Learning Curve: When Is a Profile not a Silhouette? When It's aProfile

4 May, 2006 By: Bill Fane

Profiles add another powerful element for managing your templates.

It was an average sort of night, weather-wise. Captain LearnCurve had just given up on reading the phone book because it didn't have much of a plot, although it did have a great cast of characters. Instead, he shifted his attention to reading The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary. When he reached page 1593 he came across the entry for "Profile: 1. a drawing or other representation of an outline or contour, especially of a human face; 2. a sectional drawing, usually vertical."

Hmmm, that's interesting. AutoCAD also uses the word profile, but not in quite this context. This dilemma seems worthy of further investigation.

My previous article covered template files in AutoCAD and ended up with the promise (or threat) to continue with an exploration of profiles, including a discussion of their use in conjunction with templates.

Last time you saw how easy it is to set up template drawings and how much time they can save compared with starting a new drawing. You also saw how to set a specific template as the default by using the Files tab of the Options (Tools/Options) dialog box and then setting the Template Settings/Default Template File Name to any desired file name and location.

So far, so good. But what if you want different default templates at different times? This situation might occur if you want different setups to suit different projects, clients, disciplines, Imperial versus metric or whatever.

No problem! AutoCAD allows us to create different named configurations for different circumstances. These differently named configurations are called profiles. The really good news is that they include virtually all the settings of all the tabs in the Options dialog box.

Let's step back a bit and look at the implications of that last statement.

Whenever you change almost anything within your options, AutoCAD writes the new settings back to the Windows system registry file. Now here comes the cunning part: AutoCAD is able to create named profile sections within the registry where it can store different sets of settings. Each named profile is independent of the others and can store different settings to suit individual users, projects, departments or whatever.

To avoid initial overload, let's start by just looking at the case of alternate template files.

First, create suitable template files (if you have not already done so) and place them in suitable folders. Note that all templates do not need to be in the same folder. You can have separate folders for each client, project or discipline. It's good practice to place them on the file server so that everyone in the office can access them.

Now go to the Profiles tab of the Options dialog box (figure 1).

Figure 1. The Profiles tab of the Options dialog box is used to create and administer profiles.

Yours may look different if you are running a vertical application such as Architectural Desktop or Mechanical Desktop. In these cases, you will see two profiles listed, one named Vanilla and the other whose name depends on the particular vertical application.

Look at the action buttons down the right side of the dialog box. The action of most is obvious from their labels, but we will study them in a little more detail in a few minutes.

Keeping a Low Profile
Notice anything odd? The box has no New button. If you want to create a new profile, you must select the Add to List button. This click brings up the Add Profile dialog box (figure 2).

Figure 2. The Add Profile dialog box creates new named profiles.

Enter the profile name Low, plus an optional description, then click Apply & Close. AutoCAD will return you to the Profiles tab of the Option dialog box, where your Low profile was added to the list.

Let's do a quick and easy experiment to see how profiles work.

First, double-click on your Low profile to make it active.

Next, click on the Display tab of the Options dialog box and then click on the Colors button. This brings up the Color Options dialog box (figure 3).

Figure 3. The Colors button of the Display tab calls up the Color Options dialog box.

Use the Color scroll list to change the Model Tab Background color to magenta. Click Apply & Close. Your model space background will now become a lovely magenta color.

Click on the Profiles tab again and then double-click on the Unnamed Profile item. Presto! Like magic, your background color changes back to black!

Experiment a bit by alternately double-clicking on the two profile names (or single-click, then click on Set Current). Watch in shock and awe as your screen color flips back and forth between black and magenta.

That's about all there is to the basic principles of profiles. Pretty much anything you change in the Options dialog box will save under the current profile. In addition, it also saves things like the current visibility and location of toolbars, plus the current menu or CUI (custom user interface) name.

Okay, let's apply this to our template situation.

Set the Low profile to be current and then click on the Files tab. Change the Drawing Template File Locations entry to point to a custom folder and default template name that you previously created.

Close the Options dialog box and start a new drawing. AutoCAD will default to your new template folder location and default template file name.

Switch back to the Unnamed Profile and start another new drawing. Surprise! AutoCAD has reverted to the default template folder!

