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AutoCAD Command and Setting Tips to Help You Advance

The winter of 1991/92 was especially bad where I lived (Nova Scotia, Canada) with record amounts of snowfall. Many people couldn’t make it in to work because the snowplows couldn’t keep up with snow removal or because school was cancelled every other day, forcing many parents to stay home with their kids.

Somehow, I always managed to make it in to the office.

With no one in the office to feed me work, I had a lot of downtime—so I took this opportunity to learn as much about AutoCAD® as I could.  For Christmas that year, my mother gave me an AutoCAD book called the AutoCAD Command Reference for Release 11.  It explained every AutoCAD command listed from A to Z, complete with what additional options were available for that command as well as related commands and system variables. 

During that winter, I tried to learn the ins and outs of every command from “ARC” to “ZOOM.” I attribute this point in time to when I started getting “really good” with AutoCAD. It wasn’t hard to do because let’s be honest, there were fewer commands back then.  Even so, long before toolbars, ribbons, and dynamic input you either used pull-down menus or you HAD to know the commands (back then I didn’t care for the pull-down menus).

In this issue, I hope to present some command and system variable tips that might help troubleshoot some problems—or prevent them—which will definitely make you feel like an advanced user. 

Note: For even more tricks, please check out the article, “New Old Tricks for Newbies and Old Dogs,” which appeared March 2015 issue of AUGIWorld.

Make Dashed Linetypes in Polylines Look Consistent with PLINEGEN

As a CAD user who does civil/municipal type work, I tend to use a lot of polylines for my site plans (e.g., a center linetype for the invert flow of a ditch in plan) and they tend to meander around, forcing the need to have multiple vertices spaced close together. As a result, sometimes the gaps in the “broken” center linetype will not display consistently (i.e., lots of continuous looking lines and hardly any gaps).  Within the Properties Manager, you can set the linetype display to “Enabled” to fix it.

To prevent this in the first place, you can set the system variable PLINEGEN to a value of 1, and the broken linetype of your polyline will appear properly as you create it without the need to fix it afterwards. 

However, there will be times you don’t want the gaps to be evenly spaced.  For example, let’s say you are drawing the footing outline of a foundation wall as a hidden linetype. You would actually want to see each of the corners have a connection each time the footing changes direction.  If PLINEGEN is set to 1, the corners may show as gaps, which gives the impression there are inaccuracies in the footing.  Note that this system variable is drawing specific, not global.

CAD File Identity Crisis with MEASUREMENT (Part One)

For the longest time, CAD users who create drawings using metric measurements had to use some conversion factors to get linetypes and hatch patterns to appear properly on their drawings.  For a number of years now, Autodesk has created templates that take metric values into consideration (Hint: template DWT files that have “iso” in their name means they are metric drawings), but a number of people still choose the wrong template to use, and then the linetypes and hatch patterns will not appear properly. 

Short of having to recreate your drawing using the correct template, you can use the MEASUREMENT system variable to lend a hand and fix your existing linetypes.  The system variable MEASUREMENT only has two setting options: 0 (“zero”), which tells AutoCAD to use the ACAD.lin and ACAD.pat files respectively; and a setting of 1 (“one”), which tells AutoCAD to use the ACADISO.lin and ACADISO.pat files.  Once you have set MEASUREMENT to the desired setting, use the command LINETYPE to reload your linetypes, REGEN your drawing, and finally set LTSCALE accordingly. Unfortunately, you will have to edit each scale factor of hatch patterns separately. Tip: change one of them and then perform a “Match Properties” to adjust similar patterns.

CAD File Identity Crisis with –DWGUNITS (Part Deux)

Expanding on the theme of your drawing with an identity crisis, was there ever a time when you tried to INSERT, XREF, or PASTE something into your current drawing file, but the item you were importing was scaled either too big or too small?  Even if the UNITS (et. al.) between both the source file and destination file were the same (i.e., millimeters to millimeters, inches to inches, etc.) nothing comes in to the correct scale.  Chances are either the source file or the destination file may be having an identity crisis. 

