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AutoCAD 2014 Review: Improving Your Design Workflow

A new release of AutoCAD has become a rite of spring, and for this, its 28th major release of the world’s most popular CAD program, Autodesk, has once again provided customers with a host of improvements. For the past several years, the company’s focus has shifted from empowering standalone individuals to leveraging the power of the cloud, social and mobile computing. With AutoCAD 2014, users can work more seamlessly across platforms, collaborate with other project stakeholders, and access their drawings wherever they go. And a linchpin of that capability is the Autodesk 360 cloud service.

Autodesk ReCap
The new Autodesk ReCap program lets users create and manipulate point cloud project files before attaching them to AutoCAD drawings.

Upon launching AutoCAD 2014, users are once again greeted by a Welcome Screen featuring three panels: Work (tools for creating new drawings and opening existing files), Learn (links to video-based training), and Extend (connections to the Autodesk Exchange app store, Autodesk 360, and social media sites including Facebook and Twitter). Although you can certainly use AutoCAD 2014 as a standalone application, users will want a full-time Internet connection to take advantage of all the new connectivity tools–and will likely remain logged into their Autodesk 360 account whenever they’re using AutoCAD 2014.

Even Better Command Line Tools

One of those new connectivity tools is the ability to do Internet searches directly at AutoCAD’s ubiquitous Command line. Many longtime users continue to access commands by typing. While the Command line saw some significant changes in the last release, its transformation in AutoCAD 2014 is just short of miraculous: The Command line in AutoCAD 2014 now supports AutoCorrect. If you mistype a command, instead of responding with “Unknown command,” the program autocorrects to the most relevant and valid AutoCAD command. For example, if you accidently type TABEL, the TABLE command is automatically launched.

The AutoComplete command entry feature, introduced in AutoCAD 2013, has been enhanced in AutoCAD 2014 to support mid-string search. So now, if you type SETTINGS, the suggestion list displays all commands containing the word SETTINGS anywhere within it, not just at the beginning. Commands in the suggestion list are initially displayed in the order of their usage based on general customer data. But as you continue to use AutoCAD, the order of commands in the suggestion list adapts to your specific behavior.

The Command line in AutoCAD 2014 also has a built-in synonym list. If you type a word, the program returns a command if a match is found in the synonym list. For example, if you type SYMBOL, AutoCAD finds the INSERT command; or type ROUND and AutoCAD finds the FILLET command. And like most things in AutoCAD, you can customize both the AutoCorrect and Synonym lists using the Edit Alias tool on the Manage ribbon.

When you move the cursor over a command name or system variable in the Command line suggestion list, two small icons appear so that you can immediately search for more information in the Help system or on the Internet.

You can also use the Command line to access layers, blocks, hatch patterns, text styles, dimension styles, and so on. For example, if you type DOOR and the current drawing contains a block definition with the name DOOR, you can quickly insert it right from the suggestion list.

To make the suggestion list easier to navigate, system variables and other content are organized into expandable categories. You can expand a category to see the results, or press the TAB key to cycle through each category. You can also customize the behavior of the Command line itself, enabling or disabling various features, changing the suggestion list delay, and adjusting the input search options. Most of the new Command line functionality is also available when using dynamic input.

Improved File Management

While the enhancements to the Command line only become apparent when you type, the new drawing file tabs will probably be the first new features you’ll notice when you start using AutoCAD 2014. The drawing file tabs appear as a bar across the top of the drawing area. Because they do take up some space that could otherwise be used to display drawings, the drawing file tabs can be toggled on and off. When enabled, you see a tab for each open drawing, and can easily switch between drawings by simply clicking on a tab.

The tabs initially display in the order in which drawings were opened, but you can drag and drop tabs to change their order. If there is not enough room for all of the file tabs to display across the drawing area, an overflow menu at the right end of the file tabs bar provides access to the additional files.

A lock icon on a tab indicates that a particular drawing was opened in read-only mode, while an asterisk on the tab indicates that the drawing has been modified since it was last saved. When you move the cursor over a tab, you see preview images of the model and layouts, and if you move the cursor over one of those previews, the corresponding model or layout temporarily fills the drawing area. Plot and Publish tools are also available above each preview image, or you can click on one of the previews to immediately switch to that specific model or layout. You can also right-click on a tab to access tools to create, open, save and close files, including the ability to close all open files except the one on which you right-clicked.

