Introduction: FlowJet Series Part 1: AutoCAD Basics

About: Part man, part machine -- all awesome!

Purpose: Familiarize yourself with AutoCAD and become comfortable navigating through the software in less than seven minutes.  The final application is to run a job on the FlowJet.

Tools: AutoDesk AutoCAD 2012

Step 1: What's Going On?

To start off I will go through some entry terminology to ensure that everyone is on the same page.  First off, “CAD” stands for “computer aided drafting” and you learn a great deal of appreciation for the technology after using your grandfather's slide rule for hand drafting.  “AutoCAD” is the specific software from “AutoDesk” that I will be using.  Try not to interchange the two as it can be confusing.  (Remember, Frankenstein was the scientist, not the monster *wink*). 

AutoCAD is a tremendous tool that is relatively simple to learn and great to use with the FlowJet because sometimes working in 2D for something that is going to be cut in 2D is quicker and easier than 3D modeling.  Even if you are proficient with Inventor or Revit, there are times when a fast edit in AutoCAD is all you need – and you need to know your way around!

The guide book has a lot of great information, but it's gigantor.  There are videos and other resources floating around out there, but this Instructable is meant to be the quickest, dirtiest way to throw something on the FlowJet and minimize your problems.

Step 2: Getting Started

Open the program!  Notice all those buttons and tabs up top?  I'm not going to use them.  You might be thinking, “now hold on a minute there Frank, you can't do that!”  Yes, yes I can and my name's not Frank.  In AutoCAD there are type commands for everything that you want to do.  To be properly prepared, there is hand etiquette and habits that I need to break you from.  There is the traditional typing form [fig. 2], standard gaming form [fig. 3], and the drafting form [fig. 4].

The most effective way to work quickly is to have your left hand do all the typing and your right hand stays on the mouse.  Your hand needs to be relaxed and your wrist needs to be off the table to allow your fingers to dance like lightning across the night sky.  If you feel awkward at first, just think of it like the villain from Tomorrow Never Dies (Jonathan Pryce as Elliot Carver).  Pretending to be a super-villain normally cheers me up, try it out.

Step 3: Commands

Figuring out the commands is easy.  Sometimes you need to learn the lingo, but otherwise the word is the command.  For example, if you want to draw a line, you type “line”.  For a circle, you type “circle”.  Pretty easy to remember, yeah?  Well it get's even easier!  There are shortcuts so that the most used commands are normally a letter or two.  If you hit “c” and pause, you will see a full list of options that start with that letter, and highlighted at the top is “circle”.  To execute a command (tell the software 'ok let's do this!') hit “spacebar”.  Effectively a circle becomes 'c', 'space'.

Some commands have multiple steps to them and a prompt will occur in the lower left of the screen (note: you do not need to click in the dialog box before typing).  Do as the prompt says, and no one will get hurt.  I will go into more detail with this later on.

Step 4: Extras

There are a lot of additional features that I won't bog you down with, but two things in particular are incredibly useful and you should know about them.

Number one is the snap control feature.  In the bottom left corner is a square with a dot on the top left (not to be confused with the cube next to it).  Left-clicking this button toggles the snap function on and off.  Right-clicking is what you want in order to access the menu and configure options.  I add “midpoint” so that I am running with endpoint, midpoint, center, and intersection.  Too many snaps can get confusing, so if some are causing a nuisance, this is where you can configure them.

Number two is the layer management feature.  The key to a good file is keeping it clean and organized, just like a workshop.  Layers let you separate a single file into multiple cut paths, or include guidelines without deleting data.  The layer management button is at the top with a layer drop menu below it.  The drop menu is great for turning layers on and off, and the management button is for creating new layers and editing their properties.

Step 5: Practice

Feel free to tinker around to get familiar with the layout.  Scrolling the mouse wheel zooms in and out, pressing and holding the middle mouse button allows you to pan around.  Selecting objects from right to left (green) will include anything the box touches, and selecting object from left to right (blue) with only include lines completely bound by the box.  Type with one hand!

The project continues with part 2!

For more resources, tools, and training, head over to TechShop!

FlowJet Series Part 2: Applying AutoCAD
FlowJet Series Part 3: Converting an Image to Vector
FlowJet Series Part 4: Cleaning Vectors for FlowPath
FlowJet Series Part 5: Manual Pathing in FlowPath
FlowJet Series Part 6: Using FlowNest

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