Tips & Tools Weekly (Vol. 13, No. 10)

16 Mar, 2008

This Week's Software Tips

Quick Superscript
Koby Maxwell wrote to share his quick and easy method for formatting superscript text while typing in the Mtext Editor. He said, "Type mm3^ followed by one space. Highlight the 3^ and the blank space. In the Mtext Editor, press the Stack button. It will then format the 3 to superscript.

"Also, using the <^ and the Stack button will create the less than symbol, and >^ and the Stack will create the greater than symbol."

NOTES FROM CADALYST TIP PATROL: This tip could come in handy, and it's an example of a way to "shrink" any text if the need arises. For more options in the Mtext Editor, place a forward slash (/) between two characters, highlight the three, right-click on them, and choose the Stack option. After the characters change to a fraction, repeat these steps and choose Stack Properties. The subsequent dialog box provides several more options.

Isolate and Unisolate Layers
Kyle Hansen sent this tip for working with layers in AutoCAD and AutoCAD Building Systems 2006 and earlier. "In AutoCAD Building Systems 2006, when you go to the Express pull-down menu, there is a layer tool called Layer Isolate. This tool works great for isolating a layer, but once you make any changes to the isolated work, how do you get back? Express doesn't have a pull-down or a toolbar to execute an Unisolate command, but you can type Layuniso in the Command line. This will keep all the changes you made while in the isolated state and bring all the hidden work back. For those who like to work from the keyboard rather than the pull-down menus or toolbars, you can also type Layiso to execute the Layer Isolate command.

"Layiso and Layuniso have been great time savers for me. When your drawings get full with a ton of information, sometimes it's nice to hide some of it and just work with a small chunk. Layiso and Layuniso allow you to do that."

Kyle reports that this tip also works for v2007 and later, but AutoCAD built this functionality into the toolbar Layers II, so now you can click a button rather than type if you want.

NOTES FROM CADALYST TIP PATROL: True, Layuniso was removed from the user interface, but it still exists via the Command line. It is now mirrored as the Layerp (Layer Previous) command that performs the same function. It's the last icon on the Layers toolbar.

Automated Drawing Cleanup
Steve Weichel sent this tip for automating drawing cleanup. "I work for a fire protection contractor, and we work with a lot of drawing files we receive from architectural firms, mechanical contractors, electrical contractors, and various other vendors. On any one project we may have a dozen or more files that make up just one of our drawings. It can be a long process to try to remove all the things we don't want in these drawings. Even after we remove all of the objects or entities in the drawings, there are still layout tabs, layer filters, and xrefs, and in our case we can't have z coordinates in our drawings.

"I use some AutoCAD commands, some third-party software, and some custom commands that I have found through the years to work through this process. But there are so many things that need to be done that it is still rather cumbersome. So I finally put everything I want to do into one command I select from the menu that I called Do It All. Now I can simply open a drawing that I have received and select one item from the menu, and I am done. Here is a list of what it does for me:

  • detaches all xrefs
  • thaws, unlocks, and turns all layers on
  • deletes any blank text
  • deletes all layer filters
  • deletes all layout tabs
  • purges all items from the drawing three times (also purges regapps)
  • runs an audit on the drawing and fixes any errors
  • runs a command to eliminate z coordinates from our third-party software
  • runs a second command to eliminate z coordinates from our third-party software

"I am AutoLISP illiterate, so I used the Macro line in the CUI and created a menu command made up of all these other various commands. You can customize it to your needs. Here is what mine looks like:

^C^C^P-xref;d;*;^C^Clayon;laythw;-layer;unlock;*;; ^C^C(load
"c:/dalmatian/dfi2008/blanktext") blanktxt ^C^C(load
"c:/dalmatian/dfi2008/filterdelete") lfd ^C^C(load
"c:/dalmatian/dfi2008/tabdelete") (deltabs) ^C^C^P-

"You could add any command you like. You could have it save the file when finished or zoom extents. I think it could also be written into a script or LISP file. It usually takes 10-30 seconds to complete, depending on the z coordinate process. I couldn't possibly do it that fast starting each command on its own. Creating one command by combining these ten other commands has saved me huge amounts of time!"

NOTES FROM CADALYST TIP PATROL: Although this custom command is uniquely suited to Steve's company, you could use the process to customize your own menu command in a similar manner. When you are the end-user of drawings, it helps to coordinate with your contractors and explain your company's requirements for the layout and structure of documents, at least for some of these drawings."

