Tips & Tools Weekly (Vol. 13, No. 9)

9 Mar, 2008

This Week's Software Tips

Congratulations February Winner!
Cadalyst awards the February $100 Tips & Tools Weekly prize to Lisa Bongard, who submitted the Print Multiple Drawings tip published in the February 4 edition. Lisa 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.

Pare Down the GIS Data
Trey Hair shared his experience with the Mapwspace command in AutoCAD Civil 3D -- which opens the Map 3D task pane -- when creating maps in a CAD environment. He writes, "The ability to access GIS data and [GIS functionality] within a CAD environment has become a standard in my office. If you use this tool, you understand just how powerful it can be. Undoubtedly, you've also found that sometimes the data can become overwhelming for your company's smaller project area.

"I often receive large datasets from state and county GIS departments and only need to utilize a small area of that data set. You can use query location condition filters to load specific areas to your drawing, but I often only need certain features from the data, and I would like to manipulate it as a drawing rather than a GIS dataset. Try using the Check-out Feature tool for this purpose.

"I often uncheck the Map Base (your drawing data) to see the GIS data loaded in a less-cluttered view. First, be sure your map data is loaded and the features are visible. Next, click on the feature you would like to have as a drawing (street, parcel, building, etc.). Finally, right-click the feature(s) and choose Check-out Feature. The feature is now a drawing that can be manipulated independently from the rest of your bulk map data. You can block it out for future drawings, change the fill patterns or color to highlight a parcel, delete unwanted areas, and more. You can even check in the feature when you're done if you need to maintain the integrity of the data. The possibilities are endless."

NOTES FROM CADALYST TIP PATROL: Great tip! This is an application of the Keep It Simple method. GIS data is desirable to clients and more readily available today. If you have it already, why not use it in your CAD drawings? Thanks for the good advice on managing the data as well, Trey.

Printing Plot Styles without Lineweights
Sam Styles wrote to share his method of printing drawings with plot styles but without lineweights, which is useful for printing a drawing designed for a large document (A0 or A1) on a smaller size (like A3) for reference. The trick, he says, is to print the smaller document, yet be able to read the text without the lineweight obscuring it.

"In the Plot dialog box of AutoCAD Map 2008, the option Plot with Object Lineweights is by default grayed out. There is no way of combining the Plot with Plot Style and the Plot with Object Lineweights options. So you can't plot with plot styles but without lineweights because if you unselect them both and then try to just select the Plot with Styles option, this automatically selects the Plot with Object Lineweights too.

"I stumbled across a way to achieve this -- if you do things in the right order:

  • Unselect the Plot with Plot Style option.

  • Unselect the Plot with Object Lineweights option.

  • Go to the Plot Style Table selection, select the drop-down arrow and reselect the plot style file that you want to use. It will ask you if you want to assign this to all layouts, to which you reply Yes or No, depending on your requirements.

"You will then see that the grayed out Plot with Object Lineweights option is not selected and the Plot with Plot Style option is selected.

"I am unsure why Autodesk would choose to remove the user's choice by graying out some of these options in certain combinations. There are many times when I require the color table to print correctly but also require the clarity of fine print on smaller paper sizes where I am not fussed about lineweights."

NOTES FROM CADALYST TIP PATROL: Good trick. This tip also works in AutoCAD Map 2007. The lines seem to plot out very light, so it might not work exactly as you want. Another way to accomplish this is to create a plot style table where every color plots to a thin line weight (0.005" or 0.13 mm), then just plot as normal using this plot style table.

Block Count
Christopher Ulrich sent in the following tip about the Bcount command.

"The BCount command generates a list of block names and their quantities right in the Text window. This can help save time when you are asked something like, 'How many doors are on your floor plan?' Actually, all instances of all blocks are counted (except nested blocks and dynamic blocks whose visibility parameters have been changed). The data that is generated in the Text window can easily be copied into a word processing or spreadsheet program."

To use, enter Bcount on the Command line, then select Blocks. Your results will look something like this:

Revision x..................3

NOTES FROM CADALYST TIP PATROL: The Bcount command is a great way to quickly count blocks. Be careful using it, because if a block is exploded (gasp!), it won't be counted. Also be aware of blocks that were inserted twice, one on top of the other. You might only see one in the drawing, but Bcount will tally them both. Also note that Bcount doesn't work on dynamic blocks that have been changed.

The Dataextraction command is another, very powerful method of counting blocks in a file. It will automatically take that information and create a table. You can insert this table in the drawing or write an external file to disk without using the copy/paste method. You also can link the results to the drawing so that when the block count changes, the table or file will update. It can be overwhelming to use at first with all of the settings, but useful in the long run.

Linetype Scaler
Scott Restmeyer sent in Linetype Scaler for finding the right linetype scale to make a specific linetype visible. He says, "To start the routine after loading it, type in LTS at the Command prompt. Then select the line to change. When the dialog box appears, enter the increment to change the Linetype Scale by, then press the + or - button. As you press the button, you should see the selected line change. When you find the desired scale, select OK to exit. Now you can use the Match Properties button to change other lines to the same setting."

NOTES FROM CADALYST TIP PATROL: This is a nice little routine. 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. Some users might not see the line update as you change the scale value as stated in the instructions; rather, the update will reflect in your drawing as soon as the dialog box closes.

Users also can change the linetype scale for an object using the Properties Manager. Select the line, then change the value of the Linetype Scale setting. Change the text and press Enter. The line is updated. Be aware that changing the LTSCALE setting per object will override the overall LTSCALE setting of a drawing and the scale of viewports. So be careful!

AutoLISP File Master Load
Michael Cipolla sent in LISP Master Load, a tip for CAD managers who need to manage which AutoLISP routines are available to their users. To use the tip, he explains, "There are two files needed. In LISPCMDS.LSP, you list the routines you would like to load (The file I included is just an example.)"

The second file required is MASTERLOAD.LSP. This routine gets the list of available routines from the LISPCMDS.LSP file and loads those for use. Place MASTERLOAD.LSP in your Startup Suite or add it in your ACADDOC.LSP file. All your routines will load when you open any drawing. Note that names and paths specified within these routines can be changed to suit your needs."

NOTES FROM CADALYST TIP PATROL: This routine is advanced for the average user, yet could be a good tool for managers to maintain some control over which routines users are loading. The file that lists the routines could be stored on a server and maintained by the manager or IT department.

For offices with one user, or for users that are unfamiliar with routines, we suggest using Appload. A dialog box lists the routines that are loaded in the file. Click on the Startup Suite icon to see a list of user-defined routines for AutoCAD to load. Browse to the routine that you wish to load and select it. No programming involved.

Another option would be to put each LSP file directly in the ACADDOC.LSP file, like this:

(load "ADIM.lsp")
(load "A-LAY.lsp")
(load "ALIGNIT.lsp")
(load "AON.lsp")
(load "BPA36X24PS.lsp"
(load "C-LAY.lsp")

... etc.

If needed, include the path in the load statement, for example

(load "C:\\LMHT_CAD_Settings\\Lisp\\ADIM.lsp")

However, we suggest adding the AutoLISP directory to the AutoCAD support file search path. There is no need to load ACAD.LSP each time a drawing is loaded. This is what ACADDOC.LSP does. ACAD.LSP will load each time AutoCAD is started (assuming that your ACADLSPASDOC system variable is set to its default setting of 0) and ACADDOC.LSP loads each time a drawing is loaded.

Sharing Drawings with Xrefs
Leonid Nemirovsky sent some advice about sharing AutoCAD drawings that contain external references. He wrote, "First, make it easy for AutoCAD to find your xrefs, no matter where you place the files, by specifying the search path:

  • When attaching xrefs, use the path type Relative Path in the External Reference dialog box.
External Reference dialog box
  • Put xrefs in the folder that is in AutoCAD's search path.
External Reference dialog box

When you receive files from someone who has set up xrefs with the full path saved, try this approach.

  • Place all xrefs received into a folder that is one step above the folder where you placed the drawings. For example, if the drawings are in S:\PROJECT\WORKING DRAWINGS, create a new folder for the xrefs -- something like, S:\PROJECT\X-REF DRAWINGS.

  • Write a simple script that will run the Express Tools command Redir. The following, which you can save as REDIR.SCR (or any name you choose) is one example.


Or, instead of ";" leave a blank line at the end.

  • Open drawing in S:\PROJECT\WORKING DRAWINGS.

The xrefs will not be found, of course. Run your script, and AutoCAD will find all xrefed drawings for that drawing. Now this drawing will have a relative path.

After you've done this once, anyone who needs to work with these files will not have any problems with the xrefs. This approach is an alternative to using a more conventional approach that modifies your profile, which isn't always desirable if you have several users sharing the same files."

NOTES FROM CADALYST TIP PATROL: Good tip. Keeping referenced files in a relative path is a good practice because it makes file management easier in many cases. A project folder name could change -- if so , then there goes your xref path, unless it is a relative path. Sending and receiving files with xref files is much easier to handle too.

If the idea of creating a script file frightens anyone, just open the file you want to re-reference and execute the Redir command. Then at the prompts, type in * and then .\ You will notice that these are the same commands given in the script file. The script file simply does the work for you if you want to. Xref files can be redirected to a relative path one file at a time too. Open the Reference Manager, go to the file path, delete the file path (keep the file name, of course), and replace the path with .\ code. If the referenced file is in a different folder, keep that folder and place in two slashes, for example: .\\SUBFOLDER\FILE.DWG

Note that when both drawings are in the same directory, no path can be used with the same result. When both drawings are on different servers or machines, then you have to use the full path.

Note also there's a bug regarding relative paths. Sometimes even if you have a valid situation, AutoCAD will tell you that it cannot assign a relative path. If you run into this, stop and save the drawing, then try again. It should work. This is documented in the Autodesk Knowledge Base.

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

Follow-Up: Memory Upgrade
Tip Patroller Billy Wooten followed up on his own tip about upgrading disc burners in the March 3 edition by providing links to instructions on how to enable/disable Direct Memory Access, available from the Real Knowledge and Indiana University Web sites. Thanks, Billy!

Follow-Up: Text Find/Replace
Scott Ansley sent an addendum to the tip in the March 3 edition that offered a shortcut for updating text in AutoCAD files: "This approach also works with block attributes. I often use this to change the date in my title block when working with multiple layouts."

Follow-Up: Cleaner Drawings Button
In response to the file-cleanup macro in the March 3 edition, readers Edmund J. Baumgartner and Dave Massingale sent a suggestion: Set the CLAYER variable to 0 before running the Purge command, since a current layer that has no objects on it cannot be purged.

MicroStation Tip: Pop-up Calculator and Complex Expressions
Take MicroStation's Pop-up Calculator tool one step further with the use of the = function. The Pop-up Calculator allows you to do complex expressions (PDF file). You can include more than one operator and have the use of parentheses. For example, when using AccuDraw to construct a 20" diameter pipe in a profile with a vertical exaggeration of 4, the expression would be =20/12)*4. This would give the correct height of the pipe.

Today's MicroStation tip courtesy of The Envision Group.

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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Openmoko Releases CAD Files for Neo Mobile Phones
Openmoko, an integrated Open Source mobile-communications platform, has posted online the industrial-design source files for its Neo-branded mobile phones, giving designers around the world the opportunity to customize Neo phones to fit their markets' needs. Read more

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Opportunities & Honors

Transoft Solutions Solicits User Feedback
Transoft Solutions is asking users of the company's AutoTURN vehicle swept path analysis and simulation software and other individuals in the AEC industry to provide feedback as part of its annual Continuous Improvement Program (CIP) survey. Participants who complete the survey also will be eligible to win an Apple iPod Touch prize pack. Read more

Clearscapes Wins Firm of the Year Award
Raleigh-based VectorWorks user Clearscapes was named the 2007 AIA North Carolina Firm of the Year. Each year, this award honors a North Carolina firm that has an established presence in the state and has consistently produced quality architecture, with a verifiable level of client satisfaction, for a period of at least 10 years.

2008 Student Design Competition
Nemetschek North America is sponsoring the "Design Your Future" VectorWorks 2008 design competition for students of architecture. Sponsored by Architect magazine and supported by the American Institute of Architecture Students (AIAS), the competition is open to any student enrolled in an undergraduate or graduate collegiate-level design program anywhere in the United States.

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Books & Training

AutoCAD Reference Book
AutoCAD: Secrets Every User Should Know, by AutoCAD expert Dan Abbott, covers nearly every aspect of using AutoCAD, including customization, applying graphics standards, AutoLISP programming, managing symbol libraries, DOS functions, file management, and leveraging 3D. The final chapter provides exercises for users to solve real AutoCAD problems.

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The Week's New CAD and Related Products

AEC: Green TurboCAD Professional
IMSI/Design software features improved 2D drafting and 3D modeling capabilities and an updated user interface. Read more

CAD: QD Object Control
Dockable dialog box from JMHsoftware allows AutoCAD users to create groups of drawing objects and toggle them on or off. Read more

CAD: QD 3D Stretch
JMHsoftware utility for AutoCAD allows users to perform single or multiple stretches on 3D solids. Read more

MCAD: VxScan v2
Second version of Creaform's data-acquisition software reportedly features improved automatic and manual multiresolution and surface-reconstruction capabilities.
Read more

MCAD: VariCAD 2008
3D/2D mechanical engineering CAD system provides tools for shells, pipelines, sheet-metal unbending, and crash tests. Read more

CAE: PAM-CEM Solutions
Software from ESI Group enables users to perform predictive electromagnetic compatibility (EMC) simulations. Read more

Facilities Management: ARCHIBUS v17
Latest version incorporates do-it-yourself On-Demand Work and Service Desk applications. Read more

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Mark Your Calendar

AutoCAD Civil 3D Test Drive
March 13 - July 7, 2008
Various U.S. Cities
These seminars will show how to intelligently link design and production drafting, reducing the time it takes to implement changes. Sponsored by Synergis. Read more

AutoCAD Architecture Test Drives
March 18 - July 17, 2008
Various U.S. Cities
Experience how creating and sharing accurate drafting and construction documents is made more efficient. Sponsored by Synergis. Read more

AutoCAD MEP 2008 Test Drives
March 20 - July 11, 2008
Various U.S. Cities
These seminars will show how to lay out duct systems and place wire devices. Sponsored by Synergis. Read more

Revit Structure Test Drives
March 20 - July 24, 2008
Various U.S. Cities
Learn how to use building information modeling to do higher value tasks and produce fully coordinated construction drawings. Sponsored by Synergis. Read more

BIM and Sustainability with VectorWorks Architect
March 27, 2008
Santa Monica, California
Michael Heacock, a pioneer of green building projects, will present an overview of BIM technology in VectorWorks Architect. He'll illustrate opportunities to integrate sustainable design components and information through sample projects. Sponsored by Nemetschek. 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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