Welcome to this book about Practical Autodesk AutoCAD 2021 and AutoCAD LT 2021. This book covers the essential tools, commands, and features that you need to know to get up and running with Autodesk AutoCAD software.
Autodesk—the parent company that makes AutoCAD releases a new version of AutoCAD every year, and with the new release, comes an improved feature set, bug fixes, and new commands. AutoCAD is also the flagship product of Autodesk; it's been the core drafting software for years and it still has a dominant position in the CAD industry as a design and drafting tool.
With AutoCAD, you can make 2D drawings and 3D models and create photorealistic renderings for a presentation. Though popular in the industry as a drafting tool, AutoCAD is much more than that. It is feature-packed with 2D drafting, 3D modeling, drawing management tools, drawing collaboration tools, 3D rendering features, and most recently, cloud-based features have been added to the core AutoCAD package.
The most recent One AutoCAD update now allows you to access other AutoCAD verticals, such as AutoCAD Electrical, Civil, and Architecture with your subscription, and with that, you now have access to a big library of blocks and tools that were only available in the respective vertical product.
In this book, we will use AutoCAD 2021 to explain the tools and commands, but you can use this book even if you are using older or newer versions of AutoCAD. Along with the usual commands and toolsets, this book also covers the new features of AutoCAD 2021.
We will cover the following topics in this chapter:
- AutoCAD LT and AutoCAD for Mac
- Understanding the AutoCAD user interface
- Navigating in AutoCAD
- Units and limits
So, let's get started with the technical requirements and the PC specification you need for the smooth functioning of Autodesk AutoCAD software.
Autodesk AutoCAD is primarily made for the Windows operating system, but it has a Macintosh (Mac) version as well. The Mac version has a different user interface and is somewhat limited in features compared to AutoCAD for Windows.
So, if you are a Mac user, you will find the user interface a little different but still, it's the same software and functionally, the commands will work the same. The major differences between the Mac version and the Windows version of AutoCAD are the following:
- Mac has a classical AutoCAD-type user interface whereas the Windows interface is modern and ribbon-based.
- Some tools will work on the command bar instead of the palette in the Mac version.
- Many Windows AutoCAD tools are either reworked or completely missing in the Mac version.
So, in a nutshell, it is recommended to use the Windows version of AutoCAD and this book has also been written for the Windows version of AutoCAD, so Mac users may find it difficult to follow along due to the previously listed differences. However, it is still workable and, with a little bit of trial and error, you will be able to use this book with the Mac version of AutoCAD, too.
Another type of AutoCAD that is currently available is AutoCAD LT and it is a sort of lighter version of AutoCAD. The LT version, though cheaper, does not support most of the 3D tools and LISP.net customizations. Despite these missing features, AutoCAD LT still supports AutoCAD files and you can seamlessly transfer files between AutoCAD and AutoCAD LT.
This book is fully compatible with AutoCAD LT for Windows and you can use this book if you are an AutoCAD LT user. You will, however, find the AutoCAD-only tools missing.
Now that we have looked at the differences between AutoCAD for Windows and Mac and AutoCAD LT, let's explore the user interface of the program.
AutoCAD 2021, just like its predecessors, has a ribbon view with panels and tabs. You can launch the AutoCAD software using its icon on the desktop or from the AutoCAD 2021 – English folder in the start menu. When the software starts up, you will see an interface like this:
Here, we have three columns: Get Started, Recent Documents, and Notifications. Get Started has all the options you will need to start a new drawing or open an existing one. The Recent Documents column shows a list of all the recently opened drawings and you can use this tab to directly open any drawing. The Notifications column has information related to your account, such as an update notification and A360 account notifications. A360 is the cloud-based storage provided by Autodesk with an AutoCAD subscription and apart from cloud storage, you also get many other features, such as collaboration, markups, and rendering, on the A360 cloud account.
To start a blank drawing template, click on the Start Drawing box in the Start tab. Clicking on this box launches the default template listed under the Templates list. By default, a acad.dwt or acadiso.dwt template will be used to open the drawing. These templates contain settings such as units, limits, and precision and at this point, selecting any of these templates won't make a difference as we will learn about making templates and using them in drawings later in this book:
So, when the blank drawing loads up, your interface will look similar to the start screen, but this time with an active ribbon and blank drawing area. Let's talk about all the components in this workspace:
The user interface parts are labeled in figure 1.3, and here is a short description of each of the parts mentioned in this screenshot.
