Monday, February 2, 2009

Customizing AutoCAD to Fit Your Needs

Customizing AutoCAD to Fit Your Needs

It is my personal preference not to customize AutoCAD too much. I feel that it can cause too many problems later on. The first is when you go and work somewhere else. Nothing is where or how it should be, and when you update your system it can be a huge pain. Fortunately these two factors are rare, so maybe I don’t have a valid issue here. Ok I don’t, but when they happen they are a pain. My biggest argument against customizing AutoCAD comes from a CAD Managers perspective. It is a night mare for CAD Managers to maintain everyone’s workstations if they have customized it. I think that is my real issue. I speak from my own personal experience that having to fix problems caused by users customizing their workspace. If everyone has a different workspace it also becomes more difficult to train, maintain, update and standardize.

Regardless of my own personal fears of maintaining different customized workstations, the ability to customize AutoCAD is fantastic feature! What? I know what you are thinking, “Didn’t you start this post by ranting about not customizing?” Yes I did, but nobody listens to me anyway! My train of thought is to go ahead and customize AutoCAD, but be limited in those customizations. There is a time and a place for each application of customization. Don’t do it just because you can. Do you really need it? Will it really increase your efficiency? Will it slow you down when you update? Migrate? Or take on other tasks? What if your computer crashes? Can you easily restore your settings? Maintaining AutoCAD’s settings can be a full time job all in itself. Make sure to keep it organized in a simple manner so that you can easily add on to your customizations and update with little effort.

Tool Pallets

I feel tool pallets are under rated by many users. I feel (did you notice that I am talking about my feelings a lot today?) that tool pallets are often underrated by many users because they simply aren’t used to using them yet even though they have been around since AutoCAD 2004. They really took shape in AutoCAD 2005 though. Many are still used to adding things in the pull down menu. I recommend staying away from the pulldown menu. I remember when I was customizing commands in the Menu Screen. I’m glad I stopped that practice! If you work with standard blocks, hatch patterns, or template files, try using tool pallets. They are very easily maintained and migrated. Set up a master block file that contains your blocks to be shared with your users. Update/maintain the block in the file; make a tool pallet referencing that block; then you only have to update the block to make sure every user has the latest block. You don’t even have to tell them, unless they need to update that block in a current file.

Toolbars/Ribbon

Toolbars are going the way of the dodo. In AutoCAD 2009 the interface was changed to a Ribbon style. Toolbars and the menubar are turned off OOTB (out of the box.) They can be turned back one though. I recommend sticking with the ribbon so that you can become more accustomed to its style of interface. However, I like toolbars. They are small, easily placed on the workspace, and easily customizable. I would recommend using them. You can use the Ribbon like toolbars, but I’ll get into that later. Toolbars can be created in the CUI and transferred easily enough through a migration. They can also be set up easily enough. The best part about them is that you can create one (or two, or three) and place them at a good spot on your screen. They are always there and don’t move. One Problem I have with the ribbon is that you have to click a tab to get to a panel to get to a command. With toolbars, you just move to it and click. That being said, you can pull out Ribbon Panels and use them like toolbars, so really you don’t need toolbars anymore, just the ribbon. I have two recommendations for using the ribbon; pick the one that best suits your needs.

My first recommendation (not in any particular order) is to create a custom TAB that has all of the commands you use every day. If you use it every day put it there. The HOME tab is meant to serve this purpose but it might not fit your exact needs. That’s ok. If you only need to add a few commands, then add them. Don’t bother making a new panel. The Quick Access Toolbar is also a great spot for everyday commands, though I would be careful not to make it too bulky.
My second recommendation is to collapse the Ribbon to its smallest size and pull out the panels containing the commands you need most as if they were toolbars. Customize them if you want or need to, but again keep all of the customization to a minimum. A hybrid customization of these two methods may even be appropriate. Make a Ribbon TAB that has your commands in it and pull them out. This will make maintenance easier. You only have to go to one TAB to update. You won’t have to go from tab to tab to panel to panel to try and find each command that needs changing. Keep your custom panel in one place, that way you only have to search in one place.

CONCLUSION

The ability to customize AutoCAD can be very complicated, but highly beneficial. Do so with care and with the future in mind. Adding a little custom tool here and adding one there will eventually create a giant sized custom interface that can be difficult to maintain. Keep it simple and you will find that you are working at your best.

Happy CADDING!
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