The Power of Positive Plagiarism

16 May, 2004 By: Bill Fane

AutoCAD’s DesignCenter is simple enough for beginners and powerful enough for advanced users.

It was a dark and stormy night. An ominous cloud descended, turning the sky black. Wait a minute! Captain LearnCurve had just been watching the weather report on TV, and it was actually a beautiful clear evening!

A quick trip to the emergency room revealed that the Captain was suffering from a detached retina and was in danger of going blind in his left eye. Basically his eye was falling apart, so a team of surgeons wrapped a silicone rubber band around it to hold it together. The Captain is now particularly qualified to look at silicone implants, because he has one himself.

A week later he and his gorgeous wife were scuba diving in the Caribbean. Upon his return, one of the surgeons said that he'd never seen anyone recover so quickly and so completely from this operation. The Captain attributed that to the diving and the rum, and is trying to claim the trip as a medical expense.

Speaking of looking at things, this month let's take a peek at AutoCAD's DesignCenter.

Beginners may be a little nervous about using DesignCenter because it sounds like one of those advanced features. On the other hand, senior users haven't bothered to investigate it because their tried-and-true Wblock/Insert procedure has served them well for lo these many years.

They're both wrong. DesignCenter is a simple-to-use but powerful tool that makes it extremely easy to copy content from one drawing to another. By the end of this article, beginners will see how easy it is to use and senior users will see how much faster and easier it is than their old methods.

Use one of these methods to start the Adcenter command:

  • click Tools/DesignCenter
  • click the figure button in the standard toolbar
  • press Ctrl+2
  • enter its name at the Command prompt
Whichever start method you choose brings up the DesignCenter dialog box shown in figure 1. As with most Windows dialog boxes, you can use your mouse to resize it and vary the proportions of its regions.

Figure 1. The DesignCenter dialog box.

Make sure the Folders tab is active and observe how the Folder List window on the left is actually a drive/folder/file browser. Navigate through it until you reach C:\Program Files\nnn\Sample\DesignCenter, where nnn varies depending on your AutoCAD release and flavor. Click HOME-SPACE PLANNER.DWG, as shown.

Now go to the content window on the right and double-click the Blocks icon. Like magic, the content window now displays a collection of thumbnails of every block definition in the drawing (figure 2).

Figure 2. All the block definitions in the target drawing.

Do you want a wet bar in your current drawing? No problem! Simply click its icon, then drag and drop to pull a copy of it out of the target drawing and into your current drawing. It then becomes a normal block definition in the target drawing and is inserted on the current layer with a scale factor of 1 and rotation angle of zero.

That wasn't so difficult, was it? And, you senior users, wasn't that a lot easier than your traditional sequence of opening the source drawing, using Wblock to extract the desired block to disk, and inserting it back into your current drawing? With DesignCenter, you don't need to remember the exact file and block name. You can simply browse for the file and its content.

Before we investigate some of the other features of DesignCenter, let's look at the type of file it can access to supply you with block definitions. Simple answer-any existing AutoCAD drawing. That's right, there's no need to create special library files or put them in a special folder. You can browse to any file in any folder on any drive.

Not only that, but when you click a folder name, the content window displays thumbnails of all the AutoCAD files in that folder, and it also displays icons for any other file types AutoCAD supports. Remember last month's column, in which we explored the importation of raster image files, such as BMP or GIF, into an AutoCAD drawing? With DesignCenter you can simply drag and drop raster files directly into your drawing.

That's cool, but what if you want to repeatedly access the same folder or file? No problem!

Home Sweet Home
As you browse through the Folder List tree, click any folder or file. Right-click it, and when the context menu pops up, select Set As Home. From now on, or at least until you change it, every time you launch DesignCenter, it jumps straight to the folder or file you've designated as "home."

To further simplify your explorations, observe the Home button home button at the top of the DesignCenter dialog box. Whenever you click it, DesignCenter jumps straight to your current home folder or file.

My Favorite Things
What if you want to repeatedly access several different files or folders or both? Click the desired file or folder in the Folder List tree, then right-click. When the context menu pops up, click Add To Favorites. Nothing much seems to happen, but now click the Favorites button favorites button at the top of the DesignCenter dialog box. The content window now displays an icon for each file and/or folder you designated as a favorite. Double-click an icon to jump straight to the selected item in the Folder List tree.

