Customizing the AutoCAD 2009 Ribbon

Autodesk began shipping many of their 2009 products starting Monday. Among those released is their flagship product, AutoCAD 2009. If you just can’t wait until your subscription shipment makes its way to your doorstep, a fully-functioning 30 day trial can be downloaded from the Autodesk website. As I have said in some previous posts, the big new feature in AutoCAD 2009 is more-or-less the user interface (UI) as a whole.

Just about every red blooded AutoCAD user I have ever met has first asked “How do I use XYZ Feature?” After they learn how to use XYZ feature, their next question is “How do I customize it?” Last month I gave a quick how to with my “Introduction to the AutoCAD 2009 Ribbon”. This month, we’ll take a look at customizing the new AutoCAD 2009 Ribbon. At first glance, the Ribbon may seem like a brand new cryptic monstrosity at the heart of new release. Good news is the “all new” Ribbon isn’t really all that new afterall.

Update Block Attributes Using Excel

POST UPDATED: We’ve authored an updated version of this post using AutoCAD 2016. The updated post includes a video demonstration of the process discussed in this post.

Express > Blocks > Import/Export Attribute Information

My post titled “Quickly Link Excel Tables to AutoCAD” from last August continues to be one of my most popular posts to date. As a result I have received a number of e-mails from readers such as you asking about other ways to link Excel data with AutoCAD data. A popular variation has been asking about a way in which you can link Excel data with AutoCAD Block Attributes. Since Block Attributes function much like a database form, it seems logical that we should be able to use Excel as a data source for those Block Attributes. Sadly there is not a true “Link Block to Excel” command (to my knowledge) within AutoCAD. That however does not mean there’s no workaround to the situation!

I originally developed this workaround back in the days before Sheet Set Manager. At the time I was working on a two-part project, each of which consisted of more than 100 sheets. The kicker was that we had to include the station range of the alignment being illustrated on each plan and profile sheet. Of course, as luck would have it, our road alignments were constantly changing in the early phases of design, consequently making our sheet titles incorrect. I thought to myself – there has to be a better way!

After a little digging around I found two Express Tool Commands which caught my eye; ATTIN and ATTOUT. Using these commands in conjunction with one another I was able to export a text file containing my attribute values, bring that text file into Excel to change and manage values, finally importing that text file back into AutoCAD. Admittedly the process is a little rough around the edges, but at the end of the day – it works!

Introduction to AutoCAD Script Files

Although each release of AutoCAD translates to bigger and arguably better features one thing has never changed; its malleability. In fact some would argue the malleability of the software as being its best feature. Be it the CUI command, LISP routines, or even VBA and .NET applications. Each of these features is included in the software for one reason – user customization. Even still, LISP and .NET customization can be rather illusive for all but a small minority of the AutoCAD user base.

An Easy Path to Customization

Luckily script customization affords even rookie AutoCAD users a way to automate AutoCAD with endless possibility. While I know the sheer term “Script File” intimidates many, but truth be known, you’ve been writing script files for as long as you have been using AutoCAD. So how is that possible? Well, an AutoCAD script file is really nothing more than a sequence of standard AutoCAD Commands. Thus if you know how to type commands at the command line, you know how to write a script file.

Scripting Commands with Dialog Boxes

Let’s take a look at how we might create a script file which creates a new layer named C-ROAD-TEXT, sets its color to Yellow, and then sets the layer current.

The LAYER command is among a growing number of AutoCAD Commands which have both a dialog box version and a command line version.  By default, AutoCAD uses the dialog box version of a command.  While this is great for general usage, script files have no way to interact with dialog boxes.  For this reason, we must explicitly tell AutoCAD to use the command line version of a command.  Generally, this can be done by prefixing the command name with a hyphen (-).  Consequently, rather than typing LAYER which opens the Layer Manager Dialog, we will need to type -LAYER.  This will suppress the dialog, and present the entire command at the command line.

