By David Cohn
Earlier this spring, Autodesk announced the arrival of AutoCAD 2020, the 34th version of its flagship product. And as it has for the past several years, the new software was released on the same day it was unveiled. However, this year, the announcement was relatively quiet. There was no big press release. Instead, the company posted the announcement on its AutoCAD blog, and the download links on the Autodesk website simply shifted to the new release.
The lack of fanfare isn’t that surprising. Having successfully transitioned from a perpetual license to a subscription model, most customers now get access to new features throughout the year, rather than having to wait for a big annual release.
So, what’s new in AutoCAD 2020? There are essentially seven significant changes. While that’s a far cry from the dozens of new features we’ve seen in previous years, the changes should be welcome by most users.
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Last year, Autodesk made a bold move. A single subscription to AutoCAD now includes access to seven additional “specialized toolsets.” That means that all AutoCAD customers now get access to AutoCAD, as well as the products formerly sold as AutoCAD Architecture, AutoCAD Electrical, AutoCAD Map 3D, AutoCAD Mechanical, AutoCAD MEP, AutoCAD Plant 3D, and AutoCAD Raster Design.
All these products now have a new look, thanks to changes to the “dark” theme, which is the default appearance when you first install the new release. Tools on the ribbon have a modern dark blue look with better contrