Part I: CAD and AutoCAD

Chapter Five: Stuff to Know First.

      1. Set up AutoCAD
        1. dealer
        2. user profile
      2. Drawing Templates
        1. properties
        2. AutoCAD technique: drawing defaults
      3. File Structure
        1. easy recognition
        2. keep it simple
        3. be consistent
      4. Drawing Conversion

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Set up AutoCAD:

If AutoCAD is not loaded, load it into the computer following the instructions in the manual. It's part of your dealer's job to help you on this one. You will also have to load in all the software drivers for your peripherals, such as the graphics card, digitizer tablet, plotter, scanner or printer. If you are using AutoCAD LT or another low cost CAD program, you won't get dealer support, but hopefully there will be online or telephone technical support.

Often the manual for each peripheral device, particularly CAD friendly printers and plotters, will have special instructions for configuring AutoCAD. Expect trouble. Quite often it will be necessary to obtain updated drivers for working with AutoCAD. The web is an excellent resource for CAD drivers and support.

At first, accept the default configurations, with the minor caviat that your user files should be stored in a directory other than AutoCAD's. I prefer to keep my files in a seperate drive partition, making them easy to search and backup. Microsoft's 'My Documents' directory works pretty well.

If there is a problem with AutoCAD and it needs to be reloaded you want to have customized files, user files and additional files such as hatch patterns, landscape images, and rendering patterns, in a seperate directory from AutoCAD's program directory so that nothing gets erased or overwritten. You don't have to do this until you start customizing, but at that point you will want to move those directories or back them up.

AutoCAD2000 has a 'user profile' set under 'Options' on the 'Tools' pull-down menu. This is where a lot of standard setup stuff happens. Set file paths to user file directories, custom menu locations, etc. here. Change the look of the display, default save and open options, set up printers and plotters, and change the way the mouse works. If there is more than one user, individual user profiles can be saved here. In release 14, find this menu under 'Preferences' on the 'Tools' pull-down menu.

chapter index.

Drawing Templates:

CAD programs contain many variables that set up default responces. Mechanical or construction drawings typically have different default settings than ground plans. Metric drawings have different units than US or "Imperial" measure drawings. To save time setting up drawings, you will want to have several stock drawings, or TEMPLATES with the defaults already set up for a particular type of drawing.

The number of possible default settings and what they mean can occupy you for a long time. Every line you draw has a several PROPERTIES. These include linetype, color, layer, the linetype scale and the thickness of the line. Most drawing elements have these basic properties. Advanded drawing elements such as polylines, text and attribute insertions, block insertions and external references have properties special to them. Many commands also have different settings that effect how they operate. There may be layers, dimension styles, lettering styles or even drawing blocks and external references that are always present in a certain class of drawing. By pre-loading and changing settings in the template files, you won't have to make as many changes when you start a new drawing.

When you start a new drawing, AutoCAD asks what drawing you wish to use as a template. Templates in AutoCAD2000 end with ".dwt" instead of the standard drawing end ".dwg". The default template directory for AutoCAD2000 is "C:\ACAD2000\TEMPLATE". Prior to AutoCAD2000, all templates are standard "*.dwg" files and default to "Acad.dwg". Earlier releases of AutoCAD load "Acad.dwg" without asking when starting a new file.

You can modify ACAD.DWT, ACAD.DWG and other templates or add new ones. Save all templates in the AutoCAD's default template directory, "Support" directory, or your own template directory. In AutoCAD2000, save any drawing as a Template by using 'Save As', and by choosing "AutoCAD drawing template file (*.dwt)", in the 'save as type' options pulldown. If you change the default templates location be sure to set the default filepath in the user profile to the new directory so AutoCAD can easily find the templates.

The main purpose of the template is to preload user settings for specific types of drafting. Templates often contain no drawing at all, but you can easily create templates with title blocks, the theater ground plan and other elements already inserted. By turning blip-mode on or off, setting lettering styles, setting limits, snap, units,and creating dimensioning styles, etc. in the template drawing(s), these defaults will be set up for you whenever you create a new drawing. As you become comfortable with having defaults set up one way or another, change the template. If you always use a standard set of layers, put these in a template. If you normally use a custom menu, open the relevant template, load the custom menu. Save the results under the same template name. Your new defaults will already be set whenever you start a new drawing.

