Managing Blocks with Tool Palettes in AutoCAD
Jaiprakash Pandey posted on April 28, 2016 |

Blocks are an essential component of every AutoCAD drawing, and almost every design firm has its own library of standard blocks. The most convenient place to store these blocks is a network drive from where it becomes easily accessible to people working on a common project. But when the number of blocks become too many, then it becomes difficult to manage these blocks properly and searching for the correct block sometimes costs valuable time in the absence of proper management.

In order to manage your block library and to ensure standardization in your organization, tool palettes can be used. Tool palettes can be efficiently used to ensure that you have all your standard blocks at one place, easily accessible for all. They can also be transferred to multiple computers in order to ensure availability of the same set of tools for every individual working on a project.

Design Center is another tool that can be used for extracting block information from a drawing, and it can also be used to search for particular block(s) in your block library without looking through all of the drawings manually.

In this article, I will explain in detail all of these tools and techniques related to managing blocks with tool Palettes.


Adding Blocks to Tool Palettes

AutoCAD Tool Palettes can be used to create libraries of frequently used blocks, dynamic blocks, tools and commands for easy access. The default tool palette has some frequently used blocks already available, but you can create your own standard tool palette and you can also organize all blocks in different groups for easy classification.

To launch tool palettes, press CTRL + 3 on the command line or use command alias TP. On tool palettes, you will see many ready-made palettes dedicated to commands, blocks, tables, constraints, annotations, etc. To create a new palette, right-click on any palette and select New Palette from the contextual menu. Assign a name to this new palette and press enter.(In this example, I am naming it “Sample Blocks”) Now you can add blocks to this palette directly by dragging and dropping from an open drawing.

Open a drawing containing relevant standard blocks for your company, and drag and drop blocks that you want to add to this palette. Once added to the palette, these blocks can be inserted in another drawing either with drag and drop or by double-clicking on a specific block in the tool palette. If you add dynamic blocks to the palette, then a lightning symbol will appear with the block icon to distinguish it from standard blocks.

Sample Blocks tool palette.
Sample Blocks tool palette.

You can add your custom image to the block icons as well. To add a custom icon to the blocks on the tool palette, first right-click on the block and select Specify image from the contextual menu. Click on the browse button to locate a new image in the file system and click OK to accept the change. You can also specify separate images for AutoCAD’s light and dark themes from the Specify images window.


Customizing Properties of Blocks

You can customize properties of blocks directly from tool palettes also. Right-click on block in tool palette and select Properties from the contextual menu. A new Tool Properties window will appear, where you can change the properties of the block like its name, layer assignment or scale.

You can also select multiple blocks by pressing the CTRL or SHIFT key. Once you select multiple blocks and invoke the Property panel, then all common properties of selected blocks will appear in the panel and you can modify these properties together. For example, this feature can be effectively used to modify the path of all selected blocks without having to change them individually.


Organizing Multiple Palettes in Groups

You can organize your blocks into different palettes and then you can add all your custom palettes into a group. In that way, you can make sure that only the palettes that are required for the drawing are visible at any given time. For example, you can create a palette for Architectural blocks, one for interior furnishing blocks and another for Electrical components, and you can create a group to place all of these palettes in one place for easy access.

To create a new group, right-click in a blank area of any palette and select Customize Palettes from the contextual menu. A new Customize window will pop up with a list of all palettes on the left panel and a list of all groups on the right panel as shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1. Customize window with Palettes and Palette Groups.
Figure 1. Customize window with Palettes and Palette Groups.

To add a group, right-click anywhere inside the Palette Groups panel and select New Group from the contextual menu. Give your new group a name (For this example, I am naming it, “My Group”) and press enter key. The group will be added based on the location where you clicked. Select your group and move it to the top of the groups tree to ensure it remains a standalone group and not a sub-group. Now drag and drop all custom palettes you created from the left panel to My Group on the right panel, and click on the Close button in the Customize window.

By default, all palettes are visible in tool palettes. In order to make only palettes from your group visible, click on the Properties icon (the gear icon below the Auto-hide button as shown in Figure 2) of the tool palette(on the top-left or top-right corner, depending upon your palette configuration) and click on My Group from the menu.

Figure 2. Properties icon on tool palette.
Figure 2. Properties icon on tool palette.

All existing palettes will now be hidden, and palettes that are under My Group will be the only ones visible.


Exporting Tool Palettes and Groups

The settings of tool palettes are saved in the local user profile. You can easily export these custom tool palettes and groups settings saved in the local user profile to another computer. For exporting palettes or groups, right-click in the empty area on any palette and select Customize Palette from the contextual menu. Select the palette that you want to export from the palettes panel on the left side of the Customize window and right-click on it. Select Export from the contextual menu and specify the location where you want to save this palette and click on the Save button.

A new XTP file will be created at the specified location. You can import this file in another computer to have the same arrangement of blocks and their settings in its tool palette. In a similar way, you can also export palette groups by right-clicking on the group from the Palette Groups panel and selecting Export from the contextual menu. In this case, the file will be saved with an XPG extension.

To import these palettes and group files, right-click on any palette or palette group in the Customize window and select Import from the contextual menu, locate the relevant XTP or XPG file and open it.


Creating Tool Palettes Directly with Design Center

You can create tool palettes containing all blocks of a drawing by using Design Center. Before using this tool, open the drawing and use the PURGE command to remove all redundant and/or unused blocks to avoid including garbage in tool palette.

After purging your drawing of unnecessary blocks, press CTRL+2 to open Design Center palette and click on Load icon on top left of palette to load drawing in this palette. When drawing is loaded right-click on the drawing’s name in the Folder List panel of Design Center and select Create Tool Palette from the contextual menu.

Design Center palette.
Design Center palette.

You will notice that a new palette will be created with the same name as the drawing, and all of the blocks of the drawing will be included.


Changing Path of Source File

In order to use tool palettes in another computer, you need to ensure that the original drawing containing blocks is also transferred to the same file location containing the XTP and XTG files. In the event the path of the saved drawing is incorrect, you may need to update the file path. To update the file path for all blocks in the new computer, activate the tool palettes by pressing CTRL+3 and import them as explained in the steps above. Then select all blocks by pressing the CTRL or SHIFT key and then right-click and select Properties from then contextual menu.

A new Tool Properties window will appear with a panel named Insert, where you can enter the correct path of your source files as shown in Figure 3.

Figure 3. Tool Properties palette.
Figure 3. Tool Properties palette.

Click on the column containing the file path for the source drawing, and a new box will appear next to file path. Click on it, specify the updated location of your source drawing containing all Blocks and click on open. The new file path is now updated for all blocks in the palettes.

Conclusion

Reusable content is an essential part of every AutoCAD drawing, and with large drawings, it becomes essential to adopt efficient methods to manage them. Tool palette is one great way of managing blocks, which is one of the key reusable content available in AutoCAD drawings. The feature is also very useful in maintaining block standards in your organization.

About the Author





Jaiprakash Pandey is a CAD corporate trainer and designer currently working with the engineering design consulting company, Ramboll. He is an Autodesk AutoCAD Certified Professional, Autodesk Expert Elite and mechanical engineer. He also develops video courses for many online tutoring platforms and occasionally writes for AUGI World magazine. You can reach him on his blog Thesourcecad.com.

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