AutoCAD Free Online Guide | Civil CAD Tutorials
Review the basic AutoCAD controls.
After you launch AutoCAD, click the Start Drawing button to begin a new drawing.
AutoCAD includes a standard tabbed ribbon across the top of the drawing area. You can access nearly all the commands presented in this guide from the Home tab. In addition, the Quick Access toolbar shown below includes familiar commands such as New, Open, Save, Print, Undo, and so on.
Notice that as you start to type a command, it is completed automatically. When several possibilities are available such as in the example below, you can make your choice by clicking it or using the arrow keys and then pressing Enter or the Spacebar.
Most people use a mouse as their pointing device, but other devices have equivalent controls.
You can easily conform to industry or company standards by specifying settings for text, dimensions, linetypes, and several other features. For example, this backyard deck design displays two different dimension styles.
All these settings can be saved in a drawing template file. Click New to choose from several drawing template files:
- For imperial drawings that assume your units are inches, use acad.dwt or acadlt.dwt.
- For metric units that assume your units are millimeters, use acadiso.dwt or acadltiso.dwt.
The “Tutorial” template files in the list are simple examples for the architectural or mechanical design disciplines with both imperial (i) and metric (m) versions. You might want to experiment with them.
Most companies use drawing template files that conform to company standards. They will often use different drawing template files depending on the project or the client.
Create Your Own Drawing Template File
You can save any drawing (.dwg) file as a drawing template (.dwt) file. You can also open any existing drawing template file, modify it, and then save it again, with a different filename if needed.
If you work independently, you can develop your drawing template files to suit your working preferences, adding settings for additional features as you become familiar with them.
To modify an existing drawing template file, click Open, specify Drawing Template (*.dwt) in the Select File dialog box, and choose the template file.
When you first start a drawing, you need to decide what the length of one unit represents—an inch, a foot, a centimeter, a kilometer, or some other unit of length. For example, the objects below could represent two buildings that are each 125 feet long, or they could represent a section from a mechanical part that is measured in millimeters.
Unit Display Settings
After you decide what unit of length that you want to use, the UNITS command lets you control several unit display settings including the following:
- Format (or Type). For example a decimal length of 6.5 can be set to display as a fractional length of 6-1/2 instead.
- Precision. For example, a decimal length of 6.5 can be set to display as 6.50, 6.500, or 6.5000.
If you plan to work in feet and inches, use the UNITS command to set the unit type to Architectural, and then when you create objects, specify their lengths in inches. If you plan to use metric units, leave the unit type set to Decimal. Changing the unit format and precision does not affect the internal precision of your drawing. It affects only how lengths, angles, and coordinates are displayed in the user interface.
Always create your models at full size (1:1 scale). The term model refers to the geometry of your design. A drawing includes the model geometry along with the views, notes, dimensions, callouts, tables, and the title block displayed in the layout.
You can specify the scaling that is necessary to print a drawing on a standard-sized sheet later, when you create the layout.
- To open Help with information about the command in progress, simply press F1.
- To repeat the previous command, press Enter or the Spacebar.
- To see various options, select an object and right-click, or right-click a user interface element.
- To cancel a command in progress or if you ever feel stuck, press Esc. For example, if you click in the drawing area before entering a command, you will see something like the following:
Press Esc to cancel this preselection operation.
Pan and zoom in a drawing, and control the order of overlapping objects.
The easiest way to change your view is by using the wheel on your mouse.
- Zoom in or out by rolling the wheel.
- Pan a view in any direction by holding the wheel down and then moving your mouse.
- Zoom to the extents of your model by clicking the wheel twice.
If you create objects that overlap each other, you might need to change which objects are displayed on top or in front of the others. For example, if you want the yellow highway to cross the blue river rather than the other way around, use the DRAWORDER command to reorder the objects.
You can access several draw order options from the Modify panel on the ribbon. Click to expand the Modify panel, and then click the down-arrow as shown below.
The draw order options that are listed include sending all hatches to the back, all text to the front, and so on.
You can create a lot of different types of geometric objects in AutoCAD, but you only need to know a few of them for most 2D drawings.
The line is the most basic and common object in AutoCAD drawings. To draw a line, click the Line tool.
Alternatively, you can type LINE or just L in the Command window, and then press Enter or the Spacebar.Notice the prompt in the Command window for a point location.
To specify the starting point for this line, you would type in the coordinates 0,0. It is a good idea to locate one corner of your model at 0,0, which is called the origin point. To locate additional points, you could specify additional X,Y coordinate locations in the drawing area, however more efficient methods for specifying points are available, and will be presented in the Precision topic.
