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AutoCAD Deep Dive Series: Blocks

The AutoCAD Deep Dive series is back! With its popularity and how much fun I had with our series on AutoCAD Layers, I’m back with another multi-part series on key AutoCAD functionality, this time BLOCKS.

Blocks Mixed set

Image Credit: A. Drauglis – Flickr

Since its October and Halloween is close, I quote everyone’s favorite Halloween doll, Chucky…

“Let me put it this way. If this were a movie, it would take three or four sequels to do it justice.”

and that’s exactly what it is going to take with Blocks, a series of posts, as there is so much built in and I don’t want to overwhelm anyone in any particular post.

What are blocks?

A block is a way of collecting and grouping objects into a single entity. As a single entity it becomes easier to select, to manipulate (move, copy, rotate, etc), and easier to share across multiple drawings. Using blocks leads to consistency and standardization as you and your company use the same symbol in all drawings.

When you create a block, the block definition is added to the drawing database. Each time you insert the block an instance of the block definition is added to the drawing. As each instance is referencing the definition it means a lighter-footprint in the drawing, making AutoCAD work less. If you change the definition, all instances update automatically

Series Table of Contents

  1. Creating Blocks
  2. WBLOCK & Reusing Blocks
  3. Reusing Blocks Part 2 (Toolpalettes, Design Center)
  4. Blocks & Attributes
  5. Modifying Blocks
  6. Annotative Blocks
  7. Extracting Block / Attribute Information
  8. Dynamic Blocks Part 1: Parameters & Actions
  9. Dynamic Blocks Part 2: Parameters & Constraints
  10. Dynamic Blocks Part 3: Visibility & Lists
  11. Converting Xrefs to Blocks
  12. Obtaining Blocks

It’ll be important to check back often so you don’t miss a post, also your comments are greatly appreciated as you can use them to ask questions or to point out areas I should expand on or that I missed.

Will AutoCAD install on Windows 10?

Installing Autodesk’s AutoCAD CAD product on Windows 8 or 8.1 really wasn’t all that fun in some cases. We wanted to make sure ahead of time if there were any issues or not. As a follow on from my initial review of Windows 10 Tech Preview, I’m going to perform a trial install within my test environment. I decided to record the affair rather than write it all out.

The good news is, it looks like installing on Windows 10 is smoother than it was installing on Windows 8 or 8.1. There may have even been some improvements. Now I haven’t put AutoCAD to work in any arduous kind of ways, but from what I can tell from a quick poke about, all seems well. I cut all the really boring waiting time out, but all up, installing from my USB 3.0 external hard drive, vanilla AutoCAD took around 15 minutes to install.

AutoCAD Deep Dive Series: Layers with Blocks & Xrefs

Here we are at the end of our Deep Dive” look at AutoCAD Layers. Have I left the best for last? No, I think each post holds its own when it comes to managing layers and using them to their fullest potential within AutoCAD. In this final post lets look at using Layers within Blocks and Xrefs as each has it own special place in the Layer world

colorful blocks with floral vector swirls and shafts of light

Image courteous of Flickr, Posted by Second Life Resident Torley Linden


Blocks within AutoCAD serve many purposes but mostly to provide a convenient method to reuse content while maintaining consistency from drawing to drawing.

Layer 0

The property option BYLAYER means that the object will honor the properties of the layer it resides on. Therefor if the color property of the object is set to BYLAYER it will appear as the same color as the layer the object resides on. Blocks are no different.When you insert a block it is placed onto a layer and the block will take on the properties of the layer it is placed on…. except it doesn’t in all cases. Sometimes the block maintains its own colors and linetypes regardless of the layer it is placed on.

Why is Layer 0 in every drawing? Why can Layer 0 not be deleted or purged? It all has to do with blocks. If the geometry contained within the block resides on layer 0 this geometry will take on the properties of the layer the block is placed on. Therefore if the block is on a red layer with a hidden line type all objects within the block on layer 0 will appear red with a hidden line type.