Tip Patrol volunteer Billy Wooten provided CLEANUP.LSP, a routine that performs the functions in Steve's macro, with the exception of elevation changes. For that, Billy included ZX.LSP (Change Elevation), a routine written by Scott Cook.

Change Space Command
Josh Korakis wrote us about AutoCAD's Chspace command. He says, "I am currently using AutoCAD 2006, and I stumbled across the Chspace command. I find this command to be a huge time-saving tool. No more Copy, Paste, Rotate, Scale, and so on. While in paper space, type Chspace on the Command line and simply select an item (either text or line work) either in model or paper space and press a few Enters. It will automatically switch to the space opposite the one you were in while maintaining the same scale, orientation, and layer.

"This is a great command, and I use it several times a day. I particularly love it when I am in a drawing in which a different user has set up the model space to an awkward user coordinate system (UCS) without saving a view. I grab the outside limits of the viewport and do a Chspace; I then have a box in model space that I can set my UCS to for replicating the original view."

NOTES FROM CADALYST TIP PATROL: Thanks, Josh. Sometimes we need to be reminded of these time-saving commands. The Change Space command has many uses. First introduced in AutoCAD 2004 as an Express Tool, it became a standard command in AutoCAD 2007.

Note: These follow-up tips have not been tested by the Cadalyst Tip Patrol.

Follow-Up: Linetype Scaler
In response to Scott Restmeyer's tip in the March 10 edition for finding the right linetype scale to make a specific linetype visible, the Cadalyst Tip Patrol gave a thumbs-up, but commented, "Users could benefit from a bit more error checking, because if you mistakenly enter a non-numeric value in the Increment field and press the + or - button, AutoCAD completely locks up." In fine form, Scott submitted this updated version of Linetype Scaler. Thank you, Scott!

Follow-Up: Block Count
Tip Patrol member Mitchell Hirschklau offered more advice in response to the Block Count tip from the March 10 issue. He says, "Before using Bcount (or any type of block-counting AutoLISP program), users also should remember that if they have used generic layer 0 blocks, Bcount will count them all -- regardless of whether they are on the Demo layer, the Existing layer, or the New layer. Although this problem is not new, the caution bears repeating. The advantage of one Floor-Mounted-Toilet block in combination with layers for Demo, Existing, and New can be balanced by the disadvantages inherent in block-counting programs, which can't differentiate between the same block on different layers."

Follow-Up: Printing Plot Styles without Lineweights
Steve Knoft wrote in response to this tip in the March 10 issue with a reminder: "To plot any full-sized sheet at a reduced scale after choosing the printer, page size, and scale, be sure to check the Scale Lineweights Box in the Plot Scale of the Plot dialog box."

Follow-Up: Pare Down the GIS Data
James Murphy sent more advice about using the GIS data in AutoCAD Civil 3D from the March 10 issue. He writes, "If you check out a feature to manipulate and fail to check it back in, you run the risk of corrupting that data, depending on what format it is in. If it happened to be an ESRI shape format, you also run the risk of making the file's entire folder (directory) unstable with AutoCAD MAP 3D. To prevent this problem, perform a location query to select and display only the features needed after the data is displayed. Once you have selected and displayed the data you want, then export that data feature layer to SDF format. This makes a copy of those objects with the data still associated with it, allowing users to manipulate all they want without the risk of corrupting the original files."

Follow-Up: AutoLISP File Master Load
Regarding his LISP Master Load routine in the March 10 edition, author Michael Cipolla pointed out that the LISPCMDS.LSP file included in the tip should actually be a text file: LISPCMDS.TXT. The file name in the LISP Master Load download has been corrected. We apologize for any inconvenience.

Also in response to Michael's tip, Richard Binning reminded us about AutoCAD's Autoload function for loading commands. AutoCAD's Help file says, "When you automatically load a command using the load or command functions, the command's definition takes up memory whether or not you actually use the command. The AutoLISP Autoload function makes a command available without loading the entire routine into memory."

Richard sent this modified syntax:

(autoload "filename" '("definedcommand1" "definedcommand2" "definedcommand#"))

He also remind us that "there is no need to include the file extension when calling an AutoLISP routine using Autoload. For example, if you were calling ADIM.LSP using Autoload, you would only call ADIM. For any function defined within the AutoLISP routine that is callable from the Command line (defun c:commandname), you can simply add it to the list created. The first time the callable function is typed at the Command line, the routine is loaded into memory and the function is run. For example, if ADIM.LSP had a Command line function called ADIM, then you could use Autoload to load it with

(autoload "ADIM" '("ADIM"))

There is also a similar autoloader for ARX commands."

