The most popular post on this blog, in terms of both hits and comments, is AutoCAD 2009 – Putting things back to “normal”. This is followed by AutoCAD 2010 – Putting things back to “normal”, with AutoCAD 2011 – Putting things back to “normal” not too far behind. As it seems many people find these posts useful, here’s an updated version for the latest release. Much of this post is based on older versions, but there are many additions and differences in this year’s “keep off my lawn” post.
One thing that’s regularly asked whenever a new AutoCAD release hits the streets is how to make it work like earlier releases. As I stated in my original post, I think you should give any new features a fighting chance before turning them off or ignoring them. But it’s entirely your choice. We should be grateful that in AutoCAD 2012 at least (unlike some Autodesk products), you do still have that choice. At least, you have a choice in most cases.
Let’s assume you’ve made the decision to put your environment back to AutoCAD 2008 or earlier; how do you do it? I’ve arranged these items in alphabetical order:
- Aerial View. The DSVIEWER command appears to be gone, but it’s just hiding. It has been undefined. You can use REDEFINE DSVIEWER to turn it back on, or just enter .DSVIEWER (with a leading period). It may not work perfectly on all systems under all circumstances.
- Array dialog box. The excellent new associative array features of AutoCAD 2012 have come at the cost of the Array dialog box. While you can use the Ribbon or the Properties palette to modify arrays, if you want to create one you have to go back to the future with a Release 14-style user interface. Using -Array doesn’t give you a dialog box, just the old-style command line. There’s nothing available in standard AutoCAD 2012 to give you a dialog box interface, which is why I created ClassicArray™. It also makes it easier to create non-associative arrays, if that’s what you prefer. This plug-in has the further fortunate side-effect of acting as a workaround for several of the new Array command’s various bugs, limitations and design issues.
Edit: Applying SP1 to AutoCAD 2012 adds an ARRAYCLASSIC command that restores the previous dialog box. This does not provide access to any of the new features; you will still need ClassicArray for that.
- Autocomplete. Old-timers may well find this feature useful, but if it’s getting in your way, turning it off is as simple as AUTOCOMPLETE OFF. There are a variety of settings you can selectively turn off individually if you prefer.
- Blips. The BLIPMODE command has been undefined, but you can use REDEFINE BLIPMODE to turn it back on, or just enter .BLIPMODE (with a leading period).
- Classic commands. If you prefer not to leave the various new palettes on screen all the time, old versions of various commands are still available: ClassicLayer, ClassicXref and ClassicImage. (Autodesk deprecated these commands in 2011 and 2012, which I think is a really bad idea). There is also a system variable LAYERDLGMODE, which when set to 0 will make the Layer command work in the old (and faster) modal way. If you use this setting, you can still access the new modeless layer palette with the LayerPalette command. Going back further, there are command-line methods of using these commands: -Layer, -Xref, XAttach, -Image and ImageAttach. For 2012, Autodesk has removed the Group command’s dialog box interface. If you want the dialog box, you now need to use the ClassicGroup command instead.
- Crosshairs. Want 100% crosshairs? Many people do. As before, use the Options command’s Display tab and look towards the bottom right, or use the CURSORSIZE system variable.
- Dashboard. The AutoCAD 2007/8 Dashboard is gone, but you can have a vertical Ribbon instead. If the Ribbon is not visible (it won’t be if you just selected the AutoCAD Classic workspace), enter Ribbon to bring it back. In the tab title row (the bar with the word Home in it), right-click and pick Undock. Now you can place and size your Dashboard-like thing as you see fit. As before, you can right-click on things to change the various settings. However, getting the contents exactly the way you want it usually involves using CUI, and that’s well outside the scope of this post.
- Dynamic Input. If Dynamic Input slows you down, you can turn it off with the status bar toggle or F12. If you like the general idea but don’t like some parts of it, there are lots of options available in the Dynamic Input tab of the DSettings command to enable you to control it to a fine degree. You can also get at this by right-clicking the Dynamic Input status bar button and picking Settings… As an example of the sort of thing you might do in there, the default of using relative coordinates is difficult for long-termers to get used to. To turn it off, pick the Settings… button in the Pointer Input panel, pick Absolute coordinates, then OK twice. There are a whole range of DYNxxx system variables for controlling this stuff.
