The Return of the Express Tools! (Who Says Dreams Don't Come True?)

31 Jul, 2003 By: Lynn Allen

Ahhhhh ... somebody pinch me! I can't believe the powers that be have decided to bless us with the return of the awesome Express Tools--after two releases without them. I actually envisioned them riding up to me on white horses, ready to rescue me from the doldrums of daily drawing blues and carry me off to an exciting, productive AutoCAD life! Sounds a bit melodramatic? Clearly you have not experienced the bliss of the AutoCAD Express tools!

An Express History

A brief history lesson is in order here. The Express Tools started out as the very popular Bonus Tools in AutoCAD Release 14. These unsupported "use at your own risk" tools were a collection of timesavers that had accumulated over the years. Many of them were written by independent users (such as yourself) who had created AutoLISP routines to improve the design process. They chose to share these with others.

These tools were dubbed "Express Tools" in AutoCAD 2000, and a couple of the original contributors to the Bonus Tools eventually became full-time Autodesk programmers, with a single mission--to create additional Express Tools. This team (comprising mainly three people) set out to listen carefully to the users, by attending user groups, combing the discussion groups' bulletin boards, pouring through their wish lists, and so on. The result was amazing. The Express Tools soon developed a cult following. The 30+ Express Tools that surfaced in AutoCAD 2000 turned into nearly 100, written specifically for the members of the Autodesk VIP program. I can't tell you how many people I've run into over the years who stayed on the VIP program just so they won't miss out on the next volume of the AutoCAD Express Tools!

AutoCAD 2004 contains nearly 80 of the Autodesk Express Tools. Why the discrepancy in number? By now, about 20 of the original Express Tools have grown up to become real AutoCAD commands. The remaining 80 tools will eliminate so many of your everyday drawing frustrations. You'll wonder how you'll ever survive without them. Let's take a look at just a few.

Figure 1. After launching AutoCAD, you should be able to see these Express Tools. If you don't, you can execute the EXPRESSTOOLS command to envoke them.

The Express Tools are a separate install on the AutoCAD 2004 CD, so be sure to include them in the installation process. If, after launching AutoCAD, you still don't have them, simply execute the EXPRESSTOOLS command. And if you don't see the toolbars or menu, as shown in Figure 1, try executing the EXPRESSMENU command. Though all of this should occur automatically, I still get an occasional email from someone who has to load them manually. This would also happen if you chose not to load them until a later date after the initial AutoCAD installation.

Search and Destroy

Have you ever had that one layer you just couldn't get rid of? You zoom around searching for an object that might reside on that layer but find nothing. You try purging to no avail. And every time you open the layer dialog box, that evil layer is still there, staring at you, reminding you that AutoCAD has won this battle. Enter the Layer Delete (LAYDEL) Express Tool! LAYDEL doesn't care what is on the layer--it is more than happy to remove it from your life. I like to think of it as PURGE on steroids. Often you'll find that a layer won't purge because it's referenced in a block definition somewhere. In this case, you'll find that LAYDEL is so powerful that it'll open up the block definition, rip the layer out, redefine the layer on the fly, and then delete the layer--now that's power! Here's a quick look at the procedure:

Command: laydel

Select object on layer to delete or [Type-it/Undo]:
Selected layers: Detail Text
Select object on layer to delete or [Type-it/Undo] < done >:

******** WARNING ********

There are 6 block definition(s) which reference the layer(s) you are deleting.
The block(s) will be redefined and the entities referencing the layer(s) will be removed from the block definition(s).
You are about to permanently delete layer Detail Text from this drawing.
Do you wish to continue? [Yes/No] < No >:
Deleting layer "Detail Text."
1 layer deleted.

Just remember. Where there is power, there is danger! Be careful which layers you choose to delete.

Who Changed My DIMs?

When someone hands you a drawing with dimensions, you like to believe those dimensions are accurate. How many times have you found yourself dealing with drawings where the drafter overrode the actual dimension values because the drawing was inaccurate? This can cause havoc later on down the line. This is the job for the DIM Reassociate (DIMREASSOC) command. It allows you to select the dimensions you want to check (or just window all of them), and it will then highlight the offenders. An extra < Enter > will return these dimensions to their true values, and then you can go have a little chat with the person who created the drawing.

Command: dimreassoc
Select dimension objects with non-associative text.
Select objects: all
896 found
894 were filtered out.
Select objects:
2 objects modified.

Note: if you are an offender, do not install the Express Tools.

Now that the MTEXT command has greatly improved, you might want to convert some of your existing individual text strings (probably created with DTEXT) and convert them to paragraph text. The Express Tool TEXT to MTEXT (TXT2MTXT) will do exactly that. Then it's easy to add additional words, resize the width of the paragraphs, and so on.

Command: txt2mtxt
Select text objects, or [Options]< Options >:
Select objects: Specify opposite corner: 3 found
Select objects:
3 Text objects removed, 1 MText object added.

There's a command called SUPERHATCH that allows you to crosshatch using bitmaps or blocks. This means you can draw your own crosshatch patterns, turn them into a block, and use them for crosshatching (very powerful). Another command called OVERKILL deletes duplicate objects from your drawing (a great cleanup program). The list of tools just goes on and on.

Suppose you can't upgrade to AutoCAD 2004, but would like to get your hands on the Express Tools anyway. No worries--you can purchase them from the Autodesk eStore for $149 U.S. (Worth every penny!) Not trying to sound like a Ginzu knife salesman here (Can you tell I've recently been in Japan?)--just don't want any of you to miss out.

The magic behind the Express Tools comes mainly from the amazing developers Randy Kintzley, Tom Stoeckel, and Frank Whaley. These three superstars never cease to amaze us with their never-ending enthusiasm for AutoCAD and their desire to make our design days easier. Who knows? Maybe some day Autodesk will put this band back together.

Until next month, Happy AutoCADing!

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