AutoCAD WS 1.4: Design Beyond the Desktop

June 15th, 2012

In case you hadn’t noticed, computers these days are far more than the large boxes collecting dust under your desk. Computers are getting faster, more powerful, and—most importantly—more portable than they’ve ever been before.

This new mobile computing environment provides boundless opportunities for architects, engineers, and the firms that employ them. Namely, the AutoCAD® WS web and mobile apps means that DWG files are no longer tied to a single desktop computer or even to a server environment. Instead, they can be accessed, viewed, edited, and shared from almost anywhere in the world via a web browser, smartphone, or tablet. Imagine the possibilities.

Getting started with AutoCAD WS is simple. Creating an account is fast, free, and easy, and it only takes a few clicks to download the apps from the App Store or Android Market. Log in, connect, and you’re ready to take your designs to the cloud.

Autodesk 360 and the Power of the Cloud

Autodesk® 360 is a new offering from Autodesk, a cloud computing platform that helps users dramatically improve the way they design, visualize, simulate, and share their work.

Two basic features of Autodesk 360 are file storage and collaboration—both of which are fully integrated with AutoCAD WS. All Autodesk 360 accounts get 3GB of storage space, which can hold just about any file type. Click on the actions menu for any uploaded DWG, and you’ll see “Edit Online in AutoCAD WS.”

Figure 1: Actions menu in Autodesk 360

Also, any files you upload to your Autodesk 360 account are automatically synced to your AutoCAD WS mobile app.

With Subscription, you can get even more out of Autodesk 360, including a whopping 25GB of storage per account, plus access to great additional cloud services such as Autodesk 360 Rendering, Optimization for Inventor, and Structural Analysis and Energy Analysis for Revit, depending on what product or suite you have purchased. For more information, visit http://360.autodesk.com.

Why Everyone Should Use AutoCAD WS

What if you still haven’t convinced the boss to buy you a tablet to take on your site visits? Before we even get into the latest and greatest features of AutoCAD WS, here are five points you can use in your argument that mobile CAD should be part of your firm’s toolbox.

  1. Better Portability. With AutoCAD WS, your entire drawing set fits in the palm of your hand. No more heavy, bulky drawing rolls. No more searching for a pen that actually has ink. And no more chasing after drawings that blow away in the wind.
  2. Secure File Storage. The servers that AutoCAD WS and Autodesk 360 use for drawing storage provides as much security as online banking, but if you still don’t want to use it, that’s okay too. You can connect to your own infrastructure instead, accessing data stored in Autodesk Buzzsaw®, DropBox, MobileMe, Microsoft SharePoint, or even your own file servers via WebDav.
  3. Real-time Collaboration. AutoCAD WS makes it easy to share drawings with clients or colleagues instead of sending PDFs or paper copies. And since edits and markups are synced with the cloud instantly, if someone else is viewing the drawing at the same time, they’ll see the edits instantly too. If you’re both using a browser-based version, the screen display is also synced, so you see the exact same thing at the same time.
  4. Online and Offline Editing. You don’t have to have an internet connection to use AutoCAD WS for iOS and Android. If you’re out of cell tower or Wi-Fi range, your edits will be stored locally and synced the next time you go online.
  5. Integration with AutoCAD. It almost goes without saying that AutoCAD WS uses native DWG™ technology, but I’ll say it anyway: You can upload drawings to AutoCAD WS straight from within AutoCAD, and then open them seamlessly later.

And did I mention? AutoCAD WS is free. No charge. Gratis. Not only that, but if you already have an account to use the Autodesk Discussion Forums or Autodesk Labs, you don’t even need to sign up again. Just use your current user name and password.

These reasons should be enough to convince almost everybody of the benefits of AutoCAD WS, but for those of you who want even more, the new features in 1.4 provide just that.

3D File Viewing

AutoCAD WS 1.4 adds support for viewing 3D drawing files on your tablet or smartphone. (The browser-based version continues to support 2D elements only.)

Figure 2: 3D Model and View toolbar

From the View toolbar, you can choose to display your model in 2D, i.e., a flat view; in 3D wireframe; or in 3D solid mode. You can also choose from 10 different preset viewing angles—6 orthographic and 4 isometric—as well as the Home view, which restores the last saved view.

You can also use multi-touch gestures to navigate through a 3D model. Use a single-finger swipe to orbit the model around a fixed center point, or a two-finger swipe to pan. Pinching with two fingers also lets you zoom or rotate the model view.

GPS Support

The second new feature in AutoCAD WS 1.4 is GPS support, which enables you to identify your current position on a drawing and use it as the basis for marking locations as you move around the building or site.

(Side note: At some point after you upgrade your app version, you’ll get a dialog with the message “AutoCAD WS would like to access your current location.” You must choose “allow” in order to enable GPS positioning.)