To solve this, enter the system variable –DWGUNITS (Note: include the hyphen at the beginning), and the following steps will appear:

Command: -DWGUNITS

1. Inches

2. Feet

3. Millimeters

4. Centimeters

5. Decimeters

6. Meters

Unit for length <3>:

Drawing unit display formats:

1. Scientific

2. Decimal

Linear display format <2>:

Linear display precision <4>:

Scale objects from other drawings upon insert? [Yes/No]: N

As you see in the first three steps, you set the values accordingly, but take note of the last option to scale objects upon insertion. The best bet is to always answer “No” to this option, but you may have to experiment.

So what’s going on?  The short answer is, “Vertical Applications.” If a drawing was created or even just opened and saved by a vertical application other than AutoCAD, whatever the UNITS were set to in the vertical application when the drawing was saved will override how the units are/were set in regular AutoCAD.

Once –DWGUNITS are set properly in both the source and definition files, objects being imported into the destination file will work properly.

The Following PREVIEW Has Been Approved by Every CAD User

For a number of releases now, AutoCAD has had the ability to set the Layout tabs to a WYSIWYG (“What You See Is What You Get”) format so that you don’t have to take the time to do a “Plot Preview.”  However, there are still a lot of people who turn this feature off because they may find it distracting during the design process, but will do a Plot Preview at a later date.  For those of you who do this, here is a simple method to eliminate one of those steps. Instead of entering the PLOT command and clicking the “Preview” button, all you have to do is enter the command PREVIEW and you will instantly get a preview of how your drawing will plot as a hard copy based on your current plotter/printer settings.

SAVE Your Drawing When QSave Won’t Save

Have you ever encountered the error message: “Filename.dwg has a command in progress”?  You’ll discover no matter what you do, whether it be clicking the QSave icon, entering Ctrl-S on your keyboard, or even entering SAVEAS, you get the “…has a command in progress” error.

Sometimes, even trying to close the drawing without saving won’t work.

Try entering the SAVE command at the command line instead. I can say from personal experience this method works.

Duplicate a Block Definition with BSAVEAS   

In the old days, if you wanted to duplicate an existing block definition that required subtle differences, the method was to INSERT the block, EXPLODE it, make the unique changes to its geometry, and then define a new block.  This method worked well, but in the advent of Dynamic Blocks, this method became a problem because once you exploded the block, it would lose its Dynamic Properties. 

So, to duplicate a block definition without destroying its Dynamic Properties, first use the BEDIT command to open the desired block in the Block Editor to duplicate in your current drawing. Then before making any modifications, use the BSAVEAS command and save it as a new block name when prompted. 

Take note that once you define the new block name, you will still be in the block editor environment and editing the new block you just created.  The block definition you originally opened is still safe and sound.  Now simply make the desired changes and exit the block editor accordingly.

A Sorbet of Commands to Cleanse the Palette

The addition of tool palettes has been a part of AutoCAD’s (et. al.) interface for a number of years now.  However, some of us are still like using the “old fashioned” dialog boxes—some for personal reasons, other for performance reasons.

Whatever the case, below is a list of commands and system variables that help turn off the palette for certain functions in order to use its dialog box equivalent.

CLASSICIMAGE (command): This command lets you attach and detach image files in a dialog box designed specifically for managing image files (i.e., no xrefs or pdfs, etc.).

CLASSICXREF (command): This command, like the CLASSICIMAGE command, allows you to manage external reference files (aka XREFs) in a dialog box designed just for XREFs.

CLASSICLAYER (command): As with the previous two commands listed above, you will get a dialog box to manipulate layers. Another option is to set the system variable LAYERDLGMODE to a value of 1, and the LAYER command goes from using a palette interface to that of an old fashioned dialog box.

HPDLGMODE (system variable): With this system variable set to a value of 1, you will get to create your hatch patterns via a dialog instead of a palette.

Note that using the dialog box versions of these commands has all the same features and functions as its palette counterpart.

OOPS, I Did it Again!

