AutoCAD is the industry standard when it comes to computer aided design. Although the program may look intimidating at first, getting started is simple and with just a few tools you can be drawing without much assistance.
The video above and the tutorial below covers how to navigate the AutoCAD interface, use commands to draw lines and shapes, how to connect lines, and draw shapes with specific dimensions and coordinates.
AutoCAD has a command line which you can use to type the name of the tool you wish to use. Learning how to use the command line has the benefit of increasing your speed and making it easier to follow tutorials that use different AutoCAD versions since different versions continue to use the same command names.
Typing the command
line will start drawing a 2-point line. The command will be followed up with a coordinates dialog to specify the starting coordinates. Then the tool will continue to show a coordinates dialog to continue drawing the line from the last position.
A simple way to learn what the command name is for a tool is to hover your mouse cursor over the tool’s icon. A small overlay will appear with the command associated with that tool.
Navigating around AutoCAD is similar to other drawing applications such as Photoshop or Paint. To move around your drawing, hold down the middle mouse button (scroll wheel button) and then move the cursor to pan around the drawing.
Using the mouse wheel, you can zoom in and out of the drawing. There is also a command
zoom. After entering the command
zoom, you can specify the option
all to show the entire drawing on the screen.
Using the left mouse button, you can select lines, shapes, blocks, and other single objects. To select multiple items, you can hold down the left mouse button and a highlighted rectangle will appear. Everything within the highlighted area will be selected. To cancel the selection, press
ESC on the keyboard.
Drawing a Line
Use the Line icon on the toolbar or type in the command
line and press enter. The command bar will show that you currently have the line command active. The mouse indicator will now show the cursor without the center square.
To start drawing the line or any other shape, you can click on the drawing at the location you want to begin. Then click elsewhere to create the second point and so forth. To finish drawing a line, press
ESC on the keyboard to leave the line tool.
To draw accurate lines and shapes, using the coordinate system is a must instead of clicking points on the drawing. Pressing
enter will start the last tool you used, otherwise type the command
line again. When you start a line, it will ask for the starting coordinates. You will enter these as an
X,Y value. You can use the
TAB key to switch between the fields that appear next to the cursor. For the line tool, you can the option to draw at a specific angle. If you enter a single number value instead of coordinates, the line will be drawn at that length in the current direction unless you specify a new angle.
Polar mode allows you to draw horizontal lines more easily. Enabling ortho mode only allows you to draw vertical or horizontal lines. These options appear on the bottom of the program next to the coordinates. Hovering over the icons will describe the options.
When drawing lines, you can type the command
Close to automatically draw a final line from the last line to the first line segment.
Drawing at specific angle
To draw a line at a specific angle, start the first point of a line. Then enter the length of the line followed by pressing
tab. The key
tab will lock the length and then move you onto the angle field. Enter the angle you want or move your mouse cursor to the designated angle. After you set the angle, press
enter to draw that line segment.
Setting up your drawing at a 1:1 scale makes it easier to understand your drawing and is the norm in CAD software. There generally isn’t any limit on the size of the drawing you can make. When it’s time to print or export your drawing, you can then easily scale the drawing to fit the output format.
The bottom left corner shows the mouse pointer coordinates. The coordinates are formatted as
x, y, z. The
z axis will remain 0 since we are drawing in 2D.
Type the command
units to open the Drawing Units dialog. AutoCAD is dimensionless. The unit type only matters when printing, importing other drawings that were drawn in different units, or to display units when you add dimensioning to your drawing.
Object Snapping is a method to have your cursor snap to the ends, center, midpoints, and other references of existing shapes and lines. This makes it easier to set the starting point of a line without having to know the exact coordinates of where a line ends.
osnap will open the object snap settings. You can activate different snapping modes. It’s a good idea to only enable options you use or you’ll have your cursor snapping to many different intersections and points that won’t be useful to you.
Additional Drawing Tools
Although lines are neat, you’re likely going to need to use other shapes for your drawing. Below are a few additional shapes to get you started. Most tools have additional options if you click on the down carrot symbol under the tool icon.
A polyline is very similar to the line tool, but when the line is finished, the entire series of lines you created act as a single shape. To create a polyline, use the command
close will automatically close the shape into a polygon. You can finish drawing the polyline by pressing
ESC on the keyboard and leave the shape open.
The rectangle tool is very straight forward. Instead of having to draw four lines, you just have to specify the starting point and then the opposite corner of the rectangle. The command to use to start drawing a rectangle is
The circle tool is also straight forward, but some of the alternative methods to specify the size can take a little bit of time to get use to. Start drawing a circle by using the command
c. You’ll first have to specify the center of the circle. Then type the circle radius.
You can insert circles using different methods, such as center point then diameter, 2 point circle, 3 point ellipse, or by using tangents.
Finally the arc tool is used to create curved lines, or better known as arcs. You can start using the tool by typing the command
a. You’ll first specify the starting point, then midpoint, and finally the ending point or the arc.
You can also insert arcs using different methods by opening up the arc tool menu. Alternative methods to drawing arcs include:
- 3-point arc
- start, center, end points
- start, center, angle
- start, center, length
- start, end, angle
It’s not uncommon to use different methods for drawing arcs within the same drawing depending on what dimensions you know and need to meet.
That should you get started with the basics. I recommend trying to draw some basic designs before moving onto additional tutorials. A few good beginner designs to work on would be a desk with rounded corners, or a chair that has a slightly reclined back. Most 2D drawings for products are drawn with a top, side, and front view within the same drawing.