AutoCAD 2011 for the CAD Manager

24 Mar, 2010 By: Robert Green

Autodesk is launching the latest version of its flagship product today. Here’s a rundown of the new features that will help you help your users.

CAD Manager’s Newsletter is arriving a day later than scheduled so I can bring you the news about today’s launch of AutoCAD 2011. You'll be seeing a lot about the new AutoCAD release from Autodesk in the coming days and weeks. In this newsletter, I’ll review the updates that will have the greatest impact on CAD managers. You’ll find my general overview of new product features in “AutoCAD 2011: A Look at What’s New,” and my Cadalyst Labs Review of the new version appears in the Spring 2010 edition of Cadalyst magazine, which goes on sale later today.

I usually try to keep the CAD Manager's Newsletter product-neutral, but since so many CAD managers either use or support AutoCAD-based products, I'll make an exception in this case. Read on for my take on the new tools that facilitate user training and system configuration. Here goes.

Interface Modifications

AutoCAD 2011's user interface is quite similar to the last couple of releases (2009 and up) in that the out-of-the-box configuration utilizes a ribbon along the top menu bar, as opposed to the toolbar/dashboard approach utilized in AutoCAD 2008 and prior. Alert your users (or be ready for questions) about a few differences I'll call your attention to now.

Workspace pull-down menu. Located in the upper-left corner, this is a handy way to switch between 3D, ribbon, and classic-style interfaces — and it's much more prominent than prior releases.

Ribbon pull-down menu. Unobtrusively located just to the right of the other pull-down menus. this control allows the user to customize how detailed the ribbons will appear and, therefore, how much space they'll consume. My advice is to bring this to your users' attention and ask them to try some different settings to see if they can get used to the ribbon.

3D object snaps. New 3D object snaps are included along the bottom navigation bar, but the icon looks very similar to the 2D object snap icon that resides right next to it. I found myself a little puzzled by this at first, and so might your users.

The AutoCAD 2011 user interface includes a workspace pull-down menu in the upper-left corner, 3D navigation tools along the bar at right, a ribbon pull-down menu, and 3D object snaps details (superimposed for clarity).

3D navigation tools. The move toward having 3D navigation tools on screen has been completed with the Navigation bar consolidating 3D tools and zoom/pan functions into a single floating panel. Note that these settings can be customized for each workspace so they don't always have to be on.

Conclusion. If your users are familiar with AutoCAD 2009 or 2010, they should become comfortable with AutoCAD 2011's user interface very quickly. For those users who've never seen a ribbon-style interface or a 3D view cube, it may take a little longer and require some training from you.


A new transparency object property has been added, which you'll see in dialog boxes like Layer, Plot, and Properties. Transparency can be applied by object or by layer (just like color or linetype), and the more transparent an object is, the higher the number will be — up to a maximum of 90.

Transparency is simply another object property, like color or linetype.

In the past I've used very thin pen weights to make objects less noticeable on screen, but transparency is intuitive in that the objects really do blend into the background. However, transparency comes with a cost — increased processing time during plotting — because the entire drawing has to be rasterized, resulting in a much larger plot file. If you plan to plot transparent objects, you'll need to take processing time and plot file sizes into account and test your hardware to ensure there will be no negative impact on your plotting operations.

Conclusion. Evaluate transparency carefully for possible plotting issues before adopting.


AutoCAD 2010 introduced 2D parametric drawing control but, to be honest, it wasn't always easy to understand what was happening as various parametric constraints interacted with each other. In AutoCAD 2011, new functions called Inferred Constraints and AutoConstrain have been added so drawings act more like you'd expect them to by automatically inferring drawing behaviors using geometric relationships established with AutoCAD object snaps.

It would require half a dozen issues of this newsletter to fully explain parametric functionality, but suffice it to say that AutoCAD 2011 makes big strides toward usability. In fact, I advise CAD managers to consider putting parametric controls into template drawings for mechanical parts or architectural plans where dimensional relationships are used to size geometry.

Conclusion. If you haven't tried parametrics in AutoCAD yet, this is the release that makes it worthwhile.

Parametric constraints simply maintain object relationships. As any object is edited, the other objects react according to the rules you’ve specified. New functions in AutoCAD 2011 make the process more intuitive and less obtrusive.

Scale Lists

With this release, we finally get the ability to consolidate custom scale lists and store those lists in the machine registry. You no longer have to store scale lists in each drawing! CAD managers will rejoice over this feature because a single scale list is established that will drive all parameters, including viewport scales, annotative scales, and so forth.

Conclusion. If you use scale lists, you're going to love this release.

Scale lists are now stored in the machine registry via AutoCAD profiles and are consequently available to all drawings. You can access the custom scale list from the User Preferences tab in the Options command.

Point Clouds

Those of you who work in civil engineering, plant and piping, or artistic architecture can finally work with point clouds inside AutoCAD 2011 without any external software. Typically, point clouds are generated by laser-scanning devices and saved to a file that contains all the scanned points; then your CAD software can make decisions about how to create surfaces that pass through the point cloud to give the visual appearance of the original scanned object.

You can attach point cloud files (in ISD or PCG formats) much like you'd attach an external reference using the Point Cloud dialog box, and you can control the display density using the Point Cloud ribbon.

Conclusion. I foresee much more widespread use of point clouds now that they can be manipulated directly in AutoCAD 2011. If you've heard discussions about point clouds in your CAD environment, you'd do well to investigate this new feature.

Point clouds are inserted like external references, then controlled via a ribbon panel (inset, lower left).


In an effort to keep help files more up-to-date, AutoCAD 2011 points the Help system to the Autodesk web site by default. Whether you want to use this new Internet feature or not can be controlled via the Options command, as can the browser. This is simple stuff, but something that would be easy to overlook.

Conclusion. Check with your IT folks to make sure they're OK with all your CAD users frequently pinging the Internet for Autodesk help!

Help now points to the Internet by default, but this setup can be disabled in the System tab of the Options command.

Summing Up

As with all new software releases, I recommend that you, the CAD manager, take the time to evaluate whether the new features are beneficial enough to merit adoption in your CAD environment. I hope you'll find this CAD manager–centric look at AutoCAD 2011 (and the various resources available from Cadalyst) very helpful in charting your future AutoCAD course. Until next time.

About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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