AutoCAD: Little Changes, Big Impact

Figure 1: AutoCAD 2013 introduces a new DWG file format.

Autodesk has announced the 27th release of AutoCAD®!  AutoCAD 2013 (code named Jaws during testing) has several new features, system variables, and a slightly revised user interface. The newest release also starts a new drawing file format. Note that previous versions of AutoCAD will not be able to open up AutoCAD 2013 .DWG files. This new file format includes changes to the thumbnail preview file format and new controls for graphics caching.  Thumbnails are now PNG files. 

Many of the changes in this release are updates or enhancements to existing features. These changes pertain to the user interface or user interaction, model interaction, drawing documentation, and cloud connectivity.


The last time Autodesk changed the AutoCAD interface we were given the ribbon. The changes in this release are not nearly as dramatic.

The Welcome screen displays first thing once AutoCAD is started.  This in itself is not a new feature, but there are new features within this screen.  There is the typical “What’s New” and “Getting Started” video links. The screen also displays recently opened files, contains links to open a file or create a new file.  There are links to the newly released Autodesk 360, the AutoCAD Exchange App Store, and AutoCAD-related social media sites. Of course, you have the ability to turn off this feature and access its content through the help menu.

Figure 2: The Welcome screen provides direct access to the Autodesk Exchange App store, Autodesk 360, and AutoCAD Social Media.

The Command Line, while still there and functioning as it did before, has been reworked.  There is now more control over its display properties.  Instead of being a screen-wide palette by default, it is now a smaller, pop-up palette.  It still has palette-like settings (you can return it to a full screen view) and it features display settings for color and transparency.  It can also display command history by accessing recent commands automatically.  It can be docked at the top or bottom of the AutoCAD Window or left to float on the screen. 

When undocked, the command line is displayed as a single row of text with a semi-transparent history that can display up to 50 lines.  You can still press the F2 key to show the text window.  It won’t be its own window, but will display the past history above the command line.  When typing in a command (with dynamic input turned off) the autocomplete feature will display commands above the command line when it is not docked. 

Figure 3: The command line has an updated visual display.

AutoCAD 2013 has in-canvas property preview enhancements.  Changes to selected objects can be previewed before they are made.  Select an object while the properties palette is opened.  Use it to make a change in color.  While you hover over the different color options the selected object will display the new color before the change is made.  This feature can be turned on or off in the OPTIONS dialog window in the Selection tab.

AutoCAD 2012 gave us new array features and 2013 enhances those changes, thus making the array command easier to use.  The three array types each start with a standard arrangement of the selected object.  Rectangular Array displays a 3 x 4 grid of the objects, Polar Array displays a six-object circle, and the Path array displays the objects evenly spaced along the path.  Once started and displayed, you can enter in the values on the command line or use the grips on the block to make changes to row and column spacing, number of items, radius, and so on.  Its new visual display and arrangement make editing and creating your array much easier.
The Viewports Panel on the ribbon has been renamed and reworked into two panels, Model Viewports and Layout Viewports.  These new panels provide a visual interface for creating the appropriate type of viewport.

Figure 4: Working with Viewports is easier with ribbon-based controls.

Some other interface changes I’d like to mention do not change the functionality in a great way; rather, they are small things that make existing commands a bit better. One is in the Quick View Drawings thumbnail previews.  The current view is now labeled with a larger, boldface type, which makes identification of the current view easier. The Hatch editor can now edit multiple hatch objects at one time. Again, not a huge deal, but a nice enhancement.  Raster images that are inserted or referenced in a file will have a better display quality due to enhancements in the algorithm used. In the External Reference Manager, users can edit the Saved Path directly in the palette and the Found path is read-only.  Also, referencing files as a Relative Path is now the default (unless it is not available). Legacy snap behavior (before AutoCAD 2012) of being able to enforce it during point acquisition has been restored. 

Model Interaction

AutoCAD has turned into a powerful 3D modeling machine over the past several releases.  This release has enhanced several of those tools.  Point Cloud support is improved and more streamlined.  There are more Point Cloud tools available on the new Point Cloud panel, which is found on the Insert tab of the ribbon.  You can now attach and manage point cloud files similarly to working with xrefs, images, and other externally referenced files.  Selecting a referenced point cloud will display a box around the cloud showing you where it is.  You can also adjust the point cloud density and color with the new tools.  Users can also CLIP a point cloud as you would a referenced file.  And the indexing of point cloud data files has been streamlined. 

Working with 3D objects is a bit easier due to the enhanced PressPull command, which is more flexible than before.  Use the Multiple option or press the Shift key to select more than one object to press/pull at the same time.  You can now also select 2D and 3D curves and are no longer limited to clicking inside a bounded area.  When extruding a face, the default behavior is to pull out, but press the CTRL key and you can offset the boundary of the area so that the pulled are tapers.

