I'm a freelance designer and I've got a client that needs a product manual. The manual will include many technical drawings of a very precise nature at various angles. The engineering team has cad drawings of this product and various parts and things. I would like to know if there is a workflow that would allow me to take these cad drawings, position them in the many various angles needed for display and then, somehow, bring them over into illustrator as a line drawing. I'd like to avoid, or vastly minimize, having to pen tool trace each and every image.

I managed to find a post here discussing a method but the technical jargon for CAD is well over my head. I've obtained a free copy of AutoCAD and man alive am I out of my depth with trying to use it.

Any suggestions are welcomed, or if you could parse that linked post and explain it laymans terms that would be greatly appreciated. Thanks in advance for any suggestions or help

  • Note that autocad may in fact be the worst cad when it comes to dealing with stuff like this. Autocad does not even necessarily have a 3d model that you can turn. So many times the fact that a company is still using autocad is a sign that they arent really following their times. Autiocad is really premium price software for those who still are using a legacy workflow, that can not migrate to something else (back in 1990's)
    – joojaa
    Commented Dec 9, 2018 at 17:16
  • @joojaa As I said below I've been playing with Rhino 6 and autocad. What program(s) do you suggest?
    – Bob White
    Commented Dec 10, 2018 at 18:13

3 Answers 3


I think the basic skill you must have is the ability to open files in AutoCAD. zoom, pan, rotate, switch on/off annotations and other details until you have onscreen the wanted scene. Then save or export the scene as PDF. It should be openable in Illustrator, even editable, if it has only line drawings. If you are lucky, the drawings already have many of the needed scenes as viewports.

I unfortunately haven't AutoCAD due its premium price and because I have no need to have just it, but here's a trivial example from other CAD program.

This is a simple solid piece shown as it was just after drawing it:

enter image description here

It has quite nice rendering, but its resolution is enough only for watching it onscreen.

Here's some text planes + annotations added and the rendering mode is changed to "Wireframe, remove hidden lines":

enter image description here

There's plenty of possible annotations which are needed in manufacturing. My annotations are only dimensions. If you need dimensions, insert them in AutoCAD because there surely exist proper semiautomatic dimensioning tools for different geometric forms. Drawing them manually is very error prone. Symbolic drawings such as circuit diagrams are so full of annotations that managing them outside CAD is a nightmare.

My text plane outlines are display-only, they do not mess the export. You also probably must make invisible some data which is useless in illustrations.

The scene has been saved as PDF and opened in Illustrator. It needed only one tweak: The stroke of the main shape hasnt good weight nor color for illustration. They were changed easily. One line was selected and the the rest with Select > Same > Stroke color. The result is the left half in the next screenshot:

enter image description here

The right half is a copy with new texts and color. The annotations from CAD are deleted and two new texts were written.

Simple coloring like this is easy in Illustrator. Unfortunately the lines are not the outlines of the filled areas, they are separate. Illustrator's Shape Builder makes easily the needed new shapes. You fill the areas like with paint bucket. You may need to ungroup, delete some unwanted remnants and select in the tool options gap detection ON, because in PDF there can be invisible, but bigger than zero wide gaps at corners.

ADD: It's possible that you have already a prepared AutoCAD drawing which is perfect for your purposes except Illustrator didn't open it when you tried opening a DWG or DXF. In this case it pays off to try the following trick:

  • open the file in AutoCAD
  • save it as older DWG or DXF version, you probably have plenty of options to choose from, try for ex. 2010
  • check how Illustrator works now with it. If you are lucky, you have even the same layer structure and perfectly matching line widths. You may need to specify in Illustrator opening dialog the used length unit.
  • I replied below, for some reason the tag didn't work.
    – Bob White
    Commented Dec 9, 2018 at 9:14
  • @BobWhite just saw that you had written an answer which was actually the message.
    – user82991
    Commented Dec 9, 2018 at 9:33

@user287001 great post but I'm having difficulty replicating your demonstration.

For example: Following the guide I stumbled upon here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uO_yIqh5Cms

I have a random .obj of a car I've downloaded for test purposes loaded into Rhinoceros 6. I'v set the perspective window to "Pen" (which, ironically, is precisely what I want the outcome of all this headache to resemble)

Pen Tool View I use the "Make2d" command and in the option box that appears I change the view to "Perspective" and have no other options checked aside from "Group output". As I understand it, this should flatten the perspective into a 2d plane for export as a .ai. Having done so, I open in Illustrator and resize to the artboard.

As you can see in the image below, the wire frame is present in the tires and windows. enter image description here

If I select any lines I find there's an ungodly number of excess paths above and below the main outlines and the amount of time needed to clean up each and every path would be excessive. Live paint and shape builder tools won't work either because these paths are not connected to form shapes and the tools won't recognize them and allow filling so I'd have to manually connect them with the pen tool too.

After that I tried to get more involved by using Maya 2018's vector render engine that allows exporting as AI but that was even worse since it exports as a see-through wire frame and I only need to see one "side" of the object rather than see "through" it to the splines on the opposite side.

Clearly you're able to do it so what is your workflow and what programs are you using?

  • Your car has wheels and glasses as polygon mesh models . My drawing is 1000x simpler, it's made in (a trial of) SpaceClaim. That program is available as heavily decimated free version, too, the name of that version is DesignSpark Mechanical. I think you should try to convert the mesh parts to NURBS model (=made of some kind of 3D surfaces instead of thousands of planar polygons). I have red that the conversion is tricky and often too complex for the program. It's well possible that you can make NURBS wheels and glasses from scratch, too accurately enough for illustration purposes.
    – user82991
    Commented Dec 9, 2018 at 9:52
  • (continued) I would check if Rhinoceros has an Illustration making tool which produces good drawings and photorealistic renderings as ready to use images. I haven't Rhino stuff myself, only freeware, low cost stuff and some trials now and then.
    – user82991
    Commented Dec 9, 2018 at 9:56
  • (continued) The body of the car seems to be drawn nicely, curves are intentionally left open to leave some room to the imagination on curved surfaces. That can be selectable in options (a guess). About my workflow: I saved the current scene as PDF, the scene was isometric viewing projection, show wireframe without hidden lines. I didn't try to make 2D drawings.
    – user82991
    Commented Dec 9, 2018 at 11:10
  • @user287001 ah I see. So the culprit is the model and not the program. Assuming I was to successfully convert from NURB to polygon, would it, in theory, then export as shapes rather than paths to an .ai/pdf? or is asking for wholly formed shapes too much for the current market's software? Also, thanks so much for your great explanation so far.
    – Bob White
    Commented Dec 9, 2018 at 14:17
  • polygon models will make thousands short lines to PDF, NURBS model can make outlines to PDF if you have it and your program outputs those outlines without gaps. I see your car body has non-contiguous curves. I guess there are decorative gaps made by Rhino but that's only a guess.
    – user82991
    Commented Dec 9, 2018 at 14:28

If you want to duplicate what you see in your viewport in Rhino, you can use the "-ViewCaptureToClipboard" command. I believe by default the Width and the Height matches the size of your active viewport. Make sure to make the "Scale" be something bigger for a higher resolution. Make sure to add the hyphen "-" in front of the command to activate the options. (IIRC in Rhino 6, if you don't add the hyphen, a window should pop up that asks for all these settings.) Once this command goes through, you can paste the image of the viewport in any software.

Viewcapture Example

Also, I think the "Print" from Rhino should do something similar. You can print a file as a raster PDF file from Rhino.

Hope this helps!

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