Clicking on this big A icon will open a menu with options to open an existing drawing; open a new template; save, print, or export drawings; and other common options.
This toolbar contains most of the frequently used tools from the application button. To add or remove an option from the quick access toolbar, simply click on the arrow pointing downward at the end of the toolbar and check or uncheck the option you want to keep or hide:
The quick access toolbar contains tools such as open, save, plot, layer, workspace, sheet set manager, properties, and the menu bar. Some of these tools are also available in the application menu of AutoCAD.
In the input field of the info bar, which reads Type a keyword or phrase, you can type the name of any command or tool to get more information about it. Simply type the name of the command and hit the Enter key to get the help file related to the command. You need to be connected to the internet in order to use this feature. This bar also contains other features, such as your sign-in account, access to the Autodesk app store, and more help options.
The ribbon area contains all the tools and commands properly arranged into different tabs and panels. Home, Insert, Annotate, Parametric, and so on are the tabs in which different panels are placed in a meaningful order. For example, the Home tab contains the Draw and Modify panels, which in turn contain most of the frequently used commands:
Similarly, other less frequently used panels and subsequently, the commands, are in other tabs, such as the Parametric or Express Tools tabs, which are other tabs found in the ribbon area.
The panels and tabs are not permanent and you can hide or reveal them by simply right-clicking on any panel. To hide or show any tab, just right-click on any panel and go to the Show Tabs option. Then, check the tab that you want to show; or similarly, to hide any tab, repeat the same process and uncheck the tab from the right-hand side context menu:
To hide or show any panel of a tab, just go to the tab and right-click on any of its panels, then right-click and go to the Show Panels option and check or uncheck the panels that you want to show or hide.
The file tabs show the drawing files that are open in the current session of AutoCAD. You can open as many file tabs as you want and to open any new blank drawing, you can click on the + icon right next to the last file tab:
The padlock icon in a file tab indicates that the file is read-only and you can only view that kind of file and not modify it. Hovering the cursor over any open tab also shows the thumbnail preview of the drawing. To open the drawing of the selected tab, simply click on the thumbnail that shows up on the cursor.
The ViewCube is an AutoCAD-only tool and is not available in AutoCAD LT, whereas the navigation bar is available in both AutoCAD and LT, but in LT, it is somewhat limited in features. If you don’t see the ViewCube, simply go to the top left of the display area and click on the – sign and select ViewCube and Navigation Bar:
This — sign won’t show up on AutoCAD LT, but you can use the NAVBAR command to turn it on or off.
This is the cursor that shows up on the AutoCAD screen it is basically two perpendicular lines with a small cube at the center of the intersection of the lines. This is the default state of the cursor and depending on the selection, your cursor might look different and sometimes additional icons will also show next to the cursor. These are the three most basic cursor modes; we will discuss the other cursor modes in this book as and when needed:
The Default cursor type appears when none of the commands are active, so essentially, the first cursor type is visible in the default state of AutoCAD. When you activate a command where you need to select a precise point, the second cursor—Point Selection—appears, which is just two mutually perpendicular lines intersecting at the midpoints. The Object Selection cursor will be visible when a command where object selection is required is active.
No matter which of the cursors shown in the preceding figure is active, if you want to return to the default state of the cursor, then simply press the Esc key on your keyboard. You can press the Esc key multiple times and it won't affect the default state of your cursor.
Just at the bottom of the drawing area, you will see the command line or command palette. In this book, I will refer to it as the command line. All your typed commands will show up in this command line; you don't need to click on the command line to start typing any AutoCAD command, just start typing without selecting anything and the input will be added to the command line directly.
In its default state, the command line will show the Type a command message and when you select any command, it will show the name of the command and, next, a set of instructions in the command line, as in the following screenshot:
If for some reason you don't see the command line, then press the Ctrl + 9 keys to turn it on; you can press the Ctrl + 9 keys again to hide the command line. This command line is like a floating palette and you can even resize it or move it around in the drawing area. You can see a list of previously entered commands in the command line by pressing the F2 function key.
