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AutoCAD Deep Dive Series: Creating Blocks

Before you can run you must learn to walk. Before you can master blocks you must be able to create them. Carving Chinese Block

Image “Carving a Chinese Printing Block” by Jonathan Kos-Read - Flickr

To create a block you start with creating the geometry. There isn’t really much of a limitation in that you can create any type of objects you want, except remember that the key is consistency. Blocks within AutoCAD serve many purposes but mostly to provide a convenient method to reuse content while maintaining consistency from drawing to drawing. Try to remember consistency as you build your blocks so that you get a familiar look and feel to everything you create. What about the layers the objects are on? Good question, and conveniently enough I’ve covered this before in our Deep Dive Series on Blocks, which you can read here. The key to working with blocks and layers is understanding the importance of Layer 0. 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.

Creating Blocks

To create a new block definition you use the Make Block feature. Make Block can be initiated by typing B (and pressing Enter) with the keyboard or by selecting Create Block from the Insert Tab > Block Definition Panel. Make New Block

  1. Specify the Name of the Block. The block name must be unique within the drawing. The drop-down lists all block definitions that exist in the current drawing. Use this to double-check your block name is unique or select an existing block name to overwrite (redefine) an existing block.
  2. Set the Base Point. The base point becomes the insertion point, as in the point on the block your cursor will be at when you insert the block into your drawing. The base point can be defined by keying in the coordinates, using the pick button to select a point in the drawing, or by enabling the Specifying on Screen option. Specifying on Screen means that you will pick the point after you click OK.
  3. Select the Objects. No point in having a block if it doesn’t contain any geometry. Click the pick button to select the objects in the drawing window or enable Specifying on Screen to select the objects after you click OK.
  4. Decide what to do with the original objects. The objects you select to create the block can become a block (Convert to block), can be deleted (Delete) or do not need to become a block themselves. and remain as is (Retain)
  5. Should the block be Annotative? An annotative block is one that will adjust in size as the drawings annotation scale is adjusted
  6. Should the block scale uniformly? When enabled the block must scale in the Y-direction the same amount as being scaled in the X
  7. Should we allow the block to be exploded? when enabled you will NOT be able to explode the block instance in the drawing.
  8. Select the Block Unit Type. Blocks can scale according to the drawing unit. For example if the block was set to inches and the drawing to millimeters when inserted it would be 25.4 times larger than originally defined Why? There are 25.4 mm in an inch.
  9. Add a Hyperlink (optional). A hyperlink is a link to something, whether it be a web page, an email, another document, or to a view in the drawing.
  10. Be Descriptive (optional). Not everyone will understand what your block is for from the name alone, by adding a description you make it easier for others to know what the block is for before they insert it.
  11. Open it in the Block Editor (optional). If you intention is to make a Dynamic Block (discussed later in this series) then you’ll want to open the new block in the Block Editor to add dynamic features.

When satisfied with the inputs click OK to build your block.

Inserting Blocks

So you’ve created your block…  now what? Insert your block into your drawing to test it out. The insert block feature can be accessed from the Insert tab of the ribbon or by typing I with the keyboard. AutoCAD Block Insert Dialog

  1. Select the Block you want to Insert
  2. Optionally Browse for a drawing and insert the entire drawing in as a block
  3. Set the insert point either by keying in the coordinates or enabling Specify on-screen to pick the point after clicking OK
  4. Specify the Scale either by keying in the scale factors or by enabling Specify on-screen to set the scale after clicking OK. With the example above the Y & Z fields are disabled as this block was created with the Uniformly Scale option enabled. With this option disabled the X, Y, and Z scale factors can all be set independently.
  5. Specify the Rotation either by entering the rotation angle or by enabling Specify on-screen to pick the rotation after clicking OK
  6. Block Unit reference lists the Unit of the block and the factor that will be applied with the block is inserted. The factor is based on the Block Unit compared to the units of the drawing
  7. Optionally Explode the block during insertion. By exploding a block the objects are returned to original form, ungroup, and not contained within a block

Block Manipulation

After the block is inserted you can make adjustments to it very similarly to other 2D objects. Blocks can be moved, copied, scaled, rotated, mirrored, and adjusted with grips. Blocks can be exploded to remove the block and leave the blocks geometry. Copying a block can be faster and more efficient than inserting another instance.

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.

