Do More with Fewer AutoCAD Tools

February 26th, 2013

Most Windows applications have common interface and workflow traits. This consistency helps to eliminate steep learning curves and enables users to quickly adapt to other software. Today, we expect to use software in the way we operate other software. It stands to reason that as Windows-compliant software, AutoCAD® has a similar look and feel to other Windows applications.

Imagine if you had never used AutoCAD before. When someone asks you to modify an object, what do you do?

Here are some possibilities:

  1. You will try to select it and see what will come next. You would try to see if there are grips available.
  2. You will try to double-click on the object.
  3. You will right-click and see what options are available in the contextual menu. Most of us will try to find the edit options or properties-related tool on the list.

Many AutoCAD users would love to do as described on the list above. We will try to use AutoCAD like other software packages we know. Many beginners are not familiar with a wide range of AutoCAD tools and people who use AutoCAD just a few hours a week would not bother to learn many of the tools.

In this article, we will see how some of these methods work in AutoCAD, but not only for beginners. These methods can be useful for experienced users, too.

Grips

Grips will automatically appear when you select an object. There are several types of grips and each type represents a different function.

The most basic function of grip is to stretch an object. If you stretch a grip on a line, it will change the line length.

If the grip defines object base point, it will move the object. For Example, this type of grip appears at the center of a circle and will move the circle. However, the grips located at the circle's quadrant will change the circle diameter.


  
Moving grip at the circle’s center Moving grip at the circle’s quadrant

Multifunctional grips

You can do several more things with grips. Since AutoCAD 2011, Autodesk has introduced multifunctional grips.  This was later enhanced in AutoCAD 2012. With multifunctional grips, you can choose what modification you would like to perform. You need only select an object, then move your cursor above a grip.



Grips not only allow you to use fewer tools, they also provide quicker and easier methods.  Previously, it was not easy to add a vertex to a complex polyline. Multifunctional grips now allow you to click a grip and quickly add vertex on that location.

Dynamic Input

AutoCAD is an engineering tool, so your drawing needs to be precise. When you select a grip, you can use dynamic input to modify the object and give precise input.



In the example above, you can either change the line total length or the length change. You can easily switch between fields by pressing the Tab key. Once the desired the field is active, you can type a new value and then press Enter. 

There are options to change angles also. You can change this behavior in the Drafting settings. If you are not familiar with how to access the drafting settings dialog box, type DSETTINGS and press Enter. Go to the Dynamic Input tab and click Settings below the Dimension Input group.

You can choose the third option and activate what fields you would like to see.

Double-clicking Objects

Double-clicking on an object is another common method to modify AutoCAD objects. When you do not know what to do, double-clicking an object will activate related tools to modify the object. For example, when you double-click on a piece of text it will activate the Edit Text tool.

Most object types will open a Quick Properties palette. We will cover quick properties later in this article.

Properties Palette

Changing properties is a popular editing method in many Autodesk applications. In AutoCAD, whether you just want to inspect the properties of an object or try to modify the objects, the Properties Palette comes in very handy. Let's see what we can do with Properties Palette. You can activate it by pressing CTRL + 1 on your keyboard.

Change Object Properties

The most common use of the Properties Palette is to change object properties. An AutoCAD object can contain so many properties and each may require a different tool to modify it. This single tool enables users to modify all information in one place without having to memorize many tools.



While general properties are common for many users, you can also change specific object properties in this palette.

If You Don’t Use the Ribbon

AutoCAD has contextual ribbon tabs that work great to modify object properties. However, not everybody loves the ribbon. If you prefer the classic interface, don’t worry—you can achieve the same thing from properties palette.
Of course, you can only change properties. The contextual ribbon has more options and also shows common tools related to the selected object.

Example: Changing Block Attributes

An experienced AutoCAD user would change block attributes by using the Edit Attribute tool. You can activate it by double clicking on a block that contains attributes. However, if you do not like double clicking, you can select the block and change the value from the properties palette.


Example: Align Multiple Objects at Once

This is a quite popular tip among AutoCAD users, even for advanced users.

Object Coordinates are a property that you can access here, too. Of course moving objects using the Properties Palette is not a recommended practice. However, this offers modifying multiple objects at once.
In the example below, you can see we have several text objects. You can align all of them by simply selecting them and then modifying the position X value.



After we change the position X value, it will align all the text objects vertically.

Inspecting Object Properties

Do you know how to get a line's length, a circle's circumference, or a closed polygon's area? Yes, you can use the MEASUREGEOM tool, but the Properties Palette provides this information as well.



Remember, you can also change these values. Sometimes this provides an easier way to modify an object. Sometimes, it provides the only way to modify object! For example, you can change a circle's circumference in the Properties Palette, but it is the only way to create a circle by defining the circumference length.

Quick Calculator

When you select a value in the Properties Palette, you will see a small calculator button on the right side of the value. If you click the button, it will copy the value to the Quick Calculator.



