10 Express Tools Conquer Text

5 Jan, 2004 By: Lynn Allen

Express Tool exploration continues.

I'VE BEEN BESIEGED with e-mails requesting that I finish what I began a few months ago when I started to cover the ever-popular Express Tools. Worry not! I interrupted the series with my introductory article for Cadalyst, but this month I intend to pick up where I left off.

For those of you just tuning in, AutoCAD 2004 includes more than 100 Express Tools that make your everyday drawing life just a little bit easier. If you have yet to convince your boss to upgrade to AutoCAD 2004, you can buy the Express tools from the Autodesk estore at The Express Tools are worth their weight in gold-have a bake sale or a car wash to raise the funds if you must! Bad news for LT users: because most of the Express Tools are AutoLISP routines, they work only with full-blown packages of AutoCAD.

Most of the Express Tools appear in the Express Tools pull-down menu, though a few remain destined for Command line use only. To add this priceless menu to your existing AutoCAD menu, type in Expressmenu. If you prefer, toolbars are also available. This month, we pick up with the Text commands, an area where we all love to save some time.

Remote Text (Rtext)
Imagine a text file that acts like an external reference. You reference this external text file into the designated drawings, and any time you update the text file, it automatically updates in the associated drawing files. Think of the time you could save here! If you have lengthy assembly instructions or specifications in multiple instances, you can surely see some advantages. You can use the Rtext command to select the external text string, as well as the height, text style, and rotation angle. If you are enough of a guru to know DIESEL code, you can include that as well. For example, you can set the DIESEL string up to access the drawing name automatically (for a title block) with $(getvar, "dwgname"). Wouldn't it be nice to have a title block that partially answers its own questions?

Note: If you send your file to someone who doesn't have Express Tools, the text is converted to a bounding box. No worries-just explode the text to convert the text to mtext.

Also, if you forget the name of the associated text file, use the List command to provide a friendly reminder.

This Express Tool comes in handy if you have difficulty getting your text strings to fit into a designated area. Simply pick a new end point (the justification is used as the start point) to squeeze that text into the proper space. You can also select a new start point if needed. Textfit manipulates the text width behind the scenes.

You must be able to read valuable text strings, but this can be difficult when they are placed over busy drawing files. Textmask puts a masking rectangle around your text strings so you can read them easily. If you need to move the text string, the mask moves with it-they're grouped together. If you need to remove the mask, use the Textunmask command. You can control the size of the masking rectangle as well as the type of object used to mask-use the default value of Wipeout. You'll have difficulty using Textmask in paper space to cover model space objects unless you select the option Plot Paper Space Last in your Page Setup. This keeps your text masks on top of the model objects. If you want to see the bounding rectangle from Wipeout, use the Tframes command.

Text Explode (Txtexp)
AutoCAD 3D users who want to assign an elevation and thickness to text will love Text Explode. This command explodes your text objects, including mtext, into individual lines and arcs. A word of caution-it also enjoys moving your text objects around randomly! It also tends to drop the first letter…okay, so it's a little buggy.

Convert Text to Mtext (Txt2mtxt)
Now that mtext is so awesome, why not change those vintage text objects from single lines to paragraphs? This command makes it easy to change the paragraph width, add additional words, control word wrap, and more.

Arc Aligned Text (Arctext)
AutoCAD is great at writing text along a line, but what if you need a curve? Arctext to the rescue! Simply create the arc you want your text to follow, and this Express Tool does the rest. You can place the text above the arc or below, as well as control all those things you'd expect with text (figure 1).

Figure 1. The Arctext Express Tool creates text along an arc.

The four justification options-Fit, Left, Right, and Center-are also helpful in getting just the desired results. If you don't like the results, you can use Arctext again and again on the same text string until you do (oh, for a Preview option!).

Justify Text (Tjust)
AutoCAD 2002 added the Justifytext command for those cases where you'd like to change the justification of text without changing its position, so this command is now redundant. Note: Neither command plays well with mtext-the end result usually involves the text moving.

Rotate Text (Torient)
When you rotate text objects, some text strings usually end up unreadable. Torient fixes this by orienting the strings so they're right-read, similar to dimension text (figure 2). You can also specify an absolute angle.

Figure 2. Use Torient to make rotated text strings more readable.

Enclose Text with Object (Tcircle)
Great for callouts and balloons, this command encloses the selected text or mtext object with a circle, rectangle, or slot. You decide whether you'd like the object to be a constant size or relative to the text string.

Automatic Text Numbering (Tcount)
Tired of numbering items in your drawing files? Let Tcount do the work for you. Tcount sequentially numbers text objects, with the number as a prefix, a suffix, or a replacement for the existing text object. You control the start number and the increment, as well as the sorting order. This lets you place bogus text in balloons, knowing that you plan on replacing it later. It also makes it easy to renumber down the road as needed. You can control the sorting order by the x (left to right) or the y (top to bottom), or by manually selecting the order. You then indicate the start order and the increment (separated by a comma as indicated). The four replacement options are:

Overwrite: Replaces the existing text with a number.
Prefix: Puts the number before the existing text.
Suffix: Puts the number after the existing text.
Find and Replace: Replaces a specific text string with a number.

Until Next Time
So many Express Tools, so little time. I hope you've found some helpful text tips that will whisk you through the laborious process of annotating your drawing files! Until next month-Happy AutoCAD-ing!

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