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AutoCAD Layers Deep Dive Series: Layer States

We know that layers are an important component of working with AutoCAD. We use layers to control colour, linetype, and lineweight of our objects. They control the visibility of objects and they control what is plotted and what isn’t plotted. We organize our drawings via layers.

In this continuing series on AutoCAD Layers I’m taking a deep dive into not just using layers, but using all the tools at our disposal, to be as efficient as possible. I used to always say during my days of teaching AutoCAD that there is a fine line between efficiency and laziness, that we should strive to be lazy, do things as efficient as possible, so that it doesn’t take as long, we don’t have to work as hard, and we have more time for more important things like coffee!

In Part 1 of the series we looked at Layer Filters, in this next part lets take a deep dive look at Layer States

“The Only Thing That Is Constant Is Change ” ― Heraclitus

The one constant thing about layers is that they are constantly in a state of change… layer on, layer off, layer thaw, layer lock, layer color change, layer freeze, layer off, layer on, repeat, and repeat again. Its also very common to perform the same set of state changes on a group of layers. For example, turning off Plumbing, Electrical, and HVAC layers when working on the Walls of a building, and then locking the walls, turning on the Electrical to make changes to the electrical related objects. When you find yourself repeating this process of performing repetitive layer state changes to a group of layers you need to look at using Layer States.

AutoCAD Layer States Dialog

AutoCAD’s Help describes Layer States as a method to “Save, restore, and manage sets of layer settings” The process for capturing a Layer State is very straight forward…. Step#1 set the states of your layers of how you want them captured, Step#2 take the Layer State snapshot.

Creating AutoCAD Layer States

Take for example this architectural drawing. I want to be able to quickly restore all layers to be visible, thawed, and with the correct colors as per my standard. Using the layer dialog I insure everything is set as I want.

AutoCAD Layer States "Everything On"

Next, using the Ribbon, I save the active status of the layers as state “EVERYTHING ON”.

Everything ON layer states in the AutoCAD ribbon

Making further layer changes I freeze layers, turn layers off, and change a couple layer colors. I then capture the current state as Layer State “WORKING THE WALLS”

Layer States "Working with the Walls"

layer states in the AutoCAD ribbon

That’s the process! I now can quickly flip back-and-forth between the two states, quickly restoring the desired layer states.

 Modifying Existing Layer States

OK, now a dilemma. You’ve created a state but realize after that one of the layers is the wrong color and another is frozen and should be thawed. Never fear, the Layer States dialog is here to save the day!

AutoCAD Layer States Dialog

Using the Edit option you can tweak all aspects of the layers… on/off, frozen / thawed, color, linetype, locked / unlocked… you can even remove layers so that they are not controlled by the layer state.

Editing an AutoCAD Layer State

The Options

Take note of the options within the Layer States Manager. You can enable the inclusion of XREF Layers. You also set how you want new layers introduced into the drawing to behave with Layer States. The default option is to have these new layers turned off automatically in the State. To include the layer with the state, so that the Layer State can manage it you need to edit the state and add the layer to the state.

Layer States can be exported so that they can be used in other drawings. Select the Layer State in the Layer States Manager and click the Export button to export the .las file. The import button in this dialog is used to import the .las files.

See it in Action

In Conclusion

Albert Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. If you have groups of layers that you constantly perform the same set of state changes to why would you expect it to get easier each time? Using Layer States you can capture these frequently completed state changes into an easy to restore option.

For a bit of suspense I’ve leaving out the topic of the next AutoCAD Layer Deep Dive…. will it be Layers and Paper Space Layouts? will it be Layers and scripts? will it be layers and the CAD Standards tools? The only way to find out is to tune back into the post… same bat-time, same bat-channel! As always leave us comments, we love to hear the good, the bad, and your questions and suggestions.



AutoCAD Layers Deep Dive Series: Layer Filters

Layers are a very important component of working with AutoCAD. They control the colour, linetype, and lineweight of your objects. They control the visibility of objects and they control what is plotted and what isn’t plotted. Layers organize your drawings, by providing “buckets” to group objects with the same properties.

