Inside the Display System

August 19th, 2014

The display system in AutoCAD® Architecture is specifically designed so that you only have to draw an architectural object once.  The appearance of that object will then change automatically to meet the display requirements of different types of drawings, view directions, or levels of detail.  The view-dependent display of objects in AutoCAD Architecture is made possible by a hierarchical system of display settings that specify display properties (visibility, layer, color, linetype, and so on) for individual display components of all the different types of architectural objects under all the different viewing scenarios.

If you are a CAD manager, you will want to fully understand the display system structure and the display manager so you can modify and organize default settings as necessary to implement your own display standards.  But any user can quickly change the appearance of an object in a particular view by modifying values on the Display tab of the Properties palette.

To change the display using this tab, click Select Components, select an object display component, and then select or enter a new value for the display property you want to change (such as color or lineweight).  The results are immediately visible in the drawing area for the current display representation and can be applied to other display representations that use the same component.

A material definition is a group of settings for the display properties of a real-world material, such as glass, brick, or wood.  The settings define how the components assigned to the material appear in every view.  The materials feature works with the display system to simplify the process of customizing the display of drawings.  Rather than specifying individual properties, you can control the display of objects according to the materials assigned to the physical components of the objects.  In addition, if the materials change during the project, you can reassign components to the new material.  Sample styles in AutoCAD Architecture catalogs contain predefined materials assigned to their components.  You can use these materials in your drawings, customize them, or create your own materials.

The display system has three major elements:

  • Display representation – controls how an individual object is displayed
  • Display set – a group of display representations of objects
  • Display configuration – a collection of display sets assigned to particular view directions

These three elements are hierarchical:  Each display configuration contains a number of display sets and each display set contains a number of display representations.  To use a display configuration, you assign it to a viewport. The objects in the viewport then use the display properties specified in the display configuration.

You use different display configurations for different tasks such as sketching and plotting.  You also use different display configurations for different types of drawings such as floor plans, 3D models, and elevations.  AutoCAD Architecture includes templates with predefined display configurations applied to viewports.  These configurations are created for typical architectural tasks and drawing types.  You can use the configurations and viewports supplied by the templates or you can modify the display system settings to suit your office standards.  If you want to create your own display configurations, you can start a drawing from scratch or from a template that does not contain predefined display configurations.

Display Manager

The Display Manager is a centralized location for the display system information for your drawing in AutoCAD Architecture.  The Display Manager is used to create and modify display configurations, display sets, and display representations.  The Display Manager window can be resized as needed to view display information.  To open the Display manager, click on the Manage tab of the ribbon, Style & Display panel, then select Display Manager.

On the left pane of the Display Manager is a hierarchical tree view that organizes the display information for your drawings.  You can add, rename, purge, send, and copy display system components in this area.  As you select items in the left pane, you will notice that the right pane is updated (see Figure 1).

The right pane of the Display Manager contains information about your selection in the left pane.  In this area, you can view display sets and mapped view directions that are associated with each display configuration.  You can also view the display representations of objects and preview how an object is displayed.

Figure 1

Display Sets

Let’s take a more in-depth look at display sets.  Display sets are collections of object display representations.  A display set determines which objects are visible and how these objects are displayed in different views.  A display set contains display representations that are appropriate for specific tasks and/or drawing types.  For example, the Reflected display set contains display representations for objects that are usually included in a reflected ceiling plan (see Figure 2).

It is possible for a display set to contain more than one display representation for an object.  For example, a display set designated for plotting a floor plan might include the Plan and Threshold Plan display representations for doors.  In this example, Plan display representation contains components for the door panel, frame, stop, and swing; whereas, the Threshold Plan display representation contains components for the inner and outer thresholds of the door.

If a display set does not contain display representations for a particular object, the object is not displayed when that display set is used.  For example, a reflected ceiling plan’s display set does not need representations for railings, which usually are not shown in these drawings.

A display set is not dependent on view direction, although it usually is designed with a specific view in mind.  Similarly, a Plan display set might contain Plan display representations for a number of objects intended for two-dimensional (2D) top views.  A three-dimensional (3D) model display set might contain the Model display representation for a number of objects.  The display representations included in a display set depend on what representations are available for each object and whether objects need to be drawn differently from different view directions.

Drawings based on templates provided with AutoCAD Architecture contain display sets for many purposes.  All drawings, including those that are not created from templates, contain the following default display sets:  Elevation, Model, Model High Detail, Model Low Detail, Plan, Plan High Detail, Plan Low Detail, and Reflected.  These display sets contain display representations for each object based on the most common design situations.

