Tips & Tools Weekly (Vol. 12, No. 16)

29 Apr, 2007

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What's New at

Come On, People! Where Will CAD Be In 50 Years?
Lester Craft, editor-in-chief of Cadalyst's sister site Innovate Forum, seeks reader input in his effort to develop a long-range vision for CAD. To get your imagination fired up, check out the April 19 and April 24 posts on Innovate Forum.

New MCAD Discussion Forum Live Online
The latest addition to the Cadalyst line-up of CAD discussion forums is now live on Tech Forum: MCAD is designed to bring together peers in the mechanical CAD field to discuss news, trends and other topics of common interest. Subforums will focus discussions on topics relevant to users of specific MCAD software, including AutoCAD Mechanical, Inventor, Alibre Design, Solid Edge, SolidWorks, IronCAD, CATIA, Pro/ENGINEER and AliasStudio.

CAD Clinic: Civil 3D (April Tutorial)
Expert Phil Zimmerman reviews how to use Civil 3D's Label Style Composer dialog box to define label styles.  Read more

Cadalyst Daily Update
For all the latest news and new products and updates about the newest features on, subscribe to the Cadalyst Daily e-newsletter. Plus, every Monday we bring you a full-length feature article you won't find anywhere else -- hardware and CAD software reviews, success stories, interviews, event reports, AutoCAD tips and more! Here's a sample of what you missed recently:

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White Paper: How PLM Supports Advanced Product Quality Planning
CIMdata has made available a free white paper titled PLM and APQP: How PLM Supports This Key Automotive Industry Initiative. The report describes the role that PLM plays in supporting the APQP (advanced product quality planning) process framework, which is generally described as a set of procedures and techniques used to develop products in the automotive industry.

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This Week's Software Tips

Send us your tip, code or shortcut for your favorite CAD software. If we publish your tip, we'll send you a "Cadalyst: CAD the Way You Want It" T-shirt, and each month Cadalyst editors will randomly select one published tip and send a $100 gift card to its author. Please submit only code and other tips that are your original work (or provide the original source so we can include proper credit) and tell us which software version you use. By submitting any tip or code, you grant Cadalyst the right to print and distribute that tip or code in print, digitally and by other means. Cadalyst and individual authors retain all rights to the code; published code is not to be used for commercial purposes.

Isolate Pesky Items
Perry Medina suggests using the CAD Standards checker tools in AutoCAD to isolate a pesky item and get your drawing under control. He explains: Open a new drawing and create a layer such as _CleanUp. Save the file as a DWS (Drawing Standards) file type. Now display the CAD Standards toolbar. Run the checker using your newly created DWS as the Standards File to check against. When you reach the pesky layer, select Fix and it places the object(s) on the _CleanUp layer. You can isolate that layer, examine the item(s) and decide what to do. If the item exists in a block, open it using the block editor.

This can also work to isolate any object the CAD Standards Checker works with, such as layers, text styles, linetypes and dimension styles. If you’re not happy with the results, use the Undo command or quit before saving to get back to your original state.

If you have a lot of layers, text styles, linetypes and dimension styles and you don’t want to take the time to run all those through the checker, save your troublesome drawing as a DWS file. Then rename the troublesome items so they will stick out like a sore thumb and the checker can easily find them.

NOTES FROM CADALYST TIP PATROL: This tip works as described. One of our Patrollers notes he hasn't found a useful reason to employ the Standards command with any drawing files. He explains, "This is not to say that the tipster doesn't make some good points, but I use older methods to clean up drawings. The thought of having to clean up drawings may apply to drawings received from sources outside the architectural firm, but they shouldn't apply to drawings created in the office if everyone is following the CAD standards of the office."

Here are other options for cleaning up drawings, courtesy of the Tip Patrol:

  • Use the Express Tools / Layer commands
  • Use Qselect to filter through the objects in a drawing and isolate the problems.
  • Create a WBLOCK of the drawing file to leave the problems behind and begin with a new and clean version of the DWG file."