The best part about this feature is that you don’t need any geo-specific information in the drawing file before you get started. All you have to do is pull up the drawing on your mobile device, look for the Location toolbar, and choose “Set Location.”

Figure 3: Location toolbar

Next, tap on the spot in the drawing that represents where you’re standing. This puts a red pin on the drawing at your location and shows you the latitude, longitude, and altitude of your position. If you don’t think the numbers are accurate, you can edit them yourself.

Once you’ve given AutoCAD WS one location, it will use that as the base point for your movements during the rest of the editing session. So if you walk to another room in the building and want to make a note about it, you can go back to the Location toolbar and choose “My Location.”

Tap “Mark” to add a note, which will be placed on the drawing as a text object, along with two lines forming an X that identify where you were when you made the note.

Figure 4: Result of marking location

If you don’t want to keep setting your location in the app every time you access the drawing, you can use the Google Earth overlay feature in the browser version of AutoCAD WS. Once you’ve positioned your drawing there, the coordinates persist and you won’t have to set them again.

Plot to Print

The last major feature in AutoCAD WS enables you to share your stored drawings with anyone, even if they don’t have an AutoCAD WS account.

When you go to the Output toolbar in AutoCAD WS 1.4, you’ll notice a Plot icon in addition to the standard Share feature. This new icon brings up a dialog that has quite a bit in common with the standard AutoCAD plot dialog.

Figure 5: AutoCAD WS plot dialog

You can choose the plot style table, paper size, scale, and what to plot—one of your layouts or model space; drawing extents or the current display. You can also select an output format—your choices are PDF, DWF, and “Add HP ePrinter” (more on that last option in a moment).

If you choose one of the electronic options (DWF or PDF), an email message is generated with the new file as an attachment. You could send it to yourself as a record copy, or to a client or colleague who needs to view the file.

HP ePrint & Share

The last option in the “Plot to” menu is “Add HP ePrinter”, and it’s the result of an exciting partnership between Autodesk and HP. We’ve teamed up to enable you to create hard copy prints straight from AutoCAD WS—and completely wirelessly.

This is the only new feature in AutoCAD WS 1.4 that requires new hardware. For it to work, you must have one of HP’s web-enabled ePrinters, like the large-format Designjet or the small-format Officejet, Laserjet, and Photosmart models. I did all my testing with a Photosmart 5510. (A Designjet won’t fit in my office. Too bad.)

Setting up AutoCAD WS mobile printing was a 3-step process.

  1. Connect the ePrinter to my wireless network.
  2. Create an ePrintCenter account to enable sharing on the printer.
  3. Create an ePrint & Share account to enable printing from AutoCAD WS.

Step 1 couldn’t have been easier. The Photosmart software came with an auto-connect feature that hooked the printer into my network with almost no effort on my part. (I love automated setups.)

Steps 2 and 3 were also quite simple, but remember that you do need to create both accounts. Setup is easiest if you use the same email account and password in both places, but it’s not mandatory.

The other item worth noting is that for small-format printers, you must manually turn on Remote Printing from your ePrintCenter account. It’s automatically turned on for Designjets, but not for desktop models like my Photosmart.

Once you turn on remote printing, you’re able not only to plot to your printer from your own mobile devices, but you can also give other people permission to plot to it as well. Be careful who you trust with your printer, though, or you might run out of paper very quickly!

Figure 6: HP ePrinter available for plotting

If a new plotter isn’t in the cards for your office soon, you might also check with your local repro shop, to see if they have an ePrint-enabled Designjet you would be able to plot to.

It’s worth restating that you do not need an HP printer to create and send PDF and DWF files from AutoCAD WS. But as of today, HP’s ePrint & Share is the only way to get a hard copy from AutoCAD WS without any intermediate steps.

Bonus Features

AutoCAD WS continues to expand its 2D editing and markup capabilities with the addition of Trim and Extend to the Edit toolbar.

To use these features, first select the object or objects you want to uses as boundaries. Then choose the Trim or Extend command, and tap the object you want to modify.

Figure 7: Trim & Extend in the Edit toolbar

Conclusion

In short, if you’re still keeping your files exclusively on one computer or server, it’s time to look to the cloud.

You won’t find an easier way to get your feet wet with mobile CAD than AutoCAD WS, considering that it’s free, reads native 2D and 3D DWG files, and is available in three versions that work on products you probably own already anyway. (Or will own soon, if you use the logic in the first section of this article.)

Add in the new features available in this latest release, and the logic is practically unshakeable.

See you in the cloud!

Kate Morrical is a Technical Marketing Manager at Autodesk, focusing on AutoCAD, AutoCAD LT, and AutoCAD WS. She has over 10 years of experience with Autodesk products, beginning with AutoCAD R14, and worked as an engineer and CAD Manager prior to joining Autodesk. Kate can be reached by email at kate.morrical@autodesk.com, or on Twitter at @katemorrical.

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