AutoCAD 2009: Quick View Layout & Drawing Video Introduction

image Many within the CAD industry (myself included) coined AutoCAD 2008 the “Wish List Release”.  After many years of asking, we were finally given things like annotative scaling and multileaders. AutoCAD 2009 seems to continue that to some degree, but it’s true focus is the UI (User Interface) itself.  Looking back, the last time we have seen a major UI overhaul was with Release 13 when AutoCAD said goodbye to MS DOS and hello to MS Windows. Just the other day I was reading a post at by James Wedding titled “Death, Taxes, and the Annual Release Cycle“. While his post was mostly about the upcoming AutoCAD Civil 3D 2009, he did make a quote I think embodies what AutoCAD 2009 is all about.  He said “2009 isn’t the revolution, it’s the evolution, and to me that’s a good sign”.

Packed within AutoCAD 2009 you’re not going to find the next Annotative Scaling or Sheet Set Manager.  Instead what you’re going to see is an all new UI that Autodesk will certainly harness in future releases.  While getting used to the new UI will be a paradigm shift in-and-of-itself; I think the true power of the new UI will be seen in the future. Starting with AutoCAD 2009 we’re no longer trapped within a static interface.  Instead we start seeing some dynamic UI elements.  Among these is the new Quick View Layout, and Quick View Drawing feature.

In the past switching between drawings or layout tabs was a blind operation.  We would have no clue what a given drawing or layout tab would look like until we switched to it.  This is where the Quick View Layout and Quick View Drawing feature comes in.  Using this feature we are now able to see a thumbnail for both drawings and layout tabs before we switch to them.  Making this feature even more appealing is the inclusion of additional functions such as plotting. 

A complete introduction to this new feature can be found in the following video:

Introduction to the AutoCAD 2009 Ribbon

Last Tuesday MSNBC, CNN, and every other American news outlet dubbed February 5, 2008 as “Super Tuesday”.  Seeing that Virginia (where I live) wasn’t included in the Super Tuesday primaries; Super Tuesday wasn’t much different than any other Tuesday.  Fast-forward a week to February 12, 2008, and you get what I call a Super Tuesday!  Autodesk had some pretty exciting announcements to make.  No Carl Bass (Autodesk CEO) isn’t running for president.  Instead, what Autodesk is about to do is release their line of 2009 products, and you know what that means.  An all new AutoCAD, Civil 3D, and the many other Autodesk products!

So what can we expect in AutoCAD 2009?  Well the list is somewhat long.  If you would like to see the complete list, hop over to Shaan Hurley’s Between The Lines Blog, and check out his The 2009 Products Including AutoCAD 2009 post.  Stay tuned here at The CAD Geek Blog for some indepth looks at the new features within both AutoCAD 2009 and AutoCAD Civil 3D 2009.

The most notable of the scary new features is the all-new Ribbon.  Microsoft Office 2007 was the first mainstream product to employ this new GUI.  Autodesk in their 2009 release of AutoCAD have followed suit with their version of the Ribbon.  At the end of the day, the Ribbon is really nothing more than the new Dashboard, but with some twists.  Below you will find a quick video introducing how to use the new Ribbon in AutoCAD 2009.

Bring All Text To Front and a Wii Tip

snowboard This time last week I was at the beautiful Snowshoe Mountain in West Virginia.  Slope conditions were rather nice for the entire weekend, so myself and the group I was with got some great runs in!  In the evenings when we were not skiing we ended up playing Nintendo Wii.

Of course the Nintendo Wii play almost didn’t happen because yours truly forgot to pack the sensor bar.  Might I add the group I was with consisted of some top-notch geeks, one of which is a programmer.  JJ, the programmer, knew that two candles would do the trick when without a Wii sensor bar.

Commas in Sheet Set Manager


Sheet Set Manager has certainly made it much easier to create, manage, and plot drawing sheets.  Even still, SSM is not without it’s flaws.  Perhaps one of my all-time SSM annoyances is the fact you cannot insert a comma in a SSM field.  So how did I put a comma in the illustration above?

Adding LISP, VB apps, and more to Tool Palettes

image By now Tool Palettes have probably become a staple of your workspace.  We can put all sorts of things on Tool Palettes; lines and blocks being the most common.  While lines and blocks on tool palettes add a degree of sanity for many, wouldn’t it be nice if we could say add a LISP routine, VB app, even execute a script from a Tool Palette?

