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AutoCAD Deep Dive Series: Annotative Blocks

The annotative tools within AutoCAD provide a one-stop place for managing the size (scale) of your annotations. This means instead of worrying about dimension scales, text heights, linetype scales, and so on you can adjust one scale and have all the annotation objects scale accordingly. Its not an easy collection of features to understand at first, and does require some setup but the benefits definitely out way the pains of learning to use and to set it up.

So you might be familiar with annotation scale within AutoCAD, but are you aware that blocks can be made annotative? That’s right, blocks can scale up or down with the adjustment in the annotation scale just like dimensions, text, and other annotations. So although you might not use this for furniture, hardware, or other components but what about other symbols?

The process to define an annotative block is no different from regular blocks, it just takes one extra enabled option. Within the Block Definition dialog, after you have selected your Base point and the objects, enable Annotative within the Behavior section. (I’ll talk about Match block orientation in a minute). Click OK to create the block and that’s it, you now have an annotative block.

AutoCAD Defining Annotative Block

Like all annotative objects if you roll your cursor over them you will see what I like to call the annotative “A” badge, but in reality is the cross section of a drafting ruler.

Annotative "A" symbol

Now that you have an annotative block adjusting the annotation scale will adjust the scale of the block

AutoCAD Annotative Block Scale

So what is Match block orientation to layout? You’ll need to watch the video to find out!

Featured Image: Block and Punch by Peter Harrison

AutoCAD Deep Dive Series: Tool Palettes, Design Center, and Autodesk Seek

In the last post in this series we explored methods of sharing blocks to other drawings (WBLOCK & Sharing Blocks to Other Drawings), so lets continue this theme with additional methods and also an Autodesk repository of pre-built content.

Toolbox taken by Florian Richter

Photo taken by Florian Richter

Tool Palettes

Tool Palettes can be thought of your own toolbox, which if you are like me has a collection of many things. My toolbox has a hammer, tape measure, crowbar, various screw drivers, wrenches, a flash light, and a completely random collection of nuts, bolts, screws, and washers. Which reminds me, when will the rest of the world get onto the robertson bit?

AutoCAD Tool Palettes are the same idea in that it can contain whatever content you want… blocks, images, xrefs, and any command. Tool Palettes are like having everything and the kitchen sink!

The Tool Palette is a standard AutoCAD palette in that it can be docked, anchored, resized, and auto-hid. You can have as many tabs (palettes) as you want, which provides the ability to categorize your content. Palette Groups collect tabs into groups so that you can quickly enable or hide various groups (combinations) of palettes.

AutoCAD's Tool Palette

To create a new palette right click anywhere on the palette bar that runs down the side of the palette, select New Palette.

To add an object to the palette (say a block or a line) select the object in the drawing area so that grips are activated on the object. Click and drag (not on a grip point) the object onto the palette dropping it in the desired location.

The most important thing to remember is that the drawing the block is dragged-and-dropped from becomes the source drawing for the block insertion from the tool palette. This means that if this drawing is moved, renamed, or deleted the block link in the palette will stop functioning. Its a good idea to either use a template drawing for blocks or a drawing just for blocks. What I typically do is set up a “Tool Palettes Blocks” drawing and add all my blocks to it… and then use this drawing to build my blocks. One location – no worries about it disappearing.

Once the block is added to the tool palette comes the fun part. Right-click on any tool in the Tool Palette and select properties. With blocks you can adjust the insertion scale, rotation, and whether it should be exploded. Additionally you can tie the block scale to Auxiliary options Dimscale or Plot scale, meaning the block can scale accordingly to the active plot scale or dimension scale. You can even set the layer the block is inserted on or have it prompt for rotation after insertion. Very cool features, even consider having the same block in the palette multiple times but with different properties.

Tool Palette - Tool Properties

To insert the block simply select it in the palette and pick the insertion point in the drawing area. Right-clicking a block provides the Redefine option to redefine the existing block definition with the one contained in the Tool Palette.

Design Center

The Design Center is a tool to access drawing content. This content includes layers, blocks, Layouts, Dimension Styles and other drawing content. The Design Center may also contain application specific content, for example Layer Groups in AutoCAD Mechanical. The content can be accessed from drawings that are not open, one of the most important features of the Design Center.

