I've tried lowering the quality of the plot in CAD but that makes the curves so bad it's unusable. Every time I try and open the exported file in Illustrator it takes forever and if/when it loads if I click anywhere on the screen it takes forever to process. Each edit on the document takes 20 to 30 minutes at least.

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    Sorry, but the crystal ball seems to stay black. Software=? Format=? Only guesses are possible. You get one. Try to print the wanted scene as PDF and open it in Illustrator. You surely lose logical structures ie. a line segment doesn't any more know it belongs to the same pipe as the adjacent curve and you may need to adjust line widths. No edits in Illustrators are possible before removing a bunch of clipping masks and making ungroupings. Probably you must print wireframe with no hidden lines and insert colors with the shape builder. No guarantee! – user287001 Feb 8 at 10:30
  • (continued) try to remove as much fills and complex hatches as possible before exporting. I have met cases where a seemingly solid color is a zillion straight adjacent lines in the DXF file or PDF altough in CAD its only one selectable fill. – user287001 Feb 8 at 10:39

Hard to assess anything useful to answer in specific detail - but I'll give some general thoughts:

1) Illustrator happily reads in .dwf and .dxf natively, though with some caveats (e.g. explode blocks, explode fill patterns) and being Illustrator, not CAD, there will be scale issues.

2) Illustrator natively reads .pdf in as an .ai variant; this is my preferred method of "bringing in CAD" about 85% of the time.

Assuming you experiment and end up, as I do, preferring .pdf as the data vehicle of choice, setup your .pdf output to keep and respect all layers, simulate appropriate pen colour / lineweight tables but not to emulate polyline width, and you should end up with a decently imported, work withable file in Illustrator.

If the "work" being done in Illustrator is basically colour-up, then keep the CAD linework on a wholly separate layer set, and do the colouring work beneath it. If you need to edit elements from the original CAD, then isolate JUST the stuff you need and drag it to a new layer, and work on just that on its own.

As @user287001 said in their comments, fills are often the unguessed-at culprit for CAD-started Illustrator files which drag, glitch and generally suck - it's one reason I tend to try to keep those CAD fills on a separate layer in the .ai file so I can turn the darn things off to work if needed, and in many cases I end up simply re-drawing the fills as native Illustrator patterns - you almost always get way cleaner output for far less trouble.

I wouldn't lower your curve resolution a ton, I don't generally find that helps a lot - I'd guess your struggle is fill related. Moreover, if your curves end up looking lousy, re-draw 'em in Illustrator with the Arc tool or with béziers.

Hope this helps - you are helping me remember that I do not miss AutoCad at all.

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