Tips & Tools Weekly (Vol. 13, No. 6)

10 Feb, 2008

This Week's Software Tips

Congratulations January Winner!
Cadalyst awards the January $100 Tips & Tools Weekly prize to James J. Olszewski, who submitted the Copy Multiple Objects tip published in the January 28 edition. James was selected in a random drawing of all authors whose original tips were published in the newsletter last month. Send us your original tip now for a chance to win.

Change Draw Order in ADT
Matthew J. Hill shared this code for setting Draworder for a block, which he uses with Autodesk Architectural Desktop 2006. This code changes the Draworder for whatever block name you enter in place of the bold-face BLOCKNAME in the following code. He says, "This comes in pretty handy when you have a block with a raster image that hides what is beneath it. I wrote this for our section cuts on plans. Sometimes the Draworder gets messed up, so I put this code into our plot LISP routines and ACAD.LSP at startup."

(setvar "cmdecho" 0)
    (setq section (ssget "x" (list '(0 . "INSERT")(CONS 2 "BLOCKNAME"))))
      (setq tile (getvar "tilemode"))
  (if (= tile 1)
      (command "draworder" section "" "front")
      (command "_.mspace")
      (command "draworder" section "" "front")
      (command "_.pspace")
(setvar "cmdecho" 1)

NOTES FROM CADALYST TIP PATROL: The nice thing about this script is that it is automatic. Note that the block's name must match the name in the script. It would work best if you use a standard name that is in every file where this is needed and it was placed in the print routine somehow as stated in the tip. If the code is placed in the ACAD.LSP file, it will load only when the user turns on AutoCAD unless you change certain default settings.

Insert Notes
Ravi Prakash sent NOTES.LSP, a shortcut for inserting notes in a drawing. He writes, "Imagine you have four standard notes that are repeated in all your drawings. Using this routine, you place your cursor where the notes are to be inserted in a text entity, and all the relevant notes appear in the drawing. You can insert any number of notes by adding more options to the program. This also saves lot of time and labor for error checking."

NOTES FROM CADALYST TIP PATROL: This is a nice standardizing routine. It works on dtext but not on multiline text. If you use notes that don't change (or don't change very often), give this tip a try. The code is very simple and could be added to a tool palette. Customize each note in the code as required.

Check an Entity's Properties
S. Ramakrishna sent this code to check the associated properties of an entity:

(entget (car (entsel)))

Type Fent, select the object, and you'll get the associated list of that entity. You can view any sorted list from it, such as entity type, entity name, entity in which layer, color, insertion point, and more.

NOTES FROM CADALYST TIP PATROL: If AutoCAD's List command doesn't provide you with the needed data, then try this tip. It displays a lot of information right there on the Command line. 

Dimensioning Shortcuts
Tip Patrol member Mitchell Hirschklau recently had to do some dimensioning -- a lot of dimensioning -- and he resurrected some shortcut key macros that he found particularly handy. He writes:

"These are Diesel language shortcut key macros, not LISP. They can be used in full AutoCAD and AutoCAD LT. Any user can add them via the CUI.

"The macros specifically toggle the Dimension Suppress Extension line number-1 (DIMSE1) and Dimension Suppress Extension line number-2 (DIMSE2). Users should note that because these macros utilize the transparent setvar call ('setvar), they can be toggled within a dimension command -- you could turn on or off the extension line suppression when you are already in the Horizontal or Vertical command, for example. The user may, of course, input these into whichever key suits them, via the AutoCAD CUI." (Consult the CUI section of AutoCAD Help for details.)

Shift+F11: 'setvar;dimse1;$M=$(!=,$(getvar,dimse1),1)

Shift+F12: 'setvar;dimse2;$M=$(!=,$(getvar,dimse2),1)
"For me, the ability to toggle the extension line suppression was a useful technique for its specific purpose. It illustrates that one doesn't always need LISP and that AutoCAD has some features (such as transparent commands) with which folks should really be better acquainted. That said, I can see how being able to toggle the extension line suppression is less an issue in today's inkjet/electrostatic-style printing world than it used to be in the ink-pen plotting world of the 20th century.

"One last comment: Am I the only one who thinks that the DIMSE1 and DIMSE2 settings are counterintuitive? Yes, I know that the actual command description is Dimension Suppress Extension line (Yes = On, No = Off). Most people I know always conceptualized this as: I want to turn the extension line OFF (or ON). AutoCAD's command would have you turn the Suppression On or Off."

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

Follow-Up: Easy Access to Linetype Files
Stephen Erway wrote to share his own approach for Easy Access to Linetype Files, published in the February 4 issue. He explains, "My method is to use the Places toolbar at the left of all the File dialog boxes in AutoCAD. With respect to linetype files, I pick Load and then File, as the tip described. Then I browse to the folder containing my linetypes. Next, I right-click in the Places toolbar and select Add Current Folder. If desired, I can click on the new shortcut in Places, select Properties, and rename the shortcut as I wish. This can be repeated for any number of folders. Once this is done, future access to linetype files involves simply clicking on the desired folder once the File Selection dialog box is open.

