The AutoCAD software has grown to become the leading CAD program, with its number of users increasing daily, and across industries. Without proper training and knowledge of the workings of this advanced program, using the software can become an overwhelming experience for beginners.

The key is you need to learn one step at a time. Learn to walk before you learn to run. You need to understand the concept of each step; then you will be an AutoCAD guru.

The many AutoCAD tools and AutoCAD commands can take ages to learn, navigate, and master. But using AutoCAD is not difficult. Once you have set up an AutoCAD account - be it an AutoCAD student account or the more advanced one - you will need to familiarize yourself with the basics before you start to use the software.

AutoCAD Basics

The Command Window

The Command window is the core of AutoCAD. Docked at the bottom of the application window, the Command window displays prompts, options, and messages. 

Use the Command window to directly enter commands instead of using the ribbon, toolbars, and menus. In fact, as you keep using the software, you will find this to be a friendlier method.

As you start to type a command, it completes automatically. When several possibilities are available, simply click on your choice (you can also use the arrow keys to select) and press Enter or the Spacebar.

AutoCAD tutorial
Use the Hitchhiker's Guide to AutoCAD to get yourself started with this exciting software. | Source: Autodesk

AutoCAD Interface

Good news for new users of AutoCAD. The latest interface is much easier to use (ribbon haters will be disappointed). Access and activate the 'drawing' tools, the 'modify' tools, or any other tools. Remember, AutoCAD is a Windows-compliant software. So, make sure to check for systems compatibility.

Basic Drawing Tools

Drawing tools are very easy to use. The names of most of the basic tools are self-explanatory. For example, the Line tool will draw a line; the rectangle tool will draw a rectangle, and so on.

Create a new drawing using the appropriate template. If you draw with metric units, don’t use imperial templates!

However, users, especially beginners, must understand that every tool has different ways they can be used. It’s difficult to remember all of the steps in each tool. That’s what the command line (or, the dynamic input) is for.

Therefore, to guarantee a successful 3D model or project on AutoCAD from the beginning, we recommend using the following tools: 

  • Point: One of the most basic parts of a CAD drawing building design, a point is used to create a symbol on the drawing that is tied to another specific location. In the software, points are defined by the coordinates (x,y,z). 
  • Polygon: Multisided shapes, such as pentagons or hexagons, polygons can be frequently used on the AutoCAD system for drawing. The software requests the number of sides and the desired shape. “Closed Polygons” can be edited using the command PEDIT. 
  • Arc: A circle segment that can be defined by selecting three points through which AutoCAD can generate an arc. 
  • Circle: The only variables to create a circle are the radius and the center point. The shortcut to creating a loop on AutoCAD is “c.” 
  • Spline:  A curve that is generated by specific mathematical equations. The user can select as many verticles as they wish and AutoCAD will release a spline curve that incorporates all of these points. Splines are most often used for cosmetic purposes, and the program shortcut is “spl.” 
  • Ellipse: Commonly recognized as an oval, an ellipse is very similar to a circle except it requires a radius to be defined for both their horizontal and vertical exponents.
  • Hatch: Known on AutoCAD software as space fillers, they can be made of a solid color or a more specific pattern that was designed by the user. They can be applied to a particular object, such as a looped polyline.
  • Text: By using this option, a text string is inserted into the drawing. It is essential to state that the AutoCAD system uses two forms of text entry: single line and multiline. The distinct types are known as DTEXT and MTEXT. Also, TEXT can be used in areas that are unspecified and undefined. 
circles and ellipsis on AutoCAD
Learning how to draw circles on AutoCAD is a fundamental aspect of using this software. |Source: Unsplash

If you are feeling confident enough, go ahead and try to open any drawing. We learn best by doing. Try to navigate through your drawing using some basic features like pan, zoom in, zoom out, or zoom extend.

Basic Modifying Tools

The following are some of the most basic modifying tools: 

  • Erase: When you make a mistake, erasing saves the day! A simple tool that can be used by selecting the object you wish to eliminate and then pressing the erase tool. 
  • Copy: Everyone who uses a computer can identify with the copy and paste functions and it is the same with the AutoCAD software. To move a selected object from one place to another, the copy tool is used. To copy, the user selects two points and the object is copied using two positions as base points. Points can be selected by using the keyboard and typing in the coordinates or by clicking anywhere on the screen. The shortcut is “cp/co.” 
  • Mirror: The user defines two points, and the reflected object is generated across the chosen line with all components reversed. While using this tool, any selected object can create a mirror image. The keyboard shortcut to use this tool is “mi.” 
  • Offset: The option of offset is considered to be almost the same as the copy option; it is used in specific situations since the result will likely be smaller or more prominent than the original. The shortcut for using the offset tool on the AutoCAD system is “o.” 
  • Array: Completing a variety is a quick way of doing a lot of copying. It is essential to state that there are two types of arrays: polar and grid. To make a polar grid, the AutoCAD system asks the user how many copies they wish to include in their draft. On the other hand, to fabricate a grid array, the user selects how many columns and rows are needed to complete the task at hand. The AutoCAD shortcut to make an array is “ar.” 
  • Scale: To use this function, the user selects an object or objects, and the scaling factor on the CAD program is defined. Using the scale option on AutoCAD is a great way to change a drawing from meters to millimeters without having to make things so complicated for users. 

Learn Through Practice

Practice makes a man (or a woman) perfect. All of us are familiar with this famous saying. The same holds true for AutoCAD users as well.

AutoCAD masters are those who use it intensively. 

Practice your drawings, the ways to navigate. Explore the tools. Most importantly, don't forget to practice your skills (and art) on live projects of multiple types. This will help you become proficient as an AutoCAD user.

eraser at work
Thank goodness for the 'Erase' tool on AutoCAD. Users can correct any mistakes. | Source: MasterTux from Pixabay

Parting Recommendations

Everyone gets stuck. Everyone faces issues in the digital world. And, for that, we leave you with these final recommendations, or hacks, to make your AutoCAD experience smoother.

  • Access the 'Help' section in AutoCAD, with information about the command in progress by simply pressing F1.
  • To repeat the previous command, press Enter or the Spacebar.
  • To see various options, select an object and right-click, or right-click a user interface element.
  • To cancel a command in progress or if you ever feel stuck, press Esc.

The process of learning is a lifelong process. Be prepared to take risks, to fail, to get frustrated (yes, advanced computer programs tend to do that to you often). Test out all the features that the software has to offer. This is an integral part of becoming an expert in your chosen craft. Check out blogs and video tutorials and other resources on the Internet. Put in the effort and be rewarded with expertise in AutoCAD.

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Shreyanjana is an archaeologist who ironically finds the written word to be the most powerful means of storytelling. A travel buff and a photography enthusiast, she has been writing and sharing stories of all sorts ever since she can remember.