CAD Tip 1021: Use Big Round Numbers to Break Free of CAD Clutter

Out of clutter, find Simplicity.  Out of discord, find Harmony.  In the middle of difficulty lies Opportunity.
–Albert Einstein

A common cause of lost speed in CAD is being mired in a complex, dense drawing with so many objects crammed into so little work space that it’s hard to maneuver.  Here’s an example from an actual project I recently worked on:

An example of a very dense CAD drawing

A high-density drawing can slow the CAD designer down in many ways:

  1. Lost time in finding objects
  2. Lost time in finding and returning to the work area
  3. OSNAP tool has trouble snapping to the intended point
  4. Overlapped objects are hard to detect and fix
  5. Alignments can easily be thrown off
  6. Mistakes such as layer issues and typos are hard to detect
  7. Grips on objects are hard to manipulate
  8. The designer’s brain can get exhausted very quickly from dealing with the visual clutter

There are several tools that can help with the problem of clutter.  In this tip, I will focus on one technique that I developed long ago and still use frequently.  I call it:

The power of big round numbers.

Here’s how it works.  Faced with a high-density drawing, grab a few crucial objects from the work area you’re focusing on, and move them away from the main drawing by a multiple of 1,000 units.  Using the ORTHO tool, move them directly up, down, left, or right, whichever offers the most open space outside of the main drawing.  Use a big number that’s easy to remember, such as 1,000 units or 2,000 units.  Do your work on the objects, free of all of the distractions, then move them back by the same distance.

The crucial objects can be easily selected with the help of the LAYER ISOLATE tool, the QUICK SELECT tool (see Tip 1019), and/or a selection window (standard or crossing type).  By moving them away by multiples of 1,000 units, you can easily recall the distance to move them back, ensuring accuracy, and you don’t have to type in a units designator such as an apostrophe or quotation mark.

In Architectural-unit drawings, the default unit is one inch, so I can quickly estimate whether 1,000, 2,000, or 5,000 units will get me clear of the main drawing.

If a floor plan drawing is about 100 feet across, that would translate into 1,200 units, so a move of 2,000 units would get me clear of the plan in most cases.

By the way, always use the numeric keypad for input of numbers in CAD.  It’s much faster than using the number keys above the QWERTY keys.  I know of a CAD designer who was turned down in a job interview because she said, in answer to a question, that she did not use the numeric keypad.  Strange but true.

Another common example: Say you need to do updates on a particular elevation, with the related floor plan placed directly above it for alignment, but the elevation is buried in the middle of a sheet of elevations.  Don’t let the plan overlap the other elevations.  Just move the elevation needing work 1,000 units to the right (or whatever works best) and then place the plan directly above the elevation.  No messy overlays, just what you need and nothing else.

One thing to watch out for–if you have associated dimensions attached to the objects getting moved out of the drawing, those dimensions may get stretched in unexpected ways.  In this case, I recommend freezing the dimension layer before making the move.

The sense of freedom when you break free of the high-density zone is liberating, like a breath of fresh air.  The time it takes to move out and move back, using this simple method, will easily pay for itself in time saved.  The more you use this tip, the faster it goes.

Hope this helps.  Leave your feedback, and follow me on Twitter (@markssadler).

Keep on CADDing!   🙂