AutoCAD is one of the world’s most well-known CAD programs, with thousands of people using it on a daily basis. In fact, nowadays, AutoCAD skills are highly valued in many industries including architecture, engineering, product design and more. However, it can be very difficult to get to grips with the software—especially if you’re a complete beginner. There’s so much to learn when it comes to AutoCAD—commands, customization and even the overall interface.
With that in mind, Scan2CAD have put together a complete guide for AutoCAD newbies. In this article, you’ll find a step-by-step guide to AutoCAD basics, everything you need to know about commands, and steps you can take to become a true AutoCAD expert. We’ve also included top resources for you to take full advantage of. You’ll be an expert in no time at all!
Table of Contents
Summary of AutoCAD
AutoCAD is one of the most popular CAD programs in the world. It was released by Autodesk in 1982 as their flagship product. It has seen 31 versions over the 34 years since its inception—and it hasn’t slowed down one bit. In fact, it has undoubtedly remained one of Autodesk’s most popular products. For more information, check out the AutoCAD History.
AutoCAD is used to create 2D and 3D drawings. It gives designers the ability to conceptualize their designs, produce them as drawings and perform simulations. Quite simply, the possibilities are practically endless with AutoCAD. There are thousands of active AutoCAD users worldwide, across all kinds of disciplines—architecture, engineering, animation and so on. It’s of no surprise, therefore, that many people on a daily basis look to becoming an AutoCAD expert. Gaining skills in AutoCAD, after all, can give people access to a wide range of careers.
It doesn’t really matter if you’re an AutoCAD newbie, or if you’re an experienced user—there are hundreds of ways to become more adept at AutoCAD. So if you’re looking for a few tips, tricks and shortcuts for AutoCAD—you’ve come to the right place!
Before You Start
AutoCAD can be a complex program to get to grips with—it takes years for people to truly master it. It can therefore be rather daunting for beginners. So before we get stuck into the AutoCAD basics, let’s cover a few things that you should remember while learning AutoCAD.
Don’t Be Scared To Try
AutoCAD comes with a relatively simple interface, particularly for beginners. However, it’s still a pretty complex program to get familiar with. With that in mind, it’s important that you’re not scared to try new things in AutoCAD. So before you get started with the basics, you should spend a day messing around with the software. Try out every icon and feature you can find—familiarizing yourself with them. The faster you get to grips with the layout and interface, the closer you’ll get to producing your first successful drawing.
Learning Is Important And Ongoing
AutoCAD is one of the most elite CAD programs out there—which means you’re in luck. With that world-wide importance, comes a lot of readily-available resources. To put it simply, there are hundreds of websites and resources to take advantage of, which we’ll discuss in the Resources section.
The most important resource for you to take note of is Autodesk University. This was created by Autodesk so that people from all over the world could learn how to use Autodesk software. The website has lectures and handouts covering the most basic of functions to the most complex. You certainly won’t come across any problem in AutoCAD that Autodesk University won’t sort out. Alternatively, you can make use of Autodesk’s Support.
Practice Makes Perfect
Once you’ve gotten to grips with the basics which we’ll cover in the next section, you need to make sure you’re continuously practicing with AutoCAD. As with most things in life, you won’t get very far if you only practice every once in a while—practice makes perfect after all. It might be worthwhile starting a site plan or a floor plan, slowly making your way up to more complex drawings as you gain more confidence.
As we’ve already said, AutoCAD can be a pretty complex program to get to grips with. It’s no wonder, therefore, that many beginners don’t really know where to start. With that in mind, we decided to walk you AutoCAD newbies through the AutoCAD Basics. And what better way to do so than to follow it right from Autodesk’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to AutoCAD Basics? Now, we’re only going to map out the key sections to Autodesk’s guide—essentially laying out where you should start and how you can progress from there. For more a step-by-step process, check the guide.
As shown above, Autodesk advises new users to follow these steps:
- Notes & Labels
The steps above will take you through a detailed AutoCAD crash course. Before you start these steps however, you might benefit from messing around with AutoCAD first. Take the time to truly test out AutoCAD’s capabilities.
