Contact our corporate or local offices directly.
Altium Designer users have long enjoyed the ability to interactively view PCB designs in fully rendered 3D, which provides a unique insight into the real structure of the board design, its components and associated mechanical parts.
There are significant advantages in being able to bring this 3D capability to those outside the immediate design team, such as fabrication and assembly houses, and not in the least, customers. This has been possible through the use of the Altium Designer Viewer and to a limited degree, by generating multiple fixed views of the 3D design in PDF format.
With this new Altium Designer release however, the insight provided by an interactive 3D view of the design has become available to external stakeholders through the introduction of PDF 3D export. This interactive 3D format is accessible for everyone with a recent version of the ubiquitous Adobe® Acrobat® Reader.
Interactive 3D viewing became possible for PDF files with the introduction of advanced 3D view capabilities in Acrobat Reader, starting with Version 7. Progressively enhanced through subsequent versions of the Acrobat Reader, the high-level detail and configuration options produced by Altium Designer’s PDF 3D export is compatible with versions 9 and above.
Read more about Interactive 3D in Adobe Acrobat
The foundation of this new 3D capability is the industry-developed Universal 3D (U3D) format for computer graphic files, which has been standardized by the European Computer Manufacturers Association (ECMA) as ECMA-363. U3D is natively supported by the PDF format and can be simply embedded (and compressed) in a PDF file for interactive 3D viewing in Acrobat Reader.
Information on the Universal 3D standard
The result is a modestly sized, cross-platform 3D file format that does not require specialized 3D viewing software. In the case of PDF 3D files exported from Altium Designer, the embedded content includes the majority of the data viewable in Altium Designer’s own 3D view – including all tracks, pads, vias, polygons etc, all components and the full set of board layers.
The PDF 3D export capability is enabled in Altium Designer with the installation of the PDF3D Exporter software extension.
To install the extension, select the Purchased tab in the Extension Manager (DXP » Extensions and Updates) and locate the PDF3D Exporter Extension. Click its icon to download and install the extension, and then restart Altium Designer to enable the extension’s export functionality.
Once installed and ready to use, the extension will appear under the Extension Manager’s Installed tab.
To export a PDF 3D file, open the desired PCB design document in workspace and select File » Export » PDF3D from the main menu.
As distinct from a fixed view of a board 3D design, from a particular angular perspective, the new PDF 3D export is notionally equivalent to Altium Designer’s own interactive 3D view.
As such, the resulting PDF 3D export offers the same rotate, zoom and pan capabilities and can adopt any of the color schemes defined by the system View Configurations. To examine or edit the current configurations, and therefore the available rendering colors for the exported PDF, open the View Configurations dialog by selecting Design » Board Layers & Colors or use the L keyboard shortcut.
Once the PDF 3D export has been instigated (File » Export » PDF3D) and a target file name/location nominated, the Export 3D dialog opens to allow the rendering, behaviour and included design content to be defined for the PDF.
The Export 3D dialog options are grouped as Geometry, Color Scheme and PDF Settings as follows.
3D files can be large, even with the format’s inherent data compression, so consider what level of design content is important for the target user. For example, the content of the copper layers (tracks, pads, etc) may not be required by someone looking at the mechanical aspects of a board design.
When making the choice of included 3D content, it is also worth considering the 3D rendering capabilities of the viewer's PC. While the resulting PDF 3D file size might be reasonable, the target machine's CPU and graphics system may struggle to fluidly render a complex multi-layer design.
Use the drop down menu to choose the PDF render style from a list of predefined View Configuration color options, which includes the system's current 3D View settings and the board layer colors.
As you would imagine, viewing a 3D PDF in Acrobat Reader is quite straightforward, with commands and menus that are logical extensions of the familiar 2D functions.
The 3D objects can be panned, zoomed and rotated using simple mouse drag and scroll-wheel operations, with functions selected from the floating 3D toolbar.
A feature of particular value in the reader is the Model Tree navigation pane, which can opened (if not already) with the button. This allows the user to navigate through all objects in the 3D PDF, select and highlight those of interest while toggling their visibility.
The Model Tree offers a powerful way to examine all aspects of a 3D design to a high degree of detail. Whether it’s a close examination of the component positioning and layout, or a detailed inspection of the internal board structure, the navigation tree can be used to find and display the appropriate objects.
When selected in the model tree, Individual objects are highlighted in the view window with the color defined at the top of the pane (red in this case). This makes locating a particular component or net simple, and avoids the need to toggle an object's visibility to find its location. Similarly, selecting an object in the 3D view window highlights its entry in the Model Tree pane.
For more information on using the various controls, functions and settings in Acrobat Reader see the relevant Adobe help content:
To include a PDF 3D file export in a project OutJob, click Add New Export Output under the Export Outputs entry, select PDF3D and then the desired PCB document to export.
The PDF 3D generation settings can be pre-configured by selecting the Export PDF3D job and choosing Configure from the right-click menu. This opens the Export 3D configuration dialog (as outlined above).
When the Output Job is run or manually instigated, the PDF 3D file will be exported as defined in the OutJob's Output Containers section. This is to the configured Vault container and path, or the local/remote publishing target defined in the Data Management – Publishing Destinations entry in Altium Designer Preferences dialog (DXP » Preferences).
See the From Idea to Manufacture documentation for more information on OutJobs and publishing design data.
Contact our corporate or local offices directly.
Complete this form to request a free 15 day trial of Altium Designer: