AutoCAD

AutoCAD 2000 Express Tools (formerly known as Bonus!)

1 Jul, 1999 By: Lynn Allen


By the time you read this article, I'll have spoken to more than 2,000 users about the new features in AutoCAD 2000. I'm always guaranteed one huge sigh of relief when the audience realizes that their beloved Bonus Tools are still alive and breathing in AutoCAD 2000 (but now known as Express Tools). They've also been added to and improved upon.

You may remember back in March, Jeff Bradley wrote an article covering the AutoCAD Express Tools for R14 ("AutoCAD Express Tools, Volumes 4 and 5," pp.48-52, March 1999). These tools were available free of charge to VIP subscription holders or for a fee at www.autodesk.com/expresstools. The programmers, who originally pulled together the Bonus Tools, were permitted to carry on and create other extra cool commands to help the everyday AutoCAD user-hence the creation of the Express Tools. I was delighted to read the aforementioned CADENCE article reviewing these utilities because I am constantly surprised at how few users know about these awesome commands. They cleverly help you accomplish everyday tasks in ways that vanilla AutoCAD does not. Do I sound like an Express Tools cheerleader? I admit it. I am. All I know is that when I do a presentation on the Express Tools, I'm greeted with one round of applause after another-and that's enough to convince me I'm on the right track!

Let's move on to the good stuff: those free Express Tools that come in AutoCAD 2000. Autodesk tuned up the existing Bonus Tools and added a few of the existing Express Tools to create the new Express Tools pulldown menu. Unfortunately, you'll still have to do a Full install to get these tools (why does Autodesk always hide them from us?), or choose the Custom option and be sure to check the Express Tools box (whichever works for you).

Last year, I wrote a four-month series in Circles and Lines discussing all of the Bonus Tools in complete detail ("It's Bonus Time! R14 Layer Bonus Routines," April 1998; "It's Bonus Routines Time, Again-The Text Bonus Tools," May 1998; "AutoCAD R14 Bonus Tools, Part 3," June 1998; and "72 Bonus Tools, The Final Chapter," July 1998). This time around, I'm only going to cover the new Express Tools and Bonus Tool enhancements.

Figure 1
Figure 1. The Express pulldown menu offers you an organized list of bonus routines from which to choose, including an Express Tools FAQ.
Figure 2
Figure 2. Using the Toolbars dialog box, you can select the various Express toolbars you want to display.
Figure 3
Figure 3. Using the Layer Manager: Restore Options dialog, you can choose which layer properties to restore.
Figure 1 shows the new Express Tools pulldown menu, which displays right before the Window menu. If you've installed the Express Tools but the menu doesn't display, simply type Expressmenu at the command prompt. If, for some reason, you try using any of the Express Tools and you're rudely greeted with "Unknown command," you can type in Expresstools at the command prompt, and this will ensure they all get loaded. If you're a toolbar junkie, you can get to the Express Tool toolbars by executing the Toolbar command and selecting the menugroup called Express. Next, simply check the toolbars you want to display. Now we're ready to begin our tour; we'll go through the pulldown menu one category at a time.

Layers
By far the most popular of the original Bonus Tools commands was the Layer Manager (LMAN command). Since we constantly find ourselves turning layers on and off and freezing and thawing, the Layer Manager provided a simple method of saving a snapshot of your current layer settings to a named state. One new improvement to this command includes the ability to rename existing named states (rather than the previous awkward method of making a copy with a new name and then deleting the original to get the same result). You'll also find an additional Options button that provides additional control over which layer properties get restored. For example, now you can choose to restore just the Freeze/Thaw status of a saved layer state, rather than all the properties.

Two brand new commands have been added to the Layer options: Layer Delete (LAYDEL) and Layer Merge (LAYMRG). Layer Delete is a very powerful (and dangerous) command. If you've ever wanted to Purge a layer but the AutoCAD PURGE command wouldn't let you (even though you knew you didn't have any objects on that layer), then this command is perfect for you. It deletes any layer (except for your current layer, 0 and defpoints)- believe me, it takes no prisoners. Not only will the layer be removed, but all objects and references to that layer as well. You can type in the name of the layer or simply select an object on the layer. To key in the name of a layer, you have to key in the letter T first.

Command line: LAYDEL

Select object on layer to delete or [Type-it/Undo]: T

The command is kind enough to issue a friendly warning if the layer is referenced by block definitions, and it will ask you to give one last acknowledgement before the layer's final demise. I encourage you to look before you leap here!

Have you ever had objects on two separate layers that you now wished could be merged into one-and the extra layer deleted? Layer Merge to the rescue! (And in not quite as violent a way as Layer Delete.)

Command line: LAYMRG

Select object on layer to merge or [Type-it/Undo]:

Selected layers: CONST

Select object on layer to merge or [Type-it/Undo] <done>:

Press <Enter>.

Select object on target layer or [Type-it]: CONST2

********Warning********

Be aware that there are 2 block definition(s) that reference the layer(s) you are deleting.

The block(s) will be redefined and the entities referencing layer CONST will be changed to reference layer CONST2.

You are about to permanently merge layer CONST into layer CONST2.

Do you want to continue? [Yes/No] <N>: Yes

Redefining block FRED

Redefining block ETHEL

Merging layer CONST into layer CONST2.

