To See or Not to See--Using the Latest (Free) Autodesk Viewer!

31 Jan, 2003 By: Lynn Allen

Have you ever wanted to send your drawings to others for them to view but felt uncomfortable sending the actual DWG data? Or, perhaps, non-technical types need to view the information from your drawing files, but they don't have any Autodesk software. If so, you're going to love the new lightweight (and extremely free) Autodesk Viewer!

If I had a dime for everyone who asked me how to turn an AutoCAD drawing file into a PDF, so others could view--yet not touch--the CAD data, I would be a very rich writer. Or, if I had a nickel for everyone who requested the ability to password-protect AutoCAD drawing files for the same reason, my dogs would be living a life of luxury, surrounded by their bones of choice. So let's solve the actual problem: you need to share your drawing data with others, plain and simple. Your clients, your customers, or even your coworkers need to view, print, zoom in, zoom out, control layers, and take a really good look at your drawing files for a variety of reasons. Just view, not damage. Right? Autodesk Express Viewer is about to make all of your dreams, in regards to viewing DWFs, come true!

The new Autodesk Express Viewer is less than 2MB in size and is currently available free of charge on Autodesk's Web site at You can also legally distribute it to anyone who needs it (Autodesk even encourages you to do so). Unlike the painfully huge Volo View Express, which requires you to take a lunch break while you download all 25MB, Autodesk Express Viewer can easily be attached to an email. And, unlike Volo View Express, the new viewer can also plot to scale. Last but not least, the Autodesk Express Viewer is super low-stress to use.

Figure 1. The Autodesk Express Viewer makes it easy for anyone to view your drawing files.

How It Works

So how does it work? First you have to create a DWF file out of your drawing file. DWF (formerly known as Drawing Web Format) has recently been retargeted and now stands for Design Web Format. (Hey, if Prince can do it, so can Autodesk!) DWFs are viewable but not editable and can easily be created from the PLOT command. You are essentially creating an electronic plot of your DWG file. If you don't see the DWF option available from your plotter's drop-down list, simply add it using the ADD A PLOTTER wizard. The latest and greatest DWF file is Version 6, but the Autodesk Express Viewer will read previous DWF files as well. Why use DWF files rather than DWG? By plotting to DWF you can control exactly what the recipient will see via your plotting settings. And, perhaps more importantly, a DWF file is about half the size of a DWG file.

Take a look at the Autodesk Express Viewer, as shown in Figure 1. In it you'll find the basics you'd expect within a viewer. You can easily Zoom and Pan using the standard icons. Zoom Rectangle is equivalent to AutoCAD's Zoom Window, and Fit to Window is equivalent to Zoom Extents. You'll find a View option that allows you to easily switch between any previously saved views and a simple Layer dialog that allows you to turn the layers within the DWF file on and off. You can even use the Shift and Ctrl keys for easier selection of multiple layers.

Figure 2. You can plot to scale from the Express Viewer plot dialog.

The PRINT dialog, as shown in Figure 2, permits Plotting to Scale, Fit to Page, or even an awesome Tiling option should you find that you need to print across multiple sheets. If you are using DWF Version 6, you also have the added ability to view multiple layouts or pages within one DWF file. This would allow you to create a drawing set for viewing or even batch plotting.

So who has access to DWF Version 6? Only those on the Subscription program. The latest Design Publishing Extension contains the new PUBLISH command that also creates the new DWF 6 files. As a rule I don't like to talk about features that the majority of you don't have, but I suspect we'll be seeing more of this great command in the future, so I don't feel quite so guilty about it (consider this a little glimpse into the future). For those of you who aren't familiar with either Subscription or Extension, you can read more about them on the Autodesk Web site.

The PUBLISH Command

The new PUBLISH command, as shown in Figure 3, creates a drawing set that is automatically populated with all the layouts that are in the current drawing. You can easily add other drawing files and layouts as well as save the list out to a file for future reference. You can also easily control the order in which the drawings plot and the assigned Page Setup. If you right click, you can then conveniently add the Model Space layout.

Figure 3. The Design Publishing Extension lets you plot multiple sheets.

After selecting your drawing sheets, you will need to decide between plotting the files out to a hard copy or to a DWF file. If you've ever fought with the Batch Plot Utility that comes with AutoCAD, then you'll love the new PUBLISH command. If you choose to go the DWF route, you'll find that you can password-protect the DWF files for added security. But let me warn you that once you forget the password, there's no getting it back! After creating the DWF files, the PUBLISH command also gives you the option to launch the Autodesk Express Viewer to look at your drawing set.

So, hopefully we've solved the problem of preserving drawing integrity while sharing your drawing data. Now you can share your drawings (just as Mom instructed you to do for all those years) without worrying about someone taking, editing, or damaging your valuable hard work. Until next month, Happy AutoCADing!

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