One of the reasons that AutoCAD became the prominent design and drafting software is because of its ability to be configured to suit the needs of the user. There are as many ways to configure the AutoCAD interface as there are reasons to want to customize its interface. While the methods for customizing AutoCAD have changed, it is still quite an easy task to do, as I will demonstrate in this article.
The CUI and workspaces
Since AutoCAD 2006, the main method of altering its interface has been done through the Custom User Interface or the CUI. The CUI is a management tool designed to help the user make the AutoCAD interface fit their particular needs. Using this tool is quite simple, though perhaps daunting at first.
Figure 1 (click image to enlarge): When you open the CUI, there are three main windows in the Customize Tab: Customizations, Commands, and Properties. Each serves a purpose in setting up the AutoCAD interface.
The CUI allows any user to manipulate the AutoCAD interface. With it, you can alter the Ribbon's panels, tabs, and buttons. You can also edit toolbars, the menu bar, tool palettes, and commands. These settings are stored in what is called a Workspace. Each Workspace has its own interface characteristics. Workspaces can then be made current in order to use that particular interface. A workspace can be configured to meet the needs of a project, design industry, or simply to fit a user's preferences. The reasons for setting up a particular workspace are limitless.
AutoCAD comes with a few workspaces out of the box. AutoCAD 2010 comes with three workspaces already defined for your use. They are 2D Drafting and Annotation, 3D Modeling, and AutoCAD Classic. I won’t get into the differences as their names seem pretty self-explanatory. Note that the 2D and 3D workspaces work with the Ribbon, while AutoCAD Classic turns off the Ribbon and turns the Menubar and toolbars back on. If you plan on customizing the interface, even slightly, I suggest starting with one of these out of the box workspaces and creating a new one. That way you can always go back to the original settings with ease.
Figure 2: To create a new Workspace, click on the Workspace Switching bar and select the Save Current As... This will save your current workspace so that you can edit it later.
How to use the CUI
If you haven't made a new Workspace to edit, you can do so now. If you want to start from scratch you have that option as well. I suggest you start with the existing Workspace that is closest to what you want. It is easy enough to remove items from your Workspace, but it is more difficult to add them.
In the top left area in the CUI window you will find the Customizations in All Files area. This is where you select the Workspace to edit and activate the item to be edited. You can edit any workspace at any time whether or not it is current. The current workspace will be labeled current.
To edit an existing workspace, select it. To create a brand new blank workspace, right click the Workspaces label, and then select the New Workspace option. This will create a new workspace for you to edit. Give it a name by right-clicking it, and then click the rename option. If you wanted to start with an existing Workspace, select and right-click that workspace and then select the Duplicate option. You can rename this new Workspace the same way as described earlier.
Figure 3: The All Customizations in All Files are of the CUI is where much of your work begins. Create new Workspaces or select existing ones to edit here.
Now that we have a Workspace to customize, we are ready to go. To edit a workspace, right-click the workspace and then select the Customize Workspace option. This will put you in the Customize Workspace Mode. When you create a Workspace from scratch, it is empty except for the default palettes. To add items to your workspace, expand the topic area (for example: ribbon, menu, etc.). Click on the box to the left of each item in that topic that you want to add.
Figure 4 (click image to enlarge): The green check next to the item indicates that Tab will be present in your Custom Workspace. You can add every Tab available if you check the Tabs box. The green box indicates that sum of the items in this category are in the workspace.
In order to add other items such as the Quick Access Toolbar or regular toolbars, scroll up or down until you get to that option. Expand them and select the items you want to include in your workspace.
The previous section explained how to add content to your Workspace. But what if the existing content didn't fit your needs? In that case, you can create your own. Each content type is created in a similar fashion. As with workspaces, you can either edit an existing one or create a new one. To create a new Tab, either duplicate an existing one (again, a good idea if there is one that has much of what you need) or create a new blank Tab (or toolbar, or menu item, etc.) Right-click the Tab you want to copy and select duplicate or right-click on the Tab Option and select the Create New Tab—whichever method you want to use.
Your new Tab needs editing. To remove unwanted items from a tab, select and right-click the unwanted item and click the Remove option. To add Panels to your tab, scroll down to the Panels section, right-click on the Panel you want in your tab, and select the Copy option. Now go to your new Tab, right-click on it and click on the Paste option. This will paste the Panel you selected into your tab.
Figure 5: To add content to Tabs, Toolbars, and so on, copy and paste existing items into them.
Ribbons are made up of tabs, tabs are made up of panels, and panels are made up of commands. Adding commands to panels is similar to adding commands to toolbars. Find your target panel or toolbar and drag a command onto it. It really is that simple.
Panels can have rows to help organize it. To add a row to a panel, right-click on the panel and then click on the Add Row option. Toolbars can have separators and flyouts. To add those, right-click on the toolbar and select either separator or flyout.
Customizing the AutoCAD User Interface is a very simple process. My advice is If there is a similar workspace or interface item, then copy it. Why reinvent the wheel? Still, you can also start from scratch. Adding content to your custom items is typically a series of right-clicking and picking the option you need.
When in doubt, right-click!