To create a Display Set, begin by clicking on the Format menu, select Display manager, and expand Sets.  If you want to create a display set with default properties, right-click Sets and click New  (see Figure 3).  If you want to create a display set from an already existing display set, right-click the display set you want to copy and click New.  Enter the name for the new display set and hit Enter.  Specify the display representations to use in this display set and click OK.

Figure 2

Figure 3

Display Representations

Display representations define how the components that make up an object are drawn.  In traditional CAD and manual drafting, a single object such as a door is typically drawn multiple times in different drawings.  In these drawings, each instance of a door is a separate collection of linework.  In AutoCAD Architecture, you can create an object that changes the way it draws itself depending on the display representation used to represent that object.  Many AEC objects are made up of individual components.  Each component of an object has both physical and graphical properties that help to determine the display representation of that object.  The physical properties of an object control height, width, location, and shape of the object in the drawing.  The graphical properties control visibility, color, layer, and linetype.

The physical properties of an object are typically decided when you create it.  For example, you specify the size of a door and its location in a wall.  The graphical properties of an object are controlled in its display representation.  Multiple display representations can be defined for the same object.

All AEC objects have predefined display representations.  Most objects have Plan, Model, and Reflected display representations, because these are the most common design situations.  Other objects have only a General representation because the display of these objects does not change in different views.

A single object can be drawn in several ways, depending on the needs of each drawing type.  For example, the Plan display representation draws the door panel, stop, frame, and swing components (see Figure 4). The Nominal display representation draws the door panel, frame, and swing components.  Even though both representations draw the door panel, each draws it differently.  The Plan representation draws a door panel as a rectangle, while the Nominal representation draws it as a single line.

The display representations available for an object and the names of those representations are based on the ways that you might need to view the object.  Display representations can include different components of an object or additional display options.

To create a Display Representation for an object, begin by clicking on the Format menu, select Display Manager, and expand Representations by Object.  Select the object for which to create the new display representation.  In the right pane of the Display Manager, right-click the display representation to duplicate and click Duplicate (see Figure 5). Enter a new name for this display representation and hit Enter.  The new display representation will have the display properties of the representation you just duplicated.  Please note that the display representation created in the right pane will not be listed in the Representations by Object directory in the left pane until you close and reopen the Display Manager.  Double click the new display representation to edit its properties and then assign the display representation to the display sets in which they will be used.  When finished, click OK.  You can also click Apply instead of OK to save the changes and continue working in the Display Manager.

To edit a Display Representation, begin by clicking on the Format menu, select Display Manager, and expand Representations by Object.  Next, expand the object that contains the display representation you want to edit and select the display representation to edit (see Figure 6). The display properties you can edit will depend on the object and the display representation that you select.  Select the Layer/Color/Linetype tab in order to change the AutoCAD properties, including the visibility of the object components and whether their display is controlled by the material assignment.  If applicable, select tabs such as Hatching or Other to change object-specific display properties.  When you finish editing display properties, click OK.

Figure 4

Figure 5

Figure 6

Display Configurations

A display configuration is basically a collection of display sets assigned to view directions.  A display configuration is created for a specific design task or drawing type.  To use a display configuration, you need to assign it to a viewport.  Drawings based on templates provided with AutoCAD Architecture contain layout tabs with viewports to which appropriate display configurations are assigned.  You can use the configuration assigned to a viewport, assign a different one, or customize the configuration. 

You can identify the display set assigned to each view direction using the Display Manager.  In the Display Manager, the active viewport in the drawing is assigned the Medium Detail display configuration.  In the left pane, the display sets used are listed below the configuration name.  An icon next to each display set indicates the view direction to which the display set is applied.  The Configuration tab in the right pane shows the view direction to which each display set is mapped.

The display configuration, the current viewport, and the object interact in the following manner to determine what is shown in a viewport:

  • The active viewport has a current view direction and a current display configuration.
  • The display configuration has one or more display sets and uses the display set that is assigned to the current view direction.
  • The display set has associated display representations and it selects the representation associated with the object that needs to be shown.
  • The object is shown in the active viewport using the appropriate display representation and display properties.

The display configurations in a drawing depend on the template used to create the drawing.  A drawing that is not created from a template contains the Standard display configuration, which includes the Plan and Model display sets.

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About the Authors

Melinda Heavrin

Melinda Heavrin

Melinda Heavrin is a CAD Coordinator & Facility Planner for Norton Healthcare in Louisville, Kentucky.  She has been using AutoCAD Architecture since release 2000.  Melinda can be reached for comments and questions at


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