Even with the layer automation of many of the vertical “flavours” of AutoCAD, like AutoCAD Mechanical or AutoCAD Electrical, it is still important to understand layers and use all the layers tools within AutoCAD to your advantage. In this series of posts I’m going to dive deep looking at all aspects of layers, from creation to deletion. In Part 1 lets look at an underutilized feature of layers…. Layer Filters. Introduced in AutoCAD 2000 Layer Filters do exactly as named, provide a quick method to filter your layers. They reduce the list of layers into a usable “chunk” and provide tools to work with the filter as a group.

Accessing Layer Filters

Layer Filters are built into the Layer Palette but may be minimized and not visible. Using the >> and << buttons on the left side of the palette you can minimize and maximize the Layer Filter portion.

Expanding the AutoCAD Layer PaletteWhen the Layer Filter panel is minimized you can still access the Filters with a Peek-a-boo style popup at the bottom of the palette

AutoCAD Layer Palette Peek-a-boo Layer FiltersTo create a new Layer Filter use either the buttons along the top left of the palette or right-click on the All at the top of the layer tree.

Layer Filter Types

There are two types of Layer Filters that can be created: Property and Group

Group is a collection of layers, ones that you specify belong together. For example, when you are annotating your drawing you frequently switch between your Hidden, Center, Dimension, Text, and Symbol layers. With a Group filter these would be the only layers you would see in both the Layer palette and the Layer dropdown in the ribbon, making it easier to toggle between and manage just these layers

AutoCAD Layer Group Filter ExampleProperty type filters are used to filter the layers based on their properties. Want to only see layers with a color of red? no problem. Want to see just the red layers that are not frozen? no problem. The filter dialog even allows for AND and OR type filtering. For example, show me the layers that are Red OR Green… or show me the layers that are Red AND Frozen.

AutoCAD Layer Property Filter ExampleCreating Property Filters

Property Filters are created and managed via the Layer Filter Properties dialog. The top portion of the dialog are the inputs to build the definition. The bottom half of the dialog is a preview of the layers that will appear once your layers are filtered.

All property inputs entered in a single line work as an AND. Meaning that if I enter a colour and linetype the layer will need to meet the requirements of the the colour AND the linetype. If the inputs are on separate lines then it works as an OR. So, the layer would have to meet the colour OR the linetype

Once you’ve defined the properties and provided a name for your filter click OK to create the new filter. Property filters are “live” meaning as you change the properties of your layers the filter will update to match

Creating Group Filters

When you create a new Group Filter you are immediately prompted for the name of the filter in the filter tree. Once the filter is created you add layers to the filter by dragging-and-dropping from the main panel of the palette or by using the right-click option to add layers by selecting in the drawing

Working with Filters

To apply your filter to not just the Layer Palette but also the layer drop-down in the ribbon / toolbar you can enable the option “Apply layer filter to layer toolbar” in the options. With this enabled you will only see the layers included in the filter AND the active layer.

AutoCAD Apply layer filter to Layer ToolbarBy right-clicking on the filter you will see options for freezing / thawing, turning on/off, and locking/unlocking all layers in the filtered list. This can be significantly faster than trying to locate and select each layer in a long list.

AutoCAD Layer Filters Right-Click MenuAn additional right-click option provides the ability to isolate the filtered layers so that they are the only objects that appear in the drawing, all other layers are frozen.

At the bottom of the Layer Filter Panel is the Invert filter option, which does as it says. If takes the list of layers found by your filter and inverts the selection so that these layers are not included in the listing

As you can see Layer Filters can make your life much easier, especially when your drawings have a larger amount of layers. Why fight through a long list when AutoCAD can simplify the process for you?

This is part 1 of my deep dive into AutoCAD Layers. Part 2 will be on Layer Filters distant cousin Layer States. If there is some part of Layers you’d like me to focus on please let me know via the comments.


