating design intentions, it would help if the viewing features incorporated into the Extended version were incorporated into the free version of the software.  Nevertheless, 3D PDF is a powerful and accessible file format.”

It is the last sentence I would like to dig into a bit, because all of the viewing capability is there in the Reader.  I’m not sure we are explaining it well.  Click on “more” to see what I mean.

Viewing (and much more) using the free Adobe Reader.

Adobe may need to look closely at how we are communicating the capability of the free Adobe Reader.  In his opening remarks, Hugh Davies stated the ability to view a 3D PDF is built into all the versions of Adobe Acrobat 9.0 (available as a free download from  Let me clarify.  While all versions of Acrobat do have the ability to view 3D PDFs, it is the Adobe Reader that is free.  The way to think of it is that Acrobat (and Livecycle in the enterprise arena) are the authoring tools.  The Reader, however, does indeed have the same viewing as all versions of Acrobat, including Acrobat Pro Extended.


Adobe’s Acrobat products have the ability to “wake up sleeping features” in the free Reader.  Maybe that is what we need to communicate more carefully.  The idea is that to enable the widest possible array of communications and workflows, Adobe needs to provide options to the author.  Some of the considerations are:


  • Do I want others to be able to measure the 3D content?  If so, how  precisely?
  • Do I want them to be able to section models?
  • Do I want them to be able to create and manage views?
  • Is view and mark-up capability required? 
  • What privileges such as printing, saving copies and so forth should others have?
  • Should I allow others to extract 3D content from PDFs?


These are important questions.  In addition to viewing, rotating, panning, zooming, etc., all of the functions I just listed (and more) are resident in the free Reader.  The decision Adobe made is to give the author control over just how much consumers of the PDF should be able to do. We call this concept Reader Extensions.


Why are Reader Extensions so Important?

Suppose you are sharing data with a customer or supplier.  Are you concerned about reverse engineering of your designs?  Are you concerned about unintended access to you intellectual property?  Acrobat Pro Extended allows you to choose if analysis and commenting in the free Adobe Reader is to be allowed.  In fact, you must explicitly turn those functions on.  Perhaps that is why we hear about “limited viewing” in the free Reader. If the author chooses (or forgets) to turn on the tools, they are not there.  By the way, only Adobe products have the ability to “wake up” the advanced capabilities in the Adobe Reader.


Let me show you a couple of examples:

Look at the screen image below.  There are several options in the comments pull down that allow me to control what the recipient will be able to do.  By selecting “Enable for Commenting and Analysis in Adobe Reader”, selecting “attach for Email Review” or “Send for Shared Review” things like sectioning and measurement will be enabled in the Reader. 


If I am concerned about security, I have lots of options too.  The screen print below shows some of those at a high level:


Manage security properties will help me control priviledges  Certificate and Password Security allow me greater control over who has what priviledges  Adobe Livecycle Rights Management, which is a separate product, allows very sophisticated, dynamic control over privileges, including the ability to revoke out of date files and control off-line access.  Plus, a complete audit trail is available. 

All of that control is really powerful.  So, I hope this helps clarify a bit.  The Adobe Reader really does have all of the viewing (and more) capability of Acrobat Pro Extended, but it needs to be switched on.


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