Make the AutoCAD GUI work for you

Dennis Howell

Architecture and Engineering, All, AutoCAD, Construction, Graphical User Interface, GUI 0 Comment

“Use the Force, Luke”

The following is a few tips and tricks I introduce to AutoCAD users during training sessions.  There is mistaken belief out there that if you use AutoCAD then you know how to use AutoCAD.  Sounds like an obvious sequitur but often users of AutoCAD are too busy working to actually learn how to use AutoCAD effectively.

The best place to start is with the Graphical User Interface or GUI pronounce ‘gooey’.  Sometimes just exploring the GUI you will discover commands and features that you didn’t know AutoCAD even had.  So, let’s setup and streamline the AutoCAD GUI for productivity.

Where to begin?  For most, the biggest change to the GUI was the introduction of the Ribbon back in AutoCAD 2009.  Immediately, users cried, “Give us back the Classic”.  My response, “Get over it, the Ribbon is here to stay.”  Launch your AutoCAD and follow along.

Review the image below and note that I am using AutoCAD 2017 and I have the Workspace: Drafting and Annotation active.  Since we aren’t actually going to be drawing, I have the drawing area ‘shrunk’ to focus on the GUI.

Check the out-of-box Workspaces.  For <<VANILLA>> AutoCAD, you should see:  Drafting and Annotation, 3D Basics and 3D Modeling.

Go ahead and select ‘Save Current As…’ and give your Workspace a unique name.  I recommend keeping the out-of-box Workspaces as-is so you can jump back to them if needed.  I named mine ‘GUI for Production’.  Also, select ‘Workspace Settings…’ and select the radial button ‘Do not save changes to workspace’.  That will keep us in control of what is added to the Workspace GUI.  Now, we have a Workspace we can setup.

Ribbon Tabs

Look at all those Ribbon Tabs!  Explore the tabs and if you see one that you will not use, remove it from your Workspace.  Don’t worry, if you decide later you want them back, you can just as easily restore them to your Workspace.  Right-click anywhere on the Ribbon and you will get the menu to Show Tabs and Show Panels, or if you right-click just to right of the last panel in the ‘gray area’ you will get the full menu shown below.  From there you can uncheck tabs and panels as well.  So, go ahead, uncheck those tabs you will not be using.  As far as panels go, I usually leave them alone.

Do you like the look now?  If so, resave the Workspace to preserve the look.

Two more things with the Ribbon, then we will move on.  First, note the little white ‘toggle’ button just to the right of the last Ribbon tab.  Pick it a few times and you will see how it changes the display of the Ribbon.  If you prefer a condensed display, be sure to save it to your Workspace.

Final feature I want to mention about the Ribbon is access the commands via keyboard shortcuts.  This is not necessarily a replacement for the Acad.PGP alias file, where we have the historical aliases such as “L” for the LINE command.  But it is a fast way to change tabs.

To see the Ribbon keyboard shortcuts, tap the ALT key (don’t hold it down).  Type the entry for the Tab you want.  Type the entry for the command you want.  Below, I show the steps to select the Ribbon Tab Home Circle Command.

Next, let’s clean up and streamline the Status Bar.  By selecting the last button on the bottom right of the AutoCAD GUI, the one looks like a stack of three lines, will bring up the toggle menu to turn off and on the Status Bar buttons.  Again, it may make sense to turn them all on and explore what feature each button brings.  Also, by starting with all the buttons showing, you can tell which are active and which are not.  Those that are ‘blue’ are active, those that are ‘grey’ are off.  I show my personal preference below.

Notice above, I do not have the Model Space status button showing.  The reason, I can tell I am in Model Space because my background is black.  Conversely, my Layout background is white.  I don’t have the Ortho Mode showing because I am ‘programmed’ to use the F8 button to toggle Ortho.  I don’t have Quick Properties showing, so I make sure it is inactive, then toggle off the display.  I love Selection Cycling and Dynamic Input, so I keep those available all the time.

Did you make any changes?  If so, save your Workspace again.

Let’s now consider the View Cube.  My main ‘grrr’ about the View Cube, is I still like to close the current drawing often by selecting the ‘x’ in the upper-right corner.  I know, I could select the ‘x’ as well on the drawing tab…but old habits are hard to break.

To change things up a bit, right-click the View Cube itself and select ‘View Cube Settings…’ and change the setting to ‘Bottom Right’.  Note, I am showing to keep the ‘Show UCS menu…’  The reason is, if you have ever gotten a drawing where someone has setup their own UCS, this will be evident if you don’t see the white box with WCS.  As a 90% rule (maybe even a 99% rule) you will always want to draw on the WCS.

Of course there is a final option for the View Cube, you could just turn it off.  Often in training classes I will turn it off.  But it is a bit of a comfort to me, letting me know at a glance that I am on the Top view, set to WCS, and North is pointing the direction it should be.

The last GUI setup I want to cover is the Quick Access Toolbar.  The QAT is located to the right of the “Big A” (ok, I know, It is actually named the Application Menu.  But when I say “Big A” everyone seems to know what I am talking about, but if I say Application Menu, then usually I get blank stares).

Select the down arrow on the right-side of the QAT to get the menu where you can toggle on (or off) command of your choice.

In my example below, I show the Workspace Setting on both the QAT as well as the Status Bar.  Why have it in both places?  So show it where you would like it to be.  I admit, I can’t make up my mind where I like it the best.

In review, setup and streamline your AutoCAD GUI and keep it that way by saving your Workspace.  Are there other areas to explore?  Yes indeed, AutoCAD is packed with GUI customization.  You could continue the GUI quest by researching Design Center and Tool Palettes as well as Context Menus.  If you are of a mind for programming, there is the AutoLISP/Visual LISP and DCL language, VBA is still supported and the .NET flavors are supported.

Now get back to work!