Digging Deep into the Express Tools

1 Oct, 2003 By: Lynn Allen

After being inundated with emails from many of you regarding the Express Tools column I wrote a couple of months ago ("The Return of the Express Tools!" pp. 31-32, August, 2003), I've decided to oblige you and dig down deeper into more of the tools. It may take a few months to pour through them all, but I will provide you with a good chance to see if there's an Express Tool that would fit perfectly into your daily drawing routine!

As a little refresher, the Express Tools are included with AutoCAD 2004. If you are still on AutoCAD 2000 to 2002, you can purchase the Express Tools from the eStore at Make sure they are loaded and installed. If all goes well, you should see the Express Tools menu, as shown in Figure 1.

The nearly 80 Express Tools are broken up into 11 different sections. Let's start at the top with the Layers category and work our way down.

Layer Walk (LAYWALK)

For years this has definitely been a showstopper command. LAYWALK allows you to stairstep through your current layers, displaying the objects that exist on each layer, as shown in Figure 2. This is extremely valuable should you find yourself working on someone else's drawing, especially if this person doesn't seem to understand that whole "Follow the Standards" concept. No longer do you need to waste time isolating a layer just to see what's on it; LAYWALK shows you the needed info quickly and easily. LAYWALK also has options to filter the layer list (for those drawings with too many layers) for easy visibility and to purge those layers that are unreferenced. The control and shift keys work, as you would expect, for adding or removing from the layer list, and there's a Select Objects button in the upper-left corner for further pairing down of those layers displayed in the list. Right clicking on any layer displays a shortcut menu with a myriad of additional options for further layer control. You can even save a layer state here for use in the Layer Manager!

For those of you on AutoCAD 2002+, you'll find that the Layer Translater (LAYTRANS) command has a light version of this functionality built into it (though it's somewhat hidden).

Figure 1. The Express Tools pulldown menu will display after loading the tools.

Layer Manager (LMAN)

AutoCAD 2000i incorporated the key features of the very popular Layer Manager Express Tool right into the standard LAYER command. The goal here is to help you better control your layer settings by saving various layer configurations, known as states. Layer Manager takes a snapshot of the layer current settings--whether or not the layers are ON or OFF, Frozen or Thawed as well as noting colors, linetypes, and so on--and saves them under a name of your choice. You save time in the long run because returning to these saved states is as simple as restoring the desired state. These states can also be exported to an external file with an extension of LAY for use in other drawings as well (the LAYER command uses an extension of LAS instead). Figure 3 shows you the dialog for the Layer Manager. Since most of the core functionality is now included with standard AutoCAD, I'm not going to dig any deeper into this command. In fact, AutoCAD can get very confused should you choose to use the Layer Manager Express Tool and the State Manager tools within the LAYER command. So, pick one or the other, and stick with it. You'll find some default LAY files that follow AIA standards in the EXPRESS directory.

Figure 2. The popular LayerManager Express Tool provides the power to save layer states.

Layer Match (LAYMCH)

Layer Match can match the layer of one or more objects to the layer of another object (similar to the Property Painter concept). You can also key in a destination layer name for the object(s) to be moved to.

Change to Current Layer (LAYCUR)

Use this to quickly change selected object(s) to the current layer.

Copy Objects to New Layer (COPYTOLAYER)

It's easy to move objects from one layer to another, but copying them is a different story! This Express Tool makes it easy to do exactly that. After selecting the intended objects, a dialog box will display a list of the existing layers. You can select from this list or create a new layer by keying in the new layer name in the text box. This command is handy if you want the same objects to display differently in different viewports. Make a copy of the objects to a different layer, turn off the original layer in the viewport (try using the Express Tool LAYVPI), and manipulate the copy as needed.

Layer Isolate (LAYISO)

This very popular Express Tool is used to quickly isolate a layer by turning all the other layers off. Consequently you can undo the results of LAYISO by using the LAYUNISO command.

Isolate Layer to Current Viewport (LAYVPI)

This command can save you tons of time if you're a heavy Paper Space viewport user. Nothing is more frustrating than manipulating the various layer settings per viewport. LAYVPI does the tedious work for you. Selecting an object in a viewport will freeze that layer in all of the other viewports, leaving it on in the current viewport. You can even indicate if you want this to affect all viewports in all the layouts or not. For example, you select some text on the Notes layer in one viewport, and all the notes will disappear from the other viewports.

Layer Off (LAYOFF)

Don't care for the command name for this (do you?), but it suits the function. You select an object on a layer you want AutoCAD to turn off. You can even turn off layers within blocks with this handy tool.

Figure 3. The Layer Walk dialog box makes it easy to see what is on each layer.

Turn all Layers On (LAYON)

This turns every darn layer back on!

Layer Freeze (LAYFRZ)

Similar to the LAYOFF command, except this freezes the layer of the selected object.

Thaw all Layers (LAYTHW)

This command thaws those chilly, frozen layers.

Layer Lock (LAYLCK)

This command locks the layer of the selected object.

Layer Unlock (LAYUNLCK)

This command unlocks all locked layers.

Layer Merge (LAYMRG)

Have you ever wanted to combine two layers into one? This Express Tool makes it easy to do so. All the objects on the first layer selected are moved to the second layer selected. Then the first layer is purged from the drawing.

Layer Delete (LAYDEL)

Probably my favorite of all the Layer Express Tools, this command is a sure bet in purging an annoying layer that refuses to be deleted. LAYDEL has eliminated the need for many an aspirin in a designer's life! Be warned, where there is power there is danger. This command is very efficient! LAYDEL doesn't care what's on that layer; it is happy to remove its presence from your life!

Phew! That was quite a bit to cover in one month's column! Hopefully you found a tool or two to spare a headache and/or shave some time off your daily drawing routine. This is just a small bite in the big Express Tool month, more bites to come! Until then, Happy AutoCADing!

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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