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Autocad 2012 New Features

New in-canvas viewport controls have been added to AutoCAD 2012, enabling users to change viewport settings, views and visual styles by using tools that always appear in the upper-left corner of each viewport.

In-canvas control is further exploited in AutoCAD 2012 by the addition of new user coordinate system (UCS) icon functions. The UCS icon can now be selected and manipulated by using grips to quickly align the UCS with existing objects, including curved surfaces and solids. You can also right-click on the UCS icon to access additional UCS controls from a new shortcut menu, making it much easier to manipulate the coordinate system “particularly when working in three-dimensional space.

There are actually all sorts of subtle 3D changes. For example, a new Offset Edge tool lets you create an offset curve from a planar 3D face or surface. You can then use the Presspull tool to quickly add or remove the bounded area from a solid, and Presspull now repeats until you exit the command. In addition, when creating or modifying surfaces or solids, the software displays a preview of the resulting model, and how it will change before you commit to the change. So now, when you select a profile to create a lofted solid or surface, for example, an updated preview of the resulting object is displayed with each selection.

The new preview also works when filleting, chamfering, blending or patching surfaces and solids, and there are new chain and loop selection options when modifying 3D models. The preview works when creating 2D fillets and chamfers, as well.

Another interface change is the new auto-complete function. In spite of improvements to its ribbon interface, many longtime AutoCAD users simply type to start commands. But as the software has evolved over more than 25 years, the number of commands and system variables has grown, making it difficult to remember them all. With auto-complete, as you type at the program’s command prompt or dynamic input field, AutoCAD 2012 displays a list of commands matching what you’ve typed thus far. You can then quickly select the command or system variable from the list.

Creating Associative Arrays

One particular addition to AutoCAD 2012 stands out as one of the biggest productivity improvement in years: AutoCAD can now create associative arrays.

Rather than simply making duplicate copies of selected objects, arranged in a rectangular or circular pattern, the old Array tool in AutoCAD has been replaced by three new commands for creating rectangular arrays, polar arrays or evenly distributing objects along a path formed by objects such as lines, arcs, polylines or helixes. Once the objects are positioned, you can modify them by changing the array relationships, such as increasing the number of rows or columns, changing the distance or angle between the copies, or modifying the individual items in the array. You can even change the source object and apply the changes to the rest of the items in the array.

The new array functionality isn’t limited to 2D, however. All three types of arrays can include multiple levels, and path arrays can follow 3D paths. Nor are associative arrays the only big 2D improvement. Multi-functional grips have been extended to more AutoCAD objects, such as lines, arcs and dimensions, as well as 3D faces, edges and vertices. When you hover the cursor over a grip, you now see a list of available options “and with dynamic input enabled, you can enter dimensional values.

AutoCAD 2012 also includes improved tangent and perpendicular object snap functionality. When grip editing, AutoCAD now finds osnap points to make objects tangent or perpendicular, and if AutoCAD’s inferred constraint function is toggled on, a corresponding geometric constraint is automatically applied.

There’s also a new array option when using the Copy tool to make multiple separate copies of objects at once, and AutoCAD can now create a fillet between splines. In fact, there are a number of enhancements to splines. For example, a new Blend tool creates a spline object between lines, arcs, polylines, splines and helixes, and includes an option to control the continuity between the two curves “very important if the resulting curve will be used as the basis for a 3D surface.

Manipulating 3D Models

AutoCAD 2012 represents some significant changes in the way users interact with three-dimensional models. In past releases, AutoCAD remembered the operations performed on solid objects. But in AutoCAD 2012, Solid History is toggled off by default. That means that users can no longer press the CTRL key to select and modify the properties of sub-objects that had been combined to form more complex solids. While users can certainly turn Solid History back on before creating 3D models, Autodesk’s intention is to move customers toward direct manipulation of non-history-based solids.

To accomplish that, AutoCAD 2012 automatically installs Autodesk Inventor Fusion, a plug-in that lets you edit 3D models using intuitive direct manipulation. When working on a 3D model, a single click opens the current drawing in Fusion. There’s no need to save and export the file. Once in Fusion, you can edit faces, edges and vertices, modify sub-objects, and add new features. After making the desired changes, a single click returns the updated model directly to AutoCAD “again without having to first save any files.

AutoCAD 2012 also includes the ability to import 3D models in a wide variety of formats, including CATIA, NX, Parasolid, Creo Elements/Pro, Rhino and SolidWorks. Depending on the size and complexity of the model, this can take quite some time. An Import icon displays on the status bar tray, and a notification bubble appears once the import is complete so that you can place the 3D model into your AutoCAD drawing.

The imported data is translated into native AutoCAD geometry, and inserted into the drawing as a block. Parts and assemblies in the original model are preserved and replicated as nested blocks. After importing, the model can be modified using standard AutoCAD tools.

Documenting Models with Drawing Views

In spite of its advances in 3D, AutoCAD is still used most often to produce 2D documentation. But those 2D drawings are frequently derived directly from 3D models by creating views of the model in separate paper space viewports. Dimensions and annotations would be created in model space on specific layers that were only visible in the appropriate viewport. If the model changed, everything would update, but users had to manage the individual viewports and layers, and set appropriate sizes for annotation objects.

AutoCAD 2012 introduces a totally new set of tools for documenting 3D models. If a drawing file contains a 3D model, users can switch to paper space and quickly create a base 2D drawing view of the 3D model. Once a base view has been placed, you can then create projected orthogonal and isometric views “and adjust the scale and appearance of those views. And if you make any changes to the original 3D model, AutoCAD displays a balloon notification: Clicking a link immediately updates the drawing views to reflect those changes.