Well the good news is that we can, although the process isn’t necessarily obvious for many. 

Layer Properties Per Viewport

For the past couple weeks The CAD Geek Blog has been rather quiet.  Rest assured I haven’t abandoned my little corner of the CAD blogosphere, but rather took a little end-of-year vacation (Dec 17-Jan 1).  I started my vacation with grand plans of blogging almost non-stop, and finding new ways to break AutoCAD and Civil 3D.  What actually happened was a lot of Christmas shopping, followed by a number of excursions.

Proclaimed as the birthplace of the Tacky Christmas Light Tour, I had a chance to visit the many tacky homes in and around Richmond, VA.  My mothers home is among those on the Richmond Tacky Light Tour.  Getting Christmas off to a somewhat comical start was me attempting to calculate and balance the electrical load for her light display.  2-30 Amp and 2-20 Amp breakers later – we had lights!

Other highlights of my long Christmas break included visiting Baltimore, MD for their Miracle on 34th Street; Newport News, VA for their Celebration in Lights, and Virginia Beach, VA for their Holiday Lights on the Boardwalk.  Finally I had the pleasure of bringing in the new year with my favorite band – Carbon Leaf.  Needless to say, all that fun didn’t leave much time for blogging.  But 2008 is here, and so am I!

AutoCAD 2008 introduced a handy feature for managing layers properties on a viewport-by-viewport basis.  Pre-2008 we could only freeze and thaw per viewport, but now we can change Color, Linetype, Lineweight, and Plot Style.  In the short time we have had 2008 installed, the feature has already proven helpful a number of times.  So just how does one use this feature?

Utilize your Multi-Core Processor in AutoCAD

Core 2 Duo Processor It’s no secret, the modern-day processor race isn’t measured so much on how fast the processor is, but rather how many cores you have.  First we saw the Core Duo (2 cores) processors, then the Core 2 Duo’s (4 cores).  While your inner-geek can certainly brag about the number of cores inside your machine, what about actually using them for some real processing?

A lesser-known AutoCAD System Variable might just be your ticket to utilizing some of that extra power.  The system variable is WHIPTHREAD.  Depending on how you set this variable, AutoCAD can use that extra processor to improve the speed of operations which require a redraw or regenerate the drawing such as ZOOM.  I have copied an excerpt from the AutoCAD help file, documenting what each value does:

Inserting DWG’s into MS Word or PowerPoint

image Just this evening I received an e-mail from Autodesk letting me know my AU Unplugged session "The Training Trinity: Fundamentals of a Successful Training Program" was accepted.  Thank you to everyone who voted for my session.  If you’re attending AU, be sure to check out the AU Unplugged Schedule.  There you will find the full list of, and information on each of the AU Unplugged sessions.  I do look forward to meeting some of you guys!

Throughout the years, I have seen both high and low-tech ways of inserting AutoCAD DWG’s into Microsoft Office documents.  I believe the most low tech way I have seen included printing each the MS Word file, and the AutoCAD DWG, then using Scotch Tape to insert the DWG onto the printed document.  Run it through a photocopier, and no one will ever know (unless you were a messy Scotch Taper).  But what do you say we jump into the 21st century?

Staying in the 21st century, AutoCAD does actually provide us with a fair number of options for inserting AutoCAD DWG’s into MS Office documents.  Although a Ctrl + C (Copy) and Ctrl + V (Paste) will work, it will insert your AutoCAD DWG just as it looks in AutoCAD – including the black background.  My guess is you would rather have it look similar to the way your DWG plots?

GROUP Therapy

image More often than not, when the GROUP command comes up in discussion it’s because a user can’t figure out why their selection sets are going crazy.  Hence the reason I titled this post “GROUP Therapy”.  But in all seriousness, GROUPS can prove handy when you, and more importantly, your co-workers understand what they are and how to use them.

Blocks are of course quite powerful in the way they collect some number of AutoCAD objects, and package them into a single object.  As we all know the number of uses of blocks and duct tape are directly proportional to one another.  On the other hand wouldn’t it be nice if we could toggle a block on and off?

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