When an item falls out of favor, simply right-click anywhere in either DesignCenter window, then click Organize Favorites in the context menu. You can now select and delete anything from the list of favorites that appears.

Open Sesame
There's another way to gain quick access to drawing content. If you click the Open Drawings tab of the DesignCenter dialog box, a list of all drawings currently open replaces the Folder List tree. Once again, you can select a drawing, including the active drawing, and simply drag and drop content from it into the active drawing.

History Repeats
There's yet another way to gain quick access to drawing content. The History tab displays a list of drawings recently accessed through DesignCenter. Thus, you can quickly jump back to a previous drawing.

But Wait! There's More!
So far, everything we've done in DesignCenter involved blocks and block insertions. Go back and look at figure 1 again. Notice anything? Right! You can drag and drop all sorts of content from one drawing into another. Layer definitions, layer groups, text styles, dimension styles, layout tabs, the whole works. Simply drag and drop, and you can create a matching definition in the target drawing.

Tooling Right Along
DesignCenter is also used to customize your tool palettes. If you want to add a block to a tool palette, simply drag it from its host drawing and drop it onto the palette. What if you want to add a whole bunch of blocks to a tool palette? No problem! Simply click a suitable drawing file in the DesignCenter folder list window, then right-click it. When the context menu pops up, click Create Tool Palette. There will be a brief pause while AutoCAD automatically adds a new tab to your tool palette. This new palette has the same name as the selected drawing, and it's automatically populated with every block definition from the selected drawing.

The Fine Print
DesignCenter doesn't limit you to copying a block definition and then inserting it. That's the default mode if you drag and drop, but you have two other choices. If you right-click a block in the content window, a context menu gives you the option to copy the block instead. This doesn't create a block definition in the target drawing, but instead simply copies the block definition as a bunch of loose, independent objects.

If you double-click a folder name in the Folder List window, the content window shows a thumbnail of each drawing in the folder. You can drag and drop a drawing into the target drawing, where it becomes a block definition and insertion. Alternatively, you can right-click a file name in the content window and choose to copy the drawing into the target or link it as an external reference (xref) file.

Just Looking
Another useful function within DesignCenter is the Search button . Click it to bring up the Search dialog box shown in figure 3.

Figure 3. DesignCenter's Search dialog box.

The Look For window is a scroll list from which you can select drawings, drawings and blocks, layers, text styles, and so on. The In window lets you browse to a drive or folder in which to conduct the search. Enter the desired search string in the Search for the Name window (note that the * and ? wildcard characters work).

If your search returns one or more hits, all you need to do is double-click one. The DesignCenter folder list immediately jumps directly to the selected item. It's easy to find "lost" content or things like, "I think there's a block named sort of like this that I might be able to use."

A Tangled Web
The DC Online tab has special powers. Click it while you have an active Internet connection, and you connect to Autodesk's DesignCenter service on the Web. This includes a huge number of block definitions for a tremendous range of standard components, furniture, machinery, symbols, and so on. It also includes links to many manufacturers' Web pages, where they have blocks of their products. All of this still works through the normal DesignCenter, so you can browse to what you want and drag and drop it into your drawing.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Like any super power, DesignCenter can be used for good or for evil. A few examples explain this.

Browsing your own files or your company's proprietary files in order to reuse design content is A Good Thing.

Students browsing other students' files to complete an assignment is A Bad Thing.

Browsing DC Online for content is A Good Thing.

Borrowing content from a competitor's file that may have fallen into your hands is A Bad Thing.

Lying to regulatory authorities is A Bad Thing.

There's an old saying in academic circles that if you copy from one source, it's plagiarism, but if you copy from many sources, it's research.

Once Is Enough
John Walker, one of the original founders of Autodesk, always said that you should never do anything twice. DesignCenter certainly helps support this philosophy.

And Now for Something Completely Different
One of the first symptoms of possible pending retinal detachment is the occurrence of quick "lightning flashes" in the corners of your peripheral vision. At first you think it's something like a quick glint of sunshine bouncing off a passing car window, but when it happens at night when no obvious source is around, you might want to talk to your doctor.

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