Although drawing views can only be created in a paper space layout, they are not viewports but rather, a new Drawing View object. As a result, when you’re ready to add dimensions and notes, you do so in paper space rather than in model space, eliminating the hassle of creating viewports, controlling layers, and so on. But dimensioning model space objects in paper space can have unintended consequences. For example, if you’ve dimensioned drawing views and then update the 3D model, the dimensions will lose their associativity. You would then need to manually re-associate each dimension. In complex models, this could become quite tedious.

Some New Tools May Need Some Work

There are several other new tools that may have more limited appeal. For example, when you first start AutoCAD, rather than the traditional “What’s New” screen, the software displays the Autodesk Exchange portal. Here you’ll find similar content, describing features in the new release. Autodesk Exchange is also where the program now displays Help whenever you press the F1 key. Autodesk Exchange is only available if you have a live Internet connection, although local help content can be displayed in a web browser when a web connection is unavailable.

By default, Autodesk Exchange appears whenever you start AutoCAD, although you can turn this off. In that case, you can still access Autodesk Exchange by clicking an Exchange button. In the future, Exchange may also host an online resource for add-ons, similar to the iTunes App Store, but this feature was not yet active at press time.

Autodesk Content Explorer is another new component that receives mixed reviews. This new AutoCAD plug-in appears to be a successor to DesignCenter, although both co-exist in this release. The first time you use Content Explorer, the software generates a Google-like index of DWG files so that you can locate and reuse blocks, layers, linetypes, styles, etc. Once the index has been created, you can easily find and filter content, then drag and drop results into the current drawing or open drawings by simply double-clicking. Users can add specific watch folders and also search for content on Autodesk Seek. You can also use Content Explorer to search across a local area network, but to do so, you must install the Content Service on the networked machines “something that may require the help of IT support staff.

Other Subtle Changes

As we’ve come to expect, the third release in a DWG series also includes a host of small improvements, what Autodesk often refers to as “fit and finish.” For example, there are small improvements to the ribbon that make it easier to define and insert blocks. AutoCAD 2012 also starts up faster and responds more quickly when switching between ribbon tabs.

You can now select an object and nudge it a few pixels in orthogonal directions by pressing the CTRL key and the appropriate arrow key. In the past, the Quick Properties palette, if enabled, would appear when you selected an object, so many users turned this off. Now, you can turn Quick Properties off and still display this useful palette whenever you double-click on most objects.

AutoCAD’s group functionality was another feature that users tended to ignore because it could be tedious. Groups are now streamlined and have their own simplified panel on the ribbon.

When selecting objects, many users forget that there are selection modes other than window and crossing window. Now, when you pick an empty spot in a drawing, AutoCAD 2012 reminds you that you can also use a window polygon, a crossing polygon or a fence. And when AutoCAD’s snap mode is enabled, the cursor no longer jumps to snap points when you’re simply selecting objects.

AutoCAD 2012 includes a layer enhancement that lets you freeze specified layers in all viewports except the current viewport, improvements to multi-leaders, and the inclusion of a Delete Duplicate command as a core function rather than relying on an Express Tool. Other enhancements include:

  • improved raster and DGN file support;
  • improvements to AutoCAD’s installation process;
  • improvements to the tools used to migrate customizations made to an older version to the new release; and
  • improvements to AutoCAD’s point cloud capabilities.

System Requirements for 32-bit

  • Microsoft® Windows® 7 Enterprise, Ultimate, Professional, or Home Premium ( compare Windows 7 versions); Microsoft® Windows Vista® Enterprise, Business, Ultimate, or Home Premium (SP2 or later) ( compare Windows Vista versions); or Microsoft® Windows® XP Professional or Home edition (SP3 or later)
  • For Windows Vista or Windows 7: Intel® Pentium® 4 or AMD Athlon® dual-core processor, 3.0 GHz or higher with SSE2 technology; for Windows XP: Intel Pentium 4 or AMD Athlon dual-core processor, 1.6 GHz or higher with SSE2 technology
  • 2 GB RAM
  • 2 GB free disk space for installation
  • 1,024 x 768 display resolution with true color
  • Microsoft® Internet Explorer® 7.0 or later

System Requirements for 64-bit

  • Microsoft Windows 7 Enterprise, Ultimate, Professional, or Home Premium ( compare Windows 7 versions); Microsoft Windows Vista Enterprise, Business, Ultimate, or Home Premium (SP2 or later) ( compare Windows Vista versions); or Microsoft Windows XP Professional (SP2 or later)
  • AMD Athlon 64 with SSE2 technology, AMD Opteron® processor with SSE2 technology, Intel® Xeon® processor with Intel EM64T support and SSE2 technology, or Intel Pentium 4 with Intel EM64T support and SSE2 technology
  • 2 GB RAM
  • 2 GB free space for installation
  • 1,024 x 768 display resolution with true color
  • Internet Explorer 7.0 or later

Additional Requirements for 3D Modeling (All Configurations)

  • Intel Pentium 4 processor or AMD Athlon, 3 GHz or greater; or Intel or AMD dual-core processor, 2 GHz or greater
  • 2 GB RAM or more
  • 2 GB hard disk space available in addition to free space required for installation
  • 1,280 x 1,024 true color video display adapter 128 MB or greater, Pixel Shader 3.0 or greater, Microsoft® Direct3D®-capable workstation-class graphics card