The User Coordinate System
The user coordinate system (UCS) icon indicates the direction of the positive X and Y axis for any coordinates that you enter, and it also defines the horizontal and vertical directions in a drawing. In some 2D drawings, it can be convenient to click, drag, and rotate the UCS to change the origin point, and the horizontal and vertical directions.
Some people like working with grid lines as a reference, while others prefer working in a blank area. To turn off the grid display, press F7. Even with the grid turned off, you can force your cursor to snap to grid increments by pressing F9.
Lines as Construction Aids
Lines can serve as reference and construction geometry such as
- Property line setbacks
- The mirror line of a symmetrical mechanical part
- Clearance lines to avoid interferences
- Traversal path lines
The default option of the CIRCLE command requires you to specify a center point and a radius.
The other circle options are available from the drop-down:
Alternatively, you can also enter CIRCLE or just C in the Command window and click to choose an option. If you do, you can specify a center point, or you can click one of the highlighted command options as shown below.
Circles can be useful as reference geometry. For example, you can see that the two doors in the illustration can interfere with each other.
Polylines and Rectangles
A polyline is a connected sequence of line or arc segments that is created as a single object.
Use the PLINE command to create open or closed polylines for
- Geometry that needs to have fixed-width segments
- Continuous paths for which you need to know the total length
- Contour lines for topographic maps and isobaric data
- Wiring diagrams and traces on printed circuit boards
- Process and piping diagrams
Polylines can have a constant width or they can have different starting and ending widths. After you specify the first point of the polyline, you can use the Width option to specify the width of all subsequently created segments. You can change the width value at any time, even as you create new segments.
Here is an example of a printed circuit board in which the traces were created with wide polylines. The landing pads were created with the DONUT command.
Polylines can have different starting and ending widths for each segment as shown here:
A fast way to create closed rectangular polylines is to use the RECTANG command (enter REC in the Command window).
Simply click two diagonal points for the rectangle as illustrated. If you use this method, turn on grid snap (F9) for precision.
Hatches and Fills
In AutoCAD, a hatch is a single, compound object that covers a specified area with a pattern of lines, dots, shapes, a solid fill color, or a gradient fill.
When you start the HATCH command, the ribbon temporarily displays the Hatch Creation tab. On this tab, you can choose from more than 70 industry-standard imperial and ISO hatch patterns, along with many specialized options.The simplest procedure is to choose a hatch pattern and scale from the ribbon, and click within any area that is completely enclosed by objects. You need to specify the scale factor for the hatch to control its size and spacing.After you create a hatch, you can move the bounding objects to adjust the hatch area, or you can delete one or more of the bounding objects to create partially bounded hatches:
Here are some examples of how you can use solid-fill hatches:
There are seeral precision features available, including
Polar tracking. Snap to the closest preset angle and specify a distance along that angle.
- Locking angles. Lock to a single, specified angle and specify a distance along that angle.
- Object snaps. Snap to precise locations on existing objects, such as an endpoint of a polyline, the midpoint of a line, or the center point of a circle.
- Grid snaps. Snap to increments in a rectangular grid.
- Coordinate entry. Specify a location by its Cartesian or polar coordinates, either absolute or relative.
The three most commonly used features are polar tracking, locking angles, and object snaps.
When you need to specify a point, such as when you create a line, you can use polar tracking to guide the movement of your cursor in certain directions.
For example, after you specify the first point of the line below, move your cursor to the right, and then enter a distance in the Command window to specify a precise horizontal length for the line.
By default, polar tracking is turned on and guides your cursor in a horizontal or vertical direction (0 or 90 degrees).
If you need to draw a line at a specified angle, you can lock the angle for the next point. For example, if the second point of a line needs to be created at a 45 degree angle, you would enter <45 in the Command window.
After you move your cursor in the desired direction along the 45-degree angle, you can enter the length of the line.
By far, the most important way for you to specify precise locations on objects is to use object snaps. In the following illustration, several different kinds of object snaps are represented by markers.
Object snaps become available during a command whenever AutoCAD prompts you to specify a point. For example, if you start a new line and move your cursor near the endpoint of an existing line, the cursor will automatically snap to it.
Set Default Object Snaps
Enter the OSNAP command to set the default object snaps, which are also called “running” object snaps. For example, you might find it useful to turn on the Midpoint object snap by default.