AutoCAD Design Center

Using the Design Center you can navigate Folders as if using Windows Explorer browsing to the desired directory  of drawings. Select the drawing and the type of content to browse. From the right-side panel find the content you wish to add to your active drawing and either drag-and-drop it or double-click to add to your drawing. The other tab, Open Drawings, allows for the browsing of any open drawing, to copy the content from it into the active drawing.

Like tool palettes if you attempt to insert a block in which the block name already exists it will use the definition of the drawing, NOT the Design Center. This means you may get a different result than you were expecting if the drawing block definition and design center block definition geometry differ. To force the the drawing definition to update to match the one selected in the Design Center right-click and select redefine or insert and redefine.

Another Tip… right-click on the Blocks section of the drawing and you can generate a tool palette containing all the blocks from the drawing.

Create a tool palette containing blocks from the Design Center

Autodesk Seek

Autodesk Seek

A link in the Design Center launches a browser to Autodesk Seek. An Autodesk managed webiste of BIM models and AutoCAD drawings (DWG). The drawings are vendor supplied meaning access to accurate 3D models and 2D blocks. A great resource for the Architectural community… and its free, just need to sign in with your Autodesk account.

See it live

AutoCAD Deep Dive Series: Blocks & Attributes

Blocks and Attributes go together like Tom & Jerry, like Kate and Prince William, like chicken wings and beer, like Kim Kardashian and Kanye West…. ok, maybe not the last one, but hopefully you get the picture. Attributes is a method to have variable text with a block. It provides the ability to insert multiple instances of the same block definition but each one with different attribute text information. Inserting multiple toilets into your floor plan but each one is a different manufacturer, style, colour, with different capacities? No problem, why you need to add attributes?

Attributes additionally, are easy to extract. Extract to an external file or extract as a table in the drawing. Do you need to show how many doors of a particular size are in the drawing? You need to use blocks with attributes.

Defining Attributes

Creating attributes starts while you are laying out the block geometry, before you start the block defining process, you want to include the attributes as you are selecting the geometry to include in the block. Attributes are built with the ATTDEF command, found on the INSERT tab of AutoCAD’s Ribbon.

Defining AutoCAD Block Attributes

The Basics…

  • The TAG is the name of the attribute, similar to a parameter / variable within programming. The name cannot contain spaces nor special characters. It should describe what the variable will contain.
  • The PROMPT is what will be presented as you are inserting the block or editing the attribute values. The TAG is the internal name, the PROMPT is end user facing.
  • The DEFAULT value is optional. In some cases you might want to set the default to provide hints / tips on how the attribute should be completed. For example, if the attribute is for ‘Drawn By’, enter your initials to show initials are needed. Or if you prefer the date in a particular format set the default to something like yyyy-mm-dd.
  • Within the Text Settings area you select the desired Justification, Text Style, Text Height, and Rotation. Text Style will list the text styles available within the drawing, there is no option to define new.
  • Insertion Point sets the location of the insertion point for the attribute. Unless you know the exact coordinates to numerically enter enable Specify on-screen, which means you will pick the desired location within the drawing area once you click OK.

The Options…the Mode area of the upper left corner of the dialog are for additional options for the behaviour of the attribute. Many will be self explanatory, some will be easy to understand, some will seem odd but you have to remember that attributes have been in AutoCAD forever, so a couple are legacy options and not used frequently any more.

  • Invisible – Attribute does not appear within the drawing when the block is placed… why would you want this? When you want to extract the attribute value but do not need to see it on the drawing
  • Constant – this forces the attribute to a fixed value, so it cannot be changed.
  • Verify – Verify was used for important attributes, such as entering attribute values via the commandline, these attributes would prompt twice to ensure they were seen by the user.
  • Preset – When entering attribute values via the commandline, the attribute is set to the default value. The attribute value can be edited afterwards, just not initially.
  • Lock Position – the attribute is locked in position. It will still move with the block, but it cannot be moved independently from the block.
  • Multiple Lines – the attribute supports multiple lines if this option is enabled. Although it is not true MTEXT it does allow for more than one line of text.

When inserting a block with attributes you will be prompted upon picking the insertion point, to complete the attribute values. Whether this occurs in a dialog or via the command line is dependent on the ATTDIA system variable. ATTDIA = 1 means a dialog is used to enter the attribute values.

Editing Attributes

What is the easiest way to edit a block’s attributes after insertion? Double-click it. Or when in doubt, right-click! With the block selected right-click and select Edit Attribute.