"The same approach works for all AutoCAD File dialog boxes and saves me tremendous amounts of time when working on multiple projects or when processing backgrounds from a client to meet our standards. I switch back and forth between the folder with the original files from the client and the folder containing the processed backgrounds."

Follow-Up: Print Multiple Drawings
In response to the Print Multiple Drawings tip in the February 4 issue, Pierre-Emmanuel Maeli wrote, "For those of us who are using AutoCAD Architecture 2008 or any older versions (ADT 2006, etc.), there are two Publish commands. One is the AutoCAD version and the second is the ADT/Project Navigator version.

"If you are using any ADT products, you should not use the AutoCAD Publish command for multiple plotting. Instead, use the Publish command through the Project Navigator Palette / Sheet Tab / Sheet Set View. As you may know, in ADT the Project Navigator keeps track of all the drawing files and the established paths. When you use the Publish command from the File pull-down menu or the standard toolbar icon, there is no project management intelligence attached to the command because you are using the AutoCAD function and not the ADT function. Therefore, when you attempt to batch plot (as it saves the drawing to go to the next drawing), it unloads the xrefs referenced in that file.

"The solution for ADT product users is to use CUI customization to delete or nullify the functionality of the AutoCAD Publish command and force users to batch plot through the Sheet tab in the Project Navigator. It is a mess when you have to go through and relink all your sheet files."

Follow-Up: File-Sharing Best Practices
The File-Sharing Best Practices tip in the February 4 edition seems to have hit a nerve with some readers. Glenn Mazzei sent the following tips for architects: "Don't send drawings with xrefs to people outside your company, and bind all xrefs before sending. Xrefs are almost always missing when other people get drawings. Even if they are there, someone needs to bind the xrefs so they can use the drawing (since you can't do anything with an image if it's an xref). Turn off that black background and use white unless you print to black paper. If you can't see it with a white background, you won't see it on a white paper print. Avoid using yellow, which is practically invisible on a print."

Stephen Erway shared his approach: "At our company, we insert blocks and xrefs on a layer we create, called -Insert. We use the hyphen in the layer name, which causes the layer name to be listed above the 0 layer, so the -Insert layer can quickly be located.

"We also create a layer name called -Draw. Again, the hyphen in the layer name locates it above the 0 layer. We use this layer for drawing new objects during projects. On the -Draw layer, use a color that is not used on any other layer -- we use color 42 -- and line weight is set for default. Design drawings can quickly be done without the distraction of changing layers all the time, and this method also distinguishes new objects added within previously drawn work. When your detail or revision is finished, select object lines drawn on the -Draw layer and place them on their proper layers (i.e., Wall, Pipe, etc)."

James Donaldson commented, "I liked Michael Cailao's best practices list except one: 'Do not draw or insert blocks and xref files on layer 0.'

"This is fine for xrefs but it ignores a basic AutoCAD capability: Simple blocks should be created on layer 0 and inserted on the layer required. This allows a block, and especially a symbol, to take on the characteristics of the layer it is inserted on, like color and linetype, allowing a single block to do multiple work. ( I always believe in keeping things as simple as possible.)

"Complex blocks should have their objects drawn on the required layers and then inserted on layer 0 if your best practices include leaving layer 0 alone. Then you can't accidentally turn off or freeze the complex block, but can still retain control of the block's individual layer visibility."

Finally, Charles A. Graham wrote, "Having best practices is better than nothing, but the best way to handle file-sharing issues is to comply with the U.S. National CAD Standard. Originally geared toward architects, the revision process has opened the standards to other disciplines [in the building design and construction industry] as well. Remember, when a client says, 'We have a couple of standards we work with,' he has no standard at all."

Follow-Up: Offset Object to Current Layer
In response to the Offset Object to Current Layer tip in the January 21 edition, Bryan Ring sent OFLY.LSP, a simple LISP routine to offset an object to a current layer or any layer you type on the Command line.

MicroStation Tip: Metric-Imperial Dimensions
Want to use "multidimensions" in MicroStation, where dimensions show metric units above the line and Imperial units below? In the Dimension Settings window, select the Unit section, and then toggle on the Show Secondary Units option.

You can choose the Settings button to set the units below the dimension line to what you need them to be. Once this is set, you will have two dimension values showing when you dimension.

Today's MicroStation tip courtesy of Axiom and

"Grandpa, Where Did You Get That Awesome T-Shirt?"
In recent editions of Cadalyst Tips & Tools Weekly, we asked readers to send us their T-shirt tales -- stories about your Cadalyst T-shirts and how you earned them. We received several great replies and share our favorites here. We were hard-pressed to pick a winner, so flipped a coin. Watson Kilbourne will soon be sporting one of our latest designs. Thanks to all who participated!

Watson Kilbourne wrote, "I have been sending in tips to Hot Tip Harry for 20 years, and more than 100 of my tips have been published by Cadalyst. My first tip (#266) was published in April 1988, when Lionel Johnston was the head of Cadalyst and Ralph Grabowski was Hot Tip Harry. From that time until December 2003, Cadalyst awarded cash prizes for published Hot Tip Harry tips. In 2004, the prizes were changed to T-shirts. Just last week, for a tip that will be published in the February 2008 magazine, I received a gray T-shirt that displays a CAD cartoon on the back.