Some actions create more processing for the computor. If your your computor is too slow the effect may be unwanted. VISRETAIN, PLINEGEN and other commands add actions or information to the drawing. If you notice a slow down, you may want to turn those actions off until they are really needed.

If you are just starting with AutoCAD and want some direction use the default ACAD.DWG template, or below is my standard setup for ACAD.DWG. Type in the Command (i.e.: BLIPMODE) and press 'Enter'. AutoCAD will respond with possible choices and the default choice in arrows: "Enter mode [ON/OFF] <OFF>". On the list below, my choice is placed in the arrows. In most cases, the current setting is the default.

AutoCAD Technique: Default Drawing Setup

BLIPMODE	<OFF>  [I really hate those x's
				all over my screen.]
UNITS	<4> architectural.
	<8> lowest fraction is 1/8".
	<1> decimal degrees.
	<2> degree decimal places.
	<0.00> start angle at the 3 o'clock position.
	<N> rotate counter-clockwise.
SNAP	<0'-1/2">
GRID	<3'-0"> and <OFF> [I don't like grid either.]
MIRRTEXT   <0> [this flips text to read mirrored.
                 In most cases you won't want the text
                 backwards. "0" is off.]
PLINEGEN   <1> [causes dashed or dotted polylines to
                 continue their pattern uninterrupted
                 through the vertices of the polyline.]
LIMITS	from <-50'-0", -25'-0"> to <50'-0", 50'-0">
DDIM	[this dialogue menu sets several factors
        governing the look of dimensioning. I like
        tics instead of arrowheads. All my changes
        are saved in a dimension style, which is my
        default style.]
SKPOLY	<1>  <ON> [This causes the SKETCH command to
                   automatically produce a polyline
                   rather than a lot of little lines
                   and arcs.]

You can create a template for construction drawings, complete with a blank title block, border, standard layers or dimension styles and a scaled view window. You can also create a prototype ground plan with title block, border, view window and the theater already inserted as an external reference. You can have separate templates for difference plot sizes, or different drawing scales or different drawing units. There is no end to the variety. Remember to give each prototype drawing a logical name that is easy to remember or recognize.

chapter index.

File Structure:

I have several hundred AutoCAD drawings in the computer at the moment. Believe me, it is easy to lose track of which is what. Choose a convention for naming your drawings. Whatever system you use, it should be clear, easy to recognize and remember and try to be consistent.

My first real method gave every show a three letter code. Aida is AID, and Babes in Toyland is BBS. To this I add a code for the type of drawing. GP is the general ground plan. GS is general section. LS indicated the lineset block or hanging schedule, which I save as a separate drawing for reasons explained later. A number following the show code indicates the ground plan for a specific scene. File drawing AID13.dwg is Aida, act one, scene three, ground plan. Drawings that are to be inserted as an external reference into another drawing were always given a high alphabet letter in front, such as a 'Y' or a 'Z'. I will also explain the significance of that in the Xreference section. So YAIDGP.dwg, is a portion of the Aida ground plan that is inserted into all the ground plans of the scenes, but not printed as a separate drawing.

Construction drawing, because there are a lot more of them, construction drawings require a more complex naming system. Numbering the sheets and assigning matching filenames is often the most practical system. The above 'Aida' might have construction drawings named AID-C01.dwg through AID-C99.dwg. When you start to have large numbers of drawings it is best to keep them in a seperate sub-directory as well. This keeps them organizationally seperate from other drawings.

Simple consecutive numbering gets very awkward when you add a drawing in the middle of a set. It is smart to breakdown the construction drawings into groups of drawings: layout drawings, framing, electrical, soft goods, painters elevations. Now, your file name might be AID-C101.dwg for the first construction layout, the sheet name might be 'C1.01' or simply '1.01'. Layout sheets would advance from AID-101.dwg to AID-199.dwg, leaving more than enough room for expansion. Adding another layout sheet won't affect the numbering of other groups.

It is important to think of your file identification system up front, because it is very difficult to change later. In this regard, notice that I numbered 1.01 to 1.99 and not 1.1 to 1.99. The File Manager alphabetizeds AID-C12.dwg behind AID-C110.dwg making it more difficult to search the list. Don't drop the zeros.

