Circles and Lines: That Fantastic Tool Palette!

14 Nov, 2004 By: Lynn Allen Cadalyst

Just a few clicks and you'll have a powerful, customized AutoCAD design aid at your fingertips

As I travel around the globe showing off the latest AutoCAD features, one thing is certain: AutoCAD's Tool palette is a real crowd pleaser. Easy to create, easy to use, and a huge time saver -- this powerful tool is not one to be missed. So let's start at the beginning.

You can easily access the AutoCAD Tool palette using Ctrl-3 (my preference), using the Tools pull-down menu, or using the standard toolbar. You can only have one overall palette on the screen at a time, with as many tabs as you see fit. With AutoCAD 2005, you can even put the various tabs into specific groups that you can display at will. For example, if you were working on a structural drawing, you could turn on the tabs displaying various structural blocks and cross-hatch patterns, and flip those to the architectural group when needed.

It's easy to set up your blocks and cross-hatch patterns so they land on the right layer, with the correct scale factor, rotation angle, and so forth. You can also place your most frequently used objects and commands on the Tool palette. After your Tool palette is set up, it's easy to drag and drop its contents into your drawing. Imagine just dropping a hatch pattern with all the correct parameters onto a desired location. That alone will save you about eight steps from your usual routine for each hatch object!

New and Improved Tool Palette
The AutoCAD 2004 Tool palette functionality was somewhat limited, only allowing you to put blocks and cross-hatch patterns on your palette. In addition to that limitation, version 2004 also required you to use Design Center to get them there. AutoCAD 2005 improved this functionality by allowing you to put just about anything you want on your palette: your favorite commands, objects, LISP routines, and more, using a variety of different means. Let's start our discussion with the basic AutoCAD 2004 functionality, then move on to the improved tools that exist today.

Adding blocks to your Tool palette is very simple using Design Center. Select a drawing with blocks you'd like to place on your palette and display all the blocks in the drawing. Then simply drag and drop the desired blocks onto your palette. If you'd like to create a new tab with all or most of the blocks from a specific drawing, highlight the block category (figure 1) and select New Palette from the shortcut menu. This will add a tab to your open palette that includes all the blocks from the selected drawing file.

Figure 1. You can create a new tab for your Tool palette with all or most of the blocks from a specific drawing.

AutoCAD 2005 added the capability to grab existing objects from the screen and place them directly on your Tool palette, making it even easier to get the desired results. If you have a frequently used hatch pattern that is already set up with the correct parameters, why not just drop it onto the palette? Simply select the desired object to highlight, then use the right mouse button to drag and drop it onto the palette. All the parameters of any selected object, such as layer and linetype, will be moved to the palette as well.

You can also use the Customize dialog box (right-click on any toolbar and selecting it from the shortcut menu) to add tools to the palette much as you would for toolbars. Select the command from the Commands tab and drag and drop it onto the palette. You can also drag any tool from an existing Toolbar. As you can see, you have many means for getting those tools onto your palette!

More Options Using Shortcut Menus
The shortcut menus within the palette have a variety of options for further customization (figure 2). You can delete or rename any tool by selecting it and right-clicking to display the Tool shortcut menu. If you have two very similar tools -- for example, the same hatch pattern with two different scale factors -- you can copy one and modify it accordingly to create the second.

Figure 2. Shortcut menus offer a variety of options for customizing your Tool palette.

You get a very different shortcut menu when no icons are selected and you right-click (figure 3). I personally prefer my palettes to float, but you can turn on Allow Docking from this menu. (Once you get near the side, the gravitational force will insist on docking your Tool palette!) Auto-Hide allows you to switch your Tool palette to a narrow bar, which automatically rolls out when your cursor moves over the bar.

Figure 3. Right-clicking when no icon is selected generates this shortcut menu, which presents the option Allow Docking.

If you recognize your blocks by their icons and don't need the listed block names, you can turn the text off and create more space to display more blocks for quicker access -- if you're like me and are just too lazy to scroll up and down the palettes looking for a specific block. Select View Options from the shortcut menu and switch it to Icon Only. You'll also find you can control the size of the icons from this dialog box. The Transparency option permits you to control whether or not you want your toolbars to be transparent. (I have to say, they look much cooler when they are.)

You can create an empty Tool palette tab by selecting New Tool Palette from the cursor menu. You can rename and delete the selected Tool palette as well.

Properties: Another Level of Customization
You'll want to further customize your palettes by setting up the desired Properties. Here you can tell AutoCAD the layer, rotation angle, scale factor, and other features you want for the tools on your palette. Select the tool you wish to customize, right-click, and select Properties from the shortcut menu. Here you will find myriad options to help you get the Tool palette of your dreams (figure 4).

Figure 4. Properties options are the icing on the Tool palette cake.

At the very top of the Properties dialog box, you can decide the name you wish to display alongside the tool as well as the description that displays when you hover over the tool. This is very helpful if you have the same tool but with different parameters such as scale factor, linetype, or rotation angle. This also allows you to fully customize your tool palette just for you! AutoCAD 2005 added the capability to have AutoCAD prompt for the rotation angle when inserting a block. And the new Auxiliary Scale factor option lets you specify that you'd like AutoCAD to use the DIMSCALE or PLOTSCALE factor as the scale factor. Imagine the possibilities! One block that works at all scales!

Those of you who know how to write menu macros can further customize your tools using the same code. For example, I have a REVCLOUD on my palette that always displays with the Calligraphy option and a specific arc size.

Next month I'll dig a little deeper into the Tool palette and discuss macros for those of you who wish to take your palette to the next level!

AutoCAD's Tool palette is extremely powerful -- and yet so easy to set up for your specific needs. If you are using AutoCAD 2004 or 2005, personalizing this feature is sure to shave a substantial amount of time from your drawing projects! Until next month, Happy AutoCAD-ing!

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