Before You Start Basics
Create a sample drawing for this testing stage. When you open AutoCAD, you’ll see the tabbed ribbon which is like the ones you use in other programs. The bottom of the screen has the Command Window—with this, you can activate tools. Of course, you’ll usually be prompted for specifics, e.g. activating a CIRCLE will prompt you to specify its center, start point, and end point. Your drawing space will have grid lines, which are great as a point of reference—you can press F7 if you prefer a blank area.
You’ll also find that your computer mouse is more than just a pointing device in AutoCAD. It can select objects, specify locations, pan and zoom, and view the shortcut menu. You can zoom in and out by rolling the wheel, and pan a view by holding it down and moving the mouse. If you want to zoom to the extent of your model, you just need to click the wheel twice.
You’ll find it useful to test out all of the drawing tools, e.g. line, circle and rectangle—just so you know what you’re working with before you start the basics. The modification tools will come next—like the drawing tools, they’re rather straightforward. If you have any issues or queries, however, you can just use the Help tool. The Annotation and Styles typically follow—these class as anything that isn’t geometry, e.g. text, hatches, dimensions and tables. Of course, there is much more offered by AutoCAD—we’re just outlining a few things you should test out first.
Overall, you just need to make sure you’re comfortable with AutoCAD before you start going through the basic learning steps. Familiarize yourself with its tools and interface—you’ll find it easier to go through the steps if you know where everything is and how everything works.
The next step for AutoCAD newbies is AutoCAD commands. Using the command line, you can type in a command or command shortcut to enact a process. This can help you speed up your entire drafting process. Instead of spending ten minutes using AutoCAD icons and your computer mouse, you can just type in a quick command and hit enter. Of course, these commands sometimes trigger queries from AutoCAD, e.g. asking you to specify a coordinate. Once you get the hang of these commands, you can produce drawings in half the time it would have previously taken you.
There are hundreds of AutoCAD commands, which can seem a little bit daunting. Some commands have hotkey shortcuts, and others don’t. But you don’t have to worry about getting a little bit lost—it’s all a learning curve anyway. We’ll start with AutoCAD’s one-key shortcuts. As the name suggests, these shortcuts only require you to use one key. Take a look at Autodesk’s infographic below to have a better look:
Can’t read the infographic? Click the image for a better look.
The one key shortcuts are just the tip of the iceberg. There are over 200 command hot keys for you to take advantage of. These are shortened versions of commands, usually two or three letters e.g. RO for ROTATE. You can view them all in Autodesk’s helpful guide—covering every single hot key command from A to Z. Of course, there are more commands for AutoCAD that don’t have shortcuts—you can check out a full list here.
Some people pick these commands up quickly—before long, they’re typing commands with their left hand and using their right hand to navigate with the mouse. If you put in the effort with these commands, you can speed up your entire process. This can look pretty good if you’re applying for a job that requires AutoCAD skills. Rather than let you wade into the depths of these commands by yourself, however, we decided to put together a couple of command lists.
These commands are relatively basic. They have hotkey shortcuts that are straightforward and easy to pick up on—mirror for example, is MI or MIRROR in full. The sooner you start using commands, the faster you’ll become more adept at AutoCAD. Start by memorizing the one key shortcuts up above, and then move onto the basic commands listed below.
|CO / COPY||Creates a copy of an object|
|RO / ROTATE||Rotates an object|
|MI / MIRROR||Creates a mirrored copy of an object|
|X / EXPLODE||Breaks an object into its components|
|CHA / CHAMFER||Bevels the edges of an object|
|LA / LAYERS||Opens the layers properties window|
|TR / TRIM||Trims the object to meet the edges of other objects|
|EX / EXTEND||Extends the object to meet the edges of other objects|
|DI / DISTANCE||Measures the distance and angle between two points|
|AR / ARRAY||Creates copies of objects arranged in a pattern|
These commands are a little more intermediate than the above ones. Firstly, they don’t have any hotkey shortcuts—so it might take you a little bit longer to memorize. These commands will most likely be used once you’ve gotten used to drawing in AutoCAD. You should avoid using them until you’ve gotten to grips with the basics—otherwise you might get a little bit lost. If you can’t be bothered typing out the commands (some are rather long), you can create your own hotkey shortcuts—see the Newbie To Expert section for more details.
