On March 21, Autodesk unveiled AutoCAD 2017, the 31st release of its flagship product. It is therefore time once again for us to take a quick look at the new features and functions of our favorite CAD program.
The AutoCAD 2017 new features are designed to set the stage for Autodesk’s move away from a perpetual license model—in which you own a copy of a particular release of AutoCAD and can use it essentially forever—to a subscription model—in which customers rent the software on a monthly, quarterly, annual, or multi-year basis. As such, a great deal of effort in this release was done behind the scenes, in order to smooth this transition.
That’s not to say that there aren’t some very significant enhancements in AutoCAD 2017. In fact, there are three really big changes, and the first two involve dimensioning—sort of. The previous release introduced an entirely new tool for creating all types of dimensions with a single tool. For the first time, you could create multiple types of associative dimensions without having to end one command and start another, and you could place all of those dimensions on a specific layer, rather than having to first make the appropriate layer the current layer. But the improvements in AutoCAD 2016 did not include centerlines or center marks. Those objects remained largely unchanged from when they were first introduced more than 20 years ago. As a result, centerlines and center marks continued to consist of lines that, once drawn, were entirely unrelated to the geometry they were used to annotate. With AutoCAD 2017, that situation has finally changed.
Associative Centerlines and Center Marks
AutoCAD 2017 new features introduce powerful new tools for creating and editing centerlines and center marks, and these tools appear prominently on the Annotate ribbon. The Centerline tool creates centerline geometry of a specified linetype that remains associated with the selected lines and polylines. The new Center Mark tool creates an associative center mark at the center of a selected circle, arc, or polygonal arc. Once created, if you move the associated objects, the centerlines and center marks update accordingly.
The appearance of the centerlines and center marks are controlled by a number of new system variables. For example, CENTEREXE controls how far the centerlines and center marks extend beyond the objects, and CENTERLAYER specifies the layer on which centerlines and center marks are created. You can also control the linetype and linetype scale used for centerlines and center marks, the size of the central cross for center marks, and the extension line gap between the central cross and the extension lines of center marks.
Once created, you can use grips to easily adjust centerlines and center marks. And should the need arise, there are commands to disassociate centerlines and center marks from the objects they annotate, and to reassociate them with selected objects.
Import PDF Geometry
The second big feature in AutoCAD 2017 is the ability to import geometry from a PDF file into the current drawing as AutoCAD objects. AutoCAD has long had the ability to attach a PDF file as an underlay. You could then see the PDF file within the context of the drawing and, if necessary, create geometry by snapping to the underlying PDF image.
The import PDF capability goes well beyond this. After a PDF file is selected, an Import PDF file dialog is displayed. You can then choose which page from the PDF file to import; specify the scale, rotation, and insertion point; control what type of data is imported from the PDF file (geometry, solid fills, text, and raster objects); control how layers are assigned to imported objects; and so on.
Raster images are extracted as PNG files and attached to the drawing. Solid fills can be converted to hatches and other geometry is converted into polylines.
There are a few caveats to using this new PDF capability. Geometry can only be imported if it was originally saved to the PDF file as vector data. In other words, if the PDF was created by exporting from a CAD program, you will probably be able to import the geometry, but if the PDF was created by scanning an old paper drawing, you’re out of luck. Also, the PDF file format does not recognize AutoCAD’s shape-based (SHX) fonts. When drawings with SHX fonts are plotted to PDF, the text is stored as geometry. When you import the PDF file into AutoCAD, that text is added to the AutoCAD drawing as polylines, not text. But any text created using TrueType fonts will be imported as a text object.
You can import a PDF file and immediately convert it into AutoCAD objects, or convert a PDF file previously attached as an underlay.
Print Your Own 3D Models
Those working in one of the 3D workspaces will likely notice a new button on the Output tab. AutoCAD 2017 new features now offer two different methods for sending 3D models to a 3D printer. You can choose Send to 3D Print Service, which launches the 3DPRINTSERVICE command (formerly 3DPRINT). Or, you can choose the new Print Studio option, which now launches the new 3DPRINT command. If you choose Send to 3D Print Service, you can quickly save an STL file that can then be sent to a 3D print service. The Print Studio option downloads and installs Autodesk Print Studio, a separate application that enables you to connect to the 3D printer to which you want to send your 3D model, or you can create a print file for printing later.
