Tips & Tools Weekly (Vol. 12, No. 2)

14 Jan, 2007

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What's New at

Calling All Product Designers now offers direct access to the GlobalSpec search engine and information resource for the engineering, industrial and technical communities.  Use GlobalSpec to search engineering content from the open Web as well as from a variety of proprietary content publishers. Or, search more than 20,000 digitized OEM and distributor product catalogs representing more than 1.9 million products. Access the GlobalSpec search from Cadalyst's Manufacturing Web site.

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 what you missed last week:

A Few Things You Might Not Know About ADT: Two notable companies offer software, training that take Autodesk's Architectural Desktop to a whole new level.


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UGS Publishes JT Data Format
PLM developer UGS has published a reference to the latest version of the JT data format. According to UGS, JT is the PLM industry's most widely used 3D data format for product visualization and collaboration. The 250-page "Version 8.1 - JT File Format Reference" is a free PDF download. Published in December 2006, it details the JT file format, from a complete description of its file structure and data segments to a thorough discussion of JT data compression, encoding and best practices.

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This Week's Software Tips

Send us your tip, code or shortcut for your favorite CAD software. If we publish it, 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 $100 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. By submitting code to Cadalyst, you grant Cadalyst the right to print and distribute your 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.

Congratulations December $100 Winner!
Cadalyst awards $100 to Brock Narum, who submitted Toggle Layer Plot Status for the December 11Tips & Tools Weekly. Brock was selected in a random drawing of all tip authors published last month. Send us your original tip now for a chance to win!

New Cadalyst e-Newsletter from Hot Tip Harry
Cadalyst announces the newest addition to its line of e-mail newsletters, designed for AutoCAD power users and beginning programmers alike. Debuting January 23, Harry's Code Class: Tips for Programmers will offer insight and how-to for LISP, VBA and Object ARX programming for AutoCAD. Best of all, Harry's Code Class is led by Harry himself (a.k.a. Contributing Editor Bill Kramer, author of Cadalyst's popular "Hot Tip Harry" column). Don't miss a single issue -- sign up for Harry's Code Class: Tips for Programmers today!

Mini-Tutorial: Ye Olde Tyme AutoCAD
Tip Patrol member Mitchell Hirschklau recently prepared information for his firm regarding what he calls "Ye Olde Tyme" AutoCAD setvars and commands, and he decided to share the information with Cadalyst readers. Specifically, he briefly covers AutoCAD’s Fill, Fillmode, Lwdisplay, Lweight, Pdmode, Pdsize, Qtext, Qtextmode, Textfill and Visretain setvars and commands, how they’ve changed over the years, and how they affect newer versions of AutoCAD. Read on:

“My studio handles a lot of commercial real estate clients, and we regularly receive old CAD files, sometimes old enough that they were created with ‘Ye Olde Tyme AutoCAD.’

“Recently, one of my co-workers discovered while working on a file that she couldn’t hatch anything. The Hatch command worked, but no hatch displayed. Yes, she had her active layer on and the like. After checking things out, I remembered the old (setvar) Fillmode and checked to see if it was on or off -- naturally, it was set to 0 (Objects are not filled). This is just one of several 'Ye Olde Tyme AutoCAD' commands and setvars that do rear their heads now and again."
What is a Setvar? AutoCAD Help describes setvars as system variables (settings) that control how certain commands work. Some users will recall that setvars originally were accessed from the -- horrors! -- Command line via the Setvar command. Now you can simply type Setvars without the Setvar subroutine. Additionally, a lot of setvars are set and reset invisibly via menu choices, options selections and the like.

Mitchell explains, "The general lack of user awareness of these old features means that when many of them encounter unfamiliar settings in setvars such as Fillmode, Lweight, etc., they become confused. The only thing you know is that AutoCAD doesn’t seem to be working correctly."

AutoCAD is a Good News/Bad News Application. "The good news is that AutoCAD gives you six ways to do something.  The bad news is that AutoCAD gives you six ways to do something.  And then consider upgrades. The good news is that AutoCAD (almost) never removes a command or setting.  The bad news is that AutoCAD (almost) never removes a command or setting.

"Most of the settings we’re talking about date back to the old 286/386/486 DOS operating systems. Most were designed to speed up display and screen regeneration times. Even today, items on frozen layers are not regenerated, while items on off layers are. In the (bad) old days, regen times could be very, very long, especially drawings with large amounts of text or hatching. Setting the Fillmode so that (completed) hatches didn’t display, or setting the Qtextmode so that text appeared as little white floating boxes were simply ways to improve regen time -- and to give the user another option other than Freeze and Off.

