CAD Advice from an Expert Elite

You have just decided you want to be a CAD drafter or designer. Maybe you are midway through your career and have a passion for CAD and would like to make a change. In my long career, I have seen many people look at my screen and say, “That looks like fun, I would like to work in AutoCAD.” All of those lines and colors and many of us get a big monitor, too. It is fun.

That being said, it is hard work as well. Being a good CAD drafter and/or designer takes fundamental knowledge of drafting and design as well as the patience to make things not only look right on screen, but also have the data organized and controlled within the CAD file itself. These are my tips on how to build your skills as a beginner and some reminders for long-term users not to forget the rules, standards, and guidelines of drafting and design that have been in place for many years.

AutoCAD® 2016 you will be taken to a default start tab with LEARN and CREATE buttons as shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1: LEARN - CREATE

AutoCAD Orientation

Notice how the LEARN button has a 6 next to it and the CREATE section shows no number at all. The number 6 indicates that there are six new videos posted on new tools and or features within the software. All beginners as well as experienced users should view these small video tutorials. Figure 2 shows the What’s New topic with a new features video on AutoCAD. Upon selecting the CREATE button shown in Figure 1 you have the option to start a new drawing, open up recent drawings, and sign-in to your A360 online account.

Figure 2: What's New videos

The middle section of the LEARN window contains “getting started” videos and feature videos for AutoCAD. These videos are typically under five minutes in length and are intended to get you familiar with the topic to explore further. The feature videos will cover a specific topic that may not be considered a basic or introductory video for AutoCAD. Some of you may turn these features off because they take time to load and you believe you are beyond the basics. Yes, you can change system variables to launch AutoCAD without these resources, but I suggest you take a look at them prior to turning off.

Learn - Connect - Explore

When you go to the Autodesk University website you see the terms learn, connect, and explore. That is exactly what I believe this next section is indended to accomplish. The first window contains learning tips where you can scroll through simple tips designed to help beginners as well as experienced users. Even advanced users may find something in here that they are unaware of. You can use the arrow keys to scroll through helpful learning tips as shown in Figure 3 or select “More information,” which will take you to the help file for a more detailed description of the tip provided.

Next up comes Connect and Explore. You will be provided with online resources to help you improve your skills and continue to grow and learn with the software as shown in Figure 4.

Figure 3: Learning Tips

Figure 4: Online Resources

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to AutoCAD Basics  

Every time an experienced user or even a beginner (as shown in the opening photo) asks me, “I want to learn AutoCAD, where do I start”? I always send them to the Hitchhiker’s Guide to AutoCAD Basics. I love this option in AutoCAD. Even as an experienced user I went through the entire guide to understand and view the workflow that is being presented. When you first launch the guide you will read the following statement: “This guide is a great place to get started if you just completed your initial training, or to refresh your memory if you use AutoCAD only occasionally. The included commands are grouped together according to types of activity, and are arranged to follow a general workflow.” I could not have said it any better.

Figure 5: Hitchhiker’s Guide to AutoCAD Basics

There are 12 major topics, which are shown in bold in in Figure 5. This is designed as you would develop a workflow. You start with the basics, setting up a drawing and getting to know your software. You end with printing or publishing your project. All drafting and design projects have a start and end point; typically starting with the setup (basics) and ending with an output (printing).

Within the interactive map simply select the bold text and you will be taken to a knowledge base article showing you how to use the command during design and to help improve workflow. Scroll down on the web page for a more outlined approach by showing the topic as a link. Both ways are effective and retrieve the same results.

Did you know if you hover over a command (be patient) AutoCAD will give you a description of what the command does and in some cases it will display an example (as shown in Figure 6)? Not all commands have visual examples, but all commands offer you the option of selecting F1, which will take you to the help menu for more information about the command.

AutoCAD Advice

The help menu within AutoCAD will provide you with a more in-depth description of the command and examples on how the command may be used during workflow.

Figure 6: Help is a hover away

Autodesk University

Autodesk University does not just happen once a year. You can learn anytime anywhere 24/7 with online classes and video tutorials to help you become more proficient. As the site states, “Get insights from industry experts, sharpen your skills, and explore what’s possible using Autodesk products—in person and online.” Simply create an online account then load up your personal AU section with all the free online learning tools you need. Autodesk University offers online classes to help you get the most out of Autodesk products and services, and share your knowledge with others.

Figure 7: Autodesk University

Autodesk Community

Get stuck while working with AutoCAD or any other software product from Autodesk? Visit the community. If you are curious about the community I suggest you take a look at Chris Benner’s class at Autodesk University 2015. My friend and fellow Expert Elite member presented a class on the community and how we can help you as you progress in your career using design tools. His class, titled “XI10614 - The Power of the Autodesk Community,” is designed to bring awareness to the community and how you can find resources to help you as you begin your career or continue to improve your professional status even to the point of becoming an Expert Elite member.

The Autodesk Community shares product-use information and comprises people helping others solve product issues and promote best practices to assist you in your daily design activities. Visit the forums and post a question. I am confident a member of the community will be right there to provide advice and the answer you need.

Figure 8: Autodesk Community


The world we live in today rotates around technology and new developments in engineering, science, and medicine. Computer-aided design and drafting play an important role in many areas of technology improvements. We as beginners and seasoned professionals are using design tools to solve complex problems.

This has become part of the norm within the industry as we grow and evolve as a society depending upon new and improved technologies. You may want to be a CAD drafter, a CAD designer, 3D modeler, or move into graphic design using CAD software to obtain the results. The choice is yours so take your time and make the right choice—the one that motivates you to go to the office, solve problems each day, and become a leader in your field.

As an Expert Elite member at Autodesk I am drawn to helping others, which also helps me become a better CAD manager and CAD designer. Helping others succeed and solve problems puts a smile on my face. Use the tools available and be prepared for an exciting challenge as you enter a career in CAD or continue to improve as a leader. Are you up to the challenge?

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