AutoCAD’s Wait for it UI Should Be Scrapped Soon

In case you weren’t sure, waiting sucks

This is a quick note for the UI professionals out there in the land of engineering software development. When considering new-fangled ways to extract / engage data in CAD models, please review the following:

When the planning whiteboard includes ‘wait’ and/or ‘pause’ in the possible user responses, you should proceed with the following options:

  1. Take one for the team – erase the entire whiteboard, and tell the director that you are heading down the wrong road. You may get fired, but you’ll be one of the unsung heroes.
  2. Encourage your team to choose one of the other options
  3. If you passed up option 2, refer to option 1.

There are three types of design technicians left in the world:

  • Young, save the world punks and punkettes that are ever increasingly efficient with the software interface that become…
  • the old, cranky master technician who only has a job because they know how to fix problems on the fly, and can read a set of plans competently
  • the useless and unemployable

Autodesk AutoCAD Civil 3D Grip Hover and Wait... and I have 300 of these to do

In the image above, I was using AutoCAD Civil 3D to set and manage thousands of Point entities for a construction layout. Once set, the Point Labels begin to overlap, and must be rotated in order to read them. The process for rotating these labels is either:

  • Pick the Point Object, pick the Label Handle Grip that appears and wait/hover a moment for the Label context menu to appear, pick the rotate option, and pull the Label around the point until it is satisfactory.
  • Pick the Point Object, pick Edit Points from the context menu to initiate the Point Editor spreadsheet, and manually enter the angle desired

This operation is for a single Point and I have potentially thousands to do this way… for this job alone. Oh, and when the plans get revised, I get to do it all over again. This plan is in its second construction release. It was not too long ago many of you will remember when we could use the standard AutoCAD Grip edit methodology to “pick, grip, spacebar-spacebar pull, escape”. That was like lightning, as fast as you could hot key with one hand and pick with the other. [ed. It sounds like this process/feature is completely broken anyway, users shouldn't have to spend this long doing remedial stuff like this].

When you ask a technician running CAD as if they were doing 300 knots in a 6G turn, command line shortcuts with one hand and every mouse trick with the other, having to ‘pause’ to get an alternate response from the software in order to select something  is about the equivalent of hitting the speed brakes…over and over again.

Please stop this type of UI development. It may seem nice in the planning room, and in testing. However in the real work environment, if this type of move, wait, move, wait workflow is acceptable, that team is sorely inefficient and poorly trained.


How to remove the annoying cursor badges in AutoCAD 2015

AutoCAD 2015 Cursor Badge

AutoCAD users got a bit hot under the collar about a few things with this years 2015 release of AutoCAD’s User Interface. The final straw for them was the cursor badge. So with that backlash from the AutoCAD stalwarts, Autodesk have introduced a system variable with the release of Service Pack 1 providing users with the ability to turn off or disable seemingly innocuous addition.

So go and download AutoCAD 2015 Service Pack 1 and install it. Once you have fired AutoCAD back up again, change the CURSORBADGE System Variable from 2 to 1:

Type: Integer
Saved in: Registry
Initial value: 2

1 – Turn off all new badges
2 – Turn on all badges (Default)

Badges that will be disabled:

  • Selection – cross and window selection
  • Inspection
  • Deletion
  • Copy
  • Move
  • Rotate
  • Scale
  • Zoom
  • Add vertex
  • Covert to arc
  • Hatch inherit property

As you can see this doesn’t remove all of them, but the AutoCAD team are working on a more complete solution for the future. They just wanted to get something out there as soon as possible to respond to user feedback. BUT, before you disable your cursor badges, make sure you truly understand their purpose by hearing out Heidi Hewett on her AutoCAD Insider blog, you might just surprise yourself.


Dude, Where’s My AutoCAD Attribute?

A common question…

I just edited my AutoCAD block, added an attribute and everything looks good. But when I save my changes and exit the block editor the attribute does not appear nor can I edit it.

To further confuse the issue, if you insert a new instance of the block the attribute appears in all its glory!

So what happened?

AutoCAD is really a database of information and it stores a block definition which is what comprises the block. You then insert instances of this block definition into your drawing. When you edit the block you are editing the block definition which in turns updates all the block instances….. except…. adding or removing attributes. Why? I don’t know, its just always been this way.