"The later introduction of TrueType fonts came with the option of turning off the font fill (Textfill setvar) for much the same reason."

Marching on. While technology marches on, those old CAD files that have been archived for a decade or so have not. So, one day, when AutoCAD isn’t working correctly, use Mitchell's approach and look for these clues to the problem:

  • White floating boxes and text not showing up: see Qtextmode
  • Disappearing hatches: see Fillmode
  • Hollow titles: see Textfill
  • Giant thick lines that aren’t plines: see Lwdisplay and Lweight
  • Stars or diamonds appear when I take a point: see Pdmode
  • Why are the points so small (or big)?: see Pdsize
  • Why didn't AutoCAD save my layer freezes, etc.: check the Visretain setting!

NOTES FROM CADALYST TIP PATROL: Our Patrollers second Mitchell's motion. To add more tools, one Patroller includes STARTUP.LSP that automatically produces basic settings each time you open a drawing. Place the routine in your ACAD200?.LSP file. You may choose to modify it to your specific needs.

Another Patroller refers readers to the HyperPics Web site if you want to learn more about when certain AutoCAD system variables and commands were introduced, changed or met the guillotine.

View an Outline of Your Viewport
Perry Medina offers this tip: “I find it extremely useful while working in model space to know what will show up in my viewport in paper space.” Follow these simple instructions:

  • Draw a polyline that traces the edges of the viewport while in the Layout tab (paper space).
  • From the Express menu, select Layout Tools, then Change Space (or just type Chspace at the Command prompt)
  • Select the polyline and it is sent into model space.

“Now you have an exact outline of the visible area for that viewport. Anything drawn outside that polyline does not show up in the viewport. I usually place this on a nonplotting layer that I lock, such as layer Viewport_limit. As an alternate method, you can wblock the polyline and use a known point in the drawing as your block insertion point (such as the corner of a building or the center of a circle). Then, insert it using the known insertion point. If you use this method, you have to use the appropriate insertion scale.

“Once in a while, the Chspace command doesn’t work. If that happens, close and reopen the drawing, and it should work.”

NOTES FROM CADALYST TIP PATROL: Both Tip Patrollers who reviewed this tip loved it. One even offers up an AutoLISP routine (VBORD.LSP), originally written by ZOTO Industries in 1998, that does this automatically. It creates the viewport outline on the Defpoints Layer. Just click inside the desired viewport and execute the routine.

The other Patroller also uses this procedure for key maps for civil engineering construction plots. Using this shortcut, he no longer must produce the “Matchline: See Sheet No. nn” at each edge of the viewports in his construction plan sheet set. This saves significant time when an additional sheet is thrown into the mix. He sets his sheets, then goes back to the layouts and inserts the key map viewport. Once the sheets in the construction plans are near the edge of the key maps that show in this viewport, he unlocks the viewport and repositions it to show an area further along the construction plan area. The sheet numbers can then go wherever convenient.

Deal with Dimension Lines
A reader submitted a tip to add, modify and remove a second line in dimensions -- but our dedicated Tips Patrol found that the tip didn’t work. On the positive side, it prompted one Tip Patroller to suggest this option when making changes via the Properties window. Click on the dimension and seek out the Text Override line under the Text category. Here, the unaltered dimension is represented by the “<>” symbol.  Between this symbol and the second line, insert the \X string.  (Note:  Just as the \X string places the second line of text under the first; a \P string is needed for each subsequent entry.)

Get Gatte
AutoCAD’s Gatte command, or Global Attribute Edit, globally edits multiple block attributes in a drawing. Franklin Belizaire has worked in many industries where engineers often have to make changes depending on circumstances. For example, he says, “After inserting hundreds of lighting fixtures as type A-1 in a drawing, my manager came to me and asked me to change them all to B-2. Now what? At the Command line, I type Gatte, then select the block or the attribute I want to change. I type the new requested attribute and press Enter. Voilá! All the attributes are updated.

“You also have the option of not changing all the attributes in the drawing. By selecting N (No) at the prompt, AutoCAD lets you single out just the block that you want to change.” The process is similar, but not identical, to using the Rename command.

NOTES FROM CADALYST TIP PATROL: This is a very handy tip if your drawings have multiple layouts and title blocks.

