TIPniques: Why You Should Use a Template

August 26th, 2011

Last month TIPniques unofficially started a new series of articles, “Why you should be…”  Last month’s article took a look at Sheet Sets and why you should be using them.  This month’s article looks at using templates in AutoCAD. 

What is a template file?  In AutoCAD, a template file, with a few exceptions, is like a standard DWG file. The most obvious difference between the two is the file extension.  A standard AutoCAD file has a DWG file extension.  A template file has a DWT file extension.  They can be opened, saved, copied, and edited just like a standard file.  A DWT files does have some functionality to it that makes it different from a regular file.

What Can a Template File Do?

Template files provide users a place to start.  Not only do they give a starting point, but they also force your team to be a team.  A properly executed template file, or series of template files, will instill standardization increase efficiency.  Standards are created and enforced because the template file comes preset with plot styles, layers, blocks, styles, and more.  Since these drawing attributes are preinstalled, it also creates efficiency.  And since these features are preset, CAD Standards are automatically implemented and enforced. 

Efficiency

One of the greatest downfalls in working with CAD, or working in general, is inefficient practices.  The reason CAD was invented was because it can make design work easier to do.  CAD’s biggest advantage over board drafting is that it reduces the amount of time and effort it takes to do repetitive work.  One example is a titleblock.  Titleblocks can be preset in a template file.  If Sheet Sets are used even more time is saved because Sheet Sets can work in conjunction with titleblocks containing attributed text.  Create a template file, use Sheet Sets, and tie them together.

Efficiency is also gained through template files because there is no need to set up your file.  Apart from titleblocks, a good template will also contain page setups.  A page setup is made up of the settings needed for a drawing to be properly printed from AutoCAD.  If the office has multiple printers or plotters, a page setup can be pre-assigned for each of them.  Different sheet sizes can be preset.  If there is a plot setting needed, a template can contain it in a page setup.  Nobody will have to setup printers.  This saves time and ensures proper printing.

Layers, styles, and blocks can all be added to a template file.  Setting up paper space tabs ahead of time will also save time and effort.  Setting up these features ahead of time means that users will not have to spend time on them later.  Whatever is done before a project is started will not have to be done during the lifetime of the project.

Standardization

The same features about template files that increase efficiency also create standardization.  They also implement and enforce standards.  Make sure to start every drawing with a company template.  This will ensure that every user creates a drawing that reflects the company, not an individual's taste.  If multiple people work on a project it will be more likely that each file is set up the same way.  Each user will use the same layers, the same dimension styles, the same text styles, the same colors, the same blocks, the same everything—or at least close to it.  Have a standard titleblock?  Put it in the template.  Users are more likely to use what is already there than they are to create their own versions of layers, blocks, styles, and so on.  They still will from time to time but, that can be monitored and fixed. 

How to Use

Setting up a DWT file is one thing, but how should it be used?  That may seem to be a strange question but it really isn’t.  A template file will do no good if users aren’t using it.  The easiest way is to assign the template file to the QNEW command in AutoCAD.  That is done in Options, File tab.  Scroll down to Default Template File Name For Qnew.  Browse to the DWT file location and select it.  When a user uses the Qnew command the template file is automatically loaded.  This eliminates errors, even accidental ones. 

Also set the default template folder location to the new command.  This way when users execute the NEW command they will be taken to the folder where the template file is.  They won’t have to hunt for it nor will they go to the wrong folder.  This really shouldn’t be a problem because you really shouldn’t have template files in more than one place anyway—except maybe for different departments in the company.  Remember not to open a DWT file.  If a DWT file is opened, it will be edited.  Always use either the NEW or Qnew command.  This loads the template file into AutoCAD as DWG file.  When saved for the first time, AutoCAD will prompt the user for a name and location.  Otherwise the user will be working in the DWT file and will mess things up for you and others trying to use it.

How to Create

Creating a template is fairly straightforward.  Start AutoCAD, start a file, set everything and use the Save As feature.  Change the file type from DWG to DWT.  A window will open where information about the DWT file can be entered.  Type in a brief description of the file.  This will help users distinguish it from other template files.  Enter in the measurement type: English or Metric.  There is also a reconcile layers setting.  The options are to save all layers as unreconciled or to save them as reconciled.  When finished press OK and the template is ready to use.  Now add it to the Qnew command.  When it comes time to update the template use the open command to open it.  This will allow editing.

 

Good CAD Practice

As with all things CAD there are good and bad ways to implement template files.  Perhaps the biggest tip is to limit what is done with templates.  Too many presets in a template are overwhelming.  Users will tend to ignore what is there and create their own layers and styles.

Don’t create a template file that can serve all possible needs ever.  There are two aspects about this that are wrong.  One is that it can’t be done.  There is no way to know what will be needed for any instance.  Along with the template file create a method of creating layers.  That way when special case layers are needed, users will know how to create them— and will.  Creating a few layers for a special case takes less time than scrolling through thousands (yes literally thousands) of layers in a file.

Many companies have more than one department.  If that’s true then each department will have different CAD needs.  Make a template for each department.  The planning department will not need everything the surveying department needs.  There will be a lot of overlap, of course, but that’s okay.  Also keep in mind that the more template files there are, the more there will be to maintain.  Make multiple templates, but keep the amount of files as low as possible.  Don’t overdo it. 

One last thing.  Limit the number of blocks in your template file.  Blocks will cause file bloat, quickly increasing the file size. Instead, make a block folder on the server.  Add those blocks to a Tool Palette, which will make it easier to maintain, update, migrate, and use. 

When creating a template file or files, keep it simple.  Only put in it what is commonly used.  Again, don’t overdo it.  If you aren’t using a template file, you are wasting your time, the company’s time, and your client’s time.  

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About the Authors

Brian Benton

Brian Benton

Brian Benton is a Senior Engineering Technician, CAD Service Provider, technical writer and blogger. He has more than 19 years of experience in various design fields (Mechanical, Structural, Civil, Survey, Marine, Environmental) and is well versed in many design software packages (CAD, GIS, Graphics). He is Cadalyst Magazine’s Tip Patroller and Infinite Skills AutoCAD training video author. Contact him at cad-a-blog.com.

 

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