- At any prompt for a point, you can specify a single object snap that overrides all other object snap settings. You hold down Shift, right-click in the drawing area, and choose an object snap from the Object Snap menu. Then move the cursor to select a location on an object.
- Make sure that you zoom in close enough to avoid mistakes. In a densely populated model, snapping to the wrong object will result in an error that can propagate throughout your model.
Object Snap Tracking
During a command, you can align points both horizontally and vertically from object snap locations. In the following illustration, you first hover over endpoint 1 and then hover over endpoint 2. When you move your cursor near location 3, the cursor locks into the horizontal and vertical location shown.
You can now finish creating the line, circle, or other object that you were creating from that location.
Verify Your Work
Recheck your geometry to catch mistakes early. Enter the DIST command (or just DI) to measure the distance between any two points in your model.
For example, you might need to find the clearance between two points shown, which might represent the corner of a wall and a small table, or perhaps a 2D section of a plastic part and a wire.
After you enter DIST, click the endpoint on the corner (1). Next, hold down Shift as you right-click, and then choose Perpendicular from the object snap menu. Finally, click the circle (2).
The number of decimal places and unit style displayed in the result is controlled by the UNITS command.
Organize your drawing by assigning objects to layers.
When a drawing becomes visually complex, you can hide the objects that you currently do not need to see.
In the drawing below, the doors and electrical wiring were temporarily hidden by turning off their layers.
You gain this level of control by organizing the objects in your drawing on layers that are associated with a specific function or a purpose. It might be helpful to think of layers as clear plastic sheets:
With layers, you can
- Associate objects by their function or location
- Display or hide all related objects in a single operation
- Enforce linetype, color, and other property standards for each layer
To see how a drawing is organized, use the LAYER command to open the Layer Properties Manager. You can either enter LAYER or LA in the Command window, or you can click the Layer Properties tool on the ribbon.
Here’s what the Layer Properties Manager displays in this drawing.
As indicated, layer 10 WALLS is the current layer. All new objects are automatically placed on that layer. In the list of layers, the green check next to layer 10 WALLS confirms that it is the current layer.
In the column labeled On, notice that the light bulb icons for two layers are dark. These layers were turned off to hide the doors and electrical wiring in the floor plan.
Notice that each layer name starts with a two-digit number. This convention makes it easy to control the order of the layers because their order does not depend on the alphabet.
- Layer 0 is the default layer that exists in all drawings and has some esoteric properties. Instead of using this layer, it’s best to create your own layers with meaningful names.
- Any drawing that contains at least one dimension object automatically includes a reserved layer named Defpoints.
- Create a layer for behind-the-scenes construction geometry, reference geometry, and notes that you usually do not need to see or print.
- Create a layer for layout viewports. Information about layout viewports is covered in the Layouts topic.
- Create a layer for all hatches and fills. This lets you to turn them all on or off in one action.
The following are the most commonly used layer settings in the Layer Properties Manager. You click the icon to turn the setting on and off.
- Turn off layers. You turn off layers to reduce the visual complexity of your drawing while you work.
- Freeze layers. You freeze layers that you do not need to access for a while. Freezing layers is similar to turning them off, but improves performance in very large drawings.
- Lock layers. You lock layers when you want to prevent accidental changes to the objects on those layers. Also, the objects on locked layers appear faded, which helps reduce the visual complexity of your drawing, but still lets you see the objects faintly.
- Set default properties. You set the default properties for each layer, including color, linetype, lineweight, and transparency. New objects that you create will use these properties unless you override them. Overriding layer properties is explained later in this topic.
Controls in the Layer Properties Manager
To create a new layer, click the button shown and enter the name of the new layer. To make a different layer the current one, click the layer and then click the indicated button.
Quick Access to Layer Settings
The Layer Properties Manager takes up a lot of space, and you don’t always need to access all the options. For quick access to the most common layer controls, use the controls on the ribbon. When no objects are selected, the Layers panel on the Home tab displays the name of the current layer as shown here.
Occasionally, check to make sure that the objects you create will be on the correct layer. It’s easy to forget to do this, but it’s also easy to set. Click the drop-down arrow to display a list of layers, and then click a layer on the list to make it the current layer. You can also click on any icon in the list to change its setting.
Maintain Your Standards
It’s critically important either to establish or to conform to a company-wide layer standard. With a layer standard, drawing organization will be more logical, consistent, compatible, and maintainable over time and across departments. Layer standards are essential for team projects.
If you create a standard set of layers and save them in a drawing template file, those layers will be available when you start a new drawing, and you can start working immediately. Additional information about drawing template files is presented in the Basics topic.