AutoCAD Enhanced Attribute Editor

You might not only notice this is the Attribute Editor but it is also the Enhanced Attribute Editor! The Attribute tab is used to modify the value of the attribute. Here’s a tip; double click within the block on the attribute you want to edit and it will be selected automatically when the Attribute Editor appears. Another tip; use the Select block option in the upper right-corner to switch to another block to edit its properties.

AutoCAD Enhanced Attribute Editor

The Text Options tab is used to modify text properties of the attribute. Use this to make the attribute for this block instance different than the others , including adjusting the Text Style, Justification, and Height. The Properties tab is used to override the attributes properties for the block instance, including layer, colour, and lineweight.

How about modifying the attribute for all block instances? As in how do we modify the attribute for the block definition opposed to individual block instances? You use the Block Attribute Manager…. BATTMAN!

AutoCAD Block Attribute Manager

BATTMAN isn’t used to edit the value but to edit properties of the attribute itself. Adjust the prompt, the default value, and the order the attributes appear when editing. Select Settings to add other properties to the manager for modification. For example; add locked, rotation, and visible to be able to toggle the attribute between locked / unlocked, its rotation amount, and whether it is visible or invisible.

Although this covers a significant portion of working with Attributes, there is still more to see. In upcoming posts we will explore adding attributes to existing blocks as well as how to extract block attribute values quickly and easily… so in the words of BATTMAN, ooops I mean Batman, make sure to tune in, Same Bat Channel, Same Bat Time!

iParts / iAssemblies be gone! Well almost…

I hate iParts and iAssemblies. There, I said it. I’ve never really liked them, and I don’t think I ever will. The difficulties they cause with Vault are my primary issue, and I’ve usually just “found another way” to avoid dealing with them. I do however, love iLogic, and it’s introduction to Inventor provided a breath of fresh air for configurable components and assemblies. A relatively under-utilized, and frequently misunderstood feature in Inventor is the “Place iLogic Component” command. At this point you may be thinking “I don’t want to use iLogic, that’s all about code and stuff.” Well actually, this command doesn’t necessarily require any code to be written at all. You can think of it as “Place” and “Save Copy As” rolled into one command. It allows you to insert a unique component in an assembly and configure it’s options as you go. If you’re familiar with placing custom components from Content Center, it works in a similar way, but doesn’t require authoring in the same way, and is much more flexible. The really handy thing is, if you use it on an assembly, it will create copies of all the children as well, and fix up the references for you.

To demonstrate, I will first provide an example, with no coding required, that just allows you to place a part with size options. For a second example, I’ll use a component with a little bit of code, to really extend it’s usefulness.

So first thing first, where is it? Just click the little drop-down under the “Place Command” and you’ll see it.

Place iLogic Component

 Place iLogic Component Command

The steps that you go through to use it are as follows:

  1. Click the “Place iLogic Component” button.
  2. Select the file that you want to use. It needs to have been configured to allow options to be set on placement. This can be as simple as a user parameter that can be edited.
  3. If you have already added assembly parameters that you want to use, you can set the iLogic component properties to match, using the drop-downs. If not, you can type in a number, or just place the component and then configure it later.
  4. Place the component in the graphics window. If you click multiple times, multiple instances of the same configuration will be placed.
  5. Restart the command to place other unique instances.

I have created a quick play-by-play of these steps using Autodesk Screencast:

Place iLogic Component Workflow

You’ll notice that I first created 3 parameters in the assembly, so that I could quickly assign the lengths to the components as I placed them. This is not compulsory, but can augment some skeletal modelling workflows really nicely.

Now for something slightly more interesting. You may remember my post on “Normalizing iLogic Assemblies.” In it, I touched on “Place iLogic Component” but didn’t really explain it well. The main point of that post was to explain the need for normalising component names. Here I want to focus more on the process of placement, and the flexibility that this command gives, as well as pointing out the “Preview” window.

Consider a plate that can be various widths and lengths, but the number of holes used to fix it, depend on the size. So if it’s less than 65mm long, it only has 4 corner holes, but if it’s over 65mm in length, then it gets additional holes in the center of the long edge. You could build this with an iPart table and conditional suppression, so let’s make it change colour too. This is just a silly example, but it’s here to demonstrate a point. So, we just put the following code into the plate part to watch the named parameters and update it to suit:

Now when we place using “Place iLogic Component,” the rules will run and configure the part based on the parameters we set in the placement process. As a bonus, the “Preview” window allows us to see what the component will look like, with the parameters we have assigned, before we even place it. Just remember to hit the ‘enter’ key after entering each parameter value.

