An In-Depth Look at Inventor's Visualization Tools

14 Feb, 2005 By: Kevin Schneider Cadalyst

Use these powerful features to help make better decisions as well as reduce design time and cost.

Many times you need to examine closely a particular element of a design. That can be easier said than done, under certain circumstances -- for example, when the object is long and you need to focus on detail at one end or the other.

Fortunately, Autodesk Inventor's graphics engine can help you visualize your designs. You can pan, rotate, zoom into and orbit around the design, to better focus on the task at hand. The following tips will help you use Inventor's visualization tools to understand and make better design decisions.

Hot Keys
Autodesk Inventor software commands include several hot keys -- commands assigned to a single keystroke -- that allow you to view your design quickly. These hot keys perform actions that help you select a specific element of your work and visualize it -- even when you're in the middle of executing another command. Hot keys include:

F2: Pans the design.
F3: Zooms in or out of the design.
Shift+F3: Zooms into content within a specified window: Draw a rectangle and Inventor will expand the circumscribed content to fit the screen.
F4: Rotates the design on the screen. Inventor provides a reticle -- a visual tool to help you rotate the model -- in the graphics window.
F5: Returns to previous view.
Shift+F5: Advances to next view.
F6: Provides isometric view.
Home: Zooms into all elements.
End: Zooms into selected elements.

Tricks for Rotating Views
When you want to rotate an image, the reticle provides fast, easy access to several viewing tools you may need to use.

For example, the reticle allows you to constrain rotation around a primary axis. By clicking on the 12:00 or 6:00 position, you will rotate the graphics around the x-axis when you drag your mouse. Clicking on the 3:00 or 9:00 position will rotate graphics about the y-axis. By moving your mouse to the circumference of the reticle, you can rotate about the z-axis. In addition, you can move your mouse inside the reticle and rotate the graphics freely (figure 1).

Figure 1. Use the reticle to rotate around the screen, a specific axis or any point in your design.

If you're working on a part that has long dimensions and you'd like to focus on one end or a segment of the design, you can reset the center of rotation. Simply left-click on a point inside the reticle to place the new center of rotation. Inventor will shift the screen view so this new point is at center, and set the rotation about that point.

When you see the reticle, you can press the space bar on your keyboard to bring up Autodesk Inventor's Common View tool. It presents a view similar to the glass box you may remember from drafting class; use it to get front, top or other common perspectives easily. Clicking on the Common View tool's arrows will transition the view to the selected point of reference (figure 2). To flip the model left or right 90 degrees, simply click on the edge of the glass box.

Figure 2. Use Common View to examine your design from different fixed perspectives.

The Common View tool also allows you to redefine the default isometric view for your design. Once you have the view you like, right-click and select Redefine Isometric from the context menu. Then save your model.

Tricks for Design Presentation
When presenting your design to a customer or a member of your extended team who doesn't use CAD systems, the Perspective view can be especially effective in communicating complex ideas. This visual format is more intuitive -- that is, it presents a view of a model that resembles how we'd see it under everyday circumstances (figure 3).

Figure 3. The Perspective view offers an intuitive representation of a complex design.

To make the best use of this visual format, you may want to increase or decrease the amount of perspective distortion. To do this, choose the Zoom View command, hold down the Control+Shift keys and right-click. As you drag your mouse up or down, you will dynamically adjust the perspective view.

In addition, you can make your model rotate by itself, leaving you and your team free to discuss the view with your audience. To do this, choose the Rotate View command. While holding down the Shift key and right-clicking, move your mouse in the direction you want the model to rotate. Then release the Shift key and mouse button. The model will continue to rotate on its own. If you move the mouse quickly, the model will rotate quickly. If you move the mouse slowly, the model will rotate accordingly.

Other Ideas
You can spice up visual presentation of your model by using a 3D input device such as a 3DConnexion motion controller, or by using a dual monitor configuration or widescreen monitor to increase the size of your graphics window -- giving you room to really showcase your design to others.

With or without these aids, Autodesk Inventor's viewing tools give you greater control over visualization of your designs, helping you to gain insight that can lead to better choices throughout the design process. This lets you improve every aspect of the design, and contributes to reducing manufacturing costs and increasing time to market.

About the Author: Kevin Schneider