|OVERKILL||Deletes duplicates, 0 values or overlapping lines in a drawing. It’s good for cleaning old drawings.|
|OOPS||Restores the most recently deleted items|
|MATLIB||Imports and exports materials to and from a library|
|PURGE||Removes unused objects in your drawing through a series of filters: layers, blocks, materials and so on|
|QSAVE||Auto-saves your file, which is useful if AutoCAD stops working all of a sudden|
|TEXTTOFRONT||Brings all annotations to the front|
|ALIASEDIT||Gives you a list of all the commands that have shortcuts. You can even add new ones|
|MOCORO||Lets you move, copy, rotate and scale in a single command|
|SAVEALL||Will attempt to save all open drawings, leaving them open for continued editing|
|TORIENT||Rotates text and blocks with attributes for readability|
Of course, it will take you a long time to fully get to grips with AutoCAD commands. With there being so many—and too few hotkeys—you might find yourself lost. Our tip here is to set aside a notebook. You can use this notebook to write down commands—but only do so after you’ve used the command. It helps you keep track of what you’ve learned, and also helps you memorize the commands.
You can see our essential list of AutoCAD commands where we’ve also created a handy downloadable PDF cheat sheet.
To Ribbon, Or Not To Ribbon?
Once you’ve gotten to grips with AutoCAD commands, you might not find yourself using the ribbon as much. Many people find this to be the case—preferring to have a wide set of space for drawing. If that is the case, you can turn off the ribbon and palettes by pressing CTRL+0—press it again to restore original settings. Alternatively, you can use the commands: CLEANSCREENON or CLEANSCREENOFF.
If you actually like using the ribbon, you could create your own custom panel. You can then fill this panel with your most frequently used commands for speedy access. Check out the video below by AutoCAD expert Lynn Allen, covered in her top tips.
From Newbie To Expert
Customization is one of the key aspects of AutoCAD that will take you from a newbie to an expert. Below, we’ve listed some potential customization tips that you can use to make AutoCAD a bit more personalized—helping your overall user experience.
Once you’ve familiarized yourself with Commands 101, you might be interested in creating shortcuts for your favorite commands. These custom shortcuts are known as command aliases, which are very easy to create.
Go to the tools pull down menu, click ‘Customize‘ and then click ‘Edit Program Parameters‘ (acad.pgp). The file will be opened in Notepad. All you have to do then is make changes to the command aliases. For example, a lot of AutoCAD users change the COPY alias from CO to C—of course, that then means CIRCLE has to have a new alias. You can’t have two identical aliases. Bear in mind that you’ll need to have some sort of system in place, otherwise it can get a little bit complicated. Once you’ve made your changes, you’ll have to wait until you restart AutoCAD for the changes to take place.
You start a new template when you begin a drawing in AutoCAD. Typically, AutoCAD has its own drawing template that it automatically designates to you unless you create your own. A template can contain a variety of parameters, e.g. drawing limits, layer organization and linetypes. Having these parameters set in place before you begin can help you work efficiently and quickly. Many companies opt for a drawing template so that employees aren’t using different standards when they’re creating AutoCAD drawings.
To create your own templates, just start up a new drawing as you usually would. Once you have, start setting parameters that you think you’d need in a regular drawing. Once you have, you just need to save your drawing as a template. To do this, just click ‘Save As‘ or CTRL+SHIFT+S. Change the file type from DWG to DWT (AutoCAD Drawing Template). You will then be asked to add a description in a dialog box—keep it detailed for future reference. You can then use the template when you begin a new drawing.
