My Favorite Places and Other Good Things to Know (Learning Curve AutoCAD Tutorial)

31 May, 2008 By: Bill Fane

Here's a handful of useful little tricks to make you more AutoCAD efficient.

Have you ever had to make one of those hard decisions? Captain LearnCurve had been agonizing for hours over how to spend his first pension check. The choices were narrowed down to two. It was either going to be next season's ski pass at Whistler or some new scuba gear. Decisions, decisions — that's it! This month's topic!


I couldn't decide on a single topic for this month's column, so I decided to go for a potpourri of quick little tips and tricks. These are the little one- and two-liners that individually don't warrant a full column, but collectively can make a significant difference in how efficiently we use AutoCAD.

Right-Click Action
We all know that when you right-click, AutoCAD brings up a context menu with selections appropriate to the current action. When we are within a command, one of these choices is Enter because we need to press Enter quite a bit. In earlier releases, however, there were no context menus and right-click always produced Enter. Well, now you can have it both ways.

Start the Options command (Tools / Options) and select the User Preferences tab. Now click on the Right-Click Customization button. The resulting dialog box has settings for four different modes. Click the check box beside Turn on Time Sensitive Right-Click. Click Apply and Close, and then OK.

Now, a quick right-click (less than a quarter of a second) acts as Enter, but if you press the right button for any longer than that, the usual context menu appears. The delay time can be set in the same Right-Click Customization dialog box as the number of milliseconds, with 250 being the default.

My Favorite Places
Do you often switch back and forth between several different folders? For example, you may have different folders for different projects or different clients. Here is a little trick that can speed up the process. Start the Open or Save As commands and browse to the desired folder in the resulting file dialog box.

Move the cursor to the blue Places column down the left side of the file dialog box. Right-click and then click Add Current Folder. A new button appears in the Places column. Repeat the process for your other folders. Now, any time you want to return to a specific folder, all you need to do is to click on the appropriate button and the file dialog box will jump straight to it.

Here are a couple of subtips within the main tip:

  • The new button lands at the current cursor location within the Places column.

  • You can drag the buttons up and down the Places column to resequence them.

Right-clicking on a button produces a context menu. The action of most choices is obvious from their names, but Properties is a particularly interesting one. It brings up a dialog box with two entry windows. The lower one lets you specify a new item path, which you must enter manually because there is no Browse button. The upper one is the significant one, however. It lets you rename the button, but does not rename the folder.

Adding a Places button to any AutoCAD file dialog box adds it to all of them, but does not affect file dialog boxes from any other application.

Incidentally, many Windows applications have similar but usually lesser capabilities. The Microsoft Office family, for example, lets you add and rename Places, but it always adds them to the very bottom of the list. To resequence them you have to repeatedly right-click then click Move Up or Move Down because it only moves the selected item one step at a time.

Who Has the Buttons
Most Windows applications display a separate button in the Windows Taskbar for each open file, but AutoCAD shows only the current active drawing. If you have multiple drawings open and want to switch from one to another, you usually need to select the (Window) menu item and then the file name from the dropdown list.

Run the Taskbar command and change its setting from 0 to 1. Now AutoCAD will display a separate taskbar button for each open drawing, and you can jump from one to another simply by selecting its button from the taskbar. Resetting the taskbar to 0 (zero) restores the single-button configuration.

Grip That Block
By default, editing grips appear only at the insertion point of a block insertion. If you set GripBlock to be 1, grips appear on every object within the block insertion. They all work on the entire block in the expected manner except that you cannot Stretch part of a block insertion. This setting has no effect on anonymous blocks such as hatched areas.

Snap That Hatch
By default you cannot snap to the objects that make up a hatched area, which is usually a good thing. If you do need to, however, then set OSnapHatch (in earlier releases) to 1, or set OSOptions (in later releases) to 1 or 3.

And on Yesterday's Menu We Have
How would you like a fast menu system that automatically brings up context-sensitive submenus without having to right-click? No problem. Simply start the Options command (Tools / Options) and click on the Display tab. Click on the Display screen menu check box and then click OK.

You now have a menu system down the right-hand side of the screen. Given today's trend to wide-screen monitors, this probably makes more sense than a big ribbon across the top of the screen.

It has picks for the major subcategories of commands, much like the normal menu or the new ribbon menu. Now comes the magic part. Click on DRAW 1 and then Circle. The menu automatically changes to show all of the options available for the Circle command, just as if you had right-clicked.

The Last pick at the bottom of the list returns you to the previous menu. This can be repeated until you reach the top level.

Picking the AutoCAD entry at the top of the list always returns you directly to the main menu, and clicking on the row of asterisks right under AutoCAD brings up the object snap menu.

There it is. It's clean, simple, fast, and has no fancy resource-gobbling icons. It can be fully customized. So what is the provenance of this marvelous menu system? It's the old DOS-based menu from the days BW (before Windows).

Rotate That Circle
Mathematically, an ellipse is simply a circle that has been rotated out of the viewing plane. The diameter of the circle becomes the major axis of the ellipse, and the minor axis is foreshortened according to the cosine of the rotation angle. AutoCAD's Ellipse command will let you define an ellipse in a number of ways, including by the rotation angle, but it allows a maximum of 89.4 degrees. This produces a ratio between the original radius and the foreshortened radius of cos(89.4)=0.0104717841.

Now for the interesting bit. The Properties command (Modify / Properties) will let you change the radius ratio, but it is not limited to 0.0104717841. In fact, it will let you enter values as small as 0.0000001. Hey, I never said this was useful, I just said it was interesting!

The foregoing list of little-known tips reminds me of a Peanuts comic strip from a number of years ago. Lucy has just finished spouting a series of little-known scientific facts when Charlie Brown asks "If they are so little known, then how come you know them?" to which Lucy replies "I make them up."

And Now For Something Completely Different
Getting old has two advantages. First, the seniors' discount at Whistler is enough that I'm able to buy both the pass and the scuba gear, and second, it beats the alternative.

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