AutoCAD Tricks for MText: Beyond the Basics

May 14th, 2012

As an AutoCAD® user for nearly 25 years, I still get a sense of excitement—and dare I say I become “giddy”—whenever I discover a new AutoCAD trick.  When I discover those hidden gems, I instantly realize that when it comes to creating AutoCAD drawings, my life just became a little easier.

The only real problem when discovering new tricks is that you can actually go years before you come across a real gem that could have such a major impact on how you do things.
That’s why I am presenting as many helpful tricks as possible on a particular topic to make things easier for future reference.  In this article, I will share a series of tips and tricks for creating MText objects.  If you take away just one trick from this article, I will have done my job.

Multi-line text objects were introduced way back in AutoCAD Release 13 (1994), and had some very basic features such as word wrapping and “By-Entity” formatting.  Since then, it has become an intuitive and intelligent in-place document editor.  The purpose of this article is to go beyond the basics.

MText Tricks – Numbering and Sub-lists

As you probably know, MText has the ability to create number lists of selected paragraphs within the editor. But did you know that you could create sub-listings?
Take a look at the example in Figure 1.  It is a listing of some general notes, numbered 1 through 5 that you would see on a design drawing.

Figure 1

With a simple keyboard function, we can easily change items 2 and 3 to become sub-items 1.1 and 1.2, and in turn, items 4 and 5 will automatically renumber themselves as items 2 and 3. Then, you can simply change the new item 3 to restart as a separate item 1. (See Figure 2.)

Figure 2

While in the text editor, place your cursor at the beginning of item 2 and press the Tab key on your keyboard. Do this for item 3 as well, and you will see how items 2 and 3 become sub-set items 1.1 and 1.2, respectively.

Note: If you no longer wish for an item to be indented as a sub-list, simply put your cursor at the beginning of the text and hold down the Shift key on your keyboard followed by pressing the Tab key.

While in the text editor, to restart a numbering sequence, place your cursor at the beginning of the text to be renumbered, click on the pull-down button for Numbering Lists and Bullets; and select Restart.

MText Tricks – Tab Stops

You can control the location and width of text within the documents with indents and tab stops just as you can in any word processor. To control which text is to have indents and tab stops, simply highlight the desired text, and then drag the indents (i.e., top line left indent, second line left indent, and paragraph right indent) on the ruler bar to the desired location. To insert a tab-stop, simply click your cursor where you need a tab stop.

Take a look at Figure 3.

Figure 3

Refer to the notes in Figure 4. It is a materials list for a typical road cross-section (note the values listed are in millimeters).

Figure 4

Instead of having the text within the list all left-justified, or pressing the spacebar to get the justification to look “good enough,” we can use indents and tab stops to make the format more appealing and easier to read. We can even use a tab stop style that allows all the numbers to be right-justified.

To insert and set up different tab stops while in the MText Editor, simply click repeatedly on the tab-style box until you get the desired tab stop style, and then click on the ruler bar where you want the tab style to be located. Then it is only a matter of placing your cursor in front of the text, and pressing the Tab key on your keyboard to shift the text accordingly.

You can then add bullets to the list the same way you can add a number list.

Figure 5

In addition to manually assigning tab stops, you can predefine them within an MText object as well simply by right-clicking on the ruler and selecting Paragraph from the pop-up menu.

Figure 6

As you can see in Figure 6, there are four different types of tab stops.

Looking at the radio buttons from left to right, they are:

Left Tab – All text entered appears AFTER the tab stop.
Center Tab – All text entered appears CENTERED from the tab stop.
Right Tab – All text entered appears BEFORE the tab stop.
Decimal Tab – All numerical text with a decimal value (e.g., 500.00) appears from the tab stop centered from the decimal point. This way, all the decimal points will line up vertically in the list. In addition to decimal separators, you can also use a comma or space as a separator.

Figure 7 is an example using the decimal tab stop. Notice how the decimal points line up perfectly regardless of how wide or narrow the numbers are (i.e., 5 versus 1).  If a right tab stop were used, the decimals would be vertically misaligned because the width of the character would dictate the decimal point’s position.

Figure 7

MText Productivity Tricks and Techniques

As if the previous tricks weren’t cool enough, below is a series of tricks and techniques that make editing MText easier.

Many of these tricks can be classified as “undocumented” (meaning you may not find them in any AutoCAD book) and are not part of the MText Editing Toolbar.

Controlling MText Boundary Box Limits

All MText objects have a “boundary box,” which aids in controlling word wrapping and column height. Sometimes these limits exceed what the MText object needs (especially if a large portion of text was modified/deleted). There is no real “danger” associated with a large boundary box, but it is always best to keep things neat and tidy (especially if there is a background masking assigned).

To quickly adjust the boundary box so that it confines itself to the perimeter limits of the MText object, simply double-click on the width adjustment arrow that is next to the ruler bar.  This method saves you the effort of having to manually drag the boundary box until it “looks good,” and you run the risk of misaligning the word wrapping. See Figure 8.

Figure 8

Figure 9

Navigate and Edit Words with Keystrokes

While in the MText Editor, you may have to navigate to, or edit, certain words while typing. The traditional method is to use your mouse, but that means you have to pause while typing and then focus on using the mouse.

Below are some tricks you can apply using your keyboard in order to save time and keep typing.

Navigating

To jump the cursor quickly from one word to the next: Simply hold down the Ctrl key on your keyboard and then press either the left or right arrow keys. If you press just the arrow keys, the cursor will move only one character at a time.

To jump the cursor quickly from one paragraph to the next, hold down the Ctrl key and then press either the up or down arrow keys. If you press just the arrow keys, the cursor will move only one line at a time.

Deleting

To quickly delete entire words, hold down the Ctrl key and then press the Delete key which will delete all words right of the cursor. To delete whole words to the left of the cursor, hold down the Ctrl key and press the Backspace key.

Highlighting

To highlight a group of words, hold down the Ctrl and Shift keys at the same time, and then use the left or right arrow keys which will highlight an entire word each time you press an arrow key.

Relocating Text

To relocate text with the keyboard, highlight the desired text, press Ctrl+X on the keyboard, place the cursor where you want the text to be relocated, and then press Ctrl+V on the keyboard. To relocate text with the mouse, highlight the desired text, hold down the left mouse button, drag where you want the text to be relocated, and then release the mouse button.

I hope you enjoyed this AutoCAD Tips and Tricks feature.  In future articles, I will focus on tricks for other specific features.

Murray Clack is the CAD Systems Coordinator for CBCL Limited, a consulting engineering firm in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, and has been using AutoCAD for nearly 25 years. He has had articles published in  Autodesk’s ‘a’ magazine; submitted tips and routines to CADalyst magazine’s “Hot Tip Harry”, and recently provided consultation to Autograph Technical Services for the metric version of their CadCard Slide Chart.

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