Then you can calculate the value as necessary. You can calculate perimeter, length, or area from objects in your drawing.

How can we sum it with another area? You can use the calculator's history to copy the area value you want to calculate with the Quick Calculator. Press Enter to move the value to history. Repeat the procedure until you have all area values in history. After you have them all, you can conveniently calculate them by picking the values.

Filter Object Selection by Type

When you work with complex drawings, selecting objects can be very tedious. The Properties Palette offers a handy tool—filter object by type. When you select multiple objects of different types, you can click the drop-down list and choose a specific object type. This will isolate and display the properties of only the objects of that type.

This will not remove other objects from selection. It will affect only properties changed for the selected object type.

For example, say you receive a drawing and want to move all dimensions to a dimension layer. Begin by selecting all objects. Then you can filter your selection by choosing "Dimension" from the pull-down list. Now that all of the dimensions have been isolated, you can change layer from the properties palette.

Arranging Properties Palette

While the Properties Palette is useful, some feel that it takes too much valuable screen real estate. After we use it, many of us would immediately close the Properties Panel without giving it a chance and exploring it further. You can dock the Properties Palette to the left or right side of the AutoCAD window. You can also easily resize the column and palette width as necessary.

If you still feel the Properties Panel is taking too much of your screen, you can minimize it. When you need to use it, you just need to move your mouse pointer above the palette tab and it will expand for use.

Quick Properties Palette

Autodesk introduced the Quick Properties palette in AutoCAD 2009. With it you can activate the Quick Properties palette from the Drafting Settings or by pressing CTRL + SHIFT + P. When you select an object while Quick Properties is active, a small palette appears near the cursor.

The Quick Properties palette works in much the same way as the Properties Palette. The difference is it will open automatically when you select an object. Instead of showing all properties, however, it shows only common properties. This is a very convenient to access the most common properties to modify AutoCAD objects.

As you can see in the example below, when you select a block with attributes, the Quick Properties will show only common properties that can be changed. If you were to try to select another object type, you  would see different properties.

Changing Common Properties

But what is common for me might not be common for you. It depends on your workflow and what you would like to achieve.

You can customize the properties shown in the Quick Properties with the AutoCAD Customize User Interface (CUI). You can quickly open the CUI dialog box by clicking customize button on the Quick Properties dialog window.



In this example, only layer, area, length, and closed have been selected. This will allow me to quickly change a polyline's layer or make it a closed polyline. In addition, this will allow me to quickly inspect the polyline's area and length.

Quick Properties Palette Settings

Now that you know about the Quick Properties palette, let's  explore how you can optimize it further. You can change the Quick Properties settings in the Drafting Settings dialog box by right-clicking above the Quick Properties button, then choosing "Settings." Alternatively, you can type DSETTINGS then Enter.

On the Quick Properties tab, you can disable or enable the Quick Properties tool.

There is also an option to set the palette location to appear near cursor or in a static location.



The idea of Quick Properties is to help you work with properties quickly. However, it should not interfere with our work.

Let's explore more settings that allow you to work comfortably.

Collapsing Palettes

You can set any palette to collapse so it will only show a minimum number of rows. When you move your pointer above the palette, it will expand automatically.

Unfortunately, we cannot arrange the order of the rows. It would be great if we could easily move our most frequently used fields to the top. However, this feature is still useful when we activate the Quick Properties tool and want it to appear at minimal size when we are not using it.

Editing Object List

In the Palette Display section of the Drafting Settings dialog box, you can set palettes to display themselves only when you select objects with specific properties or all objects.

Now how we can determine which object to show quick properties? First, open the CUI again.

In the CUI dialog box, above the object type list, click the "Edit Object Type List" button.

Now you can edit which objects will be shown. Uncheck everything you do not need.



Now you will see only objects that belong to the object types that you selected for use with quick properties.

Close the CUI dialog box. Try selecting some AutoCAD objects. The Quick Properties dialog box will not be displayed unless you choose object type that is on the list. In the example above, it will only appear when you select a line or polyline object.

Conclusion

Above features are Windows-compliant methods and concepts and are easily understood by most Windows users. The good thing about Windows-compliant features is they are similar across different software. If you are already familiar with one software package, it should be easy to learn and use others.

While these tools are very useful when you only have basic knowledge, experienced users can still benefit from them daily.  These tools allow the user to do many more things with fewer tools. And that type of working habit can often make you more productive.

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About the Authors

Edwin Prakoso

Edwin Prakoso

Edwin Prakoso has used AutoCAD since R14. Currently he works for PT Nusantara Secom InfoTech, an Autodesk reseller in Indonesia. When he’s not having a training class or presentation, he shares his experiences on his blog “CAD notes.” On his blog, his focus is to help other users to be more productive. You can reach him at cad-notes.com or follow him on Twitter at @CADnotes.

 

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