AutoCAD Express Tools (The Final Episode)

31 Aug, 1999 By: Lynn Allen

Over the past couple of months, many of you sent me emails about how much you love the Express Tools. Several of you have shared some very creative ideas concerning usage of these tools. Thank you! Others still using R14 want to know why they haven't been upgraded to AutoCAD 2000. So, let me recap to ensure there's no more confusion out there.

The Express Tools gang at Autodesk continues to write tools all year long. They compile them on a quarterly basis, and the tools end up on the VIP CDs. Those of you who are VIP subscribers have all the tools I've been talking about-and more-available to you on these CDs. You can also purchase the R14 Express Tools by volumes up on the Autodesk web site. The latest VIP CD has AutoCAD 2000 upgrades for the full set of R14 Express tools that you know and love. A sampling of all of the Express Tools, combined with the majority of the R14 Bonus tools is included in AutoCAD 2000. These are the tools I've been discussing in my columns. Hopefully this will all make more sense to you.

Pack 'n Go
This month, let's conclude the series with the final option on the Express Tools pulldown menu: Tools, as shown in Figure 1. Now, let's cover the eight items in this cascade starting with Pack 'n Go.

Figure 1. Tools is the last Express Tool group in the current menu set.
Figure 2. When you execute Pack 'n Go, this dialog box appears.
Have you ever received a drawing from someone only to find that a font file or external reference is missing? Pack 'n Go (PACK) to the rescue! PACK copies all of the files associated with a drawing to a designated directory. Then you can zip them up (or copy them to a disk) and send them to the intended party. The various file types included with the drawing are external references, text fonts, shape files, images, plot styles (very important with AutoCAD 2000), plotter configuration files, Remote Text and the fontmap file.

Before you pack your drawing, you'll need to save it. Pack won't work on a file that has been changed since the last save. Executing Pack 'n Go sends you to the dialog box shown in Figure 2. In the upper left-hand corner you'll see the option to switch from list view to tree view via the two icons. The tree view is very informative, and it gives you a clear view of the various files connected to your drawing file should you be unclear what each extension stands for. Let's take a look at the various options that reside in this dialog.

Copy is used to copy the drawing file and all of the listed dependent files to the directory designated in the Copy to: box.

The Report option displays information important to the receiver of the files. It indicates special instructions for proper file placement and variable settings. This file is automatically generated and stored in the Copy to: directory with an extension of TXT.

When you select the Custom Entity option, additional information about Custom Object dependencies displays in the report file, list and tree views.

The Preserve Subdirectories option maintains the original directory structure of the drawing file and its dependencies in the Copy To: directory. This makes it easy for the receiver to visualize which directories to copy each file to.

The Save Drawing As option lets you save the files to R14 or AutoCAD 2000 format.

The Copy to: option indicates which directory you want your files sent to. This directory should probably be an empty directory that's set aside specifically for packed files to avoid any confusion with other files.

There are a couple of trivial beefs about the PACK command; it almost feels like it didn't get cooked all the way. PACK isn't an MFC dialog box. You can't size it and you're forced to renegotiate the individual columns in order to see all of the information. Also, the Help button is missing, and the Help file provides some inaccurate information. However, it's still a valuable command.

Fullscreen AutoCAD
If you're a screen real estate junky, then Fullscreen is for you. This Express Tool resizes the drawing screen to the maximum size possible. The Title bar and status bar are hidden (personally, I couldn't live without the status bar!). All toolbars are pushed to the top and side of the drawing area. The Fullscreen command permits switching back and forth between normal and Fullscreen mode. Make Linetype and Make Shape

These next two commands are my absolute favorites. I put in a request to the Express Tool group at a Local User Group meeting. Six months later, these tools were added. Hoorah!

Release 13 brought on the ability to create complex linetypes using text or shapes. Have you ever tried to create a shape file? Yuck! Creating a shape file is a tedious and time-consuming activity. I just want to draw the object using AutoCAD commands and have AutoCAD turn it into a shape file for me. Enter the Make Shape (MKSHAPE) command.

Now, you can create the object you'd like to use in a linetype file. Then use Make Shape to create a shape (SHP) file out of it. Delete the objects after you create the shape file and use the SHAPE command to bring the newly created shape back into your drawing. Draw the linetype as you'd like it to look (including your cool new shape). Finally use Make Linetype to create the linetype file for you. Now, let's take a look at the MKSHAPE command.

