Part I: CAD and AutoCAD

Chapter Six: Getting Your Bearings.

      1. How To Proceed
        1. my notations
        2. commands, pick-menus, pull-down menus
        3. sneeky toggles
      2. What's on the Screen
        1. drawing area
        2. model space/paper space
        3. command line
        4. active status bar
        5. pull-down menus
      3. The Active Status Bar
        1. coordinates
        2. toggles
      4. The Pull-Down Menu Bar
        1. standard pull-downs
        2. autocad selections
        3. custom pull-downs
      5. So Many Toolbars
        1. standard toolbars
        2. turning them on and off
        3. customized toolbars

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

How to Proceed:

For the sake of simplicity and readability, I will introduce AutoCAD commands by typing them in all capitals. If you are already familiar with the command, you may want to skim ahead. Something that you should type, I will place in square brackets [stufftotype]. Don't type the brackets. AutoCAD is not case sensitive, so [StufftoType], [STUFFTOTYPE] and [stufftotype] are all the same.

If AutoCAD asks you a question or prints a message on the screen, I will enclose that question in quotes or make it bold. The inverted carrot "^" indicates the Control key which is pressed simultaneously with another key. AutoDesk has made some effort to conform to Microsoft keystroke standards. Therefore in recent releases the Escape key (Esc) cancels or escapes out of a command. In earlier releases "Cancel" is [^C]. F11 would refer to the function key "F11" on the top or side of your keyboard. Pushing "Shift" with another key would be written [shift+C] to indicate pressing "shift" and "C" simultaneously. The Alt key used with another key would be written [Alt+C] to indicate that the "Alt" key and "C" would be pressed together.

Many commands can be invoked off the toolbox menu, a tablet menu, or the pull-down menus. There are sometimes several commands to invoke the same action, usually with some variation. Screen or tablet menus can be customized, some quite easily. I try to provide the steps for issuing a command from the command prompt, which if you can remember the keystrokes is often the fastest method.

There are hundreds of commands in AutoCAD. You don't have to know them all, few users do. There are commands to alter the actions of other commands. Some commands control whether entering specific commands bring up a dialog box (a pop up window in the middle of the screen) or a short dialog on the command line. This can be especially disconcerting to a new user for whom an expected behaviour suddenly changes.

There are some changes in the way commands work between various releases. With each release there are added commands and capabilities. There are also some differences between platform versions. Basically this discussion should help, but if my directions do not work, double check your manual or the help file.

This chapter and the next will skim through a lot of basic commands. If you aren't comfortable with some of them, refer to the built in help file [F1] or in the "Help" pull-down menu, the AutoCAD manual or a book on using AutoCAD. By all means, go through the "Learning Assistance" also on the Help pull-down menu. There are more commands available inside of AutoCAD than seems imaginable. I will cover some of the more important and difficult commands in more depth.

chapter index.

What's on the Screen?

This screen will vary with each system depending on user settings, operating system and release number. The basic elements of the graphics screen are two to five lines across the top, possibly a menu or toolbox along the right and left sides and across the bottom are layout tabs, one or more command lines, and a status bar. The center is the drawing area.

When the mouse or digitizer puck is dragged the standard mouse pointer becomes drawing cross-hairs in the drawing area. Across the center of the cross-hairs is a box. This is the Pick Box. This box is a hot zone for selecting or picking drawing objects.

If the drawing area is black (default color) and there is a double arrow at the left marked with "X" and "Y" and probably a "W", then you are in MODEL SPACE. This is the main drawing area. If instead, the background is white and there is a right triangle in the corner, you are in PAPER SPACE. Paper space is for layout of title blocks and various notations for the final print. Paper space does not allow three-dimensional drawing, instead a window or "Viewport" is cut in the layout to display the model space. The Viewport can be scaled to size.

Down at the bottom, is the "Command Line window", where typed commands, questions from AutoCAD, and information lists appear. In the screen clip, it appears as a blue-green box with three lines. This is where AutoCAD talks to the drafter and the drafter can talk to AutoCAD. In the Command Line window below, I have entered the Snap command. When I pressed the Enter key, the Snap "Command line dialog" appeared on the next line. This gives me information about the possible choices I can make, "Specify snap spacing or [ON/ OFF/ Aspect/ Rotate/ Style/ Type]", and the current Snap status: the current snap spacing is <0'-1">.

The "Display" tab in the user profile (Tools...Options...pulldown or type [options]) has a set box to allow the user to set the number of lines visible in the command line window, as well as the color and font. More command lines make the drawing area smaller. AutoCAD often provides a list of information too long for the command line window, or you may need to review your keystrokes; in these cases, either pull the command line window larger (hover the pointer over the border and a "pull" icon will appear, click and drag), or press [F2] and a "text window" pops up with a scrollable list of everything appearing on the command line.

Older releases require the users to toggle between a graphics screen and a text screen using the F2 key. The text screen displays a full page of command line entries. You can scroll back to earlier pages if need be. Some commands such as LIST automatically bring up the text screen.

