LT On-line: Lesson 16

1 Jul, 2001 By: Mark Middlebrook

A Plotting Primer

Page 1: Plotting primer

Despite the increasing number of offices with a computer (or two) on every desk, many people still want to work with printed drawings. This month we begin a series of lessons that will help you tame the plotting beast in AutoCAD LT (and in AutoCAD). The procedures described here work with AutoCAD LT 2002 and 2000 (including 2000i), as well as with the corresponding AutoCAD versions.

A word on terminology: Plotting originally meant creating hard-copy output on a device that was capable of printing on larger sheets, such as D-size or E-size, that measure several feet on a side. Printing meant creating hard-copy output on ordinary printers-dot matrix or laser, in those days-that used ordinary sized paper, such as A-size (letter-size, 8.50 x 110) or B-size (ledger-size, 110 x 170). These days plotting and printing are two words for the same procedure in AutoCAD.

Now that you have the lingo down, you must face the unfortunate fact that plotting an AutoCAD drawing is considerably more complicated than printing a word processing document or spreadsheet. CAD has a larger range of plotters and printers, drawing types, and output procedures than other computer applications. AutoCAD LT tries to help you tame the vast jungle of plotting permutations, but you'll find that you must take some time to get the lay of the land and clear a path to your desired hard-copy output. These lessons will help, and reading them is a lot less dangerous than swinging a machete around.

Plotting received a major facelift-and heart and brain transplants-in AutoCAD and LT 2000. The Plot dialog box and many plotting concepts differ completely from earlier versions. If you were familiar with plotting in an older version, such as AutoCAD Release 14 and earlier, or AutoCAD LT 98 and earlier, then "everything you know is wrong," as the old Firesign Theatre skit said. Plotting in AutoCAD LT 2000 and 2002 is more flexible, powerful, and rational than plotting in previous versions. However, it is not simple. Whether you're new to AutoCAD LT plotting or are struggling to understand the changes from a previous version, this series of lessons should help.

Get with the system
One of the complications you face in your attempts to create hard copies is that AutoCAD LT has two distinct ways of communicating with your plotters and printers. Operating systems, and the programs that run in them, use a special piece of software called a printer driver to format data for printing and then send it to the printer or plotter. When you configure Windows to recognize a new printer connected to your computer or your network, you're installing the printer's driver. AutoCAD LT, like other Windows programs, works with the printers you've configured in Windows. AutoCAD calls these system printers because they're part of the Windows system.

But AutoCAD LT, unlike other Windows programs, can't leave well enough alone. It turns out that some output devices, especially some larger plotters, aren't controlled very efficiently by Windows system printer drivers. For that reason, AutoCAD comes with specialized nonsystem drivers (drivers not installed as part of the Windows system) for plotters from companies such as Hewlett-Packard, Xerox, and Océ. These drivers are kind of like nonunion workers. They ignore the nice, tidy rules for communicating with Windows printers in order to get things done a bit more quickly and effectively.

Using already-configured Windows system printer drivers usually is easiest, and they work well with many devices-especially devices that print on smaller paper, such as laser and inkjet printers. However, if you have a large plotter, you may be able to get faster plotting, better plot quality, and more plot features by installing a nonsystem driver. To find out more, choose Contents|Drivers and Peripherals|Use Plotters and Printers in the AutoCAD 2002 online Help system.

Note: AutoCAD LT 2000 and 2002 have a major exception to the "nonsystem drivers give better results than system drivers" rule. Hewlett-Packard plotters work better with the new Windows system driver that Autodesk includes on the AutoCAD 2002 CD. For instructions on installing the new system printer driver, navigate to the Windows System Drivers|HP folder on the CD, choose the subfolder that corresponds to your language and operating system, and read the README.TXT file contained therein.

Configure it out
For now, you should make sure AutoCAD LT recognizes the devices you want to use for plotting. Here's how:

1. Launch AutoCAD LT and open an existing drawing or start a new, blank drawing.

2. Choose Tools|Options to open the Options dialog box, then click the Plotting tab.

3. Click the drop-down arrow to view the list just below the Use As Default Output Device option, as shown in figure 1.

Figure 1. Plotting options in AutoCAD LT.

Notice that the list includes two kinds of devices designated by two tiny icons to the left of the device names. A little laser printer icon, with a sheet of white paper coming out the top, indicates a Windows system printer configuration. A little plotter icon, with a piece of paper coming out the front, indicates a nonsystem (that is, AutoCAD-specific) configuration. The nonsystem configuration names always end in PC3, because they're stored in special AutoCAD Printer Configuration version 3 files.

4. Verify that the list includes the printers and plotters that you want to have available in AutoCAD.

If it doesn't, choose Start|Settings|Printers, launch the Add Printer wizard, and follow the instructions. If your printer isn't in the default Windows list, cancel the wizard and hunt down the driver disk that came with your printer, or download the current driver from the printer manufacturer's Web site.

5. Choose the output device that you want to make the default for new drawings.

6. Click OK to close the dialog box and retain any changes that you made in the previous step.

If you need to create nonsystem driver configurations, use the AutoCAD 2002 Plotter Manager Add-A-Plotter wizard (from the AutoCAD LT File menu, choose Plotter Manager). This wizard is similar to the Windows Add Printer wizard, so if you can add an ordinary printer in Windows, you can probably add a nonsystem plotter configuration to AutoCAD 2000. When you complete the wizard steps, AutoCAD saves the information in a PC3 file. The wizard can import some settings from older AutoCAD R14/LT 98 PC2 (version 2) and AutoCAD R12/LT 95 PCP (version 1) files.

A Plotting Primer
  Page 1: Plotting primer
  Page 2: A simple plot

About the Author: Mark Middlebrook

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