Layers organize your drawing, enabling you to temporarily suppress the display of unneeded graphical data. You can also assign default properties such as color and linetype to each layer.
In the following drawing, the walls, exterior stone facing, doors, fixtures, cabinetry, HVAC, electrical, and text were created using different colors to help differentiate between them.
The Properties Palette
The Properties palette is an essential tool. You can open it with the PROPERTIES command (enter PR in the Command window), you can press Ctrl + 1, or you can click the tiny arrow in the Properties panel on the Home tab—whichever you prefer.
The Properties palette displays a list of all the important property settings. You can click any of the available fields to change the current settings. In the following example, if no objects are selected, the current color will be changed from ByLayer to Red and the UCS icon will be turned off.
Verify and Change Object Properties
You can use the Properties palette to verify and change property settings for selected objects. If you click an object in your drawing to select it, here is what you might see in the Properties palette.
Notice that the current properties for the selected object are displayed in the palette. You can change any of these properties by clicking and changing the setting.
A property that is set to “ByLayer” inherits its setting from the layer. In the previous example, the objects that were created on the 20 ELECTRICAL layer are purple because that is the default color of the objects on that layer.
If you select several objects, only their common properties are listed in the Properties palette. If you change one of these properties, all the selected objects will change in one operation. Selecting objects is covered in more detail in the Modifying topic.
Quick Access to Property Settings
The Properties palette takes up a lot of space. For quick access to the most common properties, use the Properties panel. As you can see in this example, the listed properties will all be determined by the current layer.
The Properties panel works the same way as the Properties palette. When you select an object, the current property settings are replaced by the properties assigned to the selected object, and you can use this panel to easily change the properties of one of more selected objects.
Match the Properties of Objects
For a fast way to copy the properties of a selected object to other objects, use the Match Properties tool, or enter MATCHPROP or MA in the Command window.
Select the source object, and then select all of the objects that you want to modify.
Dashed and other non-continuous linetypes are assigned from the Properties panel. You must first load a linetype before you can assign it.
In the Linetype drop-down list, click Other.
This action displays the Linetype Manager dialog box.
Perform the following steps in order:
- Click Load. Choose one or more linetypes that you want to use. Notice that dashed (non-continuous) linetypes come in several preset sizes.
- Click Show/Hide details to display additional settings.
- Specify a different “global scale factor” for all linetypes—the larger the value, the longer the dashes and spaces. Click OK.
Once you’ve loaded the linetypes that you plan to use, you can select any object and specify a linetype from the Properties panel or the Properties palette. Alternatively, you can specify a default linetype for any layer in the Layer Properties Manager.
The Lineweight property provides a way to display different thicknesses for selected objects. The thickness of the lines remain constant regardless of the scale of the view. In a layout, lineweights are always displayed and printed in real-world units.
Lineweights can also be assigned from the Properties panel.
You can leave the lineweight set to ByLayer, or you can specify a value that overrides the layer’s lineweight. In some cases, the lineweight previews look the same because they are displayed in approximated pixel widths on a monitor. However, they will print at the correct thickness.
To control the display of lineweights, click the Lineweight Settings button at the bottom of the lineweight list. In the Lineweight Settings dialog box, you can choose whether you want to display or hide lineweights.
Regardless of the display setting, lineweights will always be printed at the correct scale.
Perform editing operations such as erase, move, and trim on the objects in a drawing.
The most common of these tools are located on the Modify panel of the Home tab. Take a minute to look through them.
To erase an object, use the ERASE command. You can enter E in the Command window, or click the Erase tool. When you see the cursor change to a square pickbox, click each object that you want to erase, and then press Enter or the Spacebar.
Select Multiple Objects
Sometimes you need to select a large number of objects. Instead of selecting each object individually, you can select the objects in an area by clicking an empty location (1), moving your cursor right or left, and then clicking a second time (2).
- With a crossing selection, any objects within or touching the green area are selected.
- With a window selection, only the objects completely contained within the blue area are selected.
The result is called the selection set, the set of objects that will be processed by a command.
Move and Copy
Here’s how you would use the COPY command to lay out a row of decorative tiles. Starting with a polyline that represents its shape, you need to make copies that are 1/8″ apart.
You click the Copy tool or enter CP in the Command window to start the command. From here, you can choose between two methods, depending on what’s more convenient. You will use these two methods frequently.