Autodesk Vault Copy Design 2.0 (aka Vault 2015 R2)

Most people have a real love-hate relationship with Copy Design… its big, clunky, and very slow…. but its still better to use than manually copying and renaming files. With this Autodesk set out to build a bigger, stronger, and much faster Copy Design and voila we have it now in Vault 2015 R2! [If you want to read about all things new in R2 stroll over to our post Autodesk Vault 2015 R2 Summary]

Vault 2015 R2 Copy Design Initial Dialog with Assy LoadedWhen you install Vault 2015 R2 the new Copy Design is installed as a standalone application. This means that you do not launch Copy Design from the Vault Client but from the Programs group, just like Vault and the Job Processor. The copying process has been completely restructured which should lead to much greater performance. With the previous version files were copied local to your system (into the temp) for the magic to happen (copying and renaming) and then checked back in as the new files. Although this happened invisibly to the user it was still time consuming, especially the file transfer back-and-forth between your system and the server. The copying now occurs completely on the server leading to greatly reduced copying times (yeah!)

Here’s the list of enhancements courtesy of the Autodesk Help:

  • Copy at the Component Level
  • Copy Multiple Data Sets
  • Support for non-CAD File Types
  • Faster Performance
  • More Detailed Feedback
  • Create Custom Copy Design Rules
  • Numbering Schemes
  • Customize the Copy Design Interface
  • New Drawing View

Part 1 – Getting the files loaded

After launching the standalone application (and logging in) the first step is to add the files you wish to copy. Using the big plus sign you can search for and add multiple datasets, the “multiple” being one of the new features. A mini-version of the Project Explorer will appear in which you can customize the columns (properties) by either dragging-and-dropping or right-click Choose Columns to add and remove various properties. From this window you want to navigate through the folder structure until you locate the file(s) you want to copy.

Vault 2015 R2 Copy Design Initial Dialog with Assy LoadedSay What? No Searching? Yep, you’ll have to wait for Copy Design 3.0+ for searching. For now you’ll have to do your searching in the Vault Client, but without any means to copy the search results over it becomes awkward quickly.

The main UI can also be tweaked by dragging-and-dropping columns to rearrange and using the right-click menu options to add and remove columns (properties). These changes will stick so that you see the same thing each time you use Copy Design. Right-click options on the files allow for quick expand-all | collapse-all so that you can get a better view of the files and their structure. The Expand option includes 2-levels, 3-levels, and 4-levels on top of the All option. The Add Children option in the ribbon is used to quickly add attachments and Library Files.

To remove the drawings from the View disable the (new) Drawing Views option from the Application Menu.

Part 2 – Making it Happen

Before making your copy selections a few options to be aware of contained within the Application Menu…

  1. Automatically Copy Parents means that the moment you select a component to copy its parents are automatically set to be copied as well
  2. Select References is disabled when you only want to copy the instance of the component, not all references of it in the assembly.[This is new, it used to be all or nothing]

Right-click on the components you want to set the action on and right-click. The available action will vary on the component level and the file type. The options include:

  • Copy: Toggles the component to copy creating a new file in the same location as the original
  • Copy To: Similar to Copy but you will be prompted to select the destination folder for the new copy
  • Copy Branch: Sets the action to Copy for the selected item as well as all of its children
  • Replace: Browse for and select a replacement file
  • Reuse: Is the default action and can be used to remove an action like Copy
  • Reuse Branch: Sets the action to Reuse for the selected item as well as all of its children
  • Exclude: removes the instance from the new copied assembly

The Has Destination column will populate with a folder icon once Copy Design knows where the new copy is going. Hovering your cursor over this icon displays a tooltip with the Path.

The new Actions Panel can be used to quickly filter out the files with the assigned action. For example selecting the “Exclude” tab displays just the files that have been toggled to exclude from the copy operation. The action of the files can be toggled via right-click in these views as well. So far I have found this to be a great check into what I’m actually copying. Also remember that nothing is committed until you click the Create Copy button to accept your changes and initiate the copy process.

Say What? I’ve experienced too many situations where the file hierarchy collapses when you change the action. For example change the action to reuse on a child component and the entire tree collapses and I don’t know why.

The Where Used panel provides a Source and Destination option so that you can quickly see where the files are coming from (Source) and where the copies are going (Destination). Because you can copy individual instances (now) a particular component might have multiple destinations.

Use the Folders Panel to review the source and destination folders of the copied data, a different view of the Where Used Panel but another mechanism to review that the copied files are going to end up in the correct location. As a bonus you can apply operations based on the folder location. You can also drag-and-drop files between folders or from the main view to add to the copy.

Part 3 – Setting the Copied Names

Here’s a big change from the old Copy Design, you do not use the main window you adjust the name of the copied file. The Numbering Panel lists all the files selected to copy, with both the original name and the new name. This Panel will show tabs for each numbering scheme used within Copy Design and organize the files based on the scheme applied. With files with no scheme applied you can manually adjust the destination file name, apply a prefix (before the base name) or postfix (after the base name). You can apply changes to the three (pre, post, and base) on a selection of files.

Autodesk Vault 2015 R2 Set Prefix ValueThe options presented on the specific numbering scheme tab is completely dependent on the numbering scheme

Autodesk Vault 2015 R2 Copy Design Set Nummber Scheme


Part 4 – What Else can I do?

