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For more than a dozen years now, AutoCAD has had a three-year development cycle. Every three years, Autodesk makes changes to its DWG drawing file format, which then supports the next round of additions to its venerable flagship product. The file format changed last with the release of AutoCAD If the cycle continues, AutoCAD marks the last version to use the file format. In the past, that might have meant a release relatively light on new features, much as AutoCAD offered few surprises beyond the now-familiar ribbon interface.
But while really big enhancements may have to wait until next year, AutoCAD provides a wealth of welcome changes. Borrowing from the Mac Last fall, Autodesk quelled rumors when it released the first native Macintosh version of AutoCAD in nearly 20 years see deskeng.
These same tools have now been added to AutoCAD , enabling users to change viewport settings, views and visual styles by using tools that always appear in the upper-left corner of each viewport. The UCS icon can now be selected and manipulated by using grips to quickly align the UCS with existing objects, including curved surfaces and solids. There are actually all sorts of subtle 3D changes.
For example, a new Offset Edge tool lets you create an offset curve from a planar 3D face or surface. You can then use the Presspull tool to quickly add or remove the bounded area from a solid, and Presspull now repeats until you exit the command. In addition, when creating or modifying surfaces or solids, the software displays a preview of the resulting model, and how it will change before you commit to the change.
So now, when you select a profile to create a lofted solid or surface, for example, an updated preview of the resulting object is displayed with each selection. You can now create associative rectangular, polar or path arrays in 2D or 3D, change the number of objects or array relationships, and even replace arrayed objects. The new preview also works when filleting, chamfering, blending or patching surfaces and solids, and there are new chain and loop selection options when modifying 3D models.
The preview works when creating 2D fillets and chamfers, as well. Another interface change is the new auto-complete function. In spite of improvements to its ribbon interface, many longtime AutoCAD users simply type to start commands.
But as the software has evolved over more than 25 years, the number of commands and system variables has grown, making it difficult to remember them all. You can then quickly select the command or system variable from the list. Creating Associative Arrays One particular addition to AutoCAD stands out as one of the biggest productivity improvement in years: AutoCAD can now create associative arrays. Rather than simply making duplicate copies of selected objects, arranged in a rectangular or circular pattern, the old Array tool in AutoCAD has been replaced by three new commands for creating rectangular arrays, polar arrays or evenly distributing objects along a path formed by objects such as lines, arcs, polylines or helixes.
Once the objects are positioned, you can modify them by changing the array relationships, such as increasing the number of rows or columns, changing the distance or angle between the copies, or modifying the individual items in the array. You can even change the source object and apply the changes to the rest of the items in the array. All three types of arrays can include multiple levels, and path arrays can follow 3D paths. Nor are associative arrays the only big 2D improvement.
Multi-functional grips have been extended to more AutoCAD objects, such as lines, arcs and dimensions, as well as 3D faces, edges and vertices. AutoCAD also includes improved tangent and perpendicular object snap functionality. In fact, there are a number of enhancements to splines. The new drawing views capability lets you quickly create orthographic and projected views of 3D models, and control their view style and scale.
Manipulating 3D Models AutoCAD represents some significant changes in the way users interact with three-dimensional models. In past releases, AutoCAD remembered the operations performed on solid objects. That means that users can no longer press the CTRL key to select and modify the properties of sub-objects that had been combined to form more complex solids.
To accomplish that, AutoCAD automatically installs Autodesk Inventor Fusion, a plug-in that lets you edit 3D models using intuitive direct manipulation. When working on a 3D model, a single click opens the current drawing in Fusion. Once in Fusion, you can edit faces, edges and vertices, modify sub-objects, and add new features.
Depending on the size and complexity of the model, this can take quite some time. An Import icon displays on the status bar tray, and a notification bubble appears once the import is complete so that you can place the 3D model into your AutoCAD drawing.
The imported data is translated into native AutoCAD geometry, and inserted into the drawing as a block. Parts and assemblies in the original model are preserved and replicated as nested blocks. After importing, the model can be modified using standard AutoCAD tools. But those 2D drawings are frequently derived directly from 3D models by creating views of the model in separate paper space viewports.
Dimensions and annotations would be created in model space on specific layers that were only visible in the appropriate viewport. If the model changed, everything would update, but users had to manage the individual viewports and layers, and set appropriate sizes for annotation objects.
AutoCAD introduces a totally new set of tools for documenting 3D models. If a drawing file contains a 3D model, users can switch to paper space and quickly create a base 2D drawing view of the 3D model. Clicking a link immediately updates the drawing views to reflect those changes. Although drawing views can only be created in a paper space layout, they are not viewports but rather, a new Drawing View object. But dimensioning model space objects in paper space can have unintended consequences.
You would then need to manually re-associate each dimension. In complex models, this could become quite tedious. Users can open 3D models in Inventor Fusion, edit models by directly manipulating faces, edges, vertices and features, and return the modified model back to AutoCAD with a single click. Autodesk Exchange is also where the program now displays Help whenever you press the F1 key.
Autodesk Exchange is only available if you have a live Internet connection, although local help content can be displayed in a web browser when a web connection is unavailable. In that case, you can still access Autodesk Exchange by clicking an Exchange button.
In the future, Exchange may also host an online resource for add-ons, similar to the iTunes App Store, but this feature was not yet active at press time. Autodesk Content Explorer is another new component that receives mixed reviews. The first time you use Content Explorer, the software generates a Google-like index of DWG files so that you can locate and reuse blocks, layers, linetypes, styles, etc. Once the index has been created, you can easily find and filter content, then drag and drop results into the current drawing or open drawings by simply double-clicking.
Users can add specific watch folders and also search for content on Autodesk Seek. AutoCAD also starts up faster and responds more quickly when switching between ribbon tabs. You can now select an object and nudge it a few pixels in orthogonal directions by pressing the CTRL key and the appropriate arrow key. In the past, the Quick Properties palette, if enabled, would appear when you selected an object, so many users turned this off.
Now, you can turn Quick Properties off and still display this useful palette whenever you double-click on most objects. Groups are now streamlined and have their own simplified panel on the ribbon. When selecting objects, many users forget that there are selection modes other than window and crossing window.
Now, when you pick an empty spot in a drawing, AutoCAD reminds you that you can also use a window polygon, a crossing polygon or a fence. AutoCAD includes a layer enhancement that lets you freeze specified layers in all viewports except the current viewport, improvements to multi-leaders, and the inclusion of a Delete Duplicate command as a core function rather than relying on an Express Tool. Other enhancements include: By combining these with improved performance, AutoCAD is another must-have release.
AutoCAD LT also benefits from the same new auto-complete functionality and the new associative rectangular, polar and path arrays. AutoCAD LT also gains the new Blend command, the ability to nudge objects, the improved multi-functional grip capabilities, and the double-click Properties palette functions added to AutoCAD AutoCAD users have long been able to create sheet sets to help organize sets of drawings, create layout views, and reduce the steps needed to publish documents.
While AutoCAD still includes the MLine command, which creates largely disfavored multi-line objects that require their own editing tools, AutoCAD LT has a DLine command, which simply creates parallel line objects that can then be edited using standard commands. The new release of LT also includes the same auto-complete functionality, an Autodesk Exchange portal, and the Content Explorer plug-in.
David Cohn is the technical publishing manager at 4D Technologies. Hes a contributing editor to Desktop Engineering and also does consulting and technical writing from his home in Bellingham, WA. The author of more than a dozen books has been benchmarking PCs since For more information:
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