- Graphic Background. Autodesk has half-listened to users’ pleas for a black background by giving you a nearly black one (RGB 33,40,48 rather than 0,0,0), in model space only. Many of you will want a real black background to provide better contrast. To do this, invoke the Options command (right-click on the drawing area and pick Options… or just enter OP), then pick the Display tab. Don’t be tempted to choose Color Scheme and set it to Dark, because that just changes the appearance of various user interface elements. Instead, pick the Colors… button. This will put you in the Drawing Window Colors dialog box. On the left, choose a context you want to change (e.g. 2D model space), choose the appropriate background element (e.g. Uniform background) and choose the particular shade that takes your fancy. There is a Restore Classic Colors button, but that only takes you back to AutoCAD 2008 with its black model and white paper space. If you want a black paper space background too, you’ll have to pick the Sheet / layout context and specify that individually. You may wish to put the Command line > Command line history background setting to white, too. When you’re done, pick Apply & Close, then OK.
- Grid. I generally prefer the new line-based grid. If you use isometric snap and grid, you will find that AutoCAD 2012′s line-based isometric grid is still as broken as it was in earlier releases, so you’ll need to use dots. If that applies to you or you just don’t like the lines, right-click on the Grid status button and pick Settings…, which will take you into the Drafting Settings dialog box, which you can also get at with the DSettings command, or DS for short. In the Snap and Grid tab, the grid is controlled by the options on the right. If you want your dots back, turn on the toggles in the Grid style section. This can also be done using the GRIDSTYLE system variable. If you don’t like the fact that the grid is now on by default in new drawings, this is set on a drawing-by-drawing basis and is therefore controlled by your template drawings. If you use AutoCAD’s supplied templates, you will need to open them individually and turn off the grid in each one.
- Hatch dialog box. If you want the Ribbon on but prefer the old Hatch dialog box, set HPDLGMODE to 1.
- Hatch double-click. If you’re not using the new Ribbon-based hatch editing feature, you will probably want to invoke the HatchEdit command when you double-click on a hatch object. Doing this involves braving the CUI interface, but I have gone into step-by-step detail of that process here. In short, you need to drag and drop the Hatch Edit command from the bottom left CUI panel onto the double-click action for Hatch in the top left panel, replacing the default action (Properties).
- Help. If you want your Help to work with adequate speed and reliability, or to work at all in some proxy server environments, you will want to turn off AutoCAD 2012′s online help. Go into Options > System, then look in the bottom right pane to turn off the Use online help toggle. Even with online help turned off, you’re stuck with the unfortunate new browser-based AutoCAD Exchange interface for your Help. There is no sign yet of Autodesk coming to the rescue with a set of CHM-based Help files as was done for AutoCAD 2011, which is a real shame. The VLIDE Help is still partially broken, because Autodesk doesn’t care about customers who use LISP for development. While you’re in Options, you may also wish to turn off AutoCAD’s insistence on firing up Internet Explorer, that is if you dislike IE or have security concerns.
- Initial Setup. Don’t bother looking for this, it has been removed from the product. Can’t say I’m heartbroken about that.
- NavBar. If you like the new NavBar feature as much as I do, you’ll want to turn it off. You can close it easily using the little X in its top left corner. Alternatively, control it with the NAVBARDISPLAY system variable (0 for off, 1 for on)
- Pull-down Menus. Enter MENUBAR 1 to turn pull-down menus on. To turn them off again, enter MENUBAR 0.
- Ribbon. You can close the Ribbon with the RibbonClose command. If you ever want to turn it back on, enter Ribbon.
- Screen menu. The SCREENMENU command has been undefined, but you can use REDEFINE SCREENMENU to turn it back on, or just enter .SCREENMENU (with a leading period). However, you can’t access the screen menu section in CUI any more, so if you want to maintain your screen menu you will need to do it in an earlier release.
