Ask A Cartographer

3D PDF Generation

November 03 2011 | 10 comments
Categories: 3D Mapping, Publishing

I'd like to be able to generate a 3D pdf from a 3D visualisation I've built using 3D Analyst. As far as I can tell it's not currently possible to export directly to 3D pdf, but is there a "good" way to complete this workflow? (even if it's using third party software, such as SketchUp, or other tools?)

Mapping Center Answer:

First, you need to get your data into ArcScene.  Once you've symbolised your data in ArcScene so the model is how you want it to appear you click File > Export Scene > 3D which will create a VRML format file.

You can then enact 3D PDF functionality in one of three ways (all require Adobe Acrobat Pro Extended Edition):

  1. Drag and drop the .VRML file into Adobe Acrobat Pro
  2. Embed a 3D PDF window into a Microsoft Word document
  3. Embed a 3D PDF window into an existing PDF document (e.g. a blank 2D PDF document)

Taking the last option as an example, if you open a blank PDF in Adobe Acrobat Pro, choose Multimedia > 3D tool. Draw a bounding box in your PDf document. Browse to the .VRML file in the subsequent dialog box. The 3D model will appear in the embeded 3D window. You can then save the 3D PDF and distribute.

There are also Export to 3D PDF functions in the ArcGIS Data Interoperability extension so you can create 3D PDFs directly from ArcGIS.

3D PDF & GIS posted by afaf abbas on Feb 15 2012 12:43PM
Hi, Result from the two options I tried was,
- First option: drag and drop didn’t work, Acrobat give a message of “Acrobat couldn’t open “File name” because it is either not a supported file type or the file has been damaged”
- Third option: I opened a blank PDF, then Tools > Multimedia> 3D tools add the VRML file from the source to the PDF but ended with a message of “Unsupported 3D file format
“Any idea why is this happening? How can I solve it?
BTW, I'm running ArcGIS 10 sp3, window XP, Acrobat 9 pro
Thanks, Afaf
Adobe Acrobat Pro Extended Edition posted by Cameron Wallace on Feb 15 2012 12:50PM
You need the "Extended Edition" not just Pro 9.

I'm not sure what the equivalent in Pro X is... anyone?

Re posted by afaf abbas on Feb 15 2012 1:15PM
Thanks for the prompt reply. Dose upgrading to Win7 will solve the problem?
Upgrade to Win 7 posted by Cameron Wallace on Feb 15 2012 1:25PM
Won't fix the issue, the issue is with what files the version of Adobe Acrobat you have will accept.

I'm not sure if any version of Acrobat Pro X will accept VRML though...
Thanks! posted by Aileen Buckley on Feb 16 2012 1:11PM
Thanks for the info, Cameron!
A bit more info posted by Aileen Buckley on Feb 16 2012 1:36PM
It appears that a lot of the "mini-GIS" functionality was dropped at the X release of Acrobat, which also saw the discontinuation of "pro extended" licensing. You seem to have already discovered this by your comments.

It does look like our business partner TerraGo ( has a 3D PDF export function in their product; however, we have no details of said functionality nor whether it operates within ArcScene.

If you are interested in direct export to 3D PDF, you should register your interest in the form of a promotion and a comment on this web page. You can access it from this page on Mapping Center:
Update request posted by Steven Batten on Apr 15 2015 5:54AM
Aileen, has Esri developed a solution to the problem or is your reference to TerraGo on Feb 16 2012 1:36PM still the latest advice?
Nope - not yet! posted by Aileen Buckley on Apr 16 2015 8:22AM
I checked with our 3D Team Lead and here is what he had to say about this:

There’s been no updates on the 3D PDF story since you last posted. That is, we don’t support export to 3D PDF directly from ArcScene (or from Pro). A few business partners have capabilities but they tend to be wrapped up in an industry specific solution (e.g., GeoSoft has it, but their extension is for mining).

There are also some possible workflows that involved going through intermediate formats (like COLLADA or VRML) and then using a 3rd party software package to go to 3D PDF, but I don’t have any specific advice / experience on the best way to do that.

If the goal isn’t “3D PDF” specific, but rather “share a 3D view with non-Esri people”, then the recommended option from ArcScene is to export to a CityEngine Web Scene (.3ws file) using the “Export to 3D Web Scene” GP tool. A 3ws file is a registered item type that can be posted / hosted on ArcGIS Online, where we provide a free viewer so anyone can view it.

Here is as whitepaper on creating web scenes from ArcScene:

The biggest limitation on this method – from a GIS perspective – is an implied max file size (because the file has to be fully downloaded to the client before it can be viewed), but this is analogous to a 3D PDF file anyway. The second limitation is access to the viewer (i.e., user needs to be connected online, or set up a few things locally).

As we move forward, we have released (and are continuing to work on) the ability to publish web scenes that contain services (i.e., any data file size).
Many thanks posted by Steven Batten on May 19 2015 4:24AM
Hello Aileen,

You last advice was a big help. I was not necessarily looking for a solution with a 3D PDF. I have produced a 3D soil map and it did not cost me anything extra to produce. The processing was quick. Perfick! I thank you.

Happy to help! posted by Aileen Buckley on May 19 2015 9:02AM
Glad that was useful for you!

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