Follow-Up: Sharing Drawings with Xrefs
Sean Mitchell sent in an addition to the March 10 tip for sharing xrefs. He recommends exploring the ADREFMAN.EXE tool in the Autodesk folder. He says, "This tool helps when receiving outside CAD files that were not properly xrefed. Open the Reference Manager, click on Add Drawings, and select your files in question. This will add the drawings, plot styles and configurations, fonts, shape files, and xrefs as well as give the status of each file and whether it is resolved (found) or not found. If it is not found, select the files in question and the Reference Manager will allow you to rebrowse the xref path according to your own specific file structure."

MicroStation Tip: DWG Background Color
Question: When you open DWG files with MicroStation v8, the background color is always white, but in AutoCAD the background is black. Is it possible to change the background color from white to black in v8?

Answer: The background color for DWG files is not stored in the file itself, but is instead a program setting. This is true for both MicroStation and AutoCAD. You can change the background color of sheet and design models before opening the DWG files in MicroStation by clicking the DWG Options button in the MicroStation Manager dialog box and clicking on the colored square next to the Design Background Color and Sheet Background Color options.

Today's MicroStation tip courtesy of Axiom and

Submit Your Tip button

Submit Your Tip for your favorite CAD software. If we publish your tip, we'll send you a Cadalyst 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 code, 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.

Tips & Tools Weekly software tips for AutoCAD are reviewed by Cadalyst staff and the Tip Patrol before publication. Use all tips at your own discretion, please, and watch later editions of this newsletter for updates and corrections. We're sorry, but editors and Tip Patrol members cannot provide assistance with technical problems; please refer to Cadalyst's Hot Tip Harry-Help discussion forum.

Sincere thanks to our volunteer Tip Patrol members: Brian Benton, Don Boyer, Mitchell Hirschklau, R.K. McSwain, Kevin Sawyer, and Billy Wooten.

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Deals & Freebies

COMSOL Presentations and Proceedings
COMSOL, a provider of multiphysics modeling software, is offering a CD containing model examples from a wide range of applications that were presented at the worldwide COMSOL Conference series held in Fall 2007. Included are more than 300 simulation projects, including presentation slides, full papers, and COMSOL model files. The CD is free to those who register.

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Opportunities & Honors

Swiss VectorWorks Users Win National Award
Three Swiss VectorWorks users won Switzerland's 2007 Golden Hare award, presented each year by Hochparterre magazine and the Swiss national television network, Schweizer Fernsehen, to the winning entries in architecture, landscape architecture, and design. This year, the firms Haerle Hubacher Architekten, Schweingruber Zulauf Landschaftsarchitekten, and Zschokke Gloor Landschaftsarchitekten received the award in the landscape architecture category for their collaboration on the Max Bill-Platz in Zurich.

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The Week's New CAD and Related Products

Visualization: Avizo
Mercury Computer Systems' software product line provides 3D image and simulation data visualization and analysis capabilities for engineering. Read more

Visualization: AfterBurn v4
Software from TurboSquid creates volumetric particle effects for Autodesk 3ds Max. Read more

MCAD: Opera
Vector Fields' updated design software for rotating electrical machinery combines finite-element analysis modeling capabilities. Read more

MCAD: Airframe Development Environments v2
VISTAGY adds ability for engineers to choose how they want to visualize fasteners and assemblies based on the task at hand. Read more

MCAD: XperiDesk
Software from Process Relations reportedly supports the complete development cycle for semiconductor-based fabrication processes.Read more

MCAD: RayCAD for Inventor
Optical ray-tracing package allows mechanical engineers and designers to merge optics with design data based in Autodesk Inventor. Read more

MCAD: NGRAIN v4 Plug-in
Okino Computer Graphics' updated exporter plug-in enables 3D content conversion for data repurposing. Read more

CAE: IDX ToleranceCalc v5
Vista- and XP-compatible tolerance analysis solution from IMSI/Design reportedly works with all DXF-compliant CAD applications. Read more

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Mark Your Calendar

Using the Functionality of AutoCAD MEP
April 3, 2008
Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania
At this lecture-style event, Autodesk trainer Jim Law will show why users should make the move from AutoCAD to AutoCAD MEP. Using "intelligent" objects, users assemble systems in their drawings exactly as they would be installed during construction. Sponsored by Synergis. Read more

For a complete list of CAD meetings, conferences, training sessions, and more, check out our calendar of events on

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