Tips & Tools Weekly (Vol. 13, No. 43)

16 Nov, 2008

This Week's Software Tips

Call for TurboCAD Tips -- and More
Reader William Simon wrote, "As someone who uses TurboCAD, I find your Tips & Tools Weekly e-mails incredibly useless." So come on, all you dedicated TurboCAD users, let's hear from you! Cadalyst Tips & Tools Weekly accepts tip submissions for all CAD software solutions. Send in your own tips or refer us to some great tips found online (and be sure to include proper credit). Authors of all published, original tips will receive a Cadalyst T-shirt and will be entered in the monthly drawing for a $100 American Express gift card.

Mask Backgrounds
Brock Narum sent this background mask procedure that he uses in AutoCAD 2009. "Select the mtext and go to the Properties tool palette. In the palette under Text, there is a Background Mask option that allows you to use same color as the background and adjust the offset distance from text. The result is very similar to that of the Textmask Express command. The only difference is that mtext mask will automatically adjust the background mask to match extents of mtext height and width."

This works in AutoCAD 2008 as well. Background Mask is a great tool for displaying text in areas of drawings that are very busy. It is superior to Textmask because it is part of the text object, whereas Textmask creates a blank image behind the text that must be moved with the text and is often left behind when users are unaware it is there. Be cautious with masking text because not all plotters can process this feature. If you find this to be the case with your own plotter, make sure the latest drivers and firmware are installed.

E-Transmit File-Format Shortcut
Leonid Nemirovsky offered this tip: "When e-transmitting a file created in AutoCAD 2007 or later (2008/2009) and you need to have it in an earlier version like 2004, or even 2000, there is no need to convert the file (and all supporting files like xrefs, blocks, etc.) before e-transmitting. Instead, initiate E-transmit and in the Create Transmittal dialog box, select Transmittal Setups. In the new dialog box select Modify and then again in the new dialog box select the appropriate file format."

E-transmit is arguably the best method for transmitting AutoCAD files to outside users. It makes certain they have every support file needed to use the DWG file. E-transmit will include all fonts, xrefs, plotter settings, linetypes, and any other file needed. It is often a good idea to know how your client, vendor, etc., will be using your DWG files so that you can deliver them in the proper format. It is a great thing to receive files that are ready to go when they are opened.

Navigation Shortcuts
Nick Antonov sent this tip for working in a network environment with lots of projects. "Using Open, Save, Save As, Insert Browse, and similar dialog boxes is inconvenient and time consuming when browsing through long network paths and project directories. AutoCAD 2004 (and later) has the option to drag the folder from an open dialog window to the left side bar/banner that holds the standard shortcuts (such as Desktop, My Documents, Favorites, or AutoCAD's Place bar) and create a shortcut to this destination. It is very easy to switch between your most used folders no matter where you are. This method saves me the time and frustration of browsing through long project paths. Just drag the folder to the Places bar; then you can rename the shortcut if necessary. You also can remove shortcuts. Just remember that if the dialog window is open, drag folders to create the shortcut and then click Cancel to close the dialog window. A prompt will tell you that you made changes to the Places bar and will ask if you want to save the changes you made.

"Microsoft Office 2007 has similar option called My Places, but dragging does not work. Instead, right-click on the folder and select Add to My Places. Also in AutoCAD, you can go to the last visited directory when you select Open. In Windows Explorer, go to Tools / Folder Options / View / Files and Folders. The option Hide Extensions for known file types must be cleared. If it is checked, it will go always to My Documents when the Open command is selected."

This is standard Windows behavior for any software that peruses a folder tree regularly. It's very simple to use and a real time saver. In AutoCAD, another option is to type in autocad (setvar "REMEMBERFOLDERS" 0), then create multiple desktop icons to initiate AutoCAD with the Start In option of the icon properties set to the various project folders. Then simply start AutoCAD from the relevant icon so that any accessing of the folder tree will go to the project folder by default.

Purge Unused Layers
Arnold Williams offered this tip for getting rid of unused layers. "AutoCAD does not let you purge an unused layer if it is current. This little tool gets around that by making Layer 0 current first, then running the Purge command. If the previous current layer is not purged in this process, then it is restored as the current layer again after purging is complete. If that previous current layer is purged, then layer 0 remains current."

(defun c:PUL ( / CLyr)
(vl-cmdf "_.undo" "_begin")
(if (not (eq (getvar "clayer") "0"))
   (setq CLyr (getvar "clayer"))
   (setvar "clayer" "0")
  (vl-cmdf "_.purge")
(if (and CLyr (tblsearch "LAYER" CLyr))
  (setvar "clayer" CLyr)
(vl-cmdf "_.undo" "_end")

Good idea. Nothing is more frustrating with purging than when you realize you're on a nonreferenced layer. This is a nice way to purge and not have to remember to set your default layer to zero.

Find Layer Names
Lloyd Velasquez says, "I often work with DWGs that have hundreds of xrefs. With this AutoLISP code, you type IDLAYR and select an object, then the layer name appears in the Command line."

(defun c:idlayr (/ LAY PIK STR)
  (command "layer" "S" 0 "" )
  (setq pik (nentsel "\nSelect a nested layer to id"))
  (setq lay (assoc 8 (entget (car pik))))
  (setq str (cdr lay))
  (print str)

This tip works well. It should run just as well without the first line that changes to layer 0 (zero).

