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Creating a Digital Detail Book

Updated: Oct 10, 2020

Recently, a department took the leap from a hard copy detail book that everyone in the department had, to a centralized PDF that everyone had a link to. Since my firm is over 20 years old, we have all our standard details in Autocad. The details we have are each in their own individual file. Obviously the detail itself was in model space, but for paper space, we had an attributed titleblock with sheet number and notes about the detail. Our Table of Contents(TOC) was created as a table within a word document. There is nothing difficult about taking these files and convert them to pdf and then manually combine them into one file. What this does not do is provide a pdf with all bookmarks created or a TOC that links to the pages they are referencing. Now software like Adobe or Bluebeam has features that allow us to manually do this but for 300+ details this is a lot of work to create/maintain.

We chose a different method for completing this task. One that took more time in the initial setup, and less time maintaining over the long run. Sheet Set Manager(SSM) was our method of choice, which is a palette found in AutoCAD. I know most people have never used it in Vanilla AutoCAD, but this is a very useful tool for organizing and printing document. What most people don't know is that, when used as intended, Sheet Set Manager makes the hyperlinks and bookmarks in PDF.

The first step is to create and open the SSM file(.dst). Make sure that the sheet location is set to the stored location for your details. Import all the details into the sheet set being sure to update the sheet name and number for the file. This is the most important and timely task. After importing the files, we replaced the attribute values for sheet name and number with fields that link the sheet name and number.

This could easily be done with a script and can be accelerated with a scripting tool like AutoScript. If done manually, it will require a regen if you leave the file open. The text below is all that is required for a script to update the Sheet Number field in SSM. The line that starts with ' % ' is the value for placing a field.

%<\AcSm Sheet.Number \f "%tc1">%

If you’ve done everything correctly when you print you will be able to now create PDFs with all the bookmarks that you need to create it.

That was only the first part of what my end requirements were. Now I needed to address the TOC hyperlinking issue. There is no spectacular way of setting up a table within a word document to hyperlink to pages within a combined pdf and you definitely don't want redo the hyperlinks every time someone adds a new detail. This takes us back to SSM for this part as well. When you select sheets and actively have opened a sheet that is part of the same Sheet Set, there is an option for "Insert Sheet List Table". This will allow you to create an AutoCAD table where you can choose what field to show as columns(Sheet Number and Name) and then on the other tab, you can choose which sheets from the sheet set you would like to appear in the list. A template and titleblock were created to mimic what the pages were showing originally in Word and then we inserted a table for each sheet showing what range of sheets was needed on each page of the TOC. This actually allowed us to cut down the number of pages for the TOC from 26 to 15.

Since we have all the sheets in SSM and all the TOC created as well, the last step was utilizing the publish command from SSM and printing directly to PDF. During the creation of the combined PDF, AutoCAD will create hyperlinks from the fields created in the drawing list and bookmarks for each drawing. Now every time we print a new version of the book, our bookmarks and TOC are now linked to the correct pages.

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