AutoCAD can be customized in many
different ways. Customization might be done in order to satisfy personal
preferences, meet company standards, or increase productivity.
Whatever the purpose, customization is always worth the effort in the long
run. Customization is a little like investing -- you spend a certain
amount of time and effort early in the process in order to gain more accuracy,
efficiency, and productivity over the long haul.
Below are eighteen different ways
to customize AutoCAD. While this list is not exhaustive, it will
give you a feel for the variety of customization methods available, and
allow you to see where AutoLISP fits into the larger picture of AutoCAD
These methods of customization are
listed in order from simple to complex, but this order could be misleading.
Naturally, there are levels of complexity within each of the methods, and
different individuals will have different opinions about the complexity
of any particular method, and where it should be placed in the list.
The placement of AutoLISP near the
end of the list does not mean that everything about AutoLISP is complex.
Nor does it mean that you should wait until you learn to use the earlier
methods of customization before you attempt AutoLISP. There are some
aspects of AutoLISP that are relatively simple; they compare in complexity
with items that appear earlier in the list (such as scripts and abbreviations).
Then there are other aspects of AutoLISP which are more complex, which
give it its extensive power and flexibility, as described under "Advantages
1. Screen appearance
This includes many different items,
such as cursor size, background color, number of lines in the command prompt
area, circle resolution, colors assigned to various layers, etc.
Some of these settings are saved in the drawing, so that they are consistent
whenever you edit that particular drawing. Other settings are saved
in the registry and can be saved in a user profile so that several users
on the same system can each restore their own settings.
Various toolbars can be placed on the
screen, in different locations. And they can be customized to include
only the commands you use most often.
3. Selecting text fonts
AutoCAD offers scores of commercial fonts as well as dozens of native AutoCAD
fonts so you can tweak the appearance of the dimensions, notes, and other
annotations in your drawings. (Compare "Modifying or creating text
font files" below.)
You can write scripts which automate
a sequence of commands. These scripts relate to AutoCAD commands
as batch files relate to DOS commands. By calling one script file,
you execute in sequence all the AutoCAD commands listed in that file, including
all the responses to the commands' prompts. The script writing
ability in AutoCAD is similar in concept to the macro writing ability found
in many other software packages. It is one of AutoCAD's earliest
methods of customization, appearing in version 1.4 (1983).
You can either use AutoCAD's built-in command abbreviations, or create
your own. Many users assign one-letter and two-letter abbreviations
to the commands they use most often. This allows them to access those
commands just about as quickly as they can with on-screen toolbars.
6. Access to external programs
You can modify the ACAD.PGP file so that you have access to various operating
system commands and external programs right from the AutoCAD command prompt.
7. Pull-down menus
It is possible to modify the menus that come with AutoCAD, moving commands
from one menu section to another, or eliminating menu items you never use.
It is also possible to create brand new menus of your own. This allows
you to streamline your interaction with the AutoCAD commands. (Compare
"Custom macros in menus" below.)
8. Customized help files
You can add your own information to the existing help files, or create
an entirely new system of help files. Thus you can explain how to
use an AutoCAD command in your particular discipline, specify your firm's
design practices, or explain how to use the various features you have added
to AutoCAD through scripts, external programs, AutoLISP, etc.
9. Viewports and viewpoints
For 3D modeling, you can set up whatever
viewports you want, and whatever viewpoints you like in each viewport.
10. Custom linetypes
AutoCAD supplies many different non-continuous linetypes. But if
your particular area of design requires something different, you can define
your own linetypes and add them to AutoCAD's library of linetypes, or place
them in a file holding your own specialized set of linetypes. You
can also define linetypes for the cartography (mapping) field which contain
repeated in-line symbols, numbers, or text.
11. Custom macros in menus
Either by modifying the menus supplied
with AutoCAD, or by writing your own menus, you can place macros in the
menus to allow you to accomplish several steps with just one or two picks.
For example, with one menu pick you could select a pre-drawn block from
disk, and with another pick you could locate the place in the drawing for
the block to be inserted. The macro would automatically enter the
folder and name of the block as well as its scaling factors and rotation
angle and perhaps switch layers to place it on a predetermined layer.
(Compare "Pull-down menus" above.)
12. Place custom information in the status line
The AutoCAD status line (at the bottom of the screen) can contain whatever
information you place in the modemacro system variable. This is done
with the use of the DIESEL string language and the AutoLISP getvar and
setvar functions. It can provide a continuous display of information
regarding current AutoCAD settings.
13. Modifying or creating text font files
AutoCAD's available fonts include dozens which you can modify by making
slight changes in character shapes, adding characters, etc. You can
also create entirely new fonts from scratch. (Compare "Selecting
text fonts" above.)
This is AutoCAD's built-in programming
language, which can perform tasks ranging from very simple to very complex.
(That's all that will be said here about AutoLISP, since this entire site
is devoted to the subject. If you are new to the subject of AutoLISP,
see "Basic concepts," then "Advantages
15. Altering AutoCAD's built-in commands
You can eliminate, replace, or modify
AutoCAD's built-in commands. This is done with AutoLISP, but in such
a way that when you (or another user or third party program) need access
to the original built-in commands, they are still accessible.
16. Programmable dialog boxes
You can create dialog boxes to get input
from users for use in an AutoLISP program. These dialog boxes are
created using the Dialog Control Language and are called and controlled
from the AutoLISP program.
17. AutoCAD Runtime Extension
The AutoCAD Runtime Extension (ARX)
is a method of writing external subroutines for use in AutoLISP.
You can write programs in various programming languages, compile them,
then call them from an AutoLISP program.
18. Third party programs that run inside
Available for purchase are many, many programs written for specialized
fields of design and engineering. These programs run inside AutoCAD
and are written to look as though they are part of AutoCAD. In any
field that uses AutoCAD you will find at least one such add-on package,
and in many fields you will find several competing packages. These
packages are usually written in AutoLISP (in whole or in part), and if
you are ambitious, you can write your own.
The above list is quite an impressive array of customization methods.
You are given wide latitude for setting up and using AutoCAD the way you
want. This ability of AutoCAD to let you modify the package is referred
to as "open architecture." Think of it as your invitation to control
the software and mold it into your own productivity engine.
1988, 1998, 1999, 2000 Ronald W. Leigh