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

Follow-up: Block Counting
Brock Narum sent this follow-up to the block counting tip in the November 10 edition: "Cadalyst's CAD tip #2210, Block Quantity, will quickly print the block quantity for an active drawing to the text screen similar to the Bcount command, but will also include xrefs and dynamic blocks."

Follow-up: Quick Click and Drag Commands
Mick Noble wrote with this comment about the November 10 Quick Click and Drag Commands tip: "You need to have Shortcut Menu in Drawing Area ticked for this to work. Type Options, click on the User Preferences tab, and under Window Standard Behavior, make sure Shortcut Menu in Drawing Area is ticked."

Sal Brusco wrote, "I use this tip to move, copy, and paste as block with the right mouse button (RMB) all the time. It is a huge time saver." He shares this helpful addendum with readers:

"In all three options, while selection of the destination is nonspecific, the base point you use to drag can be useful. When you select objects, all the grip points for the objects become visible, and if you hover over one, it will highlight and the crosshairs will snap to it. Pressing the right mouse button then will use the grip's point as the base point for the move, copy, or paste. You may wonder what the benefit of this is since the destination point is nonspecific. Well, there is no benefit for the move or the copy, but if you chose to paste as a block, the selected base point becomes the insertion point of the block, and this could be helpful. Of course, whatever point you chose for the dragging will be the insertion point of the block, so you may as well pick one that you want."

Submit Your Tip

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 remember:

  • Submit only code and other tips that are your original work (or provide the original source so we can include proper credit).
  • 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

Light and Viewer Versions of KOMPAS-3D Available for Free Download
The light version of ASCON'S KOMPAS includes features for classical parametric 3D modeling, 2D drafting, design, and release of documentation. The Viewer is a utility intended for viewing and printing documents and model templates. Read more

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Opportunities & Honors

U.S. CAD Achieves Autodesk Premier Solutions Provider Status
U.S. CAD, a provider of CAD products, announced it has been designated an Autodesk Premier Solutions Provider (PSP) for manufacturing, which covers the mechanical and electrical design industries. The company has now earned six PSP designations.

FIATECH 2009 Call for Papers
FIATECH is now taking proposals for its 2009 Technology conference and showcase in April. The program is targeted for design, engineering, construction, and IT professionals. Proposals are due December 12, 2008.

SPEC Calls for Benchmark Contributions
Standard Performance Evaluation Corporation (SPEC), announced its SPEC CPU Benchmark Search Program, which offers rewards of up to $5,000 and a free benchmark license for application code and datasets. Read more.

Geomagic Convergence 2009: Call for Papers
Do you have expertise in an interesting topic that relates to Geomagic? Geomagic is now accepting submissions for its 2009 conference. Submit a bio and brief abstract by December 12th, 2008.

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Books & Training

Solidworks 2009 Training Courses
SolidProfessor released a self-paced learning system for SolidWorks 2009, which includes seven courses. It is designed to help new users learn 3D skills. The advanced courses cover parts and assemblies. Read more

KEYCREATOR 8 Technical Book
Conceptual Product Development released Doctor Walt's KEYCREATOR 8 Introductory Guide ($29.95). Author Walter Silva uses his approach to CAD instruction to introduce CADKEY users to the newest KEYCREATOR release.

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The Week's New CAD and Related Products

Hardware: NVIDIA Quadro FX 5800
NVIDIA's graphics card offers up to 240 CUDA programmable parallel core and 4 GB of graphics memory. Read more

Hardware: Quadro Plex 2200 S4 Visual Computing System
NVIDIA's 3D accelerator delivers real-time processing of large textures and frames with 16 GB total frame buffer. Read more

Hardware: Quadro FX 470 Motherboard and Quadro FX 370 Graphics Card
Both systems, from NVIDIA feature 128-bit precision graphics pipeline, 32-bit floating point precision, filtering, blending, and color compression. Read more

General Software: Scanning Master Pro Color
Scanning Master Pro Color, compatible with the Graphtec line of large-format scanners, is an optional software upgrade to Scanning Master 21+. Read more

General Software: VTK Plug-Ins for Alibre, AutoCAD, and Solid Edge
The file import and export toolkit is an open source, free software system for 3D computer graphics, image processing, and visualization. Read more

MCAD: CATIA V4, V5 R19, and ACIS SAT CAD Importers
Okino's importers share the same runtime code used by the CATIA V5 modeling software and the Spatial ACIS modeling engine. Read more

MCAD: CADfeature v8.2.1
Elysium's 2D drawing translation tool recognizes and converts a wide range of typical views. Read more

PTC's 3D human modeling software enables users to add a digital human model to a CAD product model. Read more

CAE: 3Data Expert v8.1, Dimensions Expert v8.1, and View Expert v8.1
DeskArtes' software packages are suited for data preparation for 3D printing and simulation and augmented reality applications. Read more

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Mark Your Calendar

Webinar: LizardTech Express Suite with a Focus on Autodesk Solutions
November 18, 2008
1 p.m. PST
LizardTech's webinar will showcase how MrSID and JPEG 2000 images can be used in AutoCAD Map 3D, AutoCAD Civil, and Autodesk MapGuide. Read more

Webinar: Create 3D Interactive Training
November 20, 2008
11 a.m. EST
This interactive training simulation will use step-by-step demonstrations to show how to create 3D interactive training with Cortona3D. Read more

Geomagic Convergence 2009
February 24-26, 2009
Savannah, Georgia
Geomagic's conference will feature presentations on how Geomagic technology can be used to enable digital shape sampling and processing. 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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