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30 Useful Keyboard Shortcuts for Speeding Up Your Mechanical CAD Workflow


30 Useful Keyboard Shortcuts for Speeding Up Your Mechanical CAD Workflow

Introduction


Keyboard shortcuts are an indispensable tool that CAD professionals must master to maximize productivity and efficiency. While CAD software provides access to dozens or even hundreds of tools and commands, searching through menus and toolbars wastes precious time during the design process. Keyboard shortcuts allow rapid access to commonly used tools and streamline workflows by reducing hand movements between mouse and keyboard. Mastering shortcuts is especially crucial for disciplines like mechanical design and architectural drafting where speed and precision are paramount.


This guide will provide an overview of the most useful keyboard shortcuts for mechanical CAD across several key areas:


  • View Manipulation: Navigating the drawing canvas

  • Drawing & Editing: Creating and modifying CAD geometry

  • Dimensioning: Adding dimensions to drawings

  • Annotation: Adding text and other annotations

  • Organizing Drawings: Handling files and layouts

  • Customizing Interface: Configuring the CAD environment

  • Managing Files: Opening, saving, and exporting

  • Command Line: Using the command line efficiently

  • Advanced Features: Accessing specialized tools


Having these shortcuts locked into muscle memory will enable CAD operators to keep their hands on the keyboard as much as possible. The boost in efficiency adds up to huge time savings over the course of a project. Even saving a few seconds per operation results in hours of gained productivity over time. That's why all CAD professionals should invest time up front to master these critical keyboard shortcuts.


View Manipulation Shortcuts


Being able to quickly manipulate your viewport is essential for efficient CAD work. Here are some of the most useful keyboard shortcuts for panning, zooming, rotating, and restoring views in CAD:


Panning and Zooming


  • Pan: Press and hold the center/middle mouse button while moving the mouse. This will pan your view without changing the zoom.

  • Zoom In: Roll the mouse wheel forward. This zooms into your drawing around the cursor location.

  • Zoom Out: Roll the mouse wheel backward. This zooms out of your drawing around the cursor location.

  • Zoom Extents: Type `Z` then `E` and hit Enter. This fits your entire drawing in the viewport.

  • Zoom Window: Type `Z` then `W` and select an area to zoom into. This lets you quickly zoom into a specific region.


Rotating Viewport


  • Plan View: Type `V` then `P` and hit Enter. This sets a top plan view.

  • Isometric View: Type `V` then `I` and hit Enter. This sets an isometric 3D view.

Restoring Previous Views


  • Previous View: Type `VP` and hit Enter. This restores the previous viewport setting.

  • Undo View Change: Type `VU` and hit Enter. This undoes the last view change.


Using these handy view manipulation shortcuts will let you fluidly navigate your CAD drawing and boost your productivity. With some practice, you'll be able to pan, zoom, and rotate your viewport without even touching your mouse!


Drawing & Editing Shortcuts


The keyboard shortcuts for drawing and editing objects can save you a huge amount of time compared to clicking through the ribbon toolbar icons. Here are some of the most useful ones:


  • L - Draw line

  • C - Draw circle

  • A - Draw arc

  • P - Draw polyline

  • REC - Draw rectangle

  • PL - Draw polygon


Once you've drawn an object, you can quickly select, move, copy or delete it:


  • SPACEBAR - Repeats last command

  • ESC - Cancel current command

  • ENTER - Complete the command

  • CTRL+C - Copy object

  • CTRL+V - Paste object

  • CTRL+X - Cut object

  • DELETE - Delete selected object


To move or copy selected objects:


  • M - Move

  • CO - Copy

Some other useful editing shortcuts:


  • E - Erase objects

  • GR - Group objects


  • UN - Ungroup objects

  • B - Create block


Using keyboard shortcuts to draw and edit is much faster than clicking through all the icons. With some practice, these will become muscle memory and seriously speed up your CAD workflow. Start with the basic shapes and build up from there.


Dimensioning Shortcuts


Adding accurate dimensions is critical for any CAD drawing. Mastering these keyboard shortcuts for dimensioning will speed up the process considerably.


  • D - Toggles between dimensioning modes

  • DI - Starts the dimension command and opens the dimension dialog box

  • DIMCONTINUE - Continues the previous dimension command

  • DIMSCALE - Changes dimensioning scale

  • DIMREASSOCIATE - Associates or reassociates selected dimensions to objects or points on objects. Useful for fixing broken dimensions.