Change AutoCAD Layer Names to MicroStation Level Names
Perry Mason's routine lets you change a layer's name within an AutoCAD drawing by picking an object on that layer and changing the layer's name to one that corresponds to MicroStation. "We use this routine when we get drawings in AutoCAD format that a client requires to be in MicroStation, so the layer format they require can be followed."

Load the routine ALTOML.LSP (AutoCAD Layer to Microstation Level) and then at the Command prompt inside AutoCAD, type ALTOML to run the routine. This routine requires objects to be present in the drawing to run. It prompts you to input the level number 1 through 63. Then it prompts you to select an object on the layer to be converted. As each layer is converted to the MicroStation layering format, that layer is turned off. Next, it asks if there are any more layers to convert. If there are, then you must enter the next level number or, if there are no more layers to convert, all layers are turned on and all old layer names are purged. Note that you can convert objects on layer 0 (zero), but that layer can't be purged.

Within MicroStation, use the Reference command to import the AutoCAD drawing (DWG) into a new drawing (DGN). Notice that only the level 0 (zero) is remaining from the AutoCAD layer format into the MicroStation drawing. Now, use the Copy command in MicroStation, then unreference the AutoCAD drawing within the MicroStation drawing.

NOTES FROM CADALYST TIP PATROL: A very nice routine for those using AutoCAD and MicroStation, our Patrollers say! Some suggestions for enhancement: 

  • After creating the first MicroStation layer, the prompt that reads "Are there more Layers to Convert? (Y)es or (N)o:" LISP programmers could set this up to default to Yes so that a simple Enter keeps the command running.
  • When placing additional objects on a layer number that has already been created, the prompt should indicate that the layer already exists and that the objects will be placed on the layer with other objects, or the user should have an option to accept this choice or create a different layer number."
  • Local variables should be declared.
  • Variables outside the (defun) should be moved inside the (defun) so they can also be declared local.
  • There is no error checking, so if you miss a pick when selecting an entity, currently the routine fails at that point.

Superscript Text
Cadalyst Tip Patrol volunteer Kevin Sawyer offers what he believes is an undocumented AutoCAD tip: "In the structural engineering field, our drawings often need to note superscript text such as per cubic meter or per meter squared, etc. When in the mtext editor, you can achieve this by using the stacked fraction button. I know you can use the Symbols context menu with a right-click, but that only gives you a squared superscript and subscript and is only available in certain limited TrueType fonts.

"Type something like 150 kg/3^ (note the carat) then highlight the 3^ and pick the Stack button. Alternatively, you can achieve subscript entries by reversing the number and the carat symbol so sulphuric acid can be typed as H^2SO^4, but remember to highlight and stack the two subscript items individually. I don't put this on structural drawings too often.

"Using this approach, as far as I know, allows sub- and superscript text in the same style and font as your main body text. If you go deeper into Unicodes, you can adapt this approach for use in dtext also. You can also use any alpha or numeric characters you wish. Also, look through the Stack Properties Dialog section in the Help file for more information and options."

Follow-Up: LISP Overload?
Cadalyst received quite a bit of feedback about Richard Gill's comments in the April 23 edition. He wondered how often AutoCAD users create LISP code for functions that are already an inherent part of the software.

Tip Patrol volunteer Mitchell Hirschklau continues the discussion: "I've been a computer-aided drafter for going on 29 years now. One of my oldest complaints about AutoCAD has been about what many perceive to be one of its greatest strengths -- the fact that you can add to it via LISP and the like. I recognize that this extensibility is indeed a wonderful feature. Few other software programs, CAD or otherwise, are as customizable.

"At the same time, I've always felt that the ability to add on to AutoCAD has allowed Autodesk to escape some responsibility for improving and fixing its software. We often heard from Autodesk that if something wasn't in the software (or didn't quite work the way you wanted), that you could always write code to "fix" it. Hmm. I've always felt, as do my employers, that I was a drafter, not a programmer.

