It’s been years since I used AutoCAD. However, I recently happened to give a crash course on the fundamentals of AutoCAD to a young professional, and not only did this give me a chance to get reacquainted with the application, it also made me interested in learning about the latest updates to Autodesk’s flagship CAD application that was my first introduction to AEC technology.
While the 2023 version of AutoCAD was released earlier this year in March — around the same time as the annual releases of other Autodesk products — an updated version, 2023.1, was released earlier this month, an overview of which was presented at a webinar a few weeks ago. This article captures the new performance and mobility features in the latest update, as well as the key new features of the main version that was released in March.
One of the main 2023.1 updates is the launch of AutoCAD Web as the newest product offering in the AutoCAD portfolio. Where there was an online version of AutoCAD developed a couple of years ago to help users work remotely during the pandemic, that program was discontinued and replaced by Autodesk Web earlier this month. It is a standalone subscription that provides access to AutoCAD’s core commands and essential drafting capabilities on the web, using any browser, as well as on a mobile device with apps for Apple and Android devices (Figure 1).
While those with AutoCAD subscriptions automatically have access to Autodesk Web at no additional charge, the standalone Web option is useful for those on the project team who need to collaborate on an AutoCAD project without requiring the full toolset of commands that are available in the main desktop version of the application. It allows drawings to be created, viewed, edited, and shared with others without requiring AutoCAD to be installed on the desktop. Drawings can also be uploaded to AutoCAD Web from the desktop or opened from any other cloud storage location including Autodesk Drive, Autodesk Docs, Microsoft OneDrive, Box, Dropbox, or Google Drive (Figure 2).
I found AutoCAD Web surprisingly easy to use, with the pared-down set of commands organized in an interface that is intuitive and easy to navigate (Figure 3). There are the basic drawing, annotation, and modification tools that can be displayed in a ribbon at the top or on the lower left; the different snapping and tracking options at the base of the graphics window; the drawing and layout tabs as in the main application; and a panel on the left with the options for object properties, layers, blocks, external references, and traces. At the top of the graphics window are the tools for Undo, Zoom, and changing the active layer. Overall, the interface is minimalist and uncluttered, and the developers have done a great job of figuring out what the essential tools are and providing ready access to them (Figure 3).
AutoCAD Web was also faster than I expected, with no noticeable lag even though it was working over the browser.
A note of caution, however — AutoCAD Web is intended to be a supplement to the main desktop application rather than a replacement. So, for instance, while you can add text or dimensions to a drawing, you cannot configure text or dimension styles in AutoCAD Web. These would have to be set up in the main AutoCAD application for a project and can then be used when working on that project in Autodesk Web.
There is a new Performance Analyzer tool to diagnose operations in AutoCAD that seem slow or unresponsive. It can be used to detect performance issues during operations such as opening the application or individual drawings, switching layouts, plotting or printing layouts, starting a command, selecting an object, or navigating a drawing while moving the mouse. The issue is typically manifested by a longer than normal period of inactivity where the application is “frozen,” or by slow, jumpy, or jerky cursor movements. The Performance Analyzer displays file access times as well as regen(eration) times for an operation. The tool is located in the Manage tab of the ribbon. Clicking it opens the Performance Analyzer dialog, where you can start the recording. You can then proceed to do the action that is slow, stop the recording after the action is complete and the application becomes responsive again, and then view the processed results to get a better understanding of what may be causing the issue (Figure 4).
Other enhancements in the 2023.1 release include additional capabilities to the Sheet Set Manager for the Web, which was a feature that had been introduced in the original March release to display and manage named collections of drawing sheets stored in Autodesk Docs; the addition of Autodesk Assistant to Autodesk Help for expanded support that uses a chabot (see Chatbot - Wikipedia), which is becoming increasingly common in software applications; and some improvements to the 3D Graphics system including TrueType font support for Mac OS, line weights, locked layer dimming, Xref dimming, and other performance improvements
There are several enhancements in the main 2023 version of AutoCAD that was released earlier in March. A new “My Insights” tab on the Start page provides insights to a user based on their individual AutoCAD usage, including suggestions for commands and macros that are automatically recorded to perform frequent tasks, as shown in Figure 5. These macros also appear in the Command Macros palette (in the View tab of the ribbon) from where they can be applied, as shown in Figure 6, as well as edited, if required.
The Trace feature that had been introduced in the previous release has been expanded to the desktop version of AutoCAD in addition to AutoCAD Web and the mobile app, so that it can be used for collaboration with a team on all platforms. There are options to create a Trace, contribute to a Trace, view all the contributions to the active Trace, as well as remove your contribution (Figure 7). All of these options are available in the Traces Palette, which is available in the Collaborate tab of the ribbon.
One extremely useful new feature is the new Markup Import and Markup Assist functionality. With this, you can import any PDF drawing, either by scanning it or taking a photograph, and overlay it as a Trace on top of the DWG drawing it is a copy of. Any hand-drawn markups and text made on the PDF can then be automatically converted into the corresponding annotations in AutoCAD such as text, leaders, and revision clouds (Figure 8), using a capability similar to OCR (optical character recognition) which converts text on a scanned PDF to computer text.
Other key updates include the ability to count instances of an object or blocks within a specified area (Figure 9), several improvements to floating drawing windows including the anchoring of the command window to stay with the active drawing window (Figure 10), updated 3D graphics that leverage the power of modern GPUs and multi-core CPUs to offer a smoother navigation experience for larger drawings, a new Extend Vertex grip option to add a new vertex to a polyline to extend it without needing to reverse its direction, the ability to convert an existing Mtext object to an Mleader, and a new CUTBASE command that copies selected objects to the Clipboard along with a specified base point and removes them from the drawing.
There are some additional enhancements in AutoCAD 2023, the complete list of which can be seen at this link.
AutoCAD has, of course, become a lot more advanced since I last worked with it, but I was happy to find that the fundamentals haven’t changed. Working with it was, for me, a refreshing chance to take a step away from BIM, 3D design, construction management, digital twins, and other advanced AEC technologies to look at a technology from simpler times, when the industry was just transitioning from hand drawings to computer-aided drafting. I am glad to see that the application has advanced with the times.
Lachmi Khemlani is founder and editor of AECbytes. She has a Ph.D. in Architecture from UC Berkeley, specializing in intelligent building modeling, and consults and writes on AEC technology. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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