There’s one more area of Copy Design 2.0 which honestly I think could kick ass, well at least when it comes to copying files… Rule Sets… but I need a bit more time of exploration, testing, and putting into action before I can really comment. Rule Sets are rules you define to make things happen automatically as you copy files. This could be to assign a file category, set properties, clear properties, remove iLogic, and things of this nature. Only one Rule Set can be applied during the copy operation but each Rule Set can contain multiple rules..

There are default rules included “out-of-the-box” which are provided to give similar functionality as the old Copy Design. This includes rules to use the part number as a new file name, removing iLogic rules, and resetting the category of the file so that the new file category assignment rules are applied.

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.


AutoCAD Layers Deep Dive: Layer Translator and Reconciling Layers

Layer Translator

You’ve received a batch of drawings from an outside source… customer, vendor, sub-contractor… and the layers do not match your own company standards for layers. The properties are wrong, the names are different, and you’re looking at a lot of work to get the drawings to standard. Don’t fear, our AutoCAD Layers Deep Dive series delivers the Layer Translator!

AutoCAD CAD Standards Ribbon LocationThe Layer Translator is used to map a set of layers to the standard set of your choosing. If the layer in the drawing is called A-Wall-Partition and your standard calls for WALLS you would map the layer so that WALLS is added to the drawing and all objects currently on A-Wall-Partition are moved to WALLS and take on the properties of WALLS. A-Wall-Partition would be removed from the drawing.

From the CAD Standards Tools select Layer Translator. Use the Load button to add the desired layers, the ones you want to map to. You can use existing drawings (DWG), templates (DWT), and standards (DWS).

AutoCAD Layer Translator initial viewThe Map Same button is used to match layers that have the exact same name, but more than that it insures that these layers have the same properties as the destination layers.

After using Map same you go through the list mapping the layers to their target. In this example I take all A-ANNO-TTLB layers and map them to the TITLEBLOCK layer. Not all layers need to be mapped as you can leave layers as they are.

AutoCAD Layer TranslatorOnce you are satisfied with the mappings you can save this as a drawing. This mappings drawing can then be used to load in the mappings into other drawings you have received from the outside source

Select Translate to make the magic happen!

Layer Translator Before After

Reconciling Layers

Once the layers have been translated, or really with any drawing, how do you manage the layers so that you are aware of layers that are added? Especially in situations where you are not even aware that layers have been added, like when you insert a block. For this you can use the built in Layer Reconciliation process. The AutoCAD Help explains it the best…

Unreconciled layers are new layers that have been added to the drawing and have not yet been acknowledged by the user and manually marked as reconciled.

The base in which AutoCAD uses to compare is set the first time the drawing is saved. At this initial save the existing layers are reconciled and all new layers added, either manually or by some other process, are considered unreconciled. Now sirens, buzzers, and warnings are not going to start just because an unreconciled layer has been found, but it gives you the option to review these layers at any time and decide what to do with them

The Layer Settings are important with this feature. If you want to use the Reconcile option you need to enable New Layer Notification and select whether just to evaluate xrefs or all new layers. You also need to configure when you want AutoCAD to notify you of new (unreconciled) layers. The options are on Open, xref attach / detach, Restore layer states, on save, and on block insert.

AutoCAD Layer SettingsWithin the Layer dialog a layer filter is automatically created to isolate just unreconciled layers. To reconcile the layers (accepting them to the drawing) right-click on them and select reconcile)

AutoCAD Reconcile LayerWhen new layers are added you will see a message similar to this….

AutoCAD Unreconciled New Layers NotificationIn Review

Hopefully I’ve shown you a couple tools to not only take a drawing and make it to your standard, at least layer wise, but shown another option for keeping you within your defined standards. If you liked this article let us know using the comments below and keep an eye out for the next in our series of diving deep on AutoCAD Layers.

AutoCAD Layers Deep Dive: CAD Standards

Ahhhh, nothing spurs more heated conversations than CAD Standards. Everyone knows they need them, nobody likes to use them, and everybody wants their own. Why do we want a CAD Standard? Many reasons, but it mostly boils down to consistency, so that each drawing produced looks the same and behaves the same. Many times it is part of a contract to deliver the drawings following exactly the customers standards… it is that important. So what can we do within AutoCAD and what does this have to do with Layers?

Covers a Standard 8 Ute that was sold in Australia in 1955.

 Image courtesy of Five Starr Photos via Flickr –

Building a Drawing Standard (.dws)

The first step is to define the Drawing Standard, which in AutoCAD is stored as a .dws. The DWS is really just a drawing (or template) with no geometry, saved in this special format. The drawing standard file can contain your standard settings for layers, text styles, dimension styles, and linetype.