The user coordinate system (UCS) shows the X, Y, and Z directions of the Cartesian coordinate system in the drawing area. Usually, the UCS will be visible at the bottom-left corner of the drawing area:
In the default state of the 2D workspace, the UCS will only show the X and Y axis; the Z axis, which points outward from the AutoCAD screen, will not be visible. The point of intersection of the X and Y coordinates in this UCS is the origin, or 0,0, point. We will discuss more about using the Cartesian coordinate system later in this chapter.
The layout tabs are like the sheets of your drawing on which you can arrange different views of the drawing and finally plot multiple sheets. For example, if you have a house plan in a model space where the floor plan, elevations, section, and detail drawings are all made in the model space, then you can use the layout tabs to place them separately on different sheets, such as a layout for plan view, another for all elevations, and another for all detail drawings. By default, the Model tab will be active and for the most part of this book, we will work inside the Model tab. We will learn about layouts in Chapter 15, Paper Space Layouts and Printing, of this book.
The options in the status bar help in making precise drawings. The tools in the status bar, such as Object Snap, help you to select precise points, such as the midpoint and endpoints of any geometry, and tools such as polar and ortho mode help you to make lines that are inclined at any angle or horizontal and vertical lines. The toggles on the status bar can be turned on by clicking on them once, and similarly, clicking on them again turns them off. Most of the status bar tools have their function key shortcuts as well and you can see the function key shortcut of any status bar option by hovering your cursor over it:
Not all of the status bar options are visible in the status bar and to make the options visible or hide them, use the customization option, which looks like three lines at the end of the status bar. Just click on the three lines, shown in the red circle highlighted in figure 1.12, and check the options you want to show on the status bar and uncheck the ones you want to hide. We will learn more about the status bar options later in this book.
So, now that you are familiar with the user interface and the way the ribbon area works, let's move on to the navigation tools. In the next section, we will talk about the navigation tools and how these tools can be accessed using the mouse or from the AutoCAD interface.
To navigate in AutoCAD, a three-button mouse with left-click, right-click, and the middle scroll wheel is recommended. The laptop touchpad can be used but with a few limitations.
If you have access to lesson files, then open drawing 1.1 in AutoCAD. If you don't have lesson files, you can open any drawing file to follow along. This is a sample drawing by Autodesk AutoCAD that is available as a read-only file when you launch the software for the first time.
To select any object in the drawing, hover your cursor over it and left-click. The object will be selected and blue rectangular dots, called multi-function grip, will show up. The selected object will also get highlighted:
To remove the object from your selection, simply press the Esc key on your keyboard. If the selection is active even after pressing the Esc key once, you can press the Esc key multiple times as well.
To select multiple objects, you can click on them one by one; you don't need to press and hold the Shift key to make multiple selections. If you want to remove all the objects from your selection, you can press the Esc key, but if you only want to remove selected objects from your selection, then press and hold the Shift key and then click on the objects you want to remove from the selection. Using this method, you will be able to keep the complete selection and only selected objects will be removed from the selected group.
To pan the complete drawing in the drawing area, press and hold your middle mouse wheel so that the cursor changes into a hand icon, and then move your mouse. The complete drawing will pan in the drawing area and it will follow the movement of the mouse:
You can also select the pan tool from the navigation bar and then use left-click to pan the drawing.
Just like selecting and panning, zooming is also pretty easy and there are many ways we can zoom our drawing area. We will discuss this in the next section.
To zoom in and out, you can rotate the mouse wheel. Take your mouse pointer to the part of the drawing that you want to zoom in or out of and then rotate the wheel. Rotating it in one direction will zoom in and in the other direction will zoom out. The point where you place your cursor will become the center of zoom.
If your drawing is very large or very small and even off-screen, then simply zooming in or out may take time and a lot of zooming and panning will be required to fit the drawing to the visible space. To overcome this issue, you can use the zoom extents option, which fits all the objects in the drawing to the visible space. To use zoom extents, double-click the mouse wheel and everything in your drawing will fit into the available space.
The zoom tool does not affect the actual size of the drawing; it only affects the scale. A line of a 1 mm length will remain equal to 1 mm, no matter how big or small you make it using the zoom tool.