"I'm very much in favor of educating users on the features that are already present, out-of-the-box, in the software. Customization should be used minimally to best support the user. If a user requires extensive customization, then fine, make it so. They should also know how to retrace their steps, recreate the customization and decustomize the set-up as well.

"I agree with Gill. Too many users would rather write macros or even LISP code to automate things that are already automated. If I had a dollar for every time I've been asked for a LISP program or to write a macro to do something that is already in the software. ... Sigh."

Patroller Kevin Sawyer says: "I have to agree to some extent with Gill that sometimes too much LISP programming can weigh down a CAD system by doubling up on built-in commands which more often than not do the job better and with more stability.

"As each version of AutoCAD is released, my first job is to look at which of our previous customized tools is part of the core program or an Express Tools add-on. During our last major upgrade to our in-house system, which basically involved starting from scratch with AutoCAD 2006 and building from there, I was amazed at the amount of dead wood that was on our system that had been integrated into AutoCAD years before --  hence, the decision to start over.

"Having said all this, I still think that the majority of tips Cadalyst receives use some form of LISP, VBA or macro programming aspect, as this is the area where users can make the most improvement. Most other tips are simply highlighting already documented items such as shortcut keys in AutoCAD, Windows, etc."

Follow-Up: Get Model Space Measurement
We also received quite a few comments about last week's measurement tip. In particular, folks didn't agree with our Patrollers' assertion that the tipster was using Dimension instead of Distance.  

Michael Grutter's explanation was very thorough: "While Alan Harmon may have found a fluke in his installation where he is able to get 1:1 measurements between model and layout objects, the Tip Patrollers are not exactly correct that he must be using Dimensions instead of the Distance command. If you use the Distance command between two model space objects in a scaled viewport, you do get model space distances. If you pick all layout objects or a combination of model and layout objects, you get the scaled distance from the layout.

"Also, with dimassoc set to 2, the associative nature of the dimensions is not accurate if they are associated with polylines, blocks and solids. If any of these object types are edited (i.e., exploded, trimmed, redefined or solid edited), their handles are changed and the associativity is lost. The dimensions will move, just not to any predictable location.

"In most instances, if you've selected the object method of attaching a dimension and then fillet or chamfer perpendicular corners, the dimensions shorten to the ends of the original object (less the fillet/chamfer distance). The same can happen if you select endpoints by hovering over the actual corner of any two or more objects. The program may be selecting the wrong object endpoint which can also result in many hours of dimension editing if there is subsequent editing of the dimensioned objects."

Follow-Up: Paths to Drawings
Maurice Simard continues our discussion (which began in the March 26 edition) about the best way to show information on a drawing . He shares, "I immediately became addicted to fields the very first time I used them. The nice thing about them is that they automatically update upon open, plot, save, regen or etransmit.

"I use fields for plotting information such as plotted date, scale, drawing path, filename, layout name and so on. For the layout name I use ctab as the system variable name. You can make a stamp for inserting or include them anywhere on your drawing. My preference is to have them in the printable margin of my template files.

"In addition, you can insert fields into mtext, attributes and cells in tables. You can also assign information from existing object to a field. For example, you can select an object from the field category, pick a polyline or hatch pattern, select the area of the object, the unit and the format of your choice. The area field updates if you stretch or edit the object."

MicroStation Tip: Editing Placed Dimension Text
Question: Is it possible to apply a slant angle to dimension text and numbers after you have placed the dimensions?

Answer: In MicroStation v8, using the word processor text editor, it's possible to edit dimension text by adding an italics property to some or all of the dimension text.

Axiom offers many MicroStation Tips on its Web site.