Follow-Up: Dimensions, Take 2
To continue the conversation concerning dimensions that started back in our December 4 edition and has continued since, Michael McGuire would like to add to last week’s response. He says, “One thing was not pointed out in the author's response is that dimensions are associative in model space. For example, perform a stretch and include the dimension. This is not so with paper space dimensions to model geometry. We do a lot of editing with the Stretch command, so I recommend model space dimensions over paper space.

Follow-Up: Land Desktop Tip
In the January 8 edition, there was a typo in the Land Desktop Tip. To turn off nodes on MTEXT, change the default value of OSNAPNODELEGACY from 0 to 1. We apologize for any confusion. Apologies from the editors for the mistake, and thanks to Tip Patrol member Billy Wooten for sending the correction!

Follow-Up: Revolve
In addition to options discussed in the January 8 edition about rotating drawings. Steve Knopf offers another option. He says, “In our civil work, we tried using Twist to line up model space and paper space in a viewport and that, but if you need more than one rotation it’s not very pretty. We leave a model’s UCS set to World and set UCS to align to object with the stationing line (extended to 0+00). We then align the viewport to the named UCS so that we have Station and Offset (adjacent to straight segments of Sta Line) for our coordinates in any viewport. To keep dimensioning clean, we create layers that are frozen in the viewports on adjacent sheets (tabs). There is one tab per sheet in a drawing set. If needed, query only when you’re in World UCS doesn’t work right.

“We try to have one model space per set, details and dimensions are not seen in the main viewport but are on different layers built as part of the model space and frozen per viewport as necessary.”

Francis D. Gamotis adds, “I work for a municipality doing streetlight design drafting.  We draw our designs in State Plane Coordinates, so I always need to rotate the view to align it with the paper space viewport. I enter model space from paper space, zoom in close, do a VTwist, set the scale and then pan to the proper location.”

“When necessary I set a UCS based on the street center/Mon line so that I can do a Station and Offset just by selecting the block or identifying a point if the origin is set to 0+00 on the Mon Line.”

"The code below is similar to the routine sent by Thomas Barger in last week’s edition. Select two points and the program performs a Dview Twist based on your picks. You must be in World UCS or your results will be off. You could save the current UCS, change to World, perform the twist and reset the UCS.

“This program does not zoom to extents but just rotates about the center of the viewport, so if your scale is already set, it isn't altered (if you copy a viewport and then pan to the next street section around the curve).”

Francis says his version of the code doesn't specify its author.

(defun C:Vtwist (/ Point1 Point2 Rotationangle)
 ; Prompt for user input
 (initget (+ 1 8)) ; No null, No limits
 (setq Point1 (getpoint "\nSelect beginning angle point: "))
 (initget (+ 1 8 32)) ; No null, No limits, Use dashed lines
 (setq Point2 (getpoint Point1 "\nSelect ending angle point: "))

 ; Get rotation angle
 (setq RotationAngle (* -1.0 (* 180 (/ (angle Point1 Point2) pi))))

 ; Execute DVIEW command's TWIST option
 (command "DVIEW" "" "TW" RotationAngle "X")


MicroStation Tip: Using AccuDraw to Modify Elements
AccuDraw can be a great time saver in modifying certain types of elements quickly and with precision. For instance, if you select a line with AccuDraw active, just click on one of the handles, type in a length value and you have a line that exact length. Have you ever wanted to change the vertices of a linestring from sharp to rounded? With AccuDraw active, select the Modify Element tool and data point on a vertex. Notice the Tool Settings box displays the vertex type button and the rounding radius field. To change between sharp, rounded and chamfered just hit the key with the tilde (~) on it and AccuDraw “bumps” the value between the three. Set the rounding radius or chamfer offset and data point and you’re finished. 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: Don Boyer, Mitchell Hirschklau, R.K. McSwain, Don Reichle, Kevin Sawyer, Ivanhoe Tejeda, Billy Wooten and Ben Young.

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Deals & Freebies

CoCreate Introduces Free 3D Modeling Software
CoCreate Software, a provider of third-generation PLM software applications for high-tech electronics and machinery, has introduced free, dynamic modeling-based 3D CAD software. CoCreate OneSpace Modeling Personal Edition (PE) offers all the features of CoCreate's enterprise OneSpace Modeling 3D CAD system for assemblies of up to 60 parts, the company reports. The PE version is designed for engineers, designers and students, as well as casual users and hobbyists. It includes self-paced tutorials, quick-start projects, online help and user forums. The free offer expires March 31, 2007. Register and download the software on the CoCreate Web site.