If the geometry contained within the block resides on any layer other than layer 0 it will maintain those layer properties opposed to assuming the properties of the layer the block resides

AutoCAD Block Layer Definition

Take for example a block depicting the side view of a hex head bolt. We want the bolt to take on the properties of the layer it is placed on EXCEPT for the centerline. The centerline we’ll place on the centerline layer so that it appears and behaves as all other geometry on the centerline layer

AutoCAD Blocks Three Different Layers


If the object in the block is on Layer 0 it will use the properties of the layer the block resides.If the object is on any layer other than Layer 0 it will use the properties of the layer it resides on. If the object properties are set to ByBlock it will take on the layer properties but will be effected by changes to the base layer (i.e. being frozen or turned off)

Making sense? For a different take on the differences between Layer 0, ByLayer, and ByBlock take a look at the post Edwin Prakoso did on CAD Notes a couple years back

Exploding, Purging, and Merging

When you explode a block the objects will remain on the layers they were created on, they do not take on the layer of the block.

A common reason why layers cannot be purged is that an object resides on the layer within a block definition. Meaning that even though the block is not inserted into the drawing it is still defined as a block definition, consuming the layer. This is a good place to use Layer Delete or Layer Merge when you cannot locate the object using the layer.


How are Xref Layers treated?

When a drawing is attached as an XREF its layers appear in the Layer Manager prefixed by the drawing name and a pipe (|). This maintains the XREF’s layers as separate entities even if the same name exists in the host drawing.

Binding an Xref

When you bind an XREF, converting it into a block definition opposed to an external reference, you are presented with two options: Bind and Insert.

When you bind the XREF using the Insert option the layers are merged into the host drawing. This means that objects may change in appearance as if the layer already exists the layers (and their objects) will take on the properties of the existing layers.

When you bind the XREF using the Bind option the layers are maintained with AutoCAD prefixing the layers with the number and the drawing name.


An Electrifying Threesome – AutoCAD Electrical 2015, Office & Access 2010

Office 2010 32 bit AutoCAD Electrical 64 bit not supported

Microsoft Office 2010 is supported they say, 64 or 32 bit they say… hmm I say. What am I banging on about you say? Well, if you have a 64 bit Operating System installed, which is highly likely if you are running Windows 7 or 8.1. Then when you install the Autodesk Product Design Suite, AutoCAD Electrical or any other Autodesk product that installs the Microsoft Access 2010 Runtime, it will install the 64 bit version of both the CAD applications and the Access Runtime. HOWEVER, if you already have the 32 bit version of Office 2010 installed, then the install will fail. OR if you try to install Office 2010 32 bit AFTER you have install the Autodesk software, then the Office installation will fail.

Office 2013 32 bit 64 bit installation error

Here’s the thing, Microsoft are very clear about wanting people to install the 32 bit version of Office. The 64 bit version is only intended for developers to use. There are far too many conflicts between Office 64 bit and other applications which rely on Office components. SO, the only way you can use Office 2010 with 2015 Autodesk products which have an Access 2010 Runtime prerequisite, is to install the 64 bit version of Office and risk all the issues that come with it. I’m not a database guy, so I can only assume the AutoCAD electrical development team have been forced into using the 64 bit version with 64 bit AutoCAD and the 32 bit version with 32 bit AutoCAD.

OK, so what about Office 2013? That is fine for now, you can happily install 32 & 64 bit versions of Office as long as they are different releases. I’m running Office 2013 32 bit, and AutoCAD Electrical installed Access 2010 Runtime 64 bit on my laptop. So I have two requests of Autodesk:

  1. Please don’t produce 2016 products requiring Access 2013!
  2. Please update your System Requirements for any CAD products requiring Access 2010 Runtime, that also includes the Suites System Requirements.

AutoCAD Layers Deep Dive Series: Paper Space Layouts

Magic is partially about slight of hand, “Now you see it, now you don’t” with the other part about selling it to the audience, making them believe that the bird just appeared or that they did really just see a rabbit come out of the hat. Paper Space Layouts really aren’t that much different in that we want to take our model space geometry and using AutoCAD’s tool-set (slight of hand), sell it to the audience by presenting it in a way that is easy for them to understand, seeing only what we want them to see. A big component of presenting the Paper Space Layout is Layers. We can control the visibility and properties of the layers per viewport and there are many tools for making it easy to accomplish.

