Autocad 2006 – the CAD-Reviews independent review

New release puts commands at your cursor tip!

Autocad 2006 from Autodesk

The core Autodesk platform product reaches its twentieth release with a shift away from the uneasy balance of recent times of a graphical interface combined with a rigid text based command line in favour of a dynamic input field that moves with the cursor – commands at your cursor tip! Prompts and command modifiers are accessible using the down arrow, coordinates are input at the cursor location and input dimensions are previewed with tooltips for distances and angles.

Hovering over an existing entity highlights the entities that would be selected by clicking and the cursor updates to indicate the snap that will occur if selected.

Enhancements to fillets and chamfers will be highly appreciated.

No longer does the radius need to be set to zero for a corner as simply holding down the shift key while selecting entities results in a sharp corner irrespective of the currently set radius or chamfer values.

Similarly it is possible to toggle between trim and extend commands using the shift modifier.

The power of the trim command is also increased with crossing window or fence selection allowing rapid editing of multiple entities in one command.

As an alternative, individual segments of lines, splines and circular and elliptical arcs that share a centre can be joined into single objects.

A multiple option is added to the offset command so that an entity can be repeatedly offset by clicking without needing to restart the command or select entities.

The built-in calculator has been upgraded to include a clipboard, scientific functions, pre-defined variables and conversion between units for length, area, angular and angles.

In the spirit of more efficient drawing through more specific commands to achieve the required result, a rectangle can now be created by specifying one edge and the area.

This only represents a modest time saving for a simple rectangle as this could already be achieved by specifying the second edge by dividing the required area by the first edge length in the dimension input field but makes more sense when a specific area is required including chamfered or filleted corners.

The area of one or more hatches is readily available in the properties window, accessed from the right click menu options.

Entities can be added or removed from hatch boundaries to give greater control after a hatch has been created.

If a hatch is applied to multiple areas simultaneously they can subsequently be separated for each hatch to be edited independently.

The common problem of awkward hatch positioning with respect to the design outline can be addressed by specifying the hatch origin.

Should the hatch boundary be inadvertently deleted, simple geometric boundaries can be recreated from the hatch pattern with the option to be associative if required.

Additional dimension capabilities include arc length with the symbol placed above the dimension text and an intuitive way to add jogged leaders for large arcs where the true centre is off the drawing sheet.

It is also now possible, should the need arise, to change the linetype for the dimension and extension line entities and flip individual arrow heads inside or outside the leader lines as required.

Text handling has finally been improved with in-place editing over the drawing with a transparent or opaque background complete with a ruler for indents and tabs.

Lists can be bulleted, numbered or alphabetical.

Whilst the ever increasing range of commands and options can provide new benefits, it also introduces the risk of an overly complex and confusing interface.

To address this, task based custom workspaces can be created and readily recalled to show only the toolbars, palettes and menus that are used most frequently for each activity type such as geometry creation or drawing sheet detailing.

A new XML based system has been introduced to replace MNU and MNS custom menu files used in previous releases.

The new CUI files are managed through a tree based Customize User Interface dialog which also has an option to import any previous menu settings.

Autodesk has been careful to ensure that customisation can be preserved between releases and in this release users will be relieved to know that the native DWG file format has not changed in order to maintain compatibility of data.

Blocks can be driven parametrically with the ability to add parameter and action definitions.

Parameters define custom properties and specify positions, distances and angles for the geometry whilst actions define behaviours for how the geometry will move or change.

This in effect enables part of a block to be changed or even hidden as if being an active sub-assembly inside the parent drawing.

Should multiple drawings be open when AutoCAD crashes or a system failure occurs, the Drawing Recovery Manager opens the next time AutoCAD is started.

This displays a list of the previously open files with a preview.

The DWF file format is being extended to incorporate 3D data although in the light of some other more 3D centric products from Autodesk and excellent dedicated solid modellers for mechanical design, vanilla AutoCAD is not likely to be a 3D tool of choice.

There is no doubting the power available in AutoCAD 2006, although for many users needing to generate and manage complex drawings it is likely that numerous previous releases of AutoCAD have been entirely capable.

Autodesk is finding some areas to innovate that will deliver improved productivity, but many enhancements feel more like resolution of niggles or anomalies that could have been addressed several releases ago.

For designers and engineers who have encountered the power of truly parametric geometry creation in other CAD packages, AutoCAD’s entity drafting approach feels limiting and outdated.

Although parametric tools have predominantly been implemented in 3D modellers, there have been notable 2D examples that demonstrate the power that could be made available to the army of AutoCAD users who only need to work in 2D.