Autodesk finds more to add to the gold standard of CAD, making collaboration easier than ever.
One might be forgiven for
thinking that after 25 releases, Autodesk had run out of things to put into its
flagship product, AutoCAD. As with many simple assumptions, that simply isn't
the case. The 2012 version of the gold standard in CAD software boasts new
features designed to make users more productive, without compromising
performance or utility.
Perhaps the most notable thing
about this release of AutoCAD is the emphasis on collaboration and
communication. First among the new features designed to make it easier for
AutoCAD users to work with others is the integration of PDF creation and
consumption tools. It's now possible for AutoCAD users to publish PDF files
from within an AutoCAD drawing, and to use PDF files as underlays, with attach
and snap-to capabilities.
Equally valuable is a new DWG
conversion tool, which allows users to translate DWG files that were created in
AutoCAD, AutoCAD LT and other applications that are built on AutoCAD into five versions
of the DWG specification: R14 (which dates back to 1997), DWG 2000, DWG 2004,
DWG 2007, and the current version, DWG 2010. The converter also works on
batches of files, allowing the mass conversion of file libraries that might
have become dusty in the intervening years.
AutoCAD 2012 also boasts
improvements to the model documentation tools, which allow users to generate
intelligent drawing views for models created with AutoCAD, Autodesk Inventor
and other modeling tools. Users can easily import models from a variety of
tools, including Parametric Technology's Creo Elements/Pro (formerly Pro/Engineer),
CATIA and SolidWorks from Dassault Syst???mes, Siemens NX and Rhinoceros from
McNeel and Associates. The imported models can be instantly updated to reflect
engineering changes that affect view entities, edge displays, scale and
Finally, this version of AutoCAD
for Windows supports AutoCAD WS, the company's mobile device and Web-based
collaboration tool, which debuted last year in conjunction with the launch of
AutoCAD for Mac 2011. AutoCAD WS runs on Android and iOS devices and allows
users to work on DWG drawings in real time, whether online or offline.
AutoCAD 2012 installs easily and
offers migration tools for users wishing to maintain customized palettes or
settings; for my testing, I used an Apple MacBook Pro with an Intel "Sandy
Bridge" i7 CPU running Windows 7.
Beyond the usual content management and license assignment tools, however,
there's one big difference between this and preceding versions of AutoCAD.
This release adds the option to
install Autodesk Inventor Fusion 2012, which combines direct modeling and
parametric design approaches in a single tool. Inventor Fusion can be invoked
from within AutoCAD 2012 as a plug-in, allowing users to edit 3D solids
extruded, lofted, planar, revolved and swept surfaces, and perhaps most
dramatically, NURBS (non-uniform rational basis spline) surfaces.
AutoCAD 2012 boasts a number of
tweaks to the user interface that were designed to make the program easier to
use for inexperienced users while maintaining the productivity of seasoned
operators. For example, the Insert tab now groups the tools for inserting and
editing block references with those for defining blocks. Grouping operations
have been consolidated into a panel in the Home tab, and the new Nudge function
allow users to use keyboard commands to modify object positioning by a few
pixels in orthogonal directions.
Similarly, the command-line
interface has been reworked-perhaps more dramatically than the GUI-by the
addition of auto-complete features that include a pick list, a color highlight
of the active command in the command line window and the ability to display
system variables and modify the delay before displaying the AutoComplete pick
Multifunctional grips in the
2012 release support a wider range of AutoCAD objects than previously. These
include lines, arcs and dimensions, and in 3D drawings, faces, edges and
vertices. Hovering the cursor over a grip will reveal a context menu that
displays the relevant options controlled by that grip.
The UCS (User Coordinate System)
features have received a great deal of attention in AutoCAD 2012. For starters,
users can now directly manipulate the UCS icon through its multifunctional
grips, or rotate the UCS around the X-, Y -or Z-axis without invoking the UCS
command. New settings control the behavior of the UCS icon, and the UCS
shortcut menu can be customized.
AutoCAD 2012 adds 3D modeling
support to the associative array functions that simplify 2D documentation.
Polar and rectangular associative arrays now work in 3D space, and the new path
option allows the user to align objects along even an intricately curved path.
Point cloud support, which
allows users to rapidly visualize scanned objects and access the object's
surface, has been enhanced in AutoCAD 2012 to support up to 2 billion points,
allowing the definition of even the most intricate details.
Finally, AutoCAD 2012 allows
users to easily clean up their work by identifying duplicate or unneeded
objects. Formerly known as the Overkill Express tool, this functionality is now
part of the core toolset.
Simplifying software often means
"dumbing it down," but Autodesk has chosen another approach to simplification
in AutoCAD 2012, one that leaves all of the software's power and flexibility
intact while making it more approachable than previous versions. Instead of
patronizing users (??Ã la Clippy), AutoCAD 2012 empowers them, providing
top-shelf functions and capabilities in a well-organized package.
P. J. Connolly began writing for IT publications in 1997 and has a lengthy track record in both news and reviews. Since then, he's built two test labs from scratch and earned a reputation as the nicest skeptic you'll ever meet. Before taking up journalism, P. J. was an IT manager and consultant in San Francisco with a knack for networking the Apple Macintosh, and his love for technology is exceeded only by his contempt for the flavor of the month. Speaking of which, you can follow P. J. on Twitter at pjc415, or drop him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.