A Little Lesson on Shape Files
Shape files used to be very popular in the early days of AutoCAD. When 5MB hard drives rocked and you worked off of 8088 coprocessors, you would do absolutely anything that helped the drawing process go faster. Shape files were one such animal that, though time consuming to create, were very small and compact objects that saved both drawing space and speed. Many people used them in place of the larger, slower blocks. Today, this is no longer an issue. Shape files have an extension of SHP. One shape file might contain numerous individual shapes. Shape files are compiled before AutoCAD attempts to read them (another indication of their speed). A compiled shape file is a SHX file. The original AutoCAD text fonts are shape files, which is one of the reasons they are so much faster than the newer true type fonts.

Command: MKSHAPE-The Select Shape file dialog appears. Enter the name and destination directory for your shape file.

Reading shape file: shapes.shp ... Done.
Enter the name of the shape: Specify the name of the individual shape that goes into the shape file.
Enter resolution <124>: Enter a number for the resolution value (I'll address this later).
Insertion base point: Specify a point (similar to blocks).
Select objects: Select any valid object including: Line, Polyline, Lwpolyline, Arc, Circle and/or Ellipse objects. Specific linetypes are ignored and treated as though they are continuous.
Determining geometry extents ... Done.
Building coord lists...Done.
Formatting coords...Done.
Writing new shape...Done.
Compiling shape/font description file.
Compilation successful. Output file C:\Express\drawings\shapes.shx contains 356 bytes.

Now, you can delete the original individual objects you used to draw the desired shape, and use the SHAPE command to place the shape back into your drawing.

I hesitate to explain the resolution concept when the Help file does such a splendid job, but I'll provide a general overview. The higher you set the resolution, the higher the quality of the final shape; lower values create lower quality shapes. The higher the resolution, the higher the performance hit you will take-and vice versa. Simple linear objects don't require extremely high resolution to get a good quality shape file, those that are more complex--and contain arc information--do. The highest value you can set is 32,767, but rumor has it you would be insane to set it to that incredibly high value. I suggest trying a few different resolutions until you are happy with the results. The Help file provides some great examples of different resolution values and how they affect the same object.

Now that you have your shape file ready to go, add lines and/or dots around it to create one segment of a linetype. Let's use the Make Linetype Express Tool to finish the process.

But before we go on, let's quickly review linetypes. Linetype files have an extension of LIN and may contain numerous individual linetypes. Linetypes can be made up of straight-line segments (dashes), dots, text or shapes. Using MKLTYPE, you need only draw one complete segment of your linetype. AutoCAD reiterates this segment in the final linetype. When creating linetypes from a file (outside of the MKLTYPE command), you need to load them before they are available for use. MKLTYPE loads the linetype for you automatically.

Command: MKLTYPE-The Select Linetype File dialog appears. Enter a linetype file name and directory path.
Enter linetype name: Specify the name of the individual linetype.
Linetype description: Specify a linetype description (optional).
Starting point for line definition: Specify a starting point for your linetype.
Ending point for line definition: Specify an ending point for your linetype.
Select objects: Select Lines, Polylines, Lwpolylines, Points, Shapes and/or Text objects.

Now, you can set the linetype to be current from the Object Properties Toolbar and just draw away.
You may find that your final linetype works better when PLINEGEN is set to 1.

Path Substitution (REDIR)
The REDIR command comes in very handy when you want to redefine hard-coded paths in external references, images, shape files, styles and remote text. Essentially it's a search and replace command for paths.

Show URLs
This tool shows (and allows you to edit) all of the URLs in a drawing. A nice little dialog box pops up that permits you to edit or replace the existing URLs.

These last two let you attach extended entity data to an object, which sends us into the API world. XDLIST is used to display the existing extended entity data of a selected object.

That completes our look at the entire list of AutoCAD 2000 Express Tools. You'll find there's an Express Tools Web site should you run into any specific problems with any of the tools (the link is right off of the pulldown menu, as shown in Figure 1). As much as I enjoy your emails, I suggest going right to the source and posting your questions in the Express Tools discussion group. Until next month...

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