In the world of CAD, no software is more recognizable or widely used than Autodesk’s AutoCAD. For the past 35 years, AutoCAD has been viewed as the industry standard for 2D drafting and has established itself as the most reliable, powerful and adaptable tool for product designers, architects and civil engineers across the globe. That hard-earned reputation as an indispensable design tool has been cultivated by Autodesk engineers who’ve continued to improve the product year after year.

With 2017 nearly four months old, Autodesk is set to release the latest version of its flagship product AutoCAD 2018, and with it, a host of improvements that will increase productivity and further cement the software’s status as the defacto leader in the world of computer-aided design software. While this year’s release isn’t chock-full of revolutionary new tools, its improvements set the stage for the future success of the CAD tool. In fact, Donnie Gladfelter, a technical product and online manager at CADD Microsystems, noted, “I see AutoCAD 2018 as more than a simple annual release, but instead as the foundation for the future of AutoCAD. Support for high-resolution displays is a tangible example of that, but there’s a long list of less tangible examples built into the release that supports the future of AutoCAD.”

So, why don’t we explore what Gladfelter is talking about.

XREF Enhancements

Some of the most talked about additions to AutoCAD 2018 are the external reference (XREF) enhancements. In previous versions of AutoCAD, XREFs could become disconnected when drawings were being shared across a large client pool. If a third party received a document without all of the corresponding XREF files, critical links in a drawing could be broken, and fixing them was hardly a snap.  Now, new integrated XREF tool commands like “REFPATHTYPE” make replacing missing paths easy.

“For me, the most useful enhancements in AutoCAD 2018 are the ones affecting external references,” said Melanie Stone of the Mistress of Dorkness blog. “The Select New Path tool on the right-click menu of the External References palette is handy, in that you can apply the newfound location to other missing references. Also, the Find and Replace functionality being moved into core AutoCAD, rather than being off in the Reference Manager application, means that more users will realize it is there.

These new abilities should make it easier for drafters to concentrate on their primary job—drawing—rather than chasing down XREFs and wasting valuable time.

SHX Text Recognition

It goes without saying that PDF has become the gold standard for sharing documents in the engineering and architectural worlds. For a while, Autodesk seemed to believe that its Design Web Format (DWF) filetype would supplant the PDF, but since that hasn’t come to pass, Autodesk engineers have begun the process of improving PDF import features.

Case in point is the SHX text recognition feature.

While SHX text import was implemented in AutoCAD 2017, the 2018 release has improved the performance of the SHX import tools, making them more reliable. According to David Cohn, prolific AutoCAD author and publishing manager at 4D Technologies, “With PDF being a predominant format for the exchange of drawings, being able to get those drawings back into a CAD format is pretty important, particularly for renovations/remodels.”

In AutoCAD 2018, the SHX text recognition tool can be used to isolate and convert imported PDF geometry into text and MTextObject. In addition, the tool can also gather combinations of single-line and multi-line text blocks and convert them into a single multi-line text element without losing any prior formatting.

“[T]he Recognize SHX Text tool is a very welcome addition, and does a pretty good job when used properly,” Cohn concluded.

Object Selection Gives Users a Wider Berth

Object selection in AutoCAD has also been given a bit of a boost in the 2018 version. In this latest release, users can begin a selection window in one part of a drawing, and then zoom and pan over to another part of a drawing to continue their selection without losing the objects that were previously isolated. For those working on large drawings, this enhancement should cut down on frustration somewhat and make isolating objects a more precise act.

4K Resolution Support for Optimal Viewing

Going back to Gladfelter’s earlier comments, AutoCAD’s engineering team has also given the software an infrastructure upgrade. In AutoCAD 2018, users can now employ the high-resolution monitors on the market, including 4K and higher-resolution displays. According to Autodesk, this graphics upgrade extends throughout the viewing experience and includes enhancements to “commonly used user interface elements, such as the Start tab, Command line, palettes, dialog boxes, toolbars, ViewCube, pick pox, and grips,” which are “appropriately scaled and displayed as per the Windows setting.”

A Mobile App for AutoCAD and AutoCAD LT

Finally, all users who subscribe to either AutoCAD or AutoCAD LT will have access to the AutoCAD mobile app at no additional charge. With the app, users can leave their mobile workstations behind and use either their smartphones or tablets to view, create, edit and share drawings with clients.

Beyond 2018

Obviously, AutoCAD’s 2018 launch doesn’t represent a revolutionary release, but rather a honing of the software’s already prodigious abilities. As someone who’s had nearly a decade of experience using AutoCAD, I can say that many of these new features will make drafters, particularly those working on larger projects, more productive.

Unfortunately, one of my biggest gripes about AutoCAD hasn’t been addressed in this release. As a 35-year-old piece of software, there’s quite a lot of bloat in the package, and things tend to get a bit buggy at random times. While it might not be possible for Autodesk engineers to fashion pristine code from nearly two generations of tinkering, cleaning up the product is a must.

Still, even with its digital stumbles and hiccups, AutoCAD remains an indispensable piece of software.


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