Tips & Tools Weekly software tips for AutoCAD are reviewed by Cadalyst staff and the Cadalyst Tip Patrol before publication. Use tips at your own discretion, please, and watch later editions of this newsletter for updates and corrections. Many thanks to our volunteer Cadalyst Tip Patrol members: Brian Benton, Don Boyer, Mitchell Hirschklau, R.K. McSwain, Don Reichle, Kevin Sawyer, Ivanhoe Tejeda and Billy Wooten.

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Deals & Freebies

CadFaster Launches CadFaster|QuickStep for OpenGL
CadFaster has introduced CadFaster|QuickStep, a free 3D viewer that supports the standard STEP and HSF file formats. According to the company, the viewer is powered by the company’s CadFaster|Engine, which includes the latest software-based polygon reduction technologies. It runs on a Windows operating system with the latest OpenGL drivers installed.

Caligari Offers Pre-Release Bundle Pricing for trueSpace v7.5, V-Ray v1.5
Caligari is offering prerelease and bundled pricing for its trueSpace v7.5 and V-Ray v1.5 software on orders before May 7, 2007, for current trueSpace v7.11 and V-Ray v1 owners. Upgrade pricing for trueSpace v7.5 is $99; users can also order the bundled version with V-Ray v1.5 for $148.

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Opportunities & Honors

MSC.Software Wins IBM PartnerWorld Beacon Award
MSC.Software, a provider of enterprise simulation software and services, was named winner of the Global Solutions -- Best Industry Solution award in the annual IBM PartnerWorld Beacon Awards competition, which recognizes IBM Business Partners for their ingenuity, innovation, customer satisfaction and outstanding achievements in providing on-demand business solutions.

Rios Clementi Hale Studios Wins AIACC 2007 Firm Award
Rios Clementi Hale Studios won the 2007 Firm Award from the AIACC (American Institute of Architects, California Council) in February. The award recognizes firms that have consistently produced distinguished architecture, contributing to the advancement of the profession in areas of design, research, planning, technology, preservation and innovation for a period of at least 10 years.

SEE Electrical named Product of the Year by Polish magazine.
The IGE+XAO Group announced that SEE Electrical, one of its software applications dedicated to the manufacturing market, has been designated as "Product of the Year" by readers of the Polish magazine "Inzyniering i Utrzymanie Ruchu". IGE+XAO publishes CAD software for electrical engineering and other systems.

ESRI Publishes GIS in Education Book
ESRI published Understanding Place: GIS and Mapping Across the Curriculum (ISBN 978-1-58948-149-7, 314 pages, $49.95), a book that describes how instructors at U.S. colleges and universities have successfully incorporated GIS into teaching subjects as diverse as biology, musicology, religion, foreign languages, urban studies, geology and sociology. The book illustrates how using GIS to analyze data and create digital maps can teach students how to think spatially and develop quantitative reasoning skills.

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The Week's New CAD and Related Products

Hardware: Quadro PlexModel IV
Visual Computing System from NVIDIA incorporates the unified architecture and computing capability of the company's Quadro FX 5600 GPUs. Read more

General Software: BeAnyWhere
Web-based remote access tool from Multiplicar Negócios allows the user to control the remote PC screen. Read more

AEC: ArchiOffice v8.5
Software from ArchiOffice enables users to handle office management, invoicing, organizing contacts, document storage and retrieval, marketing and other administrative tasks. Read more

MCAD: Lattice3D Reporter
New software lets users embed XVL compressed 3D models into manufacturing reports. Read more

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Mark Your Calendar

MasterGraphics' Autodesk 2008 Product Solutions Seminars
Various May Dates
Various Midwestern Cities
MasterGraphics' Autodesk 2008 Product Solutions Seminars will provide design data specialists in the manufacturing, building, and civil industries with in-depth exposure to the most current Autodesk software. The tutorials will provide users with the opportunity to see how the right combination of process innovations and software upgrades can make a dynamic, positive impact on every facet of design operations. Read more

Click here to view the complete calendar of events at