Get a Grip on AutoCAD

We all need to get a grip at some point and in AutoCAD® it's a great way of being more efficient.  By using grips, you can actually perform many functions without picking or typing any commands (except the space bar or CTRL key).

In any production environment, good designers and CADD techs are constantly thinking ahead. They know their next step or command before finishing their current command.  If you don't know where you're going or what you’re doing next, you’re losing time and productivity.

Grips are a great way to increase your productivity by allowing you to manipulate objects within AutoCAD by keeping your movement going, without actually having to pick or type a command.

I do not recall what version of AutoCAD introduced grips, but I know when they first came out, they confused and irritated a lot of CADD folks—it just seemed like more clutter on the screen.  Now many years later, surprisingly, some still feel the same.  Those of us who use grips probably don't even think twice about their presence, we just use them. In AutoCAD 2011, multi-function grips were added and these were further enhanced in AutoCAD 2013.

Where I work, a lot of people don't use grips and some even turn them off.  I had to create a button macro on our master menu to turn on the grips and enable "pickfirst” when I'm helping someone, because I can't stand to work without them—it’s not efficient.

So what can you do with grips?

  • Copy objects
  • Stretch objects
  • Move objects
  • Scale objects
  • Rotate objects
  • Mirror objects

The only input you need to do is select an object's grip and use the space bar to toggle through the options or use the CTRL key to copy it. The results will vary depending on the object selected—i.e., when selecting blocks and text with a grip, the default result is to move the object.

Experienced users, especially those using AutoCAD since the DOS days where command shortcuts ruled, utilize the keyboard extensively while they work and can get used to this added methodology easily (one hand on the keyboard one on the mouse).

Image courtesy of adamr /

Below are the options available when manipulating a grip selected object.

Select your object, select a grip, then tap space bar (or CTRL key) as described below and move your mouse to complete the command.

Stretch = Default—move mouse to stretch object from selected grip. (Note: many objects such as blocks and text or selecting center grips on circles and lines will actually move the object with this selection. Selecting other grip points will stretch it.)
Move = 1 space bar tap, moves object from selected grip point to new mouse selected location.
Rotate = 2 space bar taps, rotates object around selected grip.
Scale = 3 space bar taps, scales object with base point being the selected grip.
Mirror = 4 space bar taps, mirrors object around selected grip.
Copy = CTRL Key, object is copied to each point you select with the mouse.

Figure 1 illustrates some common entities with their grips shown.

Figure  1

Note that in the above graphic, the BLOCK has one grip and is great for moving or copying or rotating around the insertion point.  If your block looks like the mess in Figure 2, you have "Show grips within blocks enabled" (GRIPBLOCK = 1).

This will really clog up your screen and I recommend you turn off this option.

Figure 2

There are a few settings to implement and understand when using grips.  As with most AutoCAD settings, you can control grips through various methods, including the options dialog and system variables.  If you work with someone who refuses to use them, but you share common standards or systems, you can use a button macro to reset them for your use. See Figure 3 for the dialog options and below for the SETVARS to use in macros and scripts along with a sample set of macros.

A simple grips macro to turn them on or off:

Off: ^C^CGRIPS;0;

Below is the detail for each of the system variables used in the macros (suggested setting in parenthesis):

GRIPS: (2)

0 = Hides grips
1 = Displays grips
2 = Displays additional midpoint grips on polyline segments


0 = Multifunctional grip options are not available
1 = Multifunctional grip options can be accessed by pressing Ctrl to change grip behavior (Ctrl-cycling)
2 = Multifunctional grip options can be accessed via the grip menu displayed when you hover over a grip
3 = Multifunctional grip options can be accessed with both Ctrl-cycling and the grip menu


0 = Off. You can select objects only after you start a command
1 = On. You can also select objects before you start a command

The PICKFIRST setvar allows you to do noun, verb selection (pick the object first) instead of verb, noun selection (pick the command first).  This just means you can select an object before you choose the command.  Think about Microsoft Word or Outlook: you don't pick the Delete key and then select your text or email.  I use this functionality whether I am using grips or not—it’s just more flexible.  And don't worry—the old way still works, so you can do whichever is most applicable for the task at hand.

GRIPBLOCK: (0) (not used in the macros)

0 = Assigns a grip only to the insertion point of the block
1 = Assigns grips to objects within the block

Figure 3

To get to the dialog box shown in Figure 3, type "options" at the command prompt and select the "Selection" tab. In Figure 3, you see that "Show grips within blocks" is unchecked (see Figure 2 for why).  You can also control your grip colors and size here. If you wanted to script these items, you would need to add the GRIPSIZE, GRIPCOLOR, GRIPHOVER, GRIPHOT, and GRIPCONTOUR setvars to your macro or script.

Grip Tips/Notes:

  • Use grips to fix non-associated hatches.
  • When you select more than one grip on an object to stretch it, the shape of the object is kept intact between the selected grips. (To select more than one grip, press and hold the Shift key, and then select the grips.)
  • Grips on text, block references, midpoints of lines, centers of circles, and point objects move the object rather than stretching it.
  • If you select a quadrant grip to stretch a circle or ellipse and then specify a distance at the Command prompt for the new radius—rather than moving the grip—this distance is measured from the center of the circle, NOT the selected grip!

For those already using the "pickfirst" variable and have a ton of shortcut keys and are practicing the one hand on the keyboard and one on the mouse, you may already be getting much of the speed available with grips for typical modify commands (copy/move/rotate), but the multi-function grips add a lot more possibilities.  If you think you are quicker using the mouse alone, you are wrong.  We all work a little differently, and AutoCAD allows us to work in ways that fit each of our styles best (palettes/toolbars/ribbons, and so on), but if you’re not using the keyboard, you are not optimizing your efficiency. Time and time again I have had users debate this one methodology and many times it comes to how they were taught in school.  After much debate, those who were open-minded enough to try were impressed (if not amazed) at how much faster they were with changing this one simple work method.

If you’re a grip hater, please reconsider their use. You may find you will grow to love them, especially as you see how your efficiency improves. Sometimes we just gotta get a grip!

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