The Distance Method
The second tile needs to be a total of 9-7/8″ + 1/8″ = 10″ to the right of the original tile. So, you select the tile, press Enter or the Spacebar to end your selection, and click anywhere in the drawing area (1). This point does not have to be located on the tile.
Next, you move your cursor to the right, relying on the polar tracking angle to keep the direction horizontal, and then enter 10 for the distance. Press Enter or the Spacebar a second time to end the command.
The specified distance and a direction from a point (1) is applied to the tile that you selected.
The Two Points Method
Another method, one that you will often use when you don’t want to add numbers together, requires two steps. You start the COPY command and select the tile as before, but this time you click the two endpoints as shown. These two points also define a distance and direction.
Next, to add the 1/8″ space between the tiles, click the Move tool or enter M in the Command window. The MOVE command is similar to the COPY command. Select the newly copied tile, and press Enter or the Spacebar. As before, click anywhere in the drawing area and move your cursor to the right. Enter 1/8 or .125 for the distance.
Create Multiple Copies
You can use the two-points method as a repeating sequence. Let’s say that you want to make more copies of the circle at the same horizontal distance. You start the COPY command and select the circle as shown.
Then, using the Center object snap, click the center of circle 1, followed by the center of circle 2, and so on.
For larger numbers of copies, try experimenting with the Array option of the COPY command. For example, here’s a linear arrangement of deep foundation piles. From a base point, you specify number of copies and the center-to-center distance.
Most models include a lot of parallel lines and curves. Creating them is easy and efficient with the OFFSET command. Click the OFFSET tool or enter O in the Command window.
Select the object (1), specify the offset distance, and click to indicate on which side of the original that you want the result (2). Here is an example of offsetting a polyline.
Trim and Extend
A popular technique is to use the OFFSET command in combination with the TRIM and EXTEND commands. In the Command window, you can enter TR for TRIM or EX for EXTEND. Trimming and extending are some of the most commonly used operations.
In the following illustration, you want to extend the lines that represent the steps for this deck. You start the Extend command, select the boundary, and then press Enter or the Spacebar.
Pressing Enter or the Spacebar indicates that you’ve finished selecting the boundaries, and that you’re now ready to select the objects to be extended.
Next, you select the objects to be extended (near the ends to be extended), and then you press Enter or the Spacebar to end the command.
The result is that the lines are extended to the boundary.
The TRIM command follows the same steps, except that when you select the objects to trim, you select the portions to trim away.
The following illustration comes from a tile project. The walls in this residential bathroom are flattened out to be able to lay out the tile pattern and estimate the number of tiles needed.
You can save a lot of work by taking advantage of the symmetry between the left and right walls. All you need to do is create the tiles on one wall and then mirror the wall across the center of the room.
In the example below, you start the MIRROR command (or enter MI in the Command window), use window selection (1 and 2) to select the geometry on the right wall, press Enter or the Spacebar, and then specify a mirror line (3 and 4) corresponding to the centerline of the bathroom.
Finally, decline the option to “Erase source objects” by pressing Enter or the Spacebar.
You can stretch most geometric objects. This lets you lengthen and shorten parts of your model. For example, this model might be a gasket or the design for a public park.
Use the STRETCH command (or enter S in the Command window) and select the objects with a crossing selection as shown below (1 and 2). The crossing selection is mandatory—only the geometry that is crossed by the crossing selection is stretched. Then click anywhere in the drawing area (3), move the cursor to the right, and enter 50 as the distance. This distance might represent millimeters or feet.
To shorten the model by a specified amount, you’d move your cursor to the left instead.
The FILLET command (enter F in the Command window) creates a rounded corner by creating an arc that is tangent to two selected objects. Notice that the fillet is created relative to where you select the objects.
You can create a fillet between most types of geometric objects, including lines, arcs, and polyline segments.
The EXPLODE command (enter X in the Command window) disassociates a compound object into its component parts. You can explode objects such as polylines, hatches, and blocks (symbols).
After you explode a compound object, you can modify each resulting individual object.
You can choose from several useful options when you want to modify a polyline. The PEDIT command (enter PE in the Command window) is located on the drop-down list of the Modify panel.
With this command, you can
- Join two polylines into a single polyline if they share a common endpoint
- Convert lines and arcs into a polyline—simply enter PEDIT and select the line or arc
- Change the width of a polyline
Grips are displayed when you select an object without starting a command. Grips are often handy for light editing. For example, the line below accidentally snapped to the wrong endpoint. You can select the misaligned line, click on a grip and then click to specify the correct location.
