The Power of Properties

As a CAD Manager I often have to mentor and train the technical staff on how to use the basic functions of AutoCAD®.  I always bring out my books (old and new) and offer suggested reading material.  What I have noticed is a large number of people close the book and open the Properties palette in AutoCAD. With this palette you can control a number of editing functions in one operation, which can be very beneficial for entry level to even senior level CAD people on the team.

Palette Basics

To open up the Properties palette you can select an object and right-click (select Properties from the menu),  hit CTRL+1 (my favorite), type properties at the command prompt, or select properties from the view tab on the ribbon as shown  in Figure 1.

Figure 1: The Properties icon

Let’s begin by reviewing the palette with nothing selected. The Palette toolbar as shown in Figure 2 below contains four sections.

  1. The first is the object selection toolbar. Here you can cycle through your selected objects by pulling down on the arrow and selecting your specific object.
  2. This selection will toggle the pickadd system variable. When selected, a 1 will appear and you will only be able to select one object at a time, deselecting the first object after the second one is picked. The default is to cycle.
  3. The select object buton. This will enable you  to select the object(s) whose properties you wish to view.
  4. The last section will bring up the quick select dialog box where you can use filters to create a selection set of the objects you  wish to change.

Figure 2: The Palette toolbar

Properties Palette Overview

Figure 3 shows an overall view of the Properties palette with nothing selected.  This will give you the properties within your current drawing file. When you select an object, the palette will change to display the features that you can edit for that selection. Take a look at the sections labeled 1-4 in Figure 4 shown below.

  • Section 1: Displays general settings for your current drawing
  • Section 2:  3D visualization settings for the current drawing
  • Section 3: Plot style including the plot style table
  • Section 4: View settings including drawing limits
  • Section 5: Miscellaneous settings including the current Annotation scale, UCS icon, and Visual Styles

Figure 3: The default palette

A Right-Click Away

When you right-click on the palette sidebar (long grey panel on the left or right side) you will get a fly out menu that will give you several different options. These are standard options for all palettes in AutoCAD. You can move, size, close, and even dock the palette to the left and right of the drawing screen. Auto-hide is another function that will hide the palette immediately after the mouse rollover action is complete. Click on each one to see how the palette will adjust in your drawing. Some people like having a transparent palette so you can view the geometry underneath. I personally prefer to keep the palette docked on the right side of my drawing area for quick editing.

Properties of a Circle

Let’s review some different objects in AutoCAD to see how we can use the palette to our advantage. In our first example we selected four circles by picking each one or using a window. Notice how in the object selection bar you have Circle shown with a (4) in parentheses. If you have other types of objects you can scroll down and view the objects and how many you have. We are now going to change the diameter of all the circles to 3. Simply change the value in the section shown below (radius or diameter) and all of your objects will be updated to reflect the new value as shown in Figure 4.

Figure 4: The properties of a circle

Hatch Patterns

Touch a hatch pattern and watch the palette change. I have highlighted three important features to look at during the hatch selection shown in Figure 5. Did you know you can use the palette to add a background color to your existing hatch?  Select the background color and you have the ability to add a background color to your hatch.  My personal favorite is to use hatch patterns to calculate areas of more than one object. Simply hatch those areas (together) and bring up the palette and you will have your area displayed within the geometry section. With this palette you can also change the scale, angle, as well as the associative properties of the hatch.

Figure 5: Hatch properties


The Dimension palette contains a very large amount of information that control the display of all the elements that consist of a dimension. My suggestion is to create a dimension, then go through and change the values and watch what happens on screen.  I could write an entire section just on dimensions—take a look at all the system variables that control dimensions (there are more than 50)! We will go over just one aspect I see happening on a lot of drawings. Notice in Figure 6 the blue extension lines do not need to be there and should be removed or turned off. We do not want to explode a dimension and erase those lines or even change the style. Select the dimension line and take a look at the Properties palette under the Lines and Arrows section. Turn both Ext line 1 and Ext line 2 off as shown in Figure 6.

Figure 6: The properties of a circle


I would bet it’s safe to say that at some point in time you have received a drawing with some text sizes and styles that are not consistent as shown below in Figure 7. There are four different text styles associated with the fonts. I could use the match properties command and select each, but why not just bring up the Properties palette (CTRL+1)? You can change the text style and change the height to a new specific value for all of the text selected. Note: Styles must be set in order for this to work, if text objects have been changed individually your text style will not change.

Notice the red stars within the image on Figure 7. Let’s line up all of those text objects (left justify) using the X coordinate with the green hidden line in the figure. With the Properties palette open, select the text object you want all of the other objects to line up with. Copy the X coordinate under the Geometry section from the palette. Next, select all of your text objects and paste into the X coordinate box (it will say varies). Your text will be justified using the X coordinate. Be sure to check that your justification is the same on all of the text objects to ensure that they are all left justified. This is a great tool for cleaning up those miscellaneous alignments or lining up text items within a drawing legend.

Figure 7: Text styles and X-coordinate

Tips and Tricks

In this article, we have covered some of the basics of the Properties palette in AutoCAD.  In the following section I offer you some things to try when using the Properties palette.

  • Change the Transparency of an object by placing a value in the box (0 – 99).
  • Mask a dimension text without changing the dimension style (change fill color to background).
  • Add a text frame to your Multileader object (change text frame value to Yes).
  • Change the width of a polyline.
  • Change the scale of a multiline or line (individual linetype scale).
  • Add a hyperlink to an object(s).
  • Edit block attributes (type in the new values under the Misc. section).
  • Change the width and height of a table.
  • Change the radius of an arc or circle.
  • Change the visual style of a 3D object.
  • Right-click on any unused area of the palette and you can undo any changes you have made.

Try these options on any existing drawing.


Take a look around and notice all the different objects right in front of you. What if you could touch one of those objects and a palette full of all its properties would pop up? This idea came to me when I was looking at a flower in my garden and thought of all the colors, shapes, shades, and dimensions of the flower. How clever it would be to see all these properties with just the touch of the hand. In AutoCAD, this is possible with a touch from the curser. All the geometric shapes we create contain their own properties, which are shown in the Properties palette when an object is selected. These properties are the many characteristics of an object, which then end up defining that object.

The Properties palette is your one-stop shop for editing and obtaining geometric information. Keep it open on your second monitor (if you have two) or dock it on the right or left side. Simply open up a drawing and touch objects and take a look at how the palette changes with every selection you make. You just might be surprised to find something in there that you were not aware of before. 

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