Just below the command line window is the "Active Status Bar". The buttons on this bar toggle various settings for the drawing pointer. At the front is a button or box which read the current location of the pointer within the drawing's cooridinate system, or a drawing vector releative to the last pick point if you are actively drawing.

At the bottom of the drawing area, just above the command line window are layout tabs (AutoCAD 2000 only), which relate to model space and paper space covered later. For now, remember to do all basic drawing in model space under the "Model" tab. The "Model" tab cannot be deleted. By default, there will be only one other tab, "Layout1". This is a place to set up the drawing for printing or plotting. Unlike previous releases, AutoCAD 2000 allows several "Paper Space" "Layouts" in one drawing.

Now look up top:

Way up top is the title bar with "AutoCAD (2000) - [your drawing name.dwg]" The drawing name will appear up top only if it is maximized within the drawing window. If not, it appears on the title bar of the drawing's individual window. The AutoCAD icon on the top left displays the standard windows drop-down box, (close, minimize, maximize, retore) when clicked. The squares on the right also Minimize, Restore and Close, according to standard windows practice.

Under the title bar is the "Pull-Down Menu Bar" or drop-down menu bar. This is a repository of scores of AutoCAD commands that can be picked off of menus for easy activation.

Directly under the pull-down menus are various Toolbars. AutoCAD has 25 or so toolbars which can be turned on and off. Toolbars can be customized and you can make your own toolbars. Toolbars can float in the middle of the drawing area or can be stuck or "docked" at the top, along the sides or at the bottom. By default, "Standard Toolbar" and "Object Properties" toolbar are always open and docked at the top. "Draw" and "Modify" toolbars are open and docked on the left by default.

chapter index.

The Active Status Bar:

The first box or "Coorinates" box has a set of three numbers which are your "Cartesian coordinates" relative to the "User Coordianted Space" point of "Origin". The ORIGIN is where the drawing coordinates (more on that and UCS later) are 0,0,0. The three numbers are X, Y, Z coordinates. X being right (+) or left (-) of the Origin. Y is behind (+) or in front (-) of the Origin. And Z is above (+) or below (-) the Origin.

The active status bar is actually a row of toggle buttons, which are also accessible by typing commands or the function keys. The coordinates box can be clicked with the mouse or toggled with the function key [F6]. The coordinates toggle has three states: OFF, ON with Cartesian Coordinates, and ON with Polar Coordinates. See: Drawing Units.

The SNAP button or F9 toggles the Snap function on and off, which causes the pointer to snap to incremental coordinates. Type [Snap], push Enter, type [1], hit Enter again. Now while moving the pointer in the drawing space it will automatically snap to the nearest cartesian increments of 1" from the snap origin (usually 0,0).

Notice that these toggles appear to be pushed in when they are on, and up when they are off. This is a quick way to know the status of the toggles.

The SNAP command, which we just used, allows you, the drafter, to set the snap distances, angle, as well as style and snap type. Type [Snap] in the command window and press Enter. The command line dialog displays seven options: "Specify snap spacing or [ON/ OFF/ Aspect/ Rotate/ Style/ Type]" with a default set to the current Snap spacing listed inside the two arrows "<0'-1">". Stuff to notice is that the command line gives you instructions, along with default behavior. Press enter and the current setting will be set again, i.e. no change. Type in a number and the Snap spacing up and down will be set to that many units. ON and OFF toggle snap mode. On, Off and snap spacing are for the advanced CAD drafter, but it's good to know what's there if only so you know what went wrong when the command acts strange.

Typing [A] at the Snap command prompt brings up further prompts for setting the Snap's X and Y distances seperately. Notice that the "A" in Aspect is capitalized, but not the rest of the word. AutoCAD is telling you that you only need to type [a] and press enter to activate the command. [Rotate] or [r] forces snap grid to spin around a base point. [Style] or [s] has two modes: Standard and Isometric. With Isometric set, AutoCAD overlaps two grids, the crosshairs will Snap to two of three grid points, useful for making isometric drawings. And [Type] or [t] sets Snap to work in grid or polar tracking modes. Keep Style as Standard and Type as Grid until you know how to use them.

The GRID button or [F7] toggles a visual reference grid. The grid is a series of dots spaced evenly within the drawing limits (discussed later) and do not print. Spacing between the dots can be set with the Grid command. The visual grid set here may or may not correspond to the invisible Snap grid.

The ORTHO button or [F8] toggles the Orthographic mode which forces the pointer to pick points in either a horizonal (X) or a verticle (Y) direction only. Basically, you can only draw in square patterns.

The POLAR button or [F10] toggles the Polar Tracking mode. Similar to Ortho mode, Polar Tracking snaps to polar directions (by default: 0° or 90°) when the pointer approuches that direction. A dashed construction line indicates that polar is active and a small dialogue box displays the distance along that path before you pick a point.

The OSNAP button or [F3] toggles the Object Snap mode. Object Snap causes the pointer to become attracted to various types of points set from the Object Snap menu. Setting the OSnap to Endpoint causes the pointer to pick the nearest endpoint available from any object in the cross-hair pick box. Press shift+right mouse button to bring up the Osnap menu. "OSnap Settings" at the bottom will open the Object Snap Settings in the Drafting Settings Dialog Box. This sets automatic OSnap settings.