- Selection Cycling. Depending on your preference and/or system graphic performance, you may wish to turn off selection cycling (set SELECTIONCYCLING to 0), or at least the list that appears when selecting objects that lie on top of each other (set SELECTIONCYCLING to 1).
- Selection Preview. This feature annoys some users, adding as it does an unfortunate degree of stickiness and working inaccurately when Snap is in use. This is controlled in the Selection tab of the Options command. Turn off the toggles in the Selection preview panel on the left (these control the SELECTIONPREVIEW system variable). If you dislike the coloured boxes you get while doing a Window or Crossing, pick the Visual Effect Settings… button and turn off the Indicate selection area toggle. This controls the SELECTIONAREA system variable.
- Snap. AutoCAD 2012′s snap no longer works while there is no command active. There is no setting available to turn this feature off. If you want to move your cursor around and see the cursor snapping to precise locations to see if objects line up (e.g. in schematic diagrams), you will need to invoke a command first (e.g. L [Enter]) and ignore the command as you’re moving around on screen.
Edit: Applying SP1 to AutoCAD 2012 adds new system variable (SNAPGRIDLEGACY) that allows you to have your snap active at the command prompt.
- Startup performance. You may have noticed that AutoCAD 2012′s Ribbon switching performance is finally as it should have been from the start; practically instantaneous. You may also have noticed that when you start AutoCAD, the cursor is sticky for a while after the Command prompt is available. These two items are not unrelated; AutoCAD is loading Ribbon components in the background. If you would prefer this not to happen, set the RIBBONBGLOAD system variable to 0.
- Status bar. Right-click on a status bar button, turn off Use Icons and your old text-based status bar buttons will return. If you have no use for some of the new status bar toggles, right-click on one, pick Display, then turn off what you don’t need.
- Toolbars. In AutoCAD 2009, you could turn individual toolbars on and off by accessing a menu obtained by right-clicking on the QAT. Autodesk somewhat vindictively removed that option in 2010, and it’s still gone in 2012. That toolbar-toggling menu is still available if you right-click in an unused docked toolbar area, but if you have no toolbars visible there will be no such area available. What to do? Turn on one toolbar at the Command prompt, then you will be able to access the menu by right-clicking on the blank area to the right of it. The following command sequence will do it:
_.-TOOLBAR ACAD.Standard _Top 0,0
Paste this into AutoCAD’s command line area and the Standard toolbar will be turned on above your drawing area. This will leave a grey area to the right that you can right-click into. The other toolbars will be in sub-menus under that, with the main set of default ones in the AutoCAD section. Note that this will only work if you have the acad.cuix file loaded (or partially loaded). This is the case in vanilla AutoCAD and some verticals, but it may not be the case in other verticals. As I don’t have access to such verticals, I’m afraid I can’t offer much advice here.
If you’re like me, you may well discover that this is moot because AutoCAD 2012 automatically turns on a full set of toolbars, in addition to the Ribbon, the second time you run AutoCAD. This bug occurs when there’s another release already installed and you don’t use Migration. It’s easily fixed (that is if you want to fix it) by switching to the workspace of your choice (see below).
- Tooltips. Excessively intrusive and oversized tooltips were a “feature” of AutoCAD 2009′s revamped UI design, and we’ve been plagued with them ever since. I’m glad to see that many of them have had their verbosity somewhat curtailed in 2012, but they still annoy the heck out of me, particularly by obscuring what I’m trying to see in dialog boxes. To kill them with fire, see Options > Display and start turning off toggles about half way down the left side.
- Trace. The TRACE command has been undefined, but you can use REDEFINE TRACE to turn it back on, or just enter .TRACE (with a leading period).
- UCS Icon. Don’t like the new simplified UCS icon? Sorry! While you can use the UCSIcon command’s Properties option to change the appearance of the icon in various ways, there’s nothing to restore the UCS Icon’s appearance from previous releases with its little arrows pointing the way. This information isn’t totally useless, because at least it will save you the time and effort involved in finding this out for yourself.