Yes, believe it or not, there is an AutoCAD command called “OOPS.” How many times while editing a drawing file have you erased a selection of objects only to discover later that you needed them after all?  Traditionally, when someone realizes they needed those objects, they will repeatedly use the UNDO command until they get back to the point during their editing session before they erased the objects.  Instead of losing all that time and effort, try using the OOPS command.  This will bring the last set of objects that you erased back into your drawing in the spot from where they originated without affecting the rest of the drawing.  Please keep in mind that OOPS only brings back the very last set of objects you deleted.

Do UNDO To You

Speaking of the UNDO command, there will be times when you will need to UNDO several steps to get back to a certain point during your editing session. Instead of entering the UNDO command and then pressing the ‘Enter’ key over and over again to repeat the command in order to get back to that particular point, you can do one of two things: 

First option: Look at the UNDO icon on the Quick Access toolbar. You should see a small pull-down menu arrow, and if you click on it, a pull-down window will appear listing all the commands you recently used up to that point.  Simply select the particular command that you want to UNDO to, and your editing session will undo everything back to that point.

Second option: An UNDO trick that goes way back is you can enter the specific number of steps to UNDO. Simply enter the UNDO command, and then enter a desired number (e.g., 20) and the UNDO command will then undo the last 20 commands.

Bonus Tip: There will be times when a user just knows they may need to UNDO the next several editing steps in case what they are creating won’t work.  You can actually pre-set the UNDO command before you continue on with your work. Simply enter the UNDO command and enter the letter “M” for “Mark” which acts as a placeholder.  Then create and modify objects in your drawing as you normally would, and if you realize the results are not what you were hoping for, enter the UNDO command again and enter the option “B” for “Back,” and everything you did will be undone back to the point where you assigned the “Mark” placeholder.  The nice thing about using the “Mark” option is that undoing goes a lot faster, and you prevent accidentally undoing further back than you desire.

Activate GRIPS of Last Selection of Objects with PSELECT

I’m a huge fan of manipulating objects using GRIPS because it saves time when editing an object (e.g., Stretching an object’s endpoint with its grips goes quicker than using the STRETCH command).  It’s also productive to manipulate the grips of several objects at once with their grips activated.  However, if you press the “Escape” key to cancel the active grips of the selected objects, it can be time consuming to reselect the same objects if you need to manipulate them again.  If you want to reactivate the grips again of the previous selection set, simply enter the command PSELECT, and when prompted, enter “P” for “Previous.” The objects you were previously manipulating will again be activated with its grips.

Create Shortcuts To Drawing Folders With the OPEN Command

Over the years, Autodesk has created several ways to open your drawings quickly (e.g., double-clicking a drawing file, drag-n-drop a drawing file, pinning drawing files to the taskbar, etc.), but many users are still content with just using the old fashioned OPEN command.  However, these users will attest that it can take time to navigate through your company servers to find the right project folder on the right designated drive.  For example, a company may arrange its servers with several drives and folders in order to arrange them for specific tasks (e.g., active projects, archived projects, branch office servers, etc).

The following trick allows you to manipulate the OPEN dialog box to make it quicker to navigate your server.

While in AutoCAD, enter the command OPEN like you normally would, and navigate to a folder on your network that you constantly need to access.  Then, right-click in the left-hand pane of the dialog box and select the menu option “Add Current Folder.” A shortcut to that folder will now reside in the navigation pane of the OPEN dialog box. You can also change the shortcut’s display name by right-clicking on it and selecting “Properties.”

Here’s an additional trick. I typically work with several engineers at any given time on numerous projects, and remembering which project belongs to which engineer can be a challenge. To solve this, I created a number of folders to host shortcuts for every engineer’s projects.  First, I create several blank folders and name it for each engineer I work with.  Then, I create shortcuts within the folders for each corresponding engineer’s projects. And finally, as outlined above, I create a shortcut to each of my engineer’s folders within the navigation pane of the OPEN dialog box.  Within the OPEN dialog box, I am literally only two navigation clicks away from getting to a desired project folder.

Please note you may notice a performance drop in case the shortcuts become invalid, so be diligent when managing your shortcuts.

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