Know All Your Options

14 Oct, 2004 By: Lynn Allen Cadalyst

AutoCAD 2005’s updated Options dialog box holds some powerful features

Whenever you install a new release of AutoCAD, I strongly recommend you peruse the Options dialog box to ensure you're taking advantage of any new features. Of course, nothing is more overwhelming than the AutoCAD Options dialog box, with its nine tabs, each filled with dozens of settings. So let me make it easy for you. This month I'll cover the new additions to AutoCAD 2005. along with some of my favorites from past releases.

Locate Support Files
You may remember the good old days when you could easily find your support files, such as hatch patterns, linetypes, and menu files, in the AutoCAD Support directory. But for AutoCAD to become Microsoft-compliant, Autodesk was forced to hide -- I mean, move -- the support files to the deep annals of the directory world, never to be seen or heard from again! The Files tab in the Options dialog box shows you where those files are hiding, should you wish to modify or add to them. Simply list the support file search path, and you'll find the obscure directory link, which should look similar to the following, except with your user name instead of mine:

C:\Documents and Settings\LYNNA\Application Data\ Autodesk\AutoCAD 2005\R16.1\enu\Support

Some users prefer to place all their additional support files in this directory just for consistency's sake. Some users choose to move their support files right back where they were. You can easily use the Options dialog box to add as many support file search paths as needed (this is also key to avoiding those smiley faces in your toolbars).

Open and Save Tab
With the Open and Save tab, you can control which release of AutoCAD your files are automatically saved to -- a huge timesaver for those of us who work with clients who don't use the current release. Just a friendly reminder that AutoCAD 2004 and 2005 have the same DWG file format, just as AutoCAD 20002002 have the same format. That's why you'll only see a few options for file-saving formats.

Here you'll also find the ability to password-protect your drawing files under the Security Options button. Be sure to write your password down because there is no back door to retrieving it. In fact, if I were a CAD manager, I would disable this feature just to ensure that no disgruntled employee decides to have a password party.

Plot and Publish Tab
The Plot and Publish tab contains the most new features. Here you can turn on background plotting, thus enabling AutoCAD to print while you continue to work in the same AutoCAD session (rather than launching a separate session or taking that much-needed coffee break). This affects the system variable BACKGROUNDPLOT. There are two separate settings for publishing and plotting.

AutoCAD 2005 can also store a plot log file with each plot. If you charge back for your plots, this is a great means of keeping track for your clients. Simply copy the information to the clipboard and drop it in a Word document for easy invoicing. The plot log file also includes a thorough report should it encounter any errors while plotting -- very useful when you're plotting many sheets at once. You can also view the plot file in a spreadsheet program, as it is a comma-delimited file.

For those of you who gave up on the world of OLE in past versions of AutoCAD, you might consider trying it again. Autodesk made many improvements to OLE in 2005 -- the ability to use standard AutoCAD commands such as Erase and Move on OLE objects, a true insertion point, and greater control over the scale factor, for example. Of course, I'd say that any control over the scale factor is a marked improvement. You can now specify the print quality of OLE objects, including monochrome for spreadsheets and high-quality for photographs.

Plot Stamping
Plot stamping is easier than ever, especially with AutoCAD's new field objects. The Plot Stamp dialog box is filled with all kinds of options (figure 1). Note that the preview pane displays only the plot stamp position and not the actual contents of the plot stamp -- a bit confusing at first. You can set the position, text properties, units, and other options by selecting the Advanced button in the Plot Stamp dialog box. Here you'll find a myriad of additional settings (figure 2).

Figure 1. The Plot Stamp dialog box is filled with options.

Figure 2. Choose the Advanced button in the Plot Stamp dialog box to find even more options for plot stamping.

Since the beginning of AutoCAD time, we've been accustomed to setting our plot offset relative to the printable area of the paper, a decision that AutoCAD kindly made for us. Well, now we can set the offset from the physical edge of the paper, a change welcomed by many. You also can control this using the Plot and Publish tab.

User Preferences Tab
Moving along to the User Preferences tab, you'll find one of my favorite additions to AutoCAD 2004: the powerful right-click customization options. If you've been frustrated since AutoCAD 2000 switched the right button on your input device from the ever-popular Enter to displaying shortcut menus (also powerful), you'll be happy to know that now you can have the best of both worlds. The User Preferences tab lets you turn on a time-sensitive right-click. It works like this: A quick right-click gives the Enter you know and love; holding down the mouse button a bit longer displays the shortcut menu. You have complete control over how long "a bit longer" should be, measured in milliseconds.

You can turn off that gray field background. Because it doesn't print and helps you distinguish a field from standard text, I'm not sure what the motivation would be to do so. You can also control when the field values update (figure 3). For those of you not yet familiar with fields, think: "Attributes on steroids!"

Figure 3. In the User Preferences tab, you can control when field values update.

Drafting Tab
The Drafting tab within Options has a very nice addition that you can easily miss. If you've ever become frustrated when AutoCAD grabs the object snaps of individual hatch objects (rather than your intended victim), you can appreciate the ability to override that. Here you'll find the toggle that instructs AutoCAD to ignore hatch patterns when using object snaps -- one less headache and two less aspirin in your life!

The Options dialog box contains some valuable settings that can really enhance the overall AutoCAD experience. Take a good look at what you're currently working with and see if one or two of these changes might make your everyday drawing life a little bit better. Until next month, Happy AutoCAD-ing!

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