Here's a screen clip of the Windows Explorer view of a project file. All of the current project files are in a directory called 'ACAD 2000' in 'My Documents'. The project folder selected is called 'Philly' and includes subfolders for archived trash: 'oldstuff', drawings recieved from another project supplier: "Oes", and the directory for project drawings that have been 'Published' for sent out to other people involved in the project. In this case, I have published both standard AutoCAD '.dwg' files and to the web using AutoCAD web formated '.dwf' files inserted into '.html' pages. All '.dwg' files were zipped using WinZip to make them smaller and easier to transfer in E-mail. Images for the web documents are in the 'images' subdirectory, archived published drawings are in 'oldstuff' and the active directory is the published drawing saved down to an AutoCAD release 14 format, as not everyone on the system was using AutoCAD 2000. File names all have meaning to me in my system. My fountain drawings are all 'F' for simple insertion into larger construction packages containing other building trades. Drawings '2*' are layout drawings, '3*' are piping drawings, '4*' are electrical, and '5*' are pnuematic systems. 'M' drawings are mechanical detail drawings, not intended to be placed in the larger construction package.

Whatever naming system you use, make sure that it isn't too complicated. It can be very frustrating opening file after file, searching for the drawing of Mother Hubbard's shoe. Ideally, someone else should be able to figure out your naming system when you are out sick. Current AutoCAD releases include a viewer which shows a thumb nail sketch of each drawing as you browse the directory.

File management is especially important when using Xreferences (see Xreferences on page 56). Any time an Xreferenced drawing is moved, the drawings which have it inserted as an Xreference must be told where to find the Xreference now. In this case, moving files or renaming directories can be a disaster.

chapter index.

Drawing Conversion:

If you have CAD drawings drawn in some format other that AutoCAD's DWG files, or perhaps you have access to drawings from a later release of AutoCAD than the one you are using, you will probably have to convert the drawings. AutoCAD imports DXF, DXB, IGES, WMF and PostScript files depending on the version of AutoCAD.

If the original CAD files are in one of these formats, try to import it into AutoCAD. Open a new drawing in AutoCAD. If the file is a DXF file, type [DXFIN] and press enter. Or select Import/Export from the File pull-down menu and choose DXF Import. Type in the name of the file to import or select it from the dialog box, and press enter. The file should import. Results vary greatly from almost complete translation to a useless handful of unknown objects.

If your drawings are from a later release of AutoCAD, you must export them as Release 12 drawings or as DXF files. Then import them into your AutoCAD. Explode blocks, Xreferences or other objects before trying to export to a DXF file. Copy the file first, so it is not altered, or don't save the changes when you exit.

If the file format of the original drawing does not match one of the above file formats, see if it is possible to Export the file in a compatible file format from the originating software. The desirable choices, in order of preference, will be:

DWG AutoCAD's native format
You will want to match the release version that you are currently using or use the next lower numbered release. You might just have to try.
DXF Drawing Exchange Format:
A standard drawing exchange format. If the drawing can be exported in ASCII or binary format, binary format is faster and more accurate. This format will lose some information, such as blocks. Release 10, Release 11 and Release 13 DXF files are all slightly different. Use DXFIX to convert a Release 11 (or 12) DXF file to a Release 10 DXF file.
Initial Graphics Exchange Format. This format has gone through several updates, similar to AutoCAD's DWG format. Not all elements translate well.
DXB Drawing Interchange Binary:
This is a specialized file format which is limited in the type of object types that it can translate.
WMF Windows MetaFile:
This is the Windows clipboard picture format. It is useful for inserting AutoCAD renderings into desktop publishing packages and the like. There are many ways and filetypes for exporting "raster" images. Because they eliminate all drawing intelligence, (vector information, layers, properties, etc.) they are not good vehicles for CAD conversions.
This is designed to attach PostScript images to a drawing which is going to be printed in PostScript. It can be used for adding shaded images, such as title blocks. They loose most drawing intelligence as well.

If you cannot export in one of the above formats, you will have to look for a file conversion package. Trade Journals (CADalyst or CADENCE) will have advertisements for conversion software and services. There are also tools available on the internet, see: Appendix A. Your dealer may be able to sell you a utility. There are shareware conversion utilities available on electronic bulletin boards as well.

Any translation from one CAD system to another may distort or leave out objects from the original drawing. Often the results are virtually useless, but it is always worth trying. You just might save hours or even days of work.

chapter index.

last chapter. AutoCAD Backstage home. AutoCAD Backstage Index. next chapter.

Copyright © 1999 Wm W Wells. All rights reserved.