Palming Card Trick Magic

Image courtesy of Steven Depolo via Flickr

Plot Styles

Back in the day (pre-AutoCAD 2000) there was one Plot Style option, which turned into Color Dependent Styles. With Color Dependent Styles (CTB) you use colors to control how the drawing will plot. For example you could make anything green plot black with a thicker lineweight and anything yellow plot purple with a lighter lineweight. Although Color Dependent works in many situations it is limiting as you then need to pay attention to which colors you are assigning to your layers. You would not want to assign green (from the above example) with its thicker linewidth to your centerline layer. With AutoCAD 2000 Autodesk introduced Named Plot Styles (STB) in which you define named styles and assign these to your layers, removing the dependency on colors. To create (or modify) a Plot Style go to the Application Menu (big “A” in the upper left corner) and from the Print sub-menu select Manage Plot Styles. From the Explorer window that appears select Add-a-Plot Style Wizard AutoCAD Add-a-Plot Style IconHere’s a short video showing the process. Notice how many aspects of the object can be set with the Plot Style, including things like Line End Style and Line Join Style which cannot be configured anywhere else.

One catch about AutoCAD and its Plot Styles is that each drawing can only use one type, as in you cannot access both CTB and STB from the same drawing. Color Dependent drawings can be converted to Named Styles using the command CONVERTPSTYLES.. AutoCAD CONVERTPSTYLES Warning You will be prompted to select the Named Style to apply to the drawing.This can be altered at anytime from the Page Setup dialog. Within the Layer Manager you can adjust the styles assigned to each layer

Freezing Layers

Layers can be toggled OFF or FROZEN to make them invisible and not shown. This removes the layer from view from Model Space AND all Paper Space Viewports. So what can be do for a specific viewport? This is where VP Freeze and New VP Freeze comes into play. AutoCAD VP Freeze Layer Manager While on a Paper Space Layout activate a viewport (easiest is to just double-click inside one) and from the Layer Manager toggle the VP Freeze toggle for the layers you do not want to appear in the Viewport AutoCAD Layers VP Frozen   New VP Freeze toggles the layer to be automatically Viewport Frozen in each New viewport you create. Where can you use this? Say you are detailing a house and just finished detailing all the electrical requirements and you will be moving on to the plumbing and HVAC. Since the electrical layers will no longer be required you can toggle the New VP Freeze option meaning that it will stay visible in the existing viewports but will automatically be invisible for each new viewport The Layer tool Thaw All Layers has no effect on VP Frozen Layers… but Layer Freeze does and it includes a toggle to either freeze the layer of the selected object or VP freeze the layer. When you start the command, before picking anything, right-click and select Settings, then Viewports. You have the option for either Freeze or VPFreeze. Layer Off actually has the same option meaning you can use the Layer Off tool to select objects in the active viewport and have the layers VP frozen opposed to being turned off within the entire drawing. The feature VP Freeze Layers in All Viewports Except Current does exactly as described. Start the command and within the active viewport select the layers you want to remain visible in the active layer but become VP Frozen in all other Viewports AutoCAD VP Freeze Layers in All Viewports Except Current

Layer Properties

Similar to freezing a layer in a viewport (VP Freeze) layer properties can be overridden on a viewport by viewport basis. What the walls to be red in one viewport but cyan in the next? No problem. To override the layer properties you need to first activate the viewport. Once activated you can use the Layer Manager to adjust the properties. AutoCAD highlights all adjustments, making it very easy visually to see the layers that have been adjusted.

AutoCAD Viewport Layer Properties Overriden

To quickly revert the layers the right-click menu provides a shortcut to remove the overrides from selected layers or all layers for the active viewport or for the entire drawing.

AutoCAD Remove Layer Viewport Overrides

Layer States and Viewports

In the article on Layer States we explored how layers are in a constant state of change… layer on, layer off, layer thaw, layer lock, layer color change, layer freeze, layer off, layer on, repeat, and repeat again. Also how its very common to perform the same set of state changes on a group of layers and by using Layer States you can “Save, restore, and manage sets of layer settings

AutoCAD tracks which Space you are in when you create a Layer State and provides an option to capture the settings as Viewport Overrides. This means when you apply the Layer State to a viewport only that viewport is effected by the layer setting adjustments

AutoCAD Paper Space Layer States


AutoCAD Layers Deep Dive: Your Toolbox

orphaned utensilsImage courtesy of glasseyes view via Flickr -

If you have been following this series (and if you haven’t then we need to talk, its not too late, here’s the start) you’ve probably realized that there is a lot going on with layers… managing, naming, keeping to standard, working with… and we haven’t even looking at the Layers panel in the Ribbon yet!