The new Extract Isolines tool in the Curves panel of the Surface ribbon tab lets you extract isolines from an existing surface or from the face of a solid.  Options within the command let you change the direction of the isolines, select a chain of isolines, or draw a spline on the curved surface.

AutoCAD 2013 now allows you to import Autodesk Inventor® models directly into model space using the good old Import command.

Drawing Documentation

The major enhancements in AutoCAD 2013 come in the form of drawing documentation features.  For example, the VIEWBASE or Base View command has been improved. Other new commands will help you use a VIEWBASE object to create cross sections and details of your model in seconds.  The Base View tool is found in the Layout tab on the ribbon in the Create View panel.  It can be started from either model space or paper space.  You can create orthogonal views, in paper space without a viewport, of selected 3D objects or from an imported Inventor model. 

The VIEWBASE command creates standard ortho views (front, top, side, iso) similarly to how it did in AutoCAD 2012.  It is very quick and easy to do.  Once your Base View has been created,  you can use the new commands to make a cross section or detail view.  Section Views are made by clicking the Section flyout button in the ribbon.  You can create a full, half, offset, aligned, or from object type of a section view.  The view is dynamic, meaning that if the model is updated so will the section.  Create details in a similar fashion.  These details are drawn at a different scale zooming in to get a closer look at your model.  Details are also dynamic, meaning that they will update if the model is updated.  All views (sections and details) have annotation that is generated automatically when you create them.  They can also be edited once created.  I would love to go into more detail about how to use this new tool, but I am running out of space.  Suffices to say this is a great tool that has been made better with its additions and new functionality.  Making orthogonal view drawings, cross sections, and details has never been easier in AutoCAD!

Figure 5: These views, projections, cross sections, and detail were created in seconds with the new Base View commands.

Other little updates in AutoCAD 2013 functions are equally nice. One is an improvement to the Export Layout to Model tool.  It will now export circles and arcs as circles or arcs instead of making them polylines.  Multi-lined text, Mleaders, dimensions and tables all have a new Strikethrough formatting style that will create a “strikethough” line in your text.  The number of display rows for the font drop-down list has been increased in the Text Style dialog, the Text Editor ribbon tab, and the ArcAligned dialog box.  Leaders are now included on the TextToFront tool.  The MLeader text box has been updated with a margin between the text and the frame to provide a minimum width for the mtext in order to prevent text overflow.  Wipeouts now include the option to display, but not to plot the wipeout frame.  Use WIPEOUTFRAME and set it to 2, just like in IMAGEFRAME.  Now when using the OFFSET command you will get a preview of the offset once you have entered a distance and hover over an object.


Autodesk has been developing a cloud-based service for some time now.  AutoCAD 2013 integrates with several of those cloud services.  If you are on Autodesk subscription or have set up a free account, you can login to your Autodesk cloud account and store and share files online. Log on to the Autodesk Cloud from the Infocenter toolbar.  Not only can you store files in the cloud but you can store AutoCAD program specifics.  You can sync your program appearance, profiles, workspaces, options, and support files across the Internet.  Go to the ONLINE ribbon tab to get to many cloud-based settings.  The Autodesk 360 button will give you access to the files you have stored online.  The Online options button controls your settings.  “Open on Mobile” sends your file to your mobile device. Note that your device needs to be signed in to the AutoCAD WS mobile app. Upload Multiple lets you upload more than one file to the cloud at a time.  The settings buttons manage your account settings.  The Share Document button will send your file to another person.  Collaborate Now will open the current file in AutoCAD WS and allow you to share your session with others.

The CAD Manager Control Utility has been updated to include controls for Autodesk Cloud tools.  This allows CAD managers to control how their company’s users will interact with the cloud-based tools.

AutoCAD 2013 also comes with built-in cloud rendering tools.  That means if you have a large file to render, you can take advantage of the power of many computers to assist you. 

The Stay Connected feature in the InfoCenter makes it easier to stay up to date on your AutoCAD software and to remain connected to the online AutoCAD community.  Log on to the Subscription center and view AutoCAD Facebook and Twitter posts here. 

The Content Explorer has been given new enhancements as well. For example, it has indexing support for file name, date created, etc.) for many more file types than before.  Any file that can be opened, imported, or attached using AutoCAD can be indexed. 


AutoCAD 2013 is an interesting update in that many of the changes to it are enhancements to existing tools rather than brand new tools. It also includes many online or cloud-based tools and functionality.  This native support makes using Autodesk’s cloud services easier and more streamlined.

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