  • DDEDIT - Edits dimension text and extension lines

Customizing dimension styles is also key for maintaining consistency in your drawings. These shortcuts help modify dimension styles quickly:


  • DDIM - Accesses the Dimension Style Manager to create, modify, override, and compare dimension styles.

  • DIMGAP - Sets dimension line gap

  • DIMTAD - Controls the vertical position of text in relation to the dimension line.

  • DIMTXT - Specifies the dimension text height.


With practice, these dimension and style shortcuts will become second nature, allowing you to add clear, accurate dimensions with just a few keystrokes. Mastering them is one of the fastest ways to boost productivity as a mechanical CAD designer.


Annotation Shortcuts


Annotations allow you to add text, leaders, and tables to your CAD drawings. Here are some useful keyboard shortcuts for annotating your designs:


Text


  • `MTEXT` - Opens the multiline text editor to add text annotations

  • `DDEDIT` - Edits existing text

  • `STYLE` - Opens the text style manager

  • `MATCHPROP` - Matches text formatting

Leaders


  • `LEADER` - Adds leader lines to text

  • `QLEADER` - Adds a multi-segment leader line

  • `MLEADER` - Adds a multileader object with formatted text

  • `MLEADEREDIT` - Edits existing multileaders


Tables


  • `TABLE` - Opens the Table Style dialog box

  • `TABLEDIT` - Edits existing tables

  • `BEDIT` - Enters block editor mode for editing attributes in a block table


Using keyboard shortcuts for adding text, leaders, and tables can help speed up the annotation process. Practicing the shortcuts until they become muscle memory will boost productivity. Keep this reference list handy when drafting to utilize these time-saving annotation tools.


Organizing Drawings


In any robust CAD project, organizing your drawings is crucial for efficiency and collaboration. Here are some key shortcuts for creating layers, managing layouts, printing, and more.


Layers


Layers allow you to organize different objects in a drawing. For example, you may have separate layers for walls, electrical, plumbing, etc. Some useful layer shortcuts include:


  • `LA`: Layer properties manager

  • `LT`: New layer


You can quickly switch between layers with `Ctrl+PgUp` and `Ctrl+PgDn`.


Layouts


Layouts let you create separate views of your drawing for printing or exporting. Helpful shortcuts include:


  • `MS`: Opens sheet set manager

  • `PS`: Page setup manager

  • `Ctrl+Tab`: Cycles through layout tabs

Printing


When it's time to print, these shortcuts come in handy:


  • `Ctrl+P`: Opens the Print dialog box

  • `Ctrl+Shift+P`: Plots the current viewport/layout

  • `Ctrl+Alt+P`: Options dialog box for plot


Collaborating


To support collaboration and file management:


  • `DWGPREFIX`: Sets drawing name prefix

  • `FilesTab`: Opens file explorer

  • `eTransmit`: Packages drawing files for easy sharing

By mastering these organizational shortcuts, you can manage complex CAD projects more efficiently.


Customizing Interface


A key to boosting productivity in AutoCAD is customizing your interface and workspace to match your workflow. There are several options for customizing your AutoCAD environment:


Organizing Toolbars and Ribbons


AutoCAD's ribbons can be customized to show only the tools you use most often. Right click on any ribbon tab and select 'Customize Ribbons' to add and remove tools from the ribbon. You can also create your own custom ribbon tabs to group specific tools.


To customize toolbars, right click on any toolbar and select 'Customize'. Here you can add, remove, and rearrange toolbar buttons. Consider removing redundant tools and placing your most used commands front and center.


Tailoring Workspaces


Workspaces allow you to save customized ribbon and toolbar layouts for quick access. To save a workspace, go to the Workspace Switching button in the status bar and select 'Save Current As'. Give your workspace a name and it will now be accessible anytime from the workspace menu.


Create separate workspaces optimized for different tasks like drafting, 3D modeling, rendering, etc. Switch between them instantly for a workflow boost.


Customizing Shortcuts


You can customize keyboard shortcuts for any command within AutoCAD. Go to Tools > Customize > Keyboard tab to view and modify key assignments. To change a shortcut, select the command, enter a new shortcut key, and click 'Apply'.


Leverage shortcuts to access frequent commands rapidly. Consider shortcuts for view controls, draw/modify tools, annotation commands, etc. Start with essentials, then build up your shortcut repertoire over time.


With some personalization, you can transform AutoCAD's interface into a highly efficient environment tailored for your unique needs. Invest time in customization for a long-term productivity increase.