To create a Drawing Standard, start with a drawing in which you know the layers and styles are defined to your standard. Make sure each layer is there and is configured properly. This can be your template or any drawing which you know is correct. Remove all geometry and purge any layer or style you do not want as part of your standard.

AutoCAD Layer Dialog

Save As the drawing, changing the file type to AutoCAD Drawing Standards File (,dws) and specify a location that will be easily accessible, but a set location that won’t be changing. Like xrefs and images, the drawing standard will be attached like a reference, so you want to make sure its in a location that won’t change.

AutoCAD Save As DWS

Using the CAD Standards Tool

The CAD Standards tools are found on the Manage Tab in the Ribbon.

AutoCAD CAD Standards Ribbon Location

The first step is to configure the drawing by attaching the DWS. [NOTE: You can actually associate multiple standards to a drawing]. Use the + to browse and select the DWS. Once you’ve associated a drawing standard, it will remain until you remove it.

AutoCAD Configuring CAD Standards

Using the Plug-ins Tab you can select the types of standards you want checked. The four options (layers, dimstyles, text styles, & linetypes) are available but you don’t have to check everything.

AutoCAD Configuring CAD Standards - Plug Ins

To check the drawing against the standards file select the Check Standards button in the ribbon (CHECKSTANDARDS if you prefer typing). This can be initiated anytime you want to check the drawing. AutoCAD will also check the drawing in real-time. If problems are found you will be notified via a notification bubble in the bottom right corner of the screen.

AutoCAD Standards Violation Found

If errors / conflicts are found you will be presented with a series of dialogs, listing the problems and possible replacements. For example if your drawing contains a layer called MIKE which is not defined in the standards. You will be prompted about the violation and asked which layer you’d like to move this layer and all of its objects to.

Note there is an option to ignore a problem. There will be times where you have added layers for a specific reason. You can mark these layers as ‘ignored’, which in turn will be tagged with your name, so if anyone else is looking at the drawing, they will know it was you who ignored the problem.

Two types of problems will be found:

  • non-standard names meaning the layer or style exists in the drawing but not in the standard.
  • non-standard property meaning the layer or style exists in the drawing and in the standard but its properties don’t match.

When selecting the Replace With Layer, the dialog will show the differences between the layers so you know what’s going to happen to the existing objects.

AutoCAD CAD Standards Problem Found

Click the Fix button to make the correction or the Next button to skip this. Using Next to Skip, is different than Ignoring, since Ignoring is a permanent setting where as clicking Next simply moves on and the problem will continue to appear each time the standards are checked.

Attaching the Standard to Your Template

Are you thinking the CAD Standards Tool can be a powerful ally? Thinking wouldn’t it be great if I could attach this to my template so every new drawing I start is associated with this standards file? What’s stopping you?

Associating a Standards File to your Template is as simple as opening the template, attaching the standards file (see steps above) and saving the template… boom! and its done.

Configuring the CAD Standards

From the Ribbon > Manage tab > CAD Standards panel, select Settings to access the CAD Standard Settings.

AutoCAD CAD Standards Settings

In the first section you can configure the notification settings: disable completely, display alert, or display just the icon.

Next, you can specify if AutoCAD will automatically fix non-standard properties. With this enabled, if a Layer was found to exist in the drawing and in the standards but the color was wrong, the CAD Standards would automatically fix the color using the DWS settings without prompting.

The CAD Standards will check layer properties such as color, linetype, and lineweight but will ignore the layer status (on/off, frozen / thawed, etc)

You can also choose whether ignored problems are shown each time.

Performing a Batch Standards Check

A standalone Auditing tool is installed automatically with your AutoCAD. This tool can be used to audit a batch of drawings for standards violations. It will create a report listing all the issues and problems, but will NOT fix any of the problems… even property conflicts.

To launch the tool, press the Windows key on your keyboard and type ‘Batch Standards Checker’, then press Enter or select the result.

AutoCAD Batch Stds Checker - Drawings Tab

Use the tabs to configure the audit:

  1. Drawings: add the drawings you want to check.
  2. Standards: specify which standards files are used.
  3. Plug-ins: select which of the four standards you want to check.
  4. Notes: Any additional comments you want appended to the report.

From the Standards tab, you can specify whether it should check each drawing against the standards file already associated to the file, or to check each drawing against the standards file you specify in this dialog.

AutoCAD Batch Stds Checker - Standards Tab

Click the New button to define the name and location for the report, which will be created as a .chx. Save any time you make changes to the dialog.

Click Start Check to initiate the Audit, sit back and relax, and wait for the audit to complete.

AutoCAD Batch Stds Checker - Sample Report

What’s Next?

Here we are, at Part 4 of our deep look at AutoCAD Layers. We’ve already covered Layer Filters, Layer States and Reusing Layers… so what’s next? A look at a tool that technically falls into AutoCAD’s CAD Standards tools: the Layer Translator.

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