General Software

First Look Review: XL2CAD

31 May, 2006 By: Patrick Davis

Save time using DotSoft's tool to automatically convert Excel data into AutoCAD entities

XL2CAD from DotSoft is one of those add-on applications that you probably won't use every day, but when you do need it, you're glad to have it. The software lets you convert Microsoft Excel data into AutoCAD entities. Of course, you can link or paste an Excel spreadsheet directly into AutoCAD, but that approach has a number of limitations: Especially when the spreadsheet is large, you can encounter problems with printing, and it makes the drawing file large as well.

This drawing shows a single detail and an embedded spreadsheet being processed by XL2CAD. (When I used AutoCAD's built-in OLE method to embed the spreadsheet, the file size for this drawing grew to more than 18MB, and AutoCAD crashed when I tried to print to the plotter, plot file or PDF.)

The conversion process is straightforward. If you've already embedded the spreadsheet into AutoCAD, double-click it and open it in Excel. Then, save the spreadsheet and return to AutoCAD, keeping Excel open. Now use the Create New command, and XL2CAD opens a dialog box as shown in the figure.

Pros: Easy to use.
Cons: Can be quirky.
Price: $95 standard license, $145 professional license


Next, confirm the name of the Excel spreadsheet to convert and specify the insertion point and scale. Press Start and XL2CAD begins to read the Excel spreadsheet and convert it into AutoCAD entities very quickly.

Among the couple of quirks I found were merged column cells. If a merged cell is composed of four cells, XL2CAD places text in each of those cells. The product supports merged areas, and the developer's support page notes that sometimes Excel reports erroneous results unless the area is unmerged and remerged. Because XL2CAD is working within the limitation of AutoCAD's text-handling abilities, some text formatting may be lost, such as sub- and superscripts. I'm not sure of the cause, but XL2CAD crashed a few times during my tests. When this occurred, I closed and reopened Excel and the desired spreadsheet. I then reran XL2CAD and the problem seemed to be corrected.

I mention these quirks in the interest of full disclosure, but in fact they are overshadowed by the benefits of this software. The real beauty of XL2CAD is that it doesn't just create a dumb table in AutoCAD. It also stores the spreadsheet file name, date and creation time in XDATA (extended entity data). When you open a drawing that contains an XL2CAD-created table, the software checks the table in the drawing and updates it if required. XL2CAD also includes several functions that let you control how the Excel spreadsheet is converted into AutoCAD entities.

XL2CAD is also a real time- and money-saver. Using it, I was able to significantly reduce the file size of drawings that contain Excel spreadsheets -- and print those drawings, which I was previously unable to do. The first time I used the software, it paid for itself. One job that would have required several CAD technicians as long as four days to complete took me just a few hours in XL2CAD.

XL2CAD comes in two versions: standard ($95) and professional ($145). The standard version includes all the tools necessary to import Excel spreadsheets into AutoCAD. The professional version also includes tools that allow you to send and link data from AutoCAD to Excel. A demo version of the software is available on request.

If you regularly insert Excel files into your AutoCAD drawings, I highly recommended that you check out XL2CAD for its potential to make this process faster and easier.
Highly Recommended.

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