- Vertical variants’ AutoCAD profile. Apparently, some AutoCAD 2012 vertical variants don’t have a shortcut for running them as AutoCAD. If you want to make one, first check in Options > Profiles to see if there is a profile called “AutoCAD” or similar. If not, you will need to create one, reset it, and hope for the best. Sorry, I don’t have all the variants to check. Now, make a copy of your AutoCAD variant’s desktop shortcut and rename it as something like “AutoCAD 2012″. Then right-click on the copy and pick Properties. In the Target edit box, check to see if there is a /p switch followed by a profile name inside quotes. If there is, replace the existing profile name with “AutoCAD” or whatever the profile name is that you discovered or created in Options. If there isn’t a /p switch, add one. The end result should look something like this (there may be extra switches):
"C:\Program Files\Autodesk\[product name]\acad.exe" /p "AutoCAD"
Once you have ensured there’s a /p “AutoCAD” (or similar) on the end of the Target, pick OK. You should then be able to start your vertical variant as AutoCAD.
- ViewCube. I like the ViewCube concept, and I think it’s a great piece of interface design. But not everybody agrees. It has caused performance issues and it’s not very useful for 2D users. If you want it gone, that’s a surprisingly difficult thing to find out about. The simplest way to remove it is by clicking the [-] button in the top left corner of the drawing area and tuening off the ViewCube toggle there. If you want more control, it’s handled using the Options command, in the 3D Modeling tab, in the bottom left corner. Turn off those toggles that don’t make sense for you. There is a related set of system variables called NAVVCUBExxx.
- Workspace. In vanilla AutoCAD, you can restore much of the user interface by just switching workspaces. The main Workspace control is now located near the top left corner. If you have turned this off (right-click, Remove from Quick Access Toolbar) or if you just prefer working with interface elements in the same place year by year, there is another Workspace control in the bottom right corner. This is a little button that looks like a gearwheel. In either case, click on the Workspace control and pick the item called AutoCAD Classic. This will perform some of the steps described above, but not all of them, so I suggest you skim the whole lot to see what else you might want to do. If you’re using a vertical variant of AutoCAD 2012, this workspace may not be available, or it may only be available if you when using an “AutoCAD” profile (see above). If it’s not available at all, you’ll need to make your own classic workspace by manually setting up your interface the way you like it, then saving it as a Workspace using the Save Current As… option under one of the Workspace controls.
- Xref fading. Don’t like your xrefs looking different? Use the Options command’s Display tab and look at the Xref display slider on the bottom right, or use the XDWGFADECTL system variable.
- Zoom Animation. If you prefer your zooms to be instant rather than progressing from one view to another in an animated series of steps, you can turn off that feature using the VTOPTIONS command or the VTENABLE system variable.
If you have allowed AutoCAD to migrate your settings (I never do), some of the above will already be done for you, but by no means all of it. If past experience is anything to go by, the job done by Migration will probably be imperfect.
Once you’re happy with your new environment, I suggest you save your workspace under a name of your choosing (Save Current As… under a Workspace control), then export your profile in the Options command’s Profiles tab. Keep a safe copy of both your exported profile and your main CUIX file (acad.cuix by default), because that is where new workspaces are stored.
All of this advice is offered on an as-is, try-it-yourself-and see-what-happens basis. Unfortunately, I can’t check to see which parts of this post relate to AutoCAD for Mac (when the 2012 version arrives), AutoCAD LT (much of it will be the same), the various AutoCAD-based vertical variants (almost all of it should be the same). AutoCAD WS is, of course, nothing like real AutoCAD so none of this post will be relevant. Please comment to let me know if you find something you think I should modify or include.
Let me just end by saying that Autodesk generally does an excellent job of keeping long-term AutoCAD users happy by allowing them to keep working in the way that they prefer. There are exceptions, and this record has been damaged slightly by 2012, but conservative users are still better off with new releases of AutoCAD than they are with, say, Microsoft Word.