This last operation hints at even more power within profiles. As you just saw, you can switch profiles in the middle of an editing session. It now becomes extremely easy to switch back and forth between different clients, projects or disciplines. You always will have the correct templates available.

But Wait! There's More!
Whenever AutoCAD is running, it needs to know where to find certain support files such as menus, CUI files, fonts, LISP routines, block library drawings and so on. If you want to run several alternate setups on one machine, all you have to do is to place the appropriate files in suitable folder locations and then tell AutoCAD where to find them.

To do so, go to the Files tab of the Options dialog box. Click on the + sign or double-click on the title of the Support File Search Path item. It will expand to show the current search path tree. At the same time, the Add button becomes available. Click on it, and you can add a new folder path to the bottom of the list.

Whenever AutoCAD needs a support file, it first looks in the folder where the drawing lives. If it can't find it there, it then searches through the paths and folders listed in the support file search path and stops at the first matching item it finds. The trick here is that it searches from the top down, so you probably want to take the new entry and repeatedly click on Move Up until it reaches the top of the list. This way, AutoCAD will find the custom items first.

You can create custom situation-specific profile setups that include not only our custom templates but also block libraries, menus and so on.

And that's all there is to it! You can create unique profiles for Donald, Daisy, Romeo, Juliet, Low, High, Uncle Tom Cobbley, etc. A point to notice is that when you create a new profile (Add To List), it starts from a copy of the current profile.

When you want to use a different profile, all you need to do is to start AutoCAD, click on Tools/Options, click on the Profiles tab, click on the desired profile name, click on Set Current, then on OK and . . .

"Hold it! What do you mean 'That's all there is to it!' That takes six mouse picks every time I start AutoCAD! There has got to be an easier way!"

Would I have brought up the subject if there weren't? Close AutoCAD and go back to your desktop. Copy your existing AutoCAD shortcut icon, creating a new icon on your desktop for each desired setup.

Next right-click on an icon and then click on Properties. Click on the Shortcut tab.

The Target window will display something like this:

"C:\Program Files\AutoCAD 200n\acad.exe"

Where n is the last digit of your release number. All you need to do is to add /P "Low" to the end of the string, so it looks like this:

"C:\Program Files\AutoCAD 200n\acad.exe" /P "Low"

The /P tells AutoCAD to use the profile named Low when it is started from this icon. You can thus keep a Low profile directly on your desktop.

"Are you ever going to let that pun die?"


Set up each icon so its target line points directly to its matching profile name -- and there you have it -- instant setup changes!

If you have installed a vertical application such as Mechanical Desktop, you will have noticed that it created two icons on your desktop, one for standard AutoCAD and one for Mechanical Desktop. In fact, they both launch the same copy of AutoCAD. The only difference is that the icon target includes a suitable pointer to the correct profile, so that AutoCAD will come up running with the appropriate menu, ARX files, support search paths and so on to suit the setup you chose.

If an icon does not include a specific profile, then it will launch AutoCAD using whichever profile was used the last time it ran.

"That's pretty cool, but I have two dozen machines in our office. It will still take me a bit of work to create project profiles in each machine."

No problem. Simply set up one machine as desired.

Refer to figure 1 again and check out the buttons down the right side. Notice that you can export any desired profile out to disk as a file with the extension ARG and take it to another machine where you can import it. Assuming the custom directories and files exist, you are ready to go.

In fact, you can make it even easier than that. If you are running from a network, then the exported profile file can live on the server. When you set up the Command line for the desktop icon, the /P option can include a full drive and directory path that points to the profile file, like this:

C:\Program ?..\acad.exe /P "n:\profiles\low.arg"

AutoCAD will import the profile file the first time it is invoked. It will copy its contents to the system registry and then will ignore the ARG file after that.

To further simplify things, you can copy desktop icons themselves. Simply copy all your custom AutoCAD icons to a network folder, then go to each machine and copy them back to each machine's desktop. AutoCAD will create appropriate profiles the first time each icon is used.

Finally, we come to the Reset button. Not unexpectedly, when you click on it then the current profile is reset to all of AutoCAD's default out-of-the-box settings.

Now that you know what a profile is, can anyone figure out what an antifile is?

And Now For Something Completely Different
If you travel, remember that most hotels outside of North America do not supply wash cloths. You may want to take your own.

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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