Other Ways to
Customize AutoCAD

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 customization.

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 of AutoLISP."

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.
2. Toolbars
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.)
4. Scripts
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).
5. Abbreviations
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.)
14. AutoLISP
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 of AutoLISP".)
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 AutoCAD
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.


Copyright © 1988, 1998, 1999, 2000 Ronald W. Leigh