You can also use the navigation bar to use the zoom tools. To use the zoom tools from the navigation bar, click on the arrow underneath the zoom icon in the navigation bar and you will see a list of zoom options, as shown here:
Here is an explanation of some of the options available in the zoom menu:
- Zoom Extents: This option fits all the available objects in the visible drawing area. It can be used by double-clicking the scroll wheel.
- Zoom Window: This option lets you zoom a part of a drawing by making a window. To use this feature, click at a point in the drawing area then let go of your cursor. Then, click again at another point to complete the window. The drawing will be zoomed to fit the selected window.
- Zoom Previous: This option will take you to the previous zoomed state of your drawing. It's like an undo option for the zoom command.
- Zoom Realtime: This option lets you zoom your entire drawing by moving your cursor. When you select the option, your cursor will look like a magnifying glass. Now, click anywhere in the drawing area and hold your cursor, then move up to zoom in and move down to zoom out.
- Zoom All: This option fits the drawing as per the limits set in the drawing. We will discuss more about limits later in this book.
- Zoom Object: This option allows you to select the object(s) from the drawing and then only your selected object(s) is zoomed to fit the screen.
So, these are the zoom options available in AutoCAD. Although we have discussed lots of zoom tools here, you will primarily require the mouse wheel zoom in and out and the Zoom Extents tool, which is available by double-clicking the mouse wheel. Other zoom tools are not very frequently required but whenever you need them, you now know where to find them. In the next section, we will start learning about making selections using different selection sets available in AutoCAD.
There are many ways of making selections in an AutoCAD drawing and in this section, we will discuss most of these selection features. A drawing may contain lots of objects and making a precise selection will be key to quickly adding properties to the correct set of objects and making modifications to them. So, the selection tools are essential to quickly and efficiently designing and drafting a workflow in AutoCAD.
To make a simple selection, click on any object in a drawing and it will be highlighted, indicating that it is selected. To include multiple objects in this selection set, simply click on more objects and they will be added to your selection set.
If you want to disable the multiple selection feature, you can use the PICKADD system variable. Type PICKADD then press Enter and then type 0 and press Enter again.
Now, AutoCAD will allow you to make only one selection at a time. If you select another object, the previously selected one will be removed from the selection. To add multiple objects to the selection in this condition, you need to press and hold the Shift key and then click on the objects to add them to the selection set.
If you have added multiple objects to your selection and you want to remove some of them, press and hold the Shift key and click on the selected object again and it will be removed from the selection set.
For this book, we will keep the PICKADD system variable value to 2, so type PICKADD and press Enter. Type 2 and press Enter again to change the settings to the default.
Click anywhere in the drawing area then let go of your cursor and move your mouse to the right. You will see a window with a solid boundary that is, by default, blue in color. This window is the selection window and all the objects that are completely inside this window will be added to the selection set. To finish making the selection, simply click again and the objects will be selected:
In figure 1.16, all objects that are completely inside the selection window are highlighted and will be selected, whereas objects that are partially inside and partially outside will not be included in the selection set.
Click anywhere in the drawing area then let go of your cursor and move it to the left. A window with a dotted boundary will be made, which is called the crossing window.
All the objects that are inside this window, as well as objects that even touch the boundary of the window, will be included in the selection set. In figure 1.17, the same drawing and the same window have made a different selection. As you can see, the chair, desk, and so on of the 6052 and 6051 cabins are also selected, along with all the objects that are completely inside the crossing window, even though they are partially outside the window:
To make the selection, click again and the objects will be included in the section set.
This one is a relatively new selection set. To make a lasso selection, click anywhere in the drawing area then hold down your cursor and move to the right. You will get a freehand selection area with a solid boundary and all the objects completely inside this selection area will be selected:
This selection set is like the selection window but in this case, instead of a rectangular window, you have the option of making a freehand selection, giving you more control.
To make this selection, click anywhere in the drawing area and hold down your cursor, then move your mouse to the left. You will get a freehand selection area with a dotted boundary. This section set is called the crossing lasso selection and, in this selection, all objects that are completely inside the selected area, as well as objects on the boundary, will be selected:
So, this was all about making selections in AutoCAD. In the next section, we will learn about setting the units and limits, which is essential to any drawing.