Here it is in action:

I hope this may launch a heated debate in the comments below about the pros/cons of iParts/iAssemblies. The reason I say this, is that I have seen some really effective use of them, and I suspect that there may be some use cases where they are actually a better solution than iLogic, but I haven’t found these cases yet, and I want to!

Feature image credit: dmelchordiaz via photopin cc

@%#&! Autodesk Vault just overwrote my file

Recover Overwritten Vault CAD FilesIf you’ve used Autodesk Vault at any time, then its highly likely you have downloaded a file you already have checked out and overwrote a chunk of your work. Unfortunately that’s just one of several scenarios, which can result in you losing your work. The real trick to preventing this of course, is to check your work into Vault every couple of hours (similar to continually saving within your CAD application). Nevertheless, there could be a number of reasons why checking in your work continuously isn’t feasible. I often hear the comment “I wish Vault had a recycle bin”, I’ve even murmured those words myself and you know what it’s a reasonable request. Why can’t Vault create an old version of the files it’s overwriting? Although its likely possible, it could get mighty confusing.

Just over a year ago, one of my staff downloaded a skeletal / master model from Vault while trying to work around a problem he had, the problem was he already had it checked out, but worse he hadn’t checked in the file for a couple of days. He had created components, built a main assembly and even produced a drawing. Needless to say overwriting his skeletal model with what was essentially a template file, was highly undesirable. Don’t judge him though, he’s new to this Autodesk Inventor / Vault game, all while dealing with a temperamental VPN connection & a new replicated Vault, so he’s been doing a grand job. All of my staff and myself have all made this mistake once or twice.

Autodesk Vault Inventor Project File Old Versions Setting

In the past the Inventor Old Versions folder has been our first port of call, depending on how your Inventor Project File is setup, these folders can be a gold mine during these arse puckering moments. The project file setting I am referring to is shown in the image above, I like to set Old Versions To Keep On Save to equal 5 on all Vault project files. Of course, this tactic is of no use to AutoCAD users, but it does have some of it’s own backup treasures which may or may not be useful within any given situation.

This time however, I’m glad he made the mistake, because it prompted me to ponder if some of the new Windows Explorer features in Windows 7 on wards would help out here. The particular feature which inspired me to Google for a solution, was the undo tool. In Windows 7 or 8 if you delete a file in a folder, then press Ctrl + Z, it will undo the delete command and restore the file. In this case the file had been overwritten by an application and not as a result of the user interacting directly with the folder. So I took a punt and searched for:

“Recovering an overwritten file”

The first search return took me to this site. Method 3 of 4 was a particular surprise, I couldn’t believe it, I’d seen this tab in the Windows 7 Property menu before but I’d never realized it’s impact. The command worked perfectly, the 2 days of lost work was returned thanks to this hidden gem. You can even open or copy the previous version to a different location if you aren’t confident it’s the right way to go. Be warned though, this isn’t a fail safe, but this is always worth a check in this situation. The best part though? This is handy for all Windows users, not just Vault users.

Windows 7 Restore Previous Version Tab

Then I went and took a look at Windows 8 to make sure this behaviour still existed, it turns out it doesn’t and this article explains why. Thankfully Microsoft just improved it out right, the only catch is you have to enable it and point it to a non system drive. Take a look at this well written article explaining how to do that. Another bit of good news is Windows 10 has maintained the same system as Windows 8, so we are looking good into the future. If you are the owner of your Autodesk software, then you could re-purpose your Autodesk USB installation media, to leverage this native Windows benefit.

These tools for Windows 7 & 8 are cracking little gems, lurking in the background, rarely used but invaluable all the same just waiting for the opportunity to shine and save your butt. The best part is they can be used on any file stored on your hard drive and not just those your use for CAD. Check them out and if you need to, enable it. With respect to the title of this post, I haven’t really shown you how to prevent it happening in the first place, I will do this in an upcoming post covering dialog and prompt suppression within Vault and it’s application add-ins.

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.

Autodesk Vault Copy Design 2.0 (aka Vault 2015 R2)

Most people have a real love-hate relationship with Vault’s Copy Design… its big, clunky, and very slow…. but its still better to use than manually copying and renaming files. With this mid-year release Autodesk set out to build a bigger, stronger, and much faster Copy Design and voila we have it now in Vault 2015 R2! So what does Mike think about it? Continue Reading

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