We learned to use AutoCAD® from different resources. It is also common for us to learn it by ourselves. What's so difficult about it, right? We just need to draw geometries like we do on a manual drafting table. As long as we have our final drawing on paper, who would care how we did it?
AutoCAD offers freedom for its users. If you ask five AutoCAD users to create a drawing, you may see them finish it in five different ways. And often you can't tell the difference when they have handed you the plotted drawings.
However, that doesn't mean that all five users are doing it right. Some of them may struggle with their drawing or perform unnecessary tasks. And if you ask them to modify the drawing, it may take them longer than it should.
Here are four basic rules that we need to follow to start working in AutoCAD properly.
1. Choose the proper template to start your drawing
Most parts of the world use metric for their drawings. But do you realize that AutoCAD, by default, uses the imperial unit template? Unless you changed the default template, AutoCAD uses acad.dwt as the default. Every time you start AutoCAD, it will be imperial. Many AutoCAD users don't realize this and just use it for their drawings.
Working on a metric drawing with an imperial template is not a good idea. You may find difficulties and perform unnecessarily additional work. Many of the problems are scale related: line type scale, hatch scale, rendering materials scale, and other scaling settings. They are optimized for imperial, not metric. Using the imperial template for metric drawings will require you to adjust those scales. If you are already accustomed to working that way, it may be not a problem. But I remember it gave me a hard time when I was new to AutoCAD.
Using the proper template will make it easier. Use metric if you are working with metric, and use imperial when you are working with imperial. Metric templates are the acadISO templates.
2. Never start your drawing from finished drawings
If I need to create a drawing, but am too lazy to set everything up, using existing drawings sounds like a good idea. I don't need to add layers, set up dimension styles, or recreate blocks. I can just erase everything and save it as another file. It sounds pretty smart, right?
It is a bad practice. I've seen people use this method and many of their drawings get corrupted. The problem is this method makes your drawings become more and more complex. Once your file is corrupted, the next drawing that you get from renaming this file will inherit the error and may become worse.
The recommended practice is to set up templates for your work. By creating a template, you define a starting point and don’t have to create your drawing from scratch. If you want to use template, there are many resources available to show how create and define a default template. If you haven’t used templates yet, I suggest you start.
Remember: create a template from a default blank template. Don't create a template from finished drawings!
You may also want to save your reusable content as an external library, which will allow you to reuse it later.
3. Always draw in full scale
Many of us use AutoCAD as a drafting tool. Therefore, we tend to use it like a manual drafting table. It is common to see people scale their drawings in model space and set everything in model space for plotting. Just like the old days when we used drafting tables, only we have larger paper.
I won't argue about model space versus layout here. But if you are new to AutoCAD, I suggest you to avoid having everything on model space, unless you are creating a schematic drawing that doesn’t require different scales.
At least you don't have to think about drawing in scaled size. Drawing in full scale is much easier, isn't it? If you have 100 mm line, then just draw it 100 mm. Don’t draw it 1 mm because you need to plot it in 1:100 scale.
What if you draw scaled drawings in a viewport? You will need another dimension style for your scaled drawings. If you have detailed drawings that show parts of your design, they are not linked to each other. If you need to modify your design, you will need to recreate your detailed drawings.
Using layout is simpler. You can represent your drawing in different scales and you will need fewer styles. It is very easy to change scale. All we need is to select the viewport and choose the desired scale from the list.
Once you are comfortable with layout, you can explore it further and discover more benefits. My personal favorites are sheet set and publish.
4. Manage objects in your drawings
Drawing with AutoCAD is not just about getting it done. In the design process, you will need to modify your drawings. You may also need to send your drawings to contractors or partners, so they can do work based on your drawing. You need to make sure you can make modifications easily and your partners can easily use your drawings.
AutoCAD provides several features to accomplish this. Use layers to separate different elements. Layers can help to hide or lock some parts of your drawings while you work.
Also make use of styles. Working on layers and styles helps to set common object properties. You don’t have to change each object’s properties. Add layers and styles to your templates to avoid recreating them every time you start a new drawing.
Using AutoCAD offers you freedom. But the freedom should make your life easier, not more complicated. There are some basic rules to follow. When you start to explore more advanced features, getting accustomed to these rules will make it easier.
Remember, drawing is part of the design process. You don’t draw it only once then forget it. You will need to create, modify, and share drawings. It is up to us to make it comfortable for everyone to work with our drawings.
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.” He hopes his notes will help other users to be more productive. You can reach him at cad-notes.com or follow him on twitter at @cad_notes.