Managing Files


Managing files efficiently is critical for an optimized CAD workflow. Here are some keyboard shortcuts for opening, saving, converting, and referencing external files in your CAD software:


Opening and Saving Drawings


  • Ctrl + O - Open an existing drawing

  • Ctrl + S - Save the active drawing

  • Ctrl + Shift + S - Save drawing under a new name or location


By memorizing the open and save shortcuts, you can access your files much faster than navigating through menus and dialog boxes.


Converting File Formats


  • Ctrl + I - Import a file and convert it to a .dwg

  • Ctrl + E - Export the active drawing in a different file format like .pdf or .dxf


Converting between file formats is common in CAD work sharing. These keyboard shortcuts eliminate the need to open converter utilities separately.


Attaching External References


  • Ctrl + Shift + D - Attach an xref to the drawing

  • Ctrl + Shift + A - Detach or unload an xref

  • Ctrl + Shift + R - Reload or refresh an xref


Xrefs allow you to link data between files. The xref shortcuts help you access and update external references without disrupting your workflow.


By learning keyboard shortcuts for managing files, you can significantly reduce the time spent navigating dialog boxes. These shortcuts allow speedy access to your CAD drawings and associated files.


Command Line Shortcuts


The command line is a powerful tool in CAD that allows you to quickly invoke commands by typing their name or alias. Mastering the command line can significantly boost your productivity.


Here are some tips for using the command line effectively:


  • Learn command aliases - Most commands have a shortened alias you can type instead of the full name. For example, "PL" for "POLYLINE", "CP" for "COPY". Using aliases can save a lot of keystrokes.

  • Right-click tricks - Right-clicking in the command line will display a list of recently used commands. You can quickly re-run a command this way.

  • Press F2 - This will toggle the command line display on and off. Keep it open to use commands faster.

  • Type first letters - When a command window pops up, you usually only need to type the first 1-3 letters of the command name for it to be recognized.

  • Tab completion - If you only type the first few letters of a command name and press TAB, the command line will auto-complete the rest for you if there is a unique match.

  • SPACEBAR - Hitting spacebar will repeat the last command entered. This can save you tons of re-typing.

  • UP arrow - Press the UP arrow key to cycle back through the history of commands recently used.

  • Learn command syntax - Many commands have options and flags you can add as arguments in the command line. Learn syntax like "/ISO" "/P" "/A" to control commands.


Mastering these command line techniques will make you a power user. Keep the command line open and your fingers on the keyboard to boost productivity.


Advanced Features


For expert CAD users looking to take their skills to the next level, AutoCAD offers advanced capabilities through scripting, customization, and plugins.


Scripting


AutoCAD supports several programming and scripting languages that allow you to automate repetitive tasks. These include:


  • AutoLISP - This is AutoCAD's native scripting language. AutoLISP scripts can automate tasks, modify the interface, and create custom commands.

  • Visual LISP - A version of AutoLISP with an editor that provides syntax highlighting and debugging tools. Makes it easier to write, modify and troubleshoot AutoLISP scripts.

  • VBScript - A lightweight programming language from Microsoft. VBScript can be used to create scripts for batch processes and automate workflows.

  • .NET - For advanced scripting capabilities, the .NET framework allows creating add-ons and apps using C# or VB.NET.


To get started with scripting, check out AutoCAD's documentation on programming interfaces. Start small by recording actions with the Action Recorder tool and reviewing the resulting scripts.


Customization


Expert users can customize the AutoCAD interface and features by:


  • Creating custom ribbons, toolbars and menus

  • Assigning shortcuts and aliases to automate workflows

  • Setting up action macros to record repetitive tasks

  • Developing custom line types, hatches, templates and more

  • Modifying system variables to tweak settings

  • Installing third-party plugins


Dig into the Customize User Interface (CUI) to customize tool locations, modify ribbons and menus, and import/export customization files.


Plugins and Add-Ons


An active developer ecosystem offers plugins that add new functionality to AutoCAD:


  • BIM add-ons - Expand building information modeling capabilities.

  • Rendering tools - Enhance visualization with physically-based rendering.

  • Parametric design - Introduce constraints and relationships between objects.

  • 3D printing plugins - Additional tools for 3D printing workflows.

Popular plugin communities include Autodesk App Store, CAD Studio, The Swamp, and the Object ARX SDK.


Learning to tap into AutoCAD's customization and extensibility will reveal advanced capabilities beyond typical out-of-the-box use.

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