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Using PDF to Import Text Pages into Drawings

By John TeSelle, LineType Software Inc., July 21, 2003

Many CAD applications have only limited features to handle large-scale blocks of text, particularly text that must be formatted in a special way such as tables or outlined specifications.

Sometimes it is possible to import the text as a CAD object, and sometimes OLE embedding works as well. But other times these methods fall short. Importing a multi-page specification section produced in a word processor, for instance, is almost always a frustrating task.

This article explores one method of using Adobe Acrobat (the full version) to import individual PDF pages produced by any office application into a PDF drawing file, essentially bypassing the CAD application and its inefficiencies in handling text imports.

Adobe Acrobat as a Page Composition Tool

Although Adobe Acrobat is not well-suited to most page layout tasks (that is not its real function) it is easy to import pages from one PDF file into another and to reposition or scale these pages on the larger layout page of the main document. This method is useful when specifications or a code analysis document has been prepared using some other application, and the individual pages need to imported and "pasted up" on a large sheet to be plotted.

Note that this procedure requires the full Adobe Acrobat application. See the documentation that comes with this application for additional information about some of these operations:

  • Create the document to be imported as a multi-page PDF file. This is typically done by printing from the word processing program or other application to a PDF printer driver. See the PDF Creation Tools page for more information.
  • Create the sheet that will receive the pasted-up pages as a PDF document. If a title block or any other information is needed, this should be created in the CAD application. Just leave a blank area for the pasted-up pages.
  • Open the large sheet in Adobe Acrobat.
  • Use the Form Tool in Acrobat to create a rectangle of the approximate shape and size of the page to be imported.
  • In the Field Properties dialog box for this form field, choose Type "Button" and give the field a name such as "Page 1".
  • Under the Options tab in the dialog box, choose Layout "Icon only" and click the Select Icon... button under the Button Face Attributes frame.
  • In the Select Appearance dialog box, click Browse... and locate the PDF file to be imported.
  • If the imported file is a multi-page document, use the slider to scroll to the desired page, and click OK.
  • Click OK to exit from the Field Properties dialog box.
  • Click on the hand tool to exit from the Form Tool and make the imported page visible.

Repeat this procedure for each page to be imported.

Note that page contents imported in this way are not linked directly to the original document. That is, if the original document changes, the imported "image" will not change (see below for instructions on how to change it if needed). Also, if the receiving document (the document into which pages have been imported) is sent to someone else, it is not necessary to send the other documents as well - the imported pages are embedded in the receiving document, which is entirely self-contained.

Appearance Options

The appearance of the imported page can be varied in a number of ways. Before making any of these changes, the Form Tool must be selected:

To change the size or position of an imported page:

  • Select the form field associated with the page.
  • Using the "handles" on the sizes and corners, re-size the box as needed.
  • Position the mouse inside the rectangle and drag the rectangle as needed around the page

To force multiple pages to the same size:

  • Select the form field to use as the "template" for all others.
  • Use shift-click to select the other fields.
  • When all have been selected, choose Size > Both from the right-click menu.
  • All fields will be adjusted to take on the dimensions of the first field selected.

To align multiple pages:

  • Select the form field to which the others should be aligned
  • Use shift-click to select the other fields.
  • When all have been selected, choose Align and one of the alignment options from the right-click menu.
  • All fields will be aligned to the first field selected.

To draw a border around each imported page:

  • Select each form field that will have a border using shift-click
  • Choose Properties from the right-click menu
  • Click on the Border Color check box and select a color and thickness
  • Click OK to exit the dialog box

Experiment with other options in the Field Properties dialog box to rotate imported pages, add background colors, and create other effects.

Making (and preventing) Changes to Imported Pages

As outlined above, the method for importing pages allows the page to be updated or changed using the Field Properties dialog box. Sometimes this is a good thing - if the document that is being imported changes, you can open up the field defining that page, re-import the page, and the new content will be displayed.

In other situations, however, this may be a security problem -- if you send the PDF file to someone else who has the full version of Adobe Acrobat, they could open the file and substitute a different page for the one that you imported by using the same procedure outlined above, or they could delete the imported pages altogether by deleting the form fields.

There are two methods to prevent these changes. One is to add password protection to the document and to set permissions that do not allow changing form fields. A user who knows the password will still be able to modify the fields, but no one else will have access to them. See the Adobe Acrobat documentation for more information on document security.

The other solution is to "flatten" the form fields containing the imported pages. The flattening operation removes the form field from the document and inserts just the image of the imported file, which cannot be easily modified as can a form field.

Advanced Form Operations

Adobe Acrobat includes powerful features to link actions to form fields. One possible use of these features would be the creation of an index of documents using imported pages -- when the user clicks on an imported page, for instance, Acrobat could be instructed to open that PDF document in a separate window, or to jump to a page on the world wide web. See the Acrobat documentation for more information on these features.

About the Author

John TeSelle is an architect in private practice in Nashville, Tennessee, and is the founder of LineType Software Inc., a development company providing tools and information to enhance the use of PDF documents in architecture and engineering.

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