So what can I do?

Never fear, ATTSYNC is here to save the day! By using Synchronize Attributes you can force the block instances to update with changes to the block definition attributes. The workflow might give you the impression that you can update individual instances but actually by picking one of the instances all the instances will be updated


Mapping Your World with AutoCAD 2015

AutoCAD 2015 includes many new features and enhancements in the Geographic Location feature set. As part of our what’s new in AutoCAD 2015 series, we ask the question, what is Geolocation? From the AutoCAD help “Inserting geographic location information to a drawing file makes points within the drawing correspond to geographic locations on the surface of the Earth.

AutoCAD 2015 Geographic LocationSample Map Attachment from the AutoCAD 2015 What’s New Document

What’s new in 2015?

  • You can now set the geographic location from a map using Set Location on the ribbon. The process is now wizard driven and streamlined compared to 2014.
  • You can capture and plot map data. Once an area is captured it is embedded into the drawing so even without internet access you can still view and plot the specific map area
  • You can dynamically increase and decrease the map image resolution. This is useful as the highest resolution satellite image isn’t always the most recent

I will admit I didn’t use this a lot in 2014, but was interested in how much more “streamlined” and “intuitive” the new workflow was. So armed with my street address and a PDF of my house I set out to insert my house in the correct geographic location

Attaching Map Data

To start I set the geographic location using the Set Location > From Map option on the Insert Tab of the Ribbon. As I did not have any existing mapping data, I said yes to using the online data. After logging into my Autodesk 360 account and accepting the terms of use, the two page Specify Location dialog appeared.

AutoCAD 2015 - Using Online Map Data

With the Specify Location Wizard I enter the location of my house by street address, city, and country. It found the location so I picked this as the geo-marker location, which extracted the longitude, latitude, but not the elevation. A quick Google search and I entered in the elevation of the nearest city.

AutoCAD 2015 - Specify GeolocationNext was to pick the GIS Coordinate System. This didn’t mean much to me, but the tip in the dialog said the options were sorted based on the closest system to the origin I selected. So I picked the first one in the list… this is more intuitive! After setting the origin location to 0,0,0 and the north direction to 90, the Map was inserted into my drawing… quick and painless. The resolution of the map automatically adjusts as I zoom in the drawing, and the tighter I zoom in the more detail is added.

An important detail about online Map data, it does not plot!

AutoCAD 2015 - Online Map Does Not PlotThere are three options for how the mapping data can be displayed: Aerial, Road, and Hybrid.

AutoCAD 2015 - Online Map Display OptionsMap Images

Next I created a Map Image as I wanted something that I could plot and that was embedded in the drawing, I don’t always need to be connected to the Autodesk 360.

Map images behave just like raster images meaning the resolution and amount of detail is fixed and by zooming in only the magnification changes. Although the mapping data is cached it maintains a link and can be updated at any time. If you don’t like the rectangular boundary you can use grips to edit it onscreen like a raster image.

As I didn’t need the online mapping data at this point anymore I used the Map display option to turn it off

AutoCAD 2015 - Map ImageAs I zoomed in I realized that I didn’t have enough detail to my image and it was a bit dull. By selecting the Map Image, the Map Image Contextual Ribbon appears. I used the options to change the resolution and the brightness

AutoCAD 2015 - Adjust Map Image ResolutionLooking good!

Attach PDF Underlay

Next I attached the PDF of my house plan and cropped it as close a possible. I then rotated it and scaled it as close as I could. [What I really should do at this point is use Raster Design to adjust the house plan to exact fit the mapping data, but that can be a future post.]

AutoCAD 2015 - PDF Underlay over Map ImageIn Review

The Geolocation features in AutoCAD 2015 are as advertised… intuitive and streamlined. With little experience with the toolset I was able to attach a map, crop it with the Map Image, and overlay my PDF. I was also very impressed by how quick the online service responded to my request and downloaded the required mapping information.

Watch Me Do it