When you start a new drawing, its template has settings for units and limits that are used by default. You can use the settings used in the template or make your own settings for units and limits. In this example, we will open a blank drawing then set the units and limits in it and then we will save the drawing as a template file. To start a new drawing in AutoCAD, you can click on the start panel of the Start tab or select one of the readymade templates under the start panel.
The list of ready made templates will show up underneath the Start Drawing panel when you click the arrow pointing downward in the panel:
Figure 1.20 shows the Start tab with the start panel and the list of readymade templates. Templates are just a collection of settings and predefined objects that you can save to reuse with a new drawing. Here, we will start by setting some settings, such as units and limits, and then we will convert the settings into a template file.
When you start a drawing with any template shown in figure 1.20, you will have some predefined unit settings, which we will modify now.
For this example, select the acad.dwt template from the start panel and a blank drawing will open up.
Type UN and press Enter to open the unit window. Alternatively, you can also click on the application button and select the Drawing Utilities option and then Units from the next menu:
The Drawing Units window is divided into several panels, such as Length, Angle, Insertion scale, Sample Output, and Lighting. Let's talk about these options in the Drawing Units window:
In the Length panel, the drop-down window has many different length types, such as Architectural, Decimal, Engineering, Fractional, and Scientific. You can select Decimal from these options if you want a simple decimal type output, such as 12.2345 or 245.01289.
The Architectural length type will show output in the form of feet and inches, such as 12’ 6”, where 12 is in feet (shown with the single apostrophe sign) and 6 is in inches (shown with the double apostrophe sign). The Architectural format can be used when you want to enter the length in terms of feet and inches, and it's mostly useful for civil and architectural drawings.
Other formats will have their respective representation types and you can select any from the list, as per your drawing and project requirements.
The next option of Precision controls the number of decimal places that will show in the drawing. This precision is not the precision with which AutoCAD calculates the dimensions. Instead, it’s the precision that is displayed on the drawing. AutoCAD will always measure your drawing with maximum possible precision, no matter what precision you select in the Drawing Units window.
Just like the length type, the settings for the angle can be managed from the Angle panel. Here, you can select between Decimal Degrees, Degree/Minute/Second, Grads, Radians, and Surveyor’s Unit. The precision is again the number of decimal places for the angle that will be displayed on the drawing.
In AutoCAD, the angle is measured in an anticlockwise direction and hence, anticlockwise is the positive angle. If, however, you want to make a clockwise direction the positive angle, click on the checkbox that says Clockwise in the Angle panel:
From the Insertion scale panel, you can change the unit type of the current drawing. All the drawings inserted from external files will be scaled to this selected unit no matter what the unit of the original drawing is.
There are lots of units in this list and you can even select the Unitless option from the list if you don't want to use any unit in the drawing.
Finally, the Lighting panel has two options: American and International. You can select one of the options from this list. The Lighting option will be used in the rendering section of chapter 16 and it has no application in the 2D drawing environment.
So, after setting the settings, click OK and the settings will be applied to the current drawing.
In this case, I am selecting the Decimal Length type with a 0.00 length precision and the Decimal Degrees angle type with a 0.00 precision. I will leave the Clockwise checkbox unchecked. In the Insertion scale panel, I will select Millimeters and International in the Lighting section. These settings are also shown in figure 1.22.
So, now we are done setting the unit settings, let's move on to setting the limits of our drawing area. We will discuss this in the next section.
In AutoCAD, we make our drawing on a scale of 1:1, which means we are drawing to the actual scale of the project. For example, a square plate of 10 mm by 10 mm will be exactly the size in AutoCAD as well. But the drawing area can make the 10mm by 10mm square very big or small, depending on the zoomed state of the screen. If your drawing is zoomed in, the square may appear bigger and if it's zoomed out, the drawing may appear tiny.
So, depending on the size of the drawing that you want to make in your AutoCAD file, you can set the limits and then these settings can be used wherever needed. In the following example, we will add a drawing limit of 60, 40 units in our drawing:
- To set the limits, type the LIMITS command and press Enter.
- The command line will now prompt you to specify the lower-left corner of the screen from where you want the limit to start. By default, 0,0, or the origin, is selected. You can specify any other point as well if you want, then press Enter.