By default, when you click a grip, you automatically start in **STRETCH** mode as indicated in the Command window. If you want to explore other ways of editing objects with grips, press Enter or the Spacebar to cycle through several other editing modes. Some people perform most editing operations using grips.
Insert symbols and details into your drawings from commercial online sources or from your own designs.
In AutoCAD, a block is a collection of objects that are combined into a single named object. The following are some sample blocks at various scales.
Some of these blocks are realistic representations of objects, some are symbols, and one of them is an architectural title block for a D-size drawing.
Insert a Block
Typically, each of these blocks is an individual drawing file, perhaps saved in a folder with similar drawing files. When you need to insert one into your current drawing file, you use the INSERT command (or enter I in the Command window).
The first time you insert the drawing as a block, you need to click Browse to locate the drawing file. Make sure you organize your blocks into easy-to-find folders.
Once inserted, the block definition is stored in your current drawing. From then on, you can choose it from the Name drop-down list without needing to click the Browse button.
Notice that when you insert a block, it is attached to your cursor at the point indicated. This location is called the insertion point. By default, the insertion point is the origin point (0,0) of the original drawing.
After inserting the block, you can select it and a grip appears. You can easily move and rotate this block using this grip.
In the following example, a drawing file is inserted into the current drawing to provide a standard detail view.
Create a Block Definition
Instead of creating a drawing file to be inserted as a block, you might want to create a block definition directly in your current drawing. Use this method if you do not plan to insert the block into any other drawing. In that case, use the BLOCK command to create the block definition.
For example, this is how you could create a module for a cubicle design.
- Create the objects for the block.
- Start the BLOCK command.
- Enter a name for the block, in this case Quad-Cube.
- Select the objects that you created for the block (click 1 and 2).
- Specify the block insertion point.
You can enter the information for steps 3, 4, and 5 into the Block Definition dialog box in any order.
After creating the block definition, you can insert, copy, and rotate the block as needed.
Using the EXPLODE command, you can explode a block back to its component objects if you need to make changes. In the illustration below, the cubicle on the right was exploded and modified.
In this example, you would probably create a new block definition from the objects in the exploded block.
There are several different schemes for saving and retrieving block definitions.
- You can create an individual drawing file for each block that you intend to use. You save these drawing files in folders, each of which would contain a family of related drawing files.
- You can include the block definitions for title blocks and common symbols in your drawing template files to make them available immediately when starting a new drawing.
- You can create several drawing files, which are sometimes called block library drawings. Each of these drawings contains a family of related block definitions. When you insert a block library drawing into your current drawing, all the blocks that are defined in that drawing become available.
Display one or more scaled views of your design on a standard-size drawing sheet called a layout.
After you finish creating a model at full size, you can switch to a paper space layout to create scaled views of the model, and to add notes, labels, and dimensions. You can also specify different linetypes and line widths for display in paper space.
Model Space and Paper Space
As you know, you create the geometry of your model in model space.
Originally, this was the only space available in AutoCAD. All notes, labels, dimensions, and the drawing border and title block were also created and scaled in model space.
After paper space was introduced, you could click a layout tab to access a space designed specifically for layouts and scaling. In the following illustration, paper space is active. There are currently only two objects in paper space: a drawing border block, and a single layout viewport, which displays a view of model space.
Working with layout viewports is described in more detail later in this topic.
Four Methods for Scaling
There are four different methods in AutoCAD that are used to scale views, notes, labels, and dimensions. Each method has its advantages depending on how the drawing will be used. Here’s a brief summary of each of the methods:
- The Original Method. You create geometry, annotate, and print from model space. Dimensions, notes, and labels must all be scaled in reverse. You set the dimension scale to the inverse of the plot scale. With this method, scaling requires a little math. For example, a common scale used in architecture is 1/4″ = 1′-0″ which is 1:48 scale. If a note is to be printed ¼” high, then it must be created 48 times as large, or 12″ high in model space. The same scale factor also applies to dimensions, and an ARCH D drawing border at that scale is 144 feet long. When the drawing is printed as a D-size sheet, everything scales down to the correct size.
Note: Many AutoCAD drawings were created with this method, and many companies still use it. Once everything is set up, the method works well for 2D drawings with single views and inserted details.
- The Layout Method. You create geometry and annotate in model space, and print from the layout. Set the dimension scale to 0 and the dimensions will scale automatically.
- The Annotative Method. You create geometry in model space, create annotative dimensions, notes, and labels (using a special annotative style) in model space from the layout, and you print from the layout. Annotative objects display only in layout viewports that share the same scale. The dimension scale is automatically set to 0 and all annotative objects scale automatically.
