General Software

AutoCAD 2005: Focus on Files

1 May, 2004 By: Bill Fane

Sheet Set Manager organizes your drawings.

Autodesk's introduction party for AutoCAD 2005 was a little different from most such events. Instead of the usual show-and-tell of new features, Autodesk developers showed us a stack of papers. They reminded us that most design projects require more than one sheet of paper to adequately define them. Typical designs range from an architectural project with its site plan, foundation drawings, structural and wall details, and so on to a large machine design with its general arrangement drawing and details of specific motors, gearboxes, and the like.

Even a single part can require more than one sheet. The design details for a car engine block, for example, won't fit on a single piece of paper.

After reminding us how the real world operates, Autodesk introduced AutoCAD 2005 and demonstrated how its new Sheet Set Manager functions replicate the processes most of us use. The Sheet Set Manager lets you define a list of drawing sheets from within AutoCAD. The individual sheets can come from a variety of sources. For example, a sheet set can consist of specific paper space layout tabs and named views from within model space. A sheet set can reference layouts and views from more than one drawing file, and different sheet sets can point to the same layout or view.

Between The Sheets

Figure 2 shows the Sheet Set Manager with a typical sheet set defined. The Sheet List tab is active, so it shows the specific sheets in the set. Figure 3 shows the same sheet set, but this time the View List tab is active. The list now displays the drawing file and specific view or layout tab that defines each sheet within the set.

Once you have a sheet set defined, what can you do? For starters, everything has live hyperlinks, and you can display the sheet set's structure onscreen. Double-click on an entry and AutoCAD opens and displays that sheet for you, even if it has to open another drawing file first.

You can also create a cover sheet that automatically lists all sheets within the set. This table automatically updates whenever you make any changes to the sheet set definition. Once again, just click an entry on the cover sheet table to open a specific sheet.

You can link live sheet set data to title block attributes so that the title block information is always current. In addition, you can define sheet subsets within a tree structure. An architect can have sheet subsets defined for structural, electrical, and mechanical, all under a master set for a client.

You can also plot by sheet sets. Simply open a sheet set, specify your plotting requirements, and go away. When you return, all specified sheets are plotted in the desired order, even if AutoCAD has to jump between several drawing files. Not only that, you can carry over sheet set data into plot stamp specifications. You don't have to leave while you plot. AutoCAD 2005 plots in background mode, so you can continue working while it plots.

Figure 1. With AutoCAD 2005, the new Sheet Set Manager gives you the power to manage and organize your sets of drawings through one simple interface.
Figure 1. With AutoCAD 2005, the new Sheet Set Manager gives you the power to manage and organize your sets of drawings through one simple interface.

Sheet sets also can be used to create transmittal sets of drawing files. When a new sheet is added to the set, all related support files, such as xrefs, are added as well.

Another key feature is that you can create an archive of a sheet set at a specific moment in time-for example, when you submit a bid set to a vendor. You can then continue to do detail work on the design, but still have the ability to go back and reference the archive set if the vendor raises a question.

I read a magazine article many years ago that claimed CAD installations went through three phases. First came the wow phase when pencil-and-paper drafters first tried CAD. Next came the churn-out-the-drawings phase. Users were trained and comfortable with the CAD process. Drawing production was routine, and CAD was a commodity.

The final, open-ended phase is the alligator phase, as in, "When you're up to your a** in alligators, it can be difficult to remember that you were going to drain the swamp." To a CAD manager, this translates into, "Hey, I just realized that I have more than 20,000 drawings on the system. How do I find the ones I need?"

Figure 2. A typical sheet set list.
Figure 2. A typical sheet set list.

A few releases back, people began to ask, "What else can possibly be added to AutoCAD?" Everyone always has one little pet wish-list item that would help with drawing production in some small way, but most are not shake-the-world items. CAD finally reached phase 2.

It seems that Autodesk agrees and has moved on to phase 3. The new Sheet Set Manager makes it much easier to control the related sheets in a set of prints. Some people have commented on the number of new commands and functions and suggested that the Sheet Set Manager might be overly complex. I disagree. It mimics the terminology and processes that have been used in design offices long before CAD existed. Autodesk has obviously been watching and listening to real-world users. See p. 34 for more information on the Sheet Set Manager.

Although I've emphasized file management tools, AutoCAD 2005 also provides a number of interesting new or revised drafting and productivity tools. There isn't room to list them all, but here are several that caught my eye.

Figure 3. The view list for the sheet set.
Figure 3. The view list for the sheet set.

A Few Of My Favorite Things

Drawings can now contain updatable fields. These are special text-type items, such as sheet numbers and the date, where content changes when the data it references changes.

Tired of drawing lines to create tables? A simple dialog box lets you specify the size and number of rows and columns. You can then populate tables with text and updatable fields.

In July 2003's "Learning Curve" (, I discussed the Draworder command, which lets you specify that an object or objects display in front of younger objects or behind older objects. In AutoCAD 2005, you can now specify the draworder of hatch patterns before you create them. You can also specify that text and dimensions always display in front of everything else.

Hatching includes several interesting enhancements. Number one on my personal favorite list is the ability to instruct object snaps to ignore the elements within a hatch pattern. Think about how many zooms and pans this saves as you try to snap to the boundary of a finely hatched area.

Figure 4. A hatched area before trimming.
Figure 4. A hatched area before trimming.

A close second on my list of favorites is a new system variable that controls the size of allowable gaps in a hatch boundary. That's right-hatch boundaries no longer have to form a closed, contiguous loop. Nearly right is good enough.

Finally, you can now trim hatch objects like any other object. Fortunately, everything updates so the trim objects become part of the hatch boundary and associativity is maintained. Figures 4 and 5 show before and after views.

AutoCAD 2005 finally adds a midpoint between two points object snap. I say finally because this was one of the first AutoLISP routines I ever wrote, way back in Release 2.17g. We found it extremely useful back then, and I am sure all AutoCAD 2005 users will, too.

Figure 5. The trimmed hatched area.
Figure 5. The trimmed hatched area.

Tool palettes contain significant enhancements. For example, you can drag and drop sample text, mtext, and dimension items onto a tool palette. You can then use the new tools to create more objects with the same style and characteristics as the example objects.

Tool palettes can now contain standard AutoCAD commands such as Line, Circle, Arc, and so on. You can add custom AutoLISP routines.

Activation anxiety

Stand-alone copies of AutoCAD 2005 use a new activation scheme that ties the software serial number to a specific computer. You are allowed to install a copy on a second computer, such as a home system or laptop. If your system is replaced or stolen, or if you reformat your hard drive, you'll have to contact Autodesk to reauthorize your license for the new machine. For more information on activation, see the Cadalyst CAD Manager newsletter at and
Figure 6. AutoCAD 2005 offers tool palette enhancements.
Figure 6. AutoCAD 2005 offers tool palette enhancements.

Nobody likes to say the dreaded term copy protection, but that is effectively what this is. Old-timers may remember the fuss that ensued years ago when AutoCAD instituted a hardware lock. I recognize Autodesk's right to limit piracy, but let's hope the cure isn't worse than the disease. Over the years, I've observed that software companies with the tightest copy protection schemes tend to have the lowest survival rate.

All in all, AutoCAD 2005 will be a worthwhile upgrade for most users. The upgrade from AutoCAD 2004 should be relatively painless-the DWG format remains the same, and custom routines in Visual LISP, ObjectARX, and VBA should run with no problem. Autodesk plans to develop future AutoCAD updates on a yearly schedule, rather than issue extensions that are available only to subscription customers. Highly Recommended.

Autocad in a nutshell
Autocad in a nutshell

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