Command line
The Command line now includes auto-correction, synonym lookup, and mid-string auto-completion. You can even preview hatch patterns and blocks directly at the Command line.
AutoCAD
Drawing file tabs make it easier to switch among open drawings, preview model or layout tabs, and even see which drawings have been changed since last saved.
Design Feed
Design Feed enables users to have a virtual conversation with other team members; it also tracks messages and images tagged to the drawing.

Connecting with Colleagues

If a big focus of AutoCAD 2014 is connectivity, the centerpiece of that connectivity is Autodesk 360. The Autodesk 360 cloud-based service is both a secure, web-based central repository for your drawings and system settings, and an online hub for collaborating with colleagues and leveraging cloud-based compute power for creating renderings, performing analysis and leveraging point cloud data.

New in AutoCAD 2014 is Design Feed, an environment in which you can have a virtual conversation with other team members, regardless of their location. Design Feed appears in the form of a new palette when you click the new Design Feed tool on the Autodesk 360 ribbon.

You can use tools in the Design Feed palette to create messages to other team members, and associate those messages with an area or point within the drawing. You can also include images and tag multiple colleagues. Once you post a Design Feed message, it is saved to your Autodesk 360 account along with the drawing, and the people that you tagged receive an email message alerting them of your post. They can then view the drawing and associated posts and reply to those posts using their copy of AutoCAD 2014, AutoCAD WS via any web browser, or the AutoCAD WS app on a mobile device. They can even make changes to the drawing if you’ve granted them permission to do so. Design Feed works wherever you are, and comments sync within seconds.

Connecting with the World

In this latest release, Autodesk has added some of the tools found in AutoCAD Map 3D and Civil 3D to AutoCAD itself. The new geographic location tools in AutoCAD 2014 enable you to import map data into drawing files so that you can see your design within the context of its location. If you render the model, it will automatically have the correct sun angle. If you insert geo-referenced images or blocks into a geo-referenced drawing, they are automatically placed in the correct location and at the proper scale. This enables multiple users to work separately on portions of the same design, such as a housing project, with the guarantee that everything will match when the entire project is assembled. If you have a GPS-enabled device on your computer, you can see your current position in the drawing and mark positions as you walk around.

To add the geographic location to a drawing, you simply click the new Set Location tool on the Insert ribbon. You can set the location using the Autodesk Maps Service or by selecting a KML or KMZ file. To use the Maps Service, however, you must be logged into your Autodesk 360 account.

When you specify the geographic location using a map, you can simply click on the map or search for an address or latitude and longitude. Maps can be displayed as an aerial photo, a road map, or a hybrid of both. When you find the correct location, you drop a marker to select it, automatically applying the corresponding latitude, longitude and time zone. Once placed, you can adjust the elevation, latitude and longitude as needed.

Once a map has been applied to the drawing, it is always displayed below the drawing geometry. You can then trace over the map to identify features on the site. The map can be changed between aerial and road map views, or toggled off completely as needed. Additional tools enable you to mark positions in the drawing and add text to describe those positions.

Capturing Reality

The ability to attach and display point clouds was first added to AutoCAD 2011. While the tools in AutoCAD itself have not changed all that much, Autodesk has included a new program called Autodesk ReCap as part of the AutoCAD 2014 release. ReCap is a separate application that enables you to create a point cloud project file (RCP) that references multiple indexed scan files (RCS). Those scan files can come from laser scanners, or even from a series of digital photos that you upload to the ReCap Photo online service.

After selecting the files to import, ReCap lets you adjust import settings that affect the size and appearance of the point cloud. The imported files are displayed in ReCap and can be modified before attaching the point cloud file to your AutoCAD drawing. For example, you can use tools to crop the point cloud to isolate a specific volume within the scene. After attaching a point cloud to an AutoCAD drawing, additional tools become available in AutoCAD that let you further adjust the point cloud. You can then use the point cloud to show existing conditions, or as the basis for constructing AutoCAD geometry.