The OTRACK button toggles the Auto Tracking mode. Auto Tracking works with OSnap or Polar to "track" a new point derived from a snap command. While selecting a pick point, 'shift+right mouse click' to bring up the Osnap menu. Select Temporary track point. Pick a point and drag the pointer in the direction of the desired point. A Polar tracking line appears from the temporary track point. You can use multiple track points snapped to specific locations to derive new points.

The LWT button toggles the Lineweights on and off. This is new to AutoCAD 2000. Each object in the drawing has several properties such as color, layer, linetype and lineweight. Lineweight is the thickness of the line. That thickness is either [ On] and thus visible on screen or [Off] and therefore not-visible until printed. The LWT button does not effect the lineweight, only its visibility on screen.

The MODEL/PAPER button toggles the drawing between model space, in which case the button will read "MODEL", or paper space, in which case the button reads "PAPER". If the button is clicked from paper space, AutoCAD jumps to the last active model space Viewport. If there is no viewport it doesn't do anything. To get back into model space proper, click the tab named "Model" at the bottom of the drawing view screen. In release 14 or earlier, turn [Tilemode] On [1] to return to model space.

chapter index.

The Pull-Down Menu Bar:

The Pull-Down Menu Bar or Drop-Down Menu Bar is a fully customizable menu that allows easy access to scores of AutoCAD commands. Click on any menu item and a pull down list appears. These lists include system settings, pick settings, drawing commands and LISP routines. Some selections bring up other pull-down boxes.

In conformity to Windows standards, the File, Edit, View, Window, and Help pull-downs have many of the standard selections found most Windows programs. Once the nuances of AutoCAD are understood they are easy to navigate. The File pull-down manages the open file (save, saveas, print, page setup, close,...) or opens new files. The Edit pull-down has cut, copy, paste functions and undo, redo commands. The View pull-down has all the commands relating to the drawing display. These include screen updates (regen and redraw), viewer actions (zoom, pan, aerial view), viewport management, 3D display, toolbar management, and other view functions. Manage your open drawing windows with the Window pull-down. Find help, including internet links, in the Help pull-down.

The default AutoCAD menu also has several pull-down menus of standard AutoCAD functions. The Insert pull-down has commands for managing the import and attachment of external files, creating and managing layouts and Hyperlinks, which includes links to other programs across a network or the internet. The Format pull-down opens dialog boxes to changes layer settings, dimension settings, and the like. The Tools pull-down has tools for managing menus, add-on programming, managing the User Coordianted System (later in the 3d section), spell-checking and others. The Draw pull-down has the command set for creating basic drawing elements or 'primitives'. The Dimension pull-down has commands for the various kinds of dimensions. And the Modify pull-down has all the basic commands to move, copy, rotate, or otherwise change the elements in the drawing.

Everything in the pull-down menus can be picked off of toolbars or accessed through commands at the Command Prompt. In addition, you can add your own pull-down menus. In the snapshot of my toolbar above, you will see that I have several added pull-down menus, two from AutoCAD, one from a parts supplier and one that I created myself. The dbConnect pull-down accesses functions for managing external databases. Express has several AutoCAD bonus tools. Victaulic IPS - Imperial inserts parts drawings from an outside vendor. And Show Fountains is my own custom pull-down to insert standard blocks for my current work.

chapter index.

So Many Toolbars:

Around the edges of the Drawing View Window or actually floating in the Drawing View Window are strips of icons each of which activates an AutoCAD command. These are called toolbars.

Typically the Standard toolbar and the Object Properties toolbar dock at the top, where they have functions familiar from other windows programs. The Draw and Modify toolbars, often on the left, are also familiar from other drawing programs.

The Standard toolbar is the one on top above. It has many familiar standard commands: Cut, Copy, Paste, Save, Open, as well as Undo, Redo, Zoom commands, and Design Center and Object Properties menu buttons. Below it is the Object Properties toolbar. The pull-down menus on the Object Properties toolbar indicate current status of Layers, Colors, Linetypes, Lineweights and Plot Style. This is an important reference and editing tool.

The Toolbars are extremely customizable, possibly too much so. Any Toolbar can be turned on or off, placed in the middle of the screen or docked in any one of the four sides, and tools can be added or subtracted at whim. Each Toolbar is a palette of favorite tools or commands activated by a screen pick.

Right clicking on any active toolbar brings up the Toolbars Dialogue Box, which lists all of the toolbars loaded in memory with a check next to the ones that are active. Clicking on a selection toggles the toolbar on or off. If the toolbar is in the middle of the drawing area, click on the title bar of the toolbar and drag it. Drag to toolbar to any side and the toolbar will automatically dock itself, or attach to the margin, and the drawing area will resize to accommodate. To drag one off of a side, click on an edge or the ridged end of the toolbar, drag it off of the edge.

The Toolbars Dialog Box also has an entry at the bottom called Customize which opens a dialog box allowing you to edit any toolbar, create new toolbars, and even add your own icons and programming.

chapter index.

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

Copyright © 1999 Wm W Wells. All rights reserved.