- Now, the command line will prompt you to specify the upper-right corner of the screen for the limit. Type the coordinates of the point in the form of x, y and press Enter:
- Select 0,0 as the lower-left corner and 60,40 as the upper-right corner. After setting the limits, type Z and press Enter, then type A and press Enter again in the command line.
- The screen will reset to adjust according to the newly specified limits.
In our example, the height of the screen will be 40 and the length of the screen will be 60, or any other that will be proportional as per the screen size. For example, in a square screen, the length will now be 40 as well, but for a rectangular screen, the length will depend on the aspect ratio of the monitor.
Setting the limit will just let you adjust a reference for working on the drawing. This property will not affect your drawings in any way, and you can freely zoom in and out to the change the drawing area and make your drawing even go outside this limit.
So by now, we have set the unit settings and made changes to the drawing limits. It is not always practical to make these changes whenever we want to start with the same set of settings in a blank drawing. You can save these settings as a template file and then these templates can be loaded to start a new drawing with the same set of settings.
In the previous examples, we set the unit and template related settings, and now we will learn how to save these settings as a template file in the following example:
- Click on the application button in the top left of the AutoCAD window and select Save as the option from the menu. Then, go to the Drawing Template option.
- The default folder location for the templates will open up. You can save your template here or choose another location from this window. Select the location, give your template file a name, and hit the Save button:
- Your file will be saved with a DWT file extension, which is the extension for AutoCAD template files.
- To load the template settings, simply double-click the next time you want to open a new drawing with the same settings as defined in the template.
- After opening a template once, if you open a new drawing from the Start tab or by clicking the + icon in the file tabs, AutoCAD will load the last-used template, which in this case is the template saved by you.
- To change the template to some other ready-made template, you need to once again open another template from the Template drop-down menu in the Start tab or click on the + icon in the quick access toolbar and select a template from the list of templates to open a new drawing.
When you simply save the drawing file by clicking the Save icon in the quick access toolbar or by clicking the Save icon in the application menu, the file will be saved in a DWG format. DWG format is the native drawing format with which AutoCAD drawing files are saved.
So, this is how you can save settings and other customizations as a template file in AutoCAD. The template can not only save the settings related to unit and limits, but it can also save other settings, such as status bar toggles and system variables, which we will learn about later in this book.
Now, let's talk about saving the drawing in its native DWG format.
To save a drawing, simply click the Save button in the quick access bar or use the SAVE command. The Save Drawing As window will open up. Specify a location, give your file a name, and save it.
If you save your file on a cloud account, such as OneDrive or Dropbox, AutoCAD will save the drawing history as well. This drawing history is a new feature that you will find in the AutoCAD 2021 version only.
When you open a drawing saved in OneDrive, Dropbox, or Box, the Version History palette will open up, which will show a list of all drawing revisions, as in the following screenshot:
To open any older revision of the drawing, hover your cursor over the drawing and you will see a drawing Compare icon, as in figure 1.26.
Click the drawing Compare icon and older revisions of the drawing will open up in a window, showing new and older drawings compared using a feature called drawing compare, which will be discussed later in this book.
Once you are done checking the compared drawing, click the green checkmark in the Version Compare bar, as shown here:
If your drawing was saved by many other members, then the drawing history will show the name of the person who saved the drawing and you can use the name filter to select the drawings saved by any project member. You can also filter the drawing versions with respect to their dates. To open any drawing version, double-click on it from the drawing history palette and that version will open up in the drawing area.
So, this was all about the basic setup of AutoCAD and opening and saving drawing files. Before we move on, let's summarize what we have learned in this chapter.
Congratulations on finishing your first chapter! In this chapter, we have learned about the user interface of AutoCAD and how it works for different versions and operating systems. We also learned how to navigate in AutoCAD using our mouse and on-screen navigation tools. We then learned about the command line and selection sets. Finally, we learned how to add units and limits to our drawing and also how to save these settings as a template file that can be used repeatedly for new drawings. This chapter was essential to building your foundation for the software and for further learning.
In the next chapter, we will start to learn about the basic drawing and modification tools and using these basic tools you can start making your first set of AutoCAD drawings.