While there are other significant improvements in AutoCAD 2017, many of them are subtle improvements made under the hood. For example, if you have a DirectX 11-capable graphics card and have hardware acceleration turned on, you may notice a dramatic increase in performance. In previous releases of AutoCAD, the preview image of objects being created, moved, or copied could appear quite jagged. But in AutoCAD 2017, they appear just as smooth in this preview mode, once the creation or modification operation is completed.
In addition, linetypes with dash and dot combinations display round dots, whereas in previous releases these dots were represented by very short dashes. And when selecting objects that use complex linetypes, you can now select and snap to objects, even if you click in a blank space within the linetype.
Since AutoCAD 2017 also takes advantage of the graphics processing unit (GPU) in most modern computers, complex linetypes are generated by the GPU rather than the CPU, and graphics are now cached in GPU memory. This significantly improves pan and zoom operations. The underlying 3D graphics subsystem has also been completely rewritten, resulting in faster performance with large 3D models and improved software stability.
You may become more aware of other, not-so-subtle changes. For example, you may notice that many of the dialog boxes that you encounter as you use the program are now larger. For example, when you use a file dialog to open or save a drawing, you will likely see that the size of the preview pane has increased. Other dialog boxes, such as the Edit Attributes dialog that appears when inserting a block containing attributes, now displays up to 15 attributes per page, so you can view more information with less scrolling.
In addition, you can resize many of these dialog boxes and AutoCAD will remember their size the next time you use them. Also, many unnecessary tools and tooltips have been removed from the scrolling windows of several dialog boxes.
When you first install AutoCAD 2017, you will likely also become aware of the new Autodesk desktop app that replaces the Autodesk Application Manager. This window is automatically displayed once the install is complete. A shortcut to this new application also appears on the desktop and in the Windows Taskbar. This new companion application will be used to deliver security patches and updates for all 2015, 2016, and 2017 versions of Autodesk’s Windows-based programs.
Whenever a hot fix, service patch, or security patch becomes available, this program will display a notification on the system tray. When you launch the new companion application and open its Updates tab, you will see relevant details about the update, and you will be able to click a button to quickly and easily download and install the update on your computer.
Autodesk has also improved the process of moving your custom settings from your previous version of AutoCAD to AutoCAD 2017. A new Migrate Custom Settings tool provides a more intuitive interface that detects and clearly identifies customized settings, enabling you to choose which ones you want to migrate.
There are a host of other improvements as well. For example, the Coordination Model functionality has been enhanced to allow you to snap to precise locations on an attached coordination model using the standard 2D endpoint and center object snaps. So you can attach a Navisworks coordination model using the ATTACH command, and then snap to endpoints and center points using standard AutoCAD methods.
The A360 ribbon has also been updated to support new functionality and to remove obsolete and less frequently used tools. For example, the AutoCAD 360 Web tool is no longer needed because you can edit online drawings by opening the A360 Drive. Design Feed is no longer displayed by default, and its tool has also been removed from the A360 ribbon. To fill the gap left by these cuts, AutoCAD 2017 new features offer a tool that enables you to easily publish views of drawings to the cloud to facilitate collaboration with stakeholders while protecting your DWG files. When using the new Share Design View tool, your drawing is uploaded to a secure location in the cloud where 2D and 3D views are extracted, along with the property database. You can choose to publish and display in your browser right away, or receive a notification on the Status bar when all view processing is complete.
Once you are satisfied with the design view, you can share a link with others who can then see the design view in their browser for up to 30 days without any login requirements.
There’s a lot to like about AutoCAD 2017 and likely more to come. Autodesk intends to roll out new features periodically to all users, since everyone running AutoCAD 2017 will be on subscription. No more waiting 12 months to see what’s new!
And as Autodesk makes improvements to AutoCAD 2017, we will update our CADLearning courses in tandem, so that you will be able to quickly learn how to use all of AutoCAD’s latest capabilities.