"I have many, maybe too many, CAD T-shirts -- black ones, gray ones, and even a turquoise one for a tip sent to Cadence magazine back in 1996. I think my favorite is this black one, with a large C on the back and the words, Cadalyst Magazine Highly Recommended."

CAD manager Jon McFarland told us, "I have two prized Cadalyst T-Shirts. I won the first at a local AutoCAD User Group meeting when I was the first one to admit that I was geeky enough to know what the "_" and "-" before a command entered at the AutoCAD Command line was for. The second was a prize for being able to recreate a drawing, in AutoCAD r10, using the keyboard only and without a monitor attached to the computer."

Cadalyst Tip Patrol member and frequent tipster Brian Benton wrote, "I am not certain how many Cadalyst T-shirts I own -- at least 12. I keep several of them neatly piled on a shelf in my cubicle for all to see. Every time I receive a new one I make sure to put it on and parade around the office like a proud peacock. "Most of my shirts are the "old-school" black design with CADALYST in large red lettering on the back and the slogan "CAD the Way You Want It." I also have one of the new "snappy dresser" designs. I picked that one because I have had the same CAD cartoon hanging on the wall of my cubicle for over a year. "I love my shirt collection, and it is the envy of all of my coworkers. They don't say it out loud, but I can see it in their eyes. When I wear those Cadalyst T-shirts, they all wish they were as cool as I am. All I need now are some Cadalyst boxer shorts to bring my geekdom to a new level."

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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Opportunities & Honors

LightWorks Image Competition
LightWork Design, a supplier of rendering solutions for developers of advanced 3D computer graphics software launched a quarterly LightWorks Image Competition for users of any LightWorks-based application. Images can be focused on any market sector or theme. The winner will receive an 8 GB Apple iPod touch. Entries must be received by April 30, 2008.

Show NVIDIA Your JPEG Portfolio
NVIDIA is partnering with the digital art community CGSociety to launch a series of worldwide computer art competitions throughout 2008. In the "Amazing Creations" contest, which took place in January and challenged artists to capture the essence of something that could only exist in a virtual world, Vaclav Pajkrt from the Czech Republic earned the first prize with his artwork titled "Growth of Cubic Bacteria."

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Books & Training

Book Addresses Sustainable Urban Growth
Chicago-based architect Doug Farr published Sustainable Urbanism: Urban Design with Nature. According to the author, "sustainable urbanism” entails much more than just designing green buildings. It encompasses a bigger picture of creating green neighborhoods and planning for sustainable urban growth. Many of the diagrams in the book were created with VectorWorks.

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The Week's New CAD and Related Products

Hardware: CopySmart v1.3H2
Release is the latest version of Colortrac's professional scan-to-copy software for duplicating color technical drawings and maps, as well as full-color reprographics artwork. Read more

Hardware: Rocket Scanner Controller
System from Paradigm Imaging Group is now equipped with a 2.4 GHz Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600 processor, 2 GB of RAM (expandable up to 4 GB), and a 250-GB SATA hard drive. Read more

Hardware: LaCie 324 Monitor
24" monitor features an S-PVA panel that includes 92% National Television System Committee (NTSC) gamut.
Read more

General Software: CopySmart v1.3H2
Colortrac released its newest professional scan-to-copy software for duplicating color technical drawings and maps, as well as full-color reprographics artwork. Read more

GIS: Leica Cyclone II TOPO
Leica Geosystems unveiled laser-scanning software designed to simplify the creation of topographic maps from laser-scan data. Read more

AEC: DesignEst Pro
BIM application from WinEstimator enables users to produce both conceptual budgets and detailed cost estimates based on 3D models in Autodesk Revit Architecture 2008. Read more

MCAD: Altium Innovation Station
The new solution combines Altium Designer unified electronics design software with the newly extended Altium NanoBoard range of reconfigurable hardware platforms. Read more

Software system from BobCAD-CAM allows manufacturers to produce quotes that are ready to send to customers. Read more

CAE: Leica Absolute Tracker
Portable laser tracker from Leica Geosystems includes advances in thermal stability and volumetric accuracy, as well as accelerated start-up times, and more. Read more

Training: Commercial Site Design A to Z for Civil 3D 2008

Advanced Graphics Technology offers the newest release in the company's self-paced learning series. Read more

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Mark Your Calendar

MAXON Power Integration Tour 2008
Various Dates February - April
Various Cities in the United States and Canada
The Power Integration Tour presents free seminars demonstrating how to get increased speed and efficiency by combining the power of Adobe CS3 Production Premium and MAXON CINEMA 4D. Read more

Using Revit Architecture to Facilitate Energy Code Compliance Calculations
March 7, 2008
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
The calculating and reporting of the areas of building components is a very time-consuming part of the process in building energy code compliance.  In this month’s sustainable lecture, Peter Vanko of Bower Lewis Thrower Architects will discuss how to use the tools in Revit Architecture to streamline the entire process. 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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