If you’re a huge fan of apps, you’ll love this step. Did you know that you can customize AutoCAD with exchange apps? Well, now you do! These apps are AutoCAD-approved extensions. There are hundreds available for you to choose from—varying from productivity tools to drawing content. They’re created by third-party developers for particular disciplines, so you’ll be sure to find something that catches your eye. Some apps are free and others aren’t. You won’t have much trouble with these apps, as they’re easy to download and install. We recommend spending an afternoon browsing through the Autodesk App Store for a better idea.
If you get through these customization tips, check out Autodesk’s Customization Guide for more information.
You can even check out these websites where you can get free CAD blocks.
How To Be More Productive
Another factor in taking you from AutoCAD newbie to professional is tools to increase your productivity. There are many steps to creating and completing a drawing in AutoCAD—so you’ll want to look for as many ways as you can to speed up your overall efficiency.
Don’t forget that as an AutoCAD user, you can also take advantage of AutoCAD 360. This is a mobile and web app that enables registered users to view, edit and share AutoCAD files. So essentially, with AutoCAD 360 you can view your drawings and even modify them on your mobile or tablet. This is great if you’re someone who thinks on the move. With AutoCAD 360 you could be designing on the go. The app comes with a free version, Pro ($4.99 a month or $49.99 yearly) and Pro Plus ($99.99 yearly). If AutoCAD 360 isn’t something you’re keen on, check out Scan2CAD’s top CAD mobile app picks.
Of course, it will take more than the above steps to fully become an AutoCAD expert. You need to have the drive to keep pushing yourself to learn. Keep practicing with AutoCAD—if you’re feeling particularly adventurous, you could try modeling a 3D soccer ball from our Top 20 3D CAD models (Part 1). And don’t forget to fully utilize Autodesk University! If that’s not enough for you, however, check out our Resources section below.
If you haven’t come across this useful command yet, you’re in for a treat. Whether you’re creating site plans or models, you’ll undoubtedly end up repeating the same command at least once. Instead of clicking the icon repeatedly, or typing in the shortcut/command, there’s another better way. This better way is otherwise known as the MULTIPLE command. This command will save you a lot of time and effort in the future—so make a note of it.
Just type MULTIPLE into the command line and press enter. Then, type the name of the command you want to repeat e.g. B or BLOCK. The MULTIPLE command will keep the BLOCK command running on an infinite loop until you choose otherwise (press ESC).
Manage Your Standards
If you’re looking to be as productive as possible with AutoCAD, you should most certainly make sure you manage your standards. When we say standards, we don’t just mean standard templates. We mean everything from the naming conventions of your files and command aliases, to your overall file management. Creating standards and maintaining them is vital to becoming a more productive AutoCAD user. So, if you use a particular naming convention for layers or filenames or command aliases—stick to it. For more information, check out Scan2CAD’s CAD File Management Tips.
If you start early enough with these standards and conventions, you’ll save yourself a lot of time in the future. Standards are also extremely useful for when, or if, you start collaborating with other people. If you’re organized, you lessen the chance of collaborators getting confused, e.g. not understanding your layer name conventions. Furthermore, getting used to standards is a great way to prepare yourself for a CAD-related job—those in the CAD industry also have their own standards.
If you’re looking to become an expert in AutoCAD, you’ll need to make use of the best resources out there. After all, learning is a constant and ongoing process. For your benefit, Scan2CAD has put together a list of the top resources that will help you become the best AutoCAD user you can be!
Firstly, we have a list of blogs that cover everything from tips to tutorials—if you have any queries, one of these blogs will answer them.
If that’s not enough reading material for you, check out CAD Panacea—it has links to all of Lynn Allen’s Tips and Tricks booklets for the various releases of AutoCAD. Just so you know, Lynn Allen is the resident AutoCAD expert. Needless to say, reading these guides will certainly make you an AutoCAD expert in no time at all.
Now, some people learn better from reading guides and tips online. They retain the information and can apply it easily to what they’re doing. Other people learn better with a visual or hands-on approach. If you’re that type of learner, we have just the thing for you! Below is a list of YouTube channels that post regular tutorials for AutoCAD.
If that’s not enough for you, you should check out the official AutoCAD blog. It covers everything from the latest AutoCAD news to features you should be taking advantage of.
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