AutoCAD 2013 is (Almost) Here7 Mar, 2012 By: Robert Green
Significant updates include improved mechanical model documentation, annotation options — and some cloud-based functionality that is still top secret.
It turns out that you can't keep the next version of AutoCAD secret! Due for release later this month, AutoCAD 2013 was the subject of a gathering of CAD bloggers in January — myself among them — but we had to agree to a nondisclosure agreement (NDA) that would lift on March 27. Well, in late February, Autodesk Japan lifted the covers prematurely, exposing the new version via the Internet. At that point, Autodesk rescinded the NDA — or at least part of it.
That gives Cadalyst the opportunity to offer you a sneak peak at AutoCAD 2013 a month before its official launch. In a later update (most likely in the March 28 edition of my CAD Manager's Newsletter), I'll reveal the features that are currently still under NDA and will discuss the new release in terms of how it will affect CAD managers in particular.
In terms of its user interface, AutoCAD 2013 looks much like recent releases: The wide-format UI utilizes an ever-growing ribbon panel across the top, view manipulation components to the right, and an enhanced Command prompt, status tray, and shortcut bars. The Quick View Drawing tabs have been updated to show specific layout tabs, so you can better track the various sessions you have open even if that includes multiple sessions of the same DWG file. There's also a lot more going on in the upper right corner for Cloud, Exchange, product updates, and Help queries. Most users should be able to get to work in the new UI with very little transition.
The user interface of AutoCAD 2013 is similar to previous versions, with a few new features such as the floating Command line and more icons in the system tray and top menu bar.
What's Old is New
On startup, the Autodesk Exchange screen consolidates help and other user resources, evoking memories of the AutoCAD Today screen that ran at startup in AutoCAD 2002.
Autodesk Exchange now greets the user with recently used files and support resources on startup.
Help: After AutoCAD's 2012 Help system was placed on the Internet, many users and their IT departments clamored for a way to run Help system queries from the user's machine like they had in previous versions. AutoCAD 2013 now has downloadable Help resources that allow for localization, plus a much faster Help index search system to minimize Internet lag times.
Command line: Over the past several releases, it seems that Autodesk has been trying to eliminate AutoCAD's familiar Command prompt in favor of right-click and ribbon functionality. Long-time users who've grown accustomed to inputting command aliases (such as L for line) have seen their Command interface shrink — but that trend is reversed in AutoCAD 2013. The Command line box is now a transparency-enabled powerhouse that can be dragged and dropped as well as customized with user-selectable History mode, custom fonts, command auto complete, and in a new twist, mouse-selectable command sub options (think TTR option in the Circle command or On/Off in -Layer). So veteran users of the Command line will actually see their input method of choice become more robust in this version.
Click the new wrench icon (left) in AutoCAD 2013 to customize the Command line and the clickable hyperlinks (3P/2P/Ttr) for command options.
File Formats and Editing
Once you've opened an existing drawing in AutoCAD 2013 and saved it, you may notice that it can no longer be opened with older AutoCAD versions due to a file format update. This means that if you want to work on an AutoCAD 2013 file using a previous release of AutoCAD, you'll first have to save the file to an earlier version. The good news is that this backward conversion process is exactly the same as it has been before. The only bad news is that after several releases wherein DWG format was not an issue, we again have to deal with this annoyance.
Editing itself is much like previous versions, with a few notable new features that I'll summarize here:
In-canvas editing. You'll now see properties changes on the screen as you change objects layers, colors, visual styles, or other parameters that would normally only be seen upon command completion.
Array changes. Continuing to focus on the improved array functionality introduced in AutoCAD 2012, Autodesk has added more thorough parameter controls of 3D and path array components, both on screen and in ribbon elements, making complex arrays easier to preview on screen.
Three-dimensional path arrays, such as these lighting poles, can be driven along 3D polylines using familiar divide and measure techniques combined with previewing.
Hatch editing. You now can edit multiple hatch objects at the same time, much as you can edit the properties of multiple entities. The expanded hatch-editing ribbon is now automatically invoked upon hatch selection.
Offsetting previews. The venerable old Offset command has been upgraded to offer preview control to clarify side of offset and distance results.
Press-pull controls. When working with 3D geometry that has been extruded or is face-based, the press/pull control now better interprets geometric changes such as tapers, so geometry edits as you'd expect.
Xref and point cloud files. The Xref command now supports editing of the saved path directly in the Attach dialog box. The ability to import and aggregate point clouds is also included, and point cloud format support has been expanded.
Model Documentation for MCAD
A huge improvement in AutoCAD 2013 is the ability to work with mechanical CAD geometry generated in programs such as Autodesk Inventor, Dassault Systèmes CATIA, or SolidWorks. For those who need to produce final documentation in DWG format, importing a complex mechanical assembly without having to own an expensive MCAD system is big financial benefit. After importing, it's a snap to create multiple views, details, and sections with hidden line removal or shading.
In AutoCAD 2013, it's simple to generate views, details, and sections of models that you import from Autodesk Inventor and other MCAD software.
Now you also can save a multiview layout representation of a complex assembly to a single, unified DWG file via Export Layout to Model. This lets you manage multiple views as a single file, then export via DXF or raster formats. AutoCAD users in the manufacturing space are going to eat up this new functionality. (And one has to wonder if the ability to work with other disparate systems, such as Autodesk Revit, will be coming in future releases?)
Like it or not, we still have to annotate drawings and work with paragraphs of text, right? Working with annotation is a bit easier now, thanks to new strike-through text fonts, more fonts in general (stored in drop-down font lists), draw order control that is specific to annotation type (rather than to layer or object). And a personal pet peeve of mine – not being able to see wipeout frames on your drawing without having them plot – has finally been fixed by making wipeout frames non-plotable by default.
As mentioned, I cannot yet reveal some of the basic features of AutoCAD's support for cloud-based configuration and rendering. These features are going to change the way we can manage our software and rendering workflows and will really need to be on the radar of all CAD managers. I'll share details about these features as soon as I can.
Summing Up (for Now)
Based on what we can reveal so far, it is clear that AutoCAD 2013 is continuing along the path of AutoCAD 2012 to become a more robust 3D-editing tool that better supports mechanical CAD file types, and easier editing of geometry and annotative elements makes AutoCAD 2013 a more productive tool whether you're working in 2D or 3D. Finally, the forthcoming cloud integration will be a game-changing first salvo in the CAD cloud wars and, as a result, the official release of AutoCAD 2013 should be interesting to watch.
In her easy-to-follow, friendly style, long-time Cadalyst contributing editor Lynn Allen guides you through a new feature or time-saving trick in every episode of her popular AutoCAD Video Tips. Subscribe to the free Cadalyst Video Picks newsletter, and we'll notify you every time a new video tip is published. All exclusively from Cadalyst!