AutoCAD Layers Panel Expanded

It looks innocent enough, not much different than any of the other panels around it, that is until you expand it and boom you are overwhelmed with icons, options, and many tools. I’m not going to go into each one as the AutoCAD Help does a great job of detailing each button. Don’t believe me? Hover over one of the icons and when the tooltip appears press F1 to show the help on that particular feature

AutoCAD Layer Unisolate Help

Working with Layer States

If you’ve been using AutoCAD for a while you’ll know that you can turn layers off or freeze them so that they do not appear in the drawing window, but do you know the difference between freeze and off?

AutoCAD Layer Panel Labeled

  • You can quickly turn on all layers and/or thaw all layers using Turn On Layers On (1) and Thaw All Layers (2) [Don't get me started on using "unthaw", just because it was added to the dictionary doesn't make it right!]
  • Not sure which layers you want to make invisible? or do you have a bunch of layers you want to freeze? Use Layer Off (3) and Layer Freeze (4) to pick objects in the drawing area, the layer the object is on will be set to Off or Frozen. Remember that you can turn off the current layer but you cannot freeze it.
  • A quick way to set a layer as the active layer is to use Make Object Layer Current (5). Pick an object in the drawing area and the layer that object resides on becomes the current layer
  • Lock Layers or Unlock Layers by picking objects in the drawing window using Layer Lock (6) and Layer Unlock (6). Again great in that you don’t need to even know the name of the layers or need to scour your layer list to find them, just pick the objects in the window and AutoCAD locks or unlocks the layer the object is on.
  • Control the amount of fade using the slider (7) or disable the lock layer fading altogether (8)

Other Great Tools

AutoCAD Layer Panel Labeled Part 2

Want to quickly isolate certain layers? Why not use Layer Isolate (1)? Pick objects on the screen and those objects layers are kept, all other layers are either turned off or locked (and faded). Use the Settings of the command to toggle the behaviour between off and locked. When done with your work use Layer Unisolate (1) to restore the layer visibility (or locked state) back to their previous state


  • Similar to Zoom Previous in function, use Layer Previous (2) to quickly restore layers to their previous states. For example, freeze three layers and lock one, do some work in the drawing, click Layer Previous (2) to thaw the three layers and unlock the one.
  • With Change to Current Layer (3) you can window select objects in the drawing window and they are moved to the current (active layer)
  • Copy Objects to New Layer (4) is a bit misleading in name in that it doesn’t actually create a new layer, but what it does do is after selecting the objects to copy you are prompted to select the destination layer. The copied objects are then placed on the selected layer opposed to the layer of the originally selected objects.

Layer Walk (5) is a great exploration tool, to quickly see which layers your objects are on, to see how drawing is setup from a layer perspective, or to quickly check for standards violations

.AutoCAD Layer Walk

Layer Merge and Layer Delete

Finally, what do you do when you have more layers than what’s required? What do you do with those pesky layers that you cannot delete nor can you purge? You use Layer Merge (6) and Layer Delete (7) of course!

With Layer Merge (6) you select the layers that you no longer want or require and you select a destination layer. All the objects on the unwanted layers are moved to the destination layer and these layers are removed from the drawing. In the newer versions of AutoCAD the objects that will be adjusted are previewed prior to picking the destination layer so you can see what’s going to happen before it does happen.

Layer Delete (7) is very similar except that you just select layers, the layers you no longer want to be part of your drawing. These layers AND all the objects contained on these layers are deleted and removed from the drawing.

Here’s a great post by the best-of-the-best Lynn Allen describing how to delete stubborn layers

See These Tools in Action

Here’s a video in which I try to cover these tools in 4-minutes or less, but I fail! Too much to talk about and I love to talk!


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