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Opportunities & Honors

CoCreate Announces Worldwide Design Competition
CoCreate Software has opened its 2007 Design Competition, which will focus on innovation in product design. Users can enter their best design project created in CoCreate's 3D product development environment and receive recognition for their innovation, plus the chance to win prizes. Entrants can submit an image of the design within one of 15 different product categories. Entries must be received by March 16, 2007. Beginning March 19, CoCreate Web site visitors will vote for the most innovative design project. CoCreate will announce the overall competition winner and 15 category winners during the first week of April.

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Books and Training

Sheet Metal Guy Announces January 2007 Specials
Sheet Metal Guy has announced special pricing for its Solidworks for the Sheet Metal Guy series of books. The self-paced training courses reportedly are written in terms that sheet metal fabricators know and understand. Each lesson walks the reader through the process of modeling a real-life sheet metal part. The three books cover topics related to Part Creation, Hole Patterns and Notches, and Unfolding. The special pricing during January bundles all three books together for a reduced price of $165 for the color version and $150 for the black-and-white version. In addition, each bundle of books will include a free SolidWorks 2007 Keyboard Shortcuts Card. Sheet Metal Guy publishes training materials for the design and manufacture of sheet metal parts and assemblies.

Wire Structures CAD Book
Computer Aided Design of Wire Structures ($139, 160 pages plus CD-ROM) is volume 7 in the WIT Press book series Advances in Electrical Engineering and Electromagnetics. This book, accompanied by the related TWiNS (Thin Wire Numerical Solver) software package, deals with an analysis of thin wire arrays in the frequency and time domain via the TWiNS code. The book is divided into two parts: The first part is concerned with the theoretical background and the frequency and time-domain numerical modeling procedures for thin wire arrays on which the TWiNS code has been based. The second part is devoted to the description of the TWiNS code and contains the complete user manual together with some examples related to the frequency and time domain of wire arrays. Until February 28, 2007, the book is offered at a 30% discount to customers who order from the Web site.

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The Week's New CAD and Related Products

Hardware: Dell UltraSharp 2707WFP
Company launches its first 27" monitor designed for CAD, video editing and gaming. 
Read more

Hardware: DualHead2Go Digital Edition
Matrox introduces new version of multidisplay upgrade device that features digital outputs.  Read more

General Software: Google SketchUp 6
New features enable simpler, more realistic 3D modeling and offer better integration with Google Earth, 3D Warehouse.  Read more

Visualization: Walkinside 4.5
VRcontext's updated visualization program includes new batch processing capabilities.  Read more

Low-cost architectural design software offers compatibility with a variety of CAD applications, including SketchUp 6.  Read more

AEC: LandARCH 2007
GlobalCAD updates solution for AutoCAD-based landscape design and architecture.  Read more

AEC: Bentley OnSite
Construction task automation software streamlines stakeout, inspection and measurement.  Read more

MCAD: form.Z 6.1 for Macintosh
AutoDesSys debuts universal binary version for solids and surface modeling on the Macintosh.   Read more

MCAD: Maple 11
Maplesoft upgrades tool for engineering and scientific analytical calculations. Read more

Dassault Systemes enhances robotics program for simulating complex manufacturing devices such as multi-wrist robotic arms.  Read more

Training: Animations with AutoCAD Book
Digital guide describes how to create interactive walkthroughs and make animations based on 3D models in AutoCAD 2007.  Read more


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Mark Your Calendar

Cadalyst'scomplete list of upcoming industry events is always available on our Web site.

ESRI California Regional Office User Group Meetings
January 16 - 18, 2007
Various California locations
ArcGIS user groups provide a forum for ESRI software users to share their experiences, exchange best practices, and learn about new technology. Read more

MAP 3D 2007 Essentials Training Class
January 16, 2007 - March 5, 2007
Various California locations
This course is geared toward GIS Analysts, CAD Technicians, Civil and Environmental Engineers, Landscape Architects and Facilities Managers who are already working with MAP 3D and want to increase their return on investment, or for AutoCAD users looking for more GIS mapping functionality found within MAP 3D 2007. Read more

SolidWorks World 2007 International User Conference and Exposition
February 4 - 7, 2007
New Orleans, Louisiana
SolidWorks World will focus heavily on product design for machinery, consumer products and medical devices. In addition to breakout sessions, the event will offer three new focus areas: Sustainable Technologies, Oil and Gas, and Designing Better Products. Read more

Design Master User Conference 2007
April 29, 2007 - May 1, 2007
Las Vegas, Nevada
The annual Design Master User Conference offers attendees a chance to learn new ways to use Design Master and improve productivity. Read more