Tip 1020[spacer height=”20px”]

Form follows function – that has been misunderstood. Form and function should be one, joined in a spiritual union.
—Frank Lloyd Wright

The Function keys of the keyboard can be used to quickly control several critical AutoCAD settings, and are great time-savers once you become familiar with them.

This CAD tip ties in with other CAD tips on the Best CAD Tips site.  Here is a diagram of the “F” keys and their AutoCAD functions:

Diagram of the Function key functions
Diagram of the Function keys and their functions

Let’s go through them in order.

  • F1 — Opens the AutoCAD Help window, v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y.  This key can be more trouble than it’s worth.  It’s right next to the heavily-used Escape key, often gets bumped by mistake, and is likely to frustrate the CAD user who is constantly needing to hit Escape to get free of a “sticky” command such as the Line tool.  Here’s a radical solution: one CADster friend of mine actually pops the F1 key out of his keyboard using a screwdriver so that it can’t accidentally trigger the Help window.  I actually think that is probably the best idea, as long as you keep the key stashed away so you can put it back on if needed.
  • F2 — Opens the AutoCAD text window, which shows an extended view of the Command Line entries.  Useful when the Command Line is too small to see what you are interested in.
  • F3 — Toggles the Osnap tool (what I call the “Basket of Snaps”–see tip 1004) on and off.  This is a super-useful key.  The basket of snaps often snaps to an object that you did not intend.  This is a time-waster that really adds up if it happens repeatedly.  Use this key to turn the basket on when needed and off when it might cause mis-snaps.
  • F4 — Toggles 3D Osnap on and off.  See comments above.
  • F5 — Toggles Isoplane between Top/Right/Left.  For drawing “fake-3D” isometric drawings.  To get into the Isometric drawing mode, hover over the Snap Mode button at the bottom left of the screen, right-click, and choose Settings.  Then under Snap type, choose Isometric Snap.  Now use the F5 key to toggle between the three sides of the object you are drawing: top, right, and left.
  • F6 — Turns Dynamic UCS on and off.  Useful in 3D modeling work.
  • F7 — Toggles Grid Display on and off.  I use this key in combination with the F9 key to organize text objects on a regular grid–see Tip 1011.
  • F8 — Toggles Ortho mode on and off.  One of the most useful keys of all.
  • F9 — Toggles Grid Snap (snap to grid) on and off.  See comments on F7.
  • F10 — Toggles Polar Tracking on and off.  Very useful when working with designs having more than one geometric orientation, as when part of the design is rotated 45 degrees in relation to another part.  Note that when you use this key to turn Polar Tracking on, Ortho is automatically turned off.  In the same way that F7 and F9 are “sibling” function keys, F8 and F10 are siblings and are often used in tandem.
  • F11 — Toggles Object Snap Tracking on and off.  Some designers use Object Snap Tracking all the time and never turn it off.  This key makes it easy to turn it on and off as needed.
  • F12 — Toggles Dynamic Input on and off.  It seems to me that you probably either love Dynamic Input (which puts the Command Line and Status Bar information near your pointer in the work area) or you hate it.  If you like it but only at times, this key will help.

There are not many things you can do in AutoCAD with only one keystroke.  Even hotkeys require you to hit a letter or two plus the Enter or Spacebar key.  The function keys are potentially great time savers.  Using them is definitely faster than using the mouse to click on the settings buttons at the bottom of the work area.

It only takes a few minutes to memorize the functions using the diagram above.  I remember, long ago, even putting little paper labels on my keyboard, showing the F key functions–I know, that’s really nerdy.  I have no shame.

My personal favorite function keys are F3 (Osnap) and F8 (Ortho).  Both Osnap and Ortho can really slow you down when you don’t need them to be on, so I suggest that you use the function keys to make the AutoCAD settings work for you, rather than against you.

Hope this helps.  Send me any questions or comments.  Come back soon for more great CAD tips.

Keep on CADDing!   🙂