- The Trans-Spatial Method. You create geometry in model space, create annotations in paper space on a layout with dimension scale set to 1, and you print from the layout. This is arguably the easiest, most direct method, and it is the method of choice for this guide.
Talk to other AutoCAD users in your discipline about these four methods and why they chose the method that they use.
Specifying the Paper Size of a Layout
The first thing that you should do when you access a layout tab (1) is right-click the tab (2) and rename it (3) to something more specific than Layout 1. For a D-size layout, ARCH D or ANSI D might be good choices.
Next, open the Page Setup Manager (4) to change the paper size displayed in the layout tab.
A layout viewport is an object that is created in paper space to display a scaled view of model space. You can think of it as a closed-circuit TV monitor that displays part of model space. In the illustration, model space is active and accessible from within the current layout viewport.
In a layout, when model space is active, you can pan and zoom, and anything else that you could do on the Model tab.
For example, let’s say that you created a backyard deck design in model space, and now you want to lay out and print your design from a layout tab.
The view in the layout viewport is not yet set to the correct scale.
Scaling Views and Trans-Spatial Annotation
Here are the steps to follow if you use the trans-spatial method of annotating your drawing:
- Click the layout tab. If you started the drawing with your own custom drawing template file, several tasks might already have been completed: the layout might already be set to D-size, and the title block might already have been inserted in the layout.
- By default, paper space is active, so double-click within the layout viewport to make model space active. Notice that the edge of the layout viewport becomes thicker as a result of switching to model space.
- Zoom out and center the model space view by panning. However the displayed view is still not set to the correct scale.
- Double-click outside the layout viewport to make paper space active again.
- Open the Properties palette and then click to select the edge of the layout viewport.
- In the Properties palette, specify a standard scale of 1/4″ = 1′-0″ from the drop-down list. This action scales your view of model space precisely to the D-size drawing. You also set the Display Locked property from No to Yes. This prevents any unintentional display changes to the view.
- Move the layout viewport as needed, and adjust its edges using grips.
- Create notes, labels, and dimensions directly in paper space. They automatically appear at the correct size.
- Turn off the layer on which you created the layout viewport object. This hides the edges of the layout viewport as shown below.
- Print the drawing to paper or as a DWF or PDF file.
Notes and Labels
Create notes, labels, bubbles, and callouts. Save and restore style settings by name.
You create general notes using the MTEXT command (or enter MT in the Command window), which stands for multiline text. The multiline text tool is available on the Annotation panel.
After you start the MTEXT command, you are prompted to create a “text box” with two diagonal clicks.
The exact size of the text box is not that important. After you specify the text box, the In-Place Editor is displayed and you can easily change the length and width of the note before, during, or after typing the text.
All the usual controls are available in the In-Place Editor, including tabs, indents, and columns. Also notice that when you start the MTEXT command, the ribbon temporarily changes, displaying many options such as text styles, columns, spell checking, and so on.
- To exit the text editor after you finish entering the text, click anywhere outside it.
- To edit a note, simply double-click it to open the text editor.
Create a Text Style
As with several other annotation features, multiline text provides a lot of settings. You can save these settings as a text styleusing the STYLE command, and then you can access the text styles you’ve saved by clicking the drop-down arrow on the Annotation panel. The current text style is displayed at the top of the drop-down list.
To create a new text style, click the Text Style control as shown.
When you create a new text style, you give it a name, and then choose a font and a font style. The order in which you click the buttons is shown below:
Multileader objects are used to create text with leader lines such as general labels, reference labels, bubbles, and callouts.
Create a Multileader
To create a multileader, use the MLEADER command. Click the Multileader tool in the Annotation panel or enter MLD in the Command window. Follow the prompts and options in the Command window. Feel free to experiment.
After you create a multileader, select it and then modify it by clicking and moving its grips.
Grip menus appear when you hover over arrowhead and leader grips. From these menus, you can add leader segments or additional leaders.
You can edit the text in a multileader by double-clicking it.
Create a Multileader Style
You can create your own multileader styles from the drop-down list in the expanded Annotation panel, or by entering MLEADERSTYLE in the Command window.
For example, to create a “detail callout” style, start the MLEADERSTYLE command. In the Multileader Styles Manager, click New and choose a descriptive name for the new multileader style. Click the Content tab, choose Block, and then Detail Callout as shown.
Create several types of dimensions and save dimension settings by name.
Here is an example of several types of dimensions using an architectural dimension style with imperial units.
You can create horizontal, vertical, aligned, and radial dimensions with the DIM command. The type of dimension depends on the object that you select and the direction that you drag the dimension line.
The following illustration demonstrates one method for using the DIM command. Once you start the command, press Enter or the Spacebar, select the line (1), and then click the location of the dimension line (2).
For the 8′-0″ dimension below, you use another method. You start the DIM command, click two endpoints (1 and 2) and then the location of the dimension line (3). To line up the dimension lines point 3 was snapped to the endpoint of the previously created dimension line.
Use the DIM command to create dimensions that are parallel to an object by dragging the dimension line at an angle rather than horizontally or vertically.
For simple adjustments to dimensions, nothing is faster than using grips.
In this example, you select the dimension to display its grips. Next, click the grip on the dimension text and drag it to a new location, or click one of the grips at the end of the dimension line and drag the dimension line.
Dimension styles help establish and enforce drafting standards. There are many dimension variables that can be set with the DIMSTYLE command to control virtually every nuance of the appearance and behavior of dimensions. All these settings are stored in each dimension style.
The default dimension style is named either Standard (imperial) or ISO-25 (metric). It is assigned to all dimensions until you set another style as the current dimension style.
The current dimension style name, Hitchhiker in this case, is displayed in the drop-down list of the Annotation panel.
To open the Dimension Style Manager, click the indicated button. You can create dimension styles that match nearly any standard, but you will need to invest time to specify them completely. For this reason, you should save any dimension styles that you create in one or more drawing template files.
- When you save a dimension style, choose a descriptive name.
- If applicable, check with your CAD manager regarding existing dimension style standards and drawing template files.
Originally, people printed text from printers and plotted drawings from plotters. Now, you can do both with either. So this guide will also use the terms print and plot interchangeably as everyone else does.
The command to output a drawing is PLOT and you can access it from the Quick Access toolbar.
To display all of the options in the Plot dialog box, click the More Options button.
As you can see, there are a lot of settings and options available for your use.
For convenience, you can save and restore collections of these settings by name. These are called page setups. With page setups you can store the settings that you need for different printers, printing in gray scales, creating a PDF file from your drawing, and so on.
Create a Page Setup
To open the Page Setup Manager, right-click on the Model tab or a layout tab and choose Page Setup Manager. The command is PAGESETUP.
Each layout tab in your drawing can have an associated page setup. This is convenient when you use more than one output device or format, or if you have several layouts with different sheet sizes in the same drawing.
To create a new page setup, click New and enter the name of the new page setup. The Page Setup dialog box that displays next looks like the Plot dialog box. Choose all the options and settings that you want to save.
When you are ready to plot, you simply specify the name of the page setup in the Plot dialog box, and all your plot settings will be restored. In the following illustration, the Plot dialog box is set to use the Hitchhiker page setup, which will output a DWF (Design Web Format) file rather than print to a plotter.
Output to a PDF File
The following example shows you how to create a page setup for creating PDF files.
From the Printer/plotter drop-down list, choose AutoCAD PDF (General Documentation).pc3:
Next, choose the size and scale options that you want to use:
- Paper Size. The orientation (portrait or landscape) is built into the choices in the drop-down list.
- Plot Area. You can clip the area to be plotted with these options, but usually you plot everything.
- Plot Offset. This setting changes based on your printer, plotter, or other output. Try centering the plot or adjusting the origin, but remember that printers and plotters have a built-in margin around the edges.
- Plot Scale. Choose your plot scale from the drop-down list. A scale such as ¼” = 1’-0” is meant for printing to scale from the Model tab. On a layout tab, you normally print at a 1:1 scale.
The plot style table provides information about processing colors. Colors that look good on your monitor might not be suitable for a PDF file or for printing. For example, you might want to create a drawing in color, but create monochrome output. Here is how you specify monochrome output:
The resulting Preview window includes a toolbar with several controls, including Plot and Exit.
After you are satisfied with your plot settings, save them to a page setup with a descriptive name such as “PDF-monochrome.” Then, whenever you want to output to a PDF file, all that you need to do is click Print, choose the PDF-monochrome page setup, and click OK.
- If you want to share a static image of your drawing, you can output a PDF file from a drawing file.
- If you want to include additional data from your drawing, use DWF (Design Web Format) files instead.
- If you want to review an AutoCAD drawing file with a person in a different location, consider using Autodesk A360 and the AutoCAD 360 web and mobile applications, which you can access from the Autodesk website.