All entities that were on layer CONST have been moved to layer CONST2, and layer CONST is deleted. In a nutshell, you'll select the layers you want to merge first and the target layer last. You will once again be warned if you have blocks that reference the merging layers as shown above. On completion, objects on the merging layers will be transferred to the target layer, and the merged layers will be deleted.

There's nothing new in the Block options, so we'll proceed to the Express Tools Text enhancements.

Text Enhancements
Remote Text (RTEXT) is perfect for those of you who've wanted to add a plot stamp to your drawing. You can also use it to link to an existing text file. This way, as the text file updates, so will the RTEXT within the AutoCAD drawing. I like to think of it as an external reference for text. Let's take a look at the RTEXT command sequence.

Command: RTEXT

Current settings: Style=Standard Height=0.2000 Rotation=0

Enter an option [Style/Height/ Rotation/File/Diesel] <Diesel>:

Style, Height and Rotation are used to control the look of the resulting text that displays on the screen. File and DIESEL control exactly what displays on the screen. If you select File, you'll be asked for the name of an ASCII text file. You'll find that as you modify and save the text file, the RTEXT updates as well. The next drawing regeneration updates the RTEXT object.

For those of you familiar with DIESEL, you'll love the capabilities found here. If you aren't familiar with DIESEL (which I suspect most aren't), I'll provide a couple of examples with which you can work. I want to put a plot stamp on my drawing that contains the drawing name and date last modified. I'm sure many of you would find this quite useful. By selecting the DIESEL option and inputting the following text, you'll get exactly that.

$(getvar,dwgname)

$(edtime, $(getvar,date),MO/DD/YYYY)

I know it's scary looking, but it's sooooo powerful that I strongly suggest trying it out. More information on this can be found in the AutoCAD Customization guide and the Express Tools HELP function under RTEXT.

Figure 4
Figure 4. This is the result of using RTEXT to create a plot stamp.
The resulting RTEXT using the above DIESEL string is shown in Figure 4. You can also edit the text using the RTEDIT command. I did notice that if you cancel out of the command prematurely, the objects are left highlighted and you'll have to re-edit the object or regenerate to fix it--no big deal but a tad annoying.

If you explode the RTEXT object, you'll get MTEXT. You might plan on doing this should you need to send your drawing to someone who doesn't have RTEXT (Release 14 user sans Express Tools for example).

Figure
Figure 5. The Text to Mtext Options dialog offers several text choices.
Text to Mtext (TXT2MTXT) is great for converting old DTEXT strings into one MTEXT object. If you've ever needed to change the width of a paragraph of dtext, you know how difficult that can be. Most just delete the text and reenter it in the MTEXT dialog box. TXT2MTXT makes this change simple and fast. Simply select the standard text/dtext strings, and they'll automatically be converted. You'll also find a dialog with a set of additional options. The Help function falls short here because it doesn't explain or acknowledge this additional dialog box. Simply put, AutoCAD will default to sorting them from the top down, or you can also sort them yourself by manually picking them. You can turn off the automatic word wrap (though that's probably the reason you're using this command to begin with).

You'll also find tremendous improvements to the TEXTMASK command. This very popular Bonus Tool from R14 frustrated many users because it was difficult to remove the mask and didn't plot correctly if you mixed Paper Space masks with Model Space objects. I received tons of emails regarding this; that shows me that many of you needed this technology, but couldn't get it to work properly.

The new TEXTUNMASK command addresses the former issue. There's a new option available in the overhauled PLOT command to address the latter. The reason Paper Space textmasks wouldn't plot over Model Space objects is due to the fact the Paper Space objects always printed first. Thus, your textmasks ended up below the Model Space objects...oops! Now, under Plot options in the PLOT dialog, you'll find a checkbox that says Plot Paper Space objects last.

You'll also find a new Masktype option in TEXTMASK. You can control what type of mask covers your text. The three options are Wipeout (as before), 3Dface and Solid. The 3Dface option works great on 3D options because they'll hide objects during hidden-line removal. The Solid option permits you to control the color of the actual mask (the color dialog box will appear prompting for a color). Remember that the standard textmask uses the background color to mask objects. See the prompt sequence below.

Command: textmask

Current settings: Offset factor = 0.5000, Mask type = Wipeout

Select text objects to mask or [Masktype/Offset]: m

Mask type currently set to Wipeout

Specify entity type to use for mask [Wipeout/3dface/Solid] <Wipeout>:

I only made it part way through the new Express Tool commands. Next month, I'll set out to cover the rest of them. If you're interested in finding out more about all of the Express Tools you can do so by going to www.autodesk.com/expresstools.

Fond Farewell
On behalf of all the users who have appreciated the Bonus/Express Tools over the years, I'd like to say an official goodbye to Dominic Panholzer who helped spearhead and develop many of these valuable tools over the years. I know that Autodesk is going to miss his user insight (since he used AutoCAD for years before joining Autodesk), the user group community will miss his devotion (he served as San Francisco User Group president) and I'll miss him as my friend and colleague.


AutoCAD Tips!

Lynn Allen

Autodesk Technical Evangelist Lynn Allen guides you through a different AutoCAD feature in every edition of her popular "Circles and Lines" tutorial series. For even more AutoCAD how-to, check out Lynn's quick tips in the Cadalyst Video Gallery. Subscribe to Cadalyst's free Tips & Tools Weekly e-newsletter and we'll notify you every time a new video tip is published. All exclusively from Cadalyst!
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