Other Enhancements

Of course, like any release of AutoCAD, users will find a host of other, smaller enhancements designed to improve common tasks. For example, layers now use natural ordered sort, so that layers named 1, 4, 25, 6, 2 and 10 are sorted as 1, 2, 4, 6, 10 and 25 instead of 1, 10, 2, 25, 4 and 6. There’s also a new Merge option in the Layer Manager palette that enables you to select one or more layers in the layer list, merge the objects from those layers onto a different layer, and then purge the selected layers from the drawing.

Layers and linetypes from externally referenced drawings are no longer displayed in the linetype list of the ribbon or Properties palette, because you can’t control them from there. But externally referenced layers still appear in the ribbon and Layer Properties manager, so you can control their visibility. You can also now easily change the xref attachment type between Attach and Overlay, and change the path of selected xrefs between Absolute and Relative.

Rounding out the list of new features are several very welcome drawing enhancements. For example, you can now draw arcs in either the default counter-clockwise direction or clockwise by pressing the CTRL key. The command for creating single-line text now retains the most recent justification setting. When adding hatch or gradient fills, the program retains the most recent method for selecting objects to hatch (pick internal point or select objects). And when adding baseline or continued dimensions, AutoCAD can use either the current dimension style or the style of the selected dimension.

Autodesk continues to place increased emphasis on its suites, which provide some pretty good deals. For example, in addition to AutoCAD itself, the AutoCAD Design Suite Standard includes AutoCAD Raster Design, SketchBook Designer, Showcase and Mudbox for just $330 more than the cost of AutoCAD alone. The Professional suite adds 3ds Max to the mix, while the Ultimate suite adds Alias Design as well.

This time around, virtually all of the new features in AutoCAD 2014, including the intelligent command line improvements, live maps, Design Feed, drawing file tabs and Autodesk 360 connectivity, have also been included in AutoCAD LT 2014, the company’s lower-cost 2D-only alternative to AutoCAD.

Both AutoCAD and AutoCAD LT 2014 began shipping in late March, with the Design Suites following suit in April. AutoCAD 2014 supports Windows XP, Windows 7 and Windows 8 (including support for touch-enabled devices), but Autodesk has dropped support for Vista. AutoCAD 2014 also includes several new features to help improve software security, and prevent loading and running of unauthorized or malicious AutoLISP and VBA applications.

All told, Autodesk has once again done a great job improving its flagship product, making AutoCAD 2014 another very compelling release.

David Cohn has been using AutoCAD for more than 25 years and is the author of more than a dozen books on the subject. He’s the technical publishing manager at 4D Technologies, a contributing editor to Desktop Engineering, and also does consulting and technical writing from his home in Bellingham, WA. His latest CADLearning eBook, AutoCAD 2014 New Features and Enhancements–Revealed! can be purchased on the Apple iBookstore. You can contact him via email at david@dscohn.com or visit his website at DSCohn.com.

More Information

Autodesk

AutoCAD 2014
· Full system: $4,195
· Annual subscription: $545
· Upgrade from AutoCAD 2008-2013: $2,935

AutoCAD LT 2014
· New: $1,200
· Annual subscription: $180
· Upgrade from AutoCAD LT 2008-2013: $840

System Requirements

· Operating system: Windows 8, Windows 7 or Windows XP (SP3 or later); 64-bit or 32-bit
· CPU: Intel Pentium 4 or AMD Athlon dual-core (3.0GZ or greater recommended for Windows 8 or Windows 7; 1.6GHz or greater for Windows XP)
· Memory: 2GB RAM, 4GB recommended
· Disk space: 6GB free disk space for installation (4GB for AutoCAD LT)
· Video: 1024×768 VGA with true color minimum (1600×1050 recommended)
· Other: Microsoft Internet Explorer 7.0 or later web browser

About David Cohn

David Cohn has been using AutoCAD for more than 25 years and is the author of more than a dozen books on the subject. He’s the technical publishing manager at 4D Technologies, a contributing editor to Desktop Engineering, and also does consulting and technical writing from his home in Bellingham, WA. Watch for his latest CADLearning eBooks on AutoCAD 2015 on the Apple iBookstore, at Amazon, and on the CADLearning website. You can contact him via email at david@dscohn.com or visit his website at www.dscohn.com.