TIPniques: AutoCAD 2011 Enhanced Features

Here we are again, looking at what AutoCAD 2011 has to offer us. This month's list of new features, while not earth-shattering, nicely enhance existing AutoCAD features.

External references

Referenced files are a must in developing our drawing sets. They help us collaborate with other design departments and allow multiple designers to work on a project simultaneously.

AutoCAD 2011 makes their selection even easier. When a reference object is selected in a drawing (Xrefs, images, DWFs, PDFs, etc.) the corresponding reference is selected in the External Reference palette. The opposite is also true. When you select a reference in the palette, the reference is highlighted in the drawing. This helps you to find the files that you are picking. Keep in mind that this only highlights the reference files - it doesn't select them for you. If this behavior annoys you, you can turn off the feature through the system variable ERHIGHLIGHT. A setting of zero turns it off; a setting of one turns it on.

Figure 1: Click to enlarge The Reference Manager now supports object highlighting when a reference file is selected.

Scale lists

Annotated scaling is a great tool that helps us display text properly, regardless of our current scale. Historically, the list of available scales can be difficult to manage and this functionality has been improved a bit in AutoCAD 2011. AutoCAD now stores a customizable list in the registry that can be used whenever needed. You can use this list to define your default scale list options. A scale list is still maintained in the drawing, but you can always reset it to the default list saved in the registry.

If you do reset the scale list, AutoCAD will purge the unused scales in your file and merge those remaining with the list on the registry. The default list can be set by going through Options dialog box and clicking on the User Preferences tab. Near the bottom right of the tab, click the Default Scale List button and work your scale list magic. You can still go to the scale list for any specific file by going to the scale list editor on the status bar when that drawing is opened.

The Default Scale List editor works the same way the Scale List Editor does, with a few more options. One of them is where you can specify if your scales are metric or imperial. When you reset the scale list, a prompt asks if you want Metric or Imperial scales, or both.

Missing SHX and font files (annoying)

Typically when you get AutoCAD files from an outside vendor or designer there are missing SHX or font files. Now you can choose to ignore this! But if you ignore the warning, text using these files will not be displayed so be careful.

Text alignment in linetypes

Have you ever used a linetype that has text in it? If not, why not? If you have then you know that many times that text can be upside down. The orientation of the text depends on which end point of the line was drawn first. AutoCAD 2011 line types now have three possible orientation settings available: U for upright, R for relative, and A for absolute.

Figure 2: The new text alignment feature keeps text in custom linetypes orientated properly.


Help files have seen a major overhaul in this new release. They are now available online! The idea behind this is that method enables Autodesk the ability to more easily keep the help files up to date. However, the response time is slower, and the search features respond differently, too.

If you don't want to use the online Help, you can disable that feature through the Options dialog box. Go to the System tab, bottom right-hand corner, and turn off the feature by unselecting the check box. It also uses Internet Explorer as the default browser. If you prefer a different browser, then you can tell AutoCAD to use your default web browser instead.

Point clouds

Now for some fun stuff. Have you ever used a 3D scanner? If you have one, or know someone who does, you can take your Point Cloud information from that scanner and insert it directly into AutoCAD. The best part about this is that any AutoCAD vertical product also has this feature! AutoCAD Map 3D and Civil 3D really benefit from this new tool.

A Point Cloud looks like a cloud of points. Each point is a scanned point from a scanner. It has three dimensions to it and X, Y, and Z coordinates. Once inserted into AutoCAD 2011, you can snap to these points to create three dimensional geometry. Insert a Point Cloud by going to the Insert tab on the ribbon, then go to the Point Cloud panel. There is an indexing engine that can process the data files. Actually there are two: Ambercore and Lightweight Engine. Each one indexes a different data file type. Their output file types are different, too: .ISD and .PCG. These indexed files are then attached similarly to reference a DWG file.

Figure 3: The new Point Cloud insertion tool enables data files from 3D scanners to be inserted into AutoCAD 2011.

Point Cloud functionality adds a few more system variables to the mix (aren't you glad?)

  • Pointclouddensity controls the percentage of points displayed at once.
  • Pointcloudrtdensity controls the percentage of points displayed during real-time zooms and pans.
  • Pointcloudlock controls whether the lock property of the point cloud is set to yes or no when a cloud is attached.
  • Pointcloudautoupdate controls whether point clouds are dynamically updated when transforming the point cloud or after zooming or panning.


In this month's article we looked at a few of the "less flashy" enhancements to AutoCAD 2011, with the exception of the brand new Point Cloud feature, which has the potential to help many different designers and AutoCAD users in many different fields. Next month should be our last look at what's new in AutoCAD 2011. I saved the best, or at least the most fun, for last. Next time, we'll explore new 3D modeling tools and functions. So if you like meshes, surfaces, and NURBS, don't miss the next issue!

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