Keep All Your Project's Eggs in One Basket

14 Feb, 2005 By: Lynn Allen Cadalyst

You'll be organized in no time with this painless introduction to AutoCAD's sheet sets

If you were to ask ten users, "What is the biggest new feature in AutoCAD 2005?" about nine of them would answer, "Sheet sets." Some of you love them and some of you have turned them off, vanished them to oblivion never to be seen again. There's no doubt about it -- the new Sheet Set Manager is definitely something that requires a bit of time and effort to wrap your arms around. But I believe most of you would find the result is worth the learning curve.

Do you remember the early days of paper space? All the nay-sayers that said it would never catch on! Well, where would we be now without the wonderful world of paper space? Forced to languish in model space for an eternity, never knowing there's a better way? It's right up there with TiVo: Once you use it, you can't live without it. So this month I plan to bring you a painless introduction to the world of sheet sets -- just enough to get your feet wet and educate you on the many benefits that lie ahead -- if you're just willing to give it a chance.

Better than Windows Explorer
Most of us use Windows Explorer to keep track of all the drawing files that make up a project. So how do you do it? Do you make a Client directory, a project subdirectory and various other subdirectories in that, such as Structural, Mechanical, Architectural, Civil, and so on? Then you get the entire team together, explain the structure for the new project and hope everyone plays by the rules. Let's face it, Explorer isn't exactly the greatest organizational tool. And when your client calls you and asks you to print out all the drawings you've completed so far and send them to him, how hard is that going to be? Sheet sets to the rescue!

The Sheet Set Manager
The goal of SSM (Sheet Set Manager) is not to make your life more complicated -- quite the contrary. SSM wants to help you be more organized, keep track of all those pesky files for you, help you put them in the right folders. Using SSM isn't a change in process -- you'll still do things the way you've done them in the past -- rather it is a tool to make that process much easier and more efficient. Instead of worrying about numerous files that make up a project, you will now worry about just one file: the sheet set.

The sheet set file has an extension of DST, and it's within this file that the magic lies. The Sheet Set Manager is much like your own personal assistant, visible at any time so you can catch any inconsistencies in file names, page numbers, directories, and so forth. If your client asks you to print all the drawings in a project, SSM can get that for you with just two clicks!

You can also use the updated Etransmit command to send any and all files in a particular project to your client very quickly and easily. And the new Archive command can take a snapshot of all your project drawings at any time, great for safe-keeping or added insurance. Need to know where the project was on October 15? Simply open the archive.

Get Going with Sheet Sets
I've used Sheet Set Manager to display a project called "Building Project" (figure 1). (Sorry, not a very clever name.) Somewhere on the server, a file called Building Project.DST is keeping track of all my project files. Everyone who is working on this particular project will come in the office and load up the same sheet set. Everyone sees the same thing at all times: If I decide to delete a file from the sheet set, everyone will immediately see the change reflected on his or her screen as well.

Figure 1. Sheet Set Manager displays a project called "Building Project."

Fearing it would gobble up your precious screen real estate, many of you probably turned off Sheet Set Manager the first time you saw it. So, how do you get it back? Control+4 is an easy toggle to display it. You can also key in the SSM command. (I'm too lazy for that -- it requires two more keystrokes!) Or select it from the standard toolbar.

I covet screen real estate as much as the next person, so I feel your pain here. I reduce SSM to a rolled-up palette bar residing on the side of my screen, available when I need it but rolled up and out of my way when I don't.

Take a Look Inside
So what exactly does the Sheet Set Manager list? Are those all individual drawing files? Not exactly. SSM deals strictly with layouts. Each of those sheets is pointing to a layout in a drawing file. So technically, that means that if I have a drawing file with four layouts in it, I could display all four of those layouts in the Sheet Set Manager.

So here is my first tip for you progressive, brave souls who choose to use SSM: Start to think about restricting your layouts to one per drawing file -- just like the old days of R14!. My rationale is that if you see three different sheets in your sheet set, it appears as though they are from three different drawings and three different people should be able to open and access them -- right? But we all know that's not true - only one person in a drawing at a time! So I suggest you turn back the hands of time a bit and start to work with one layout per drawing. I think you'll be much happier in the long run. Now if you happen to be the only person working on a particular project, then it doesn't make any difference and you can feel free to continue down the road of multiple layouts per drawing file.

Deleting a sheet from the sheet set. Opening a sheet to work on is as easy as double-clicking - which is much easier than searching via the Open File dialog box. How to you delete a sheet from the sheet set? Simply right-click and select the Remove Sheet option (also shown in figure 1). It should be noted that the SSM is very shortcut-menu dependent, so start exercising your right finger! When removing a sheet from the sheet set, AutoCAD will issue a little warning. This lets you know that you are not physically deleting the file from the hard drive, but rather just removing that particular sheet from the sheet set (which is good).

Adding a layout to the sheet set. How do you add an existing layout to the sheet set? Right click on SSM in the position you'd like the new layout to land and select Import Layout as Sheet. It's then just a simple process of selecting the drawing file and selecting the corresponding layout you'd like to bring in. If you don't like the numbering convention or the assigned name of the sheet, you can choose Rename and Renumber from the shortcut menu at any time. If you are a bad shot and the new sheet landed in the wrong order in the sheet list, no problem -- simply drag and drop it to the correct location. It really couldn't be any easier!

Creating a new sheet set. How do you create a new sheet from scratch? Easy. Right-click and select New Sheet from the shortcut menu. You need only supply the name and number of the new sheet (figure 2). Magic!

Figure 2. Creating a new sheet set.

I promised you could print all the sheets out at one time, so let's also take a quick peek at that process. Right-click on the sheet set name (figure 3) and you'll find all kinds of options available. By default, AutoCAD will use the default page setups assigned to each layout, but you can easily override that. Here you'll also see the new Archive command as well as the new and improved Etransmit command.

Figure 3. Right-click on the sheet set name to find options that are available.

That was a very quick -- and hopefully painless -- review of the new Sheet Set Manager. Next month we'll delve more deeply into this powerful new feature that is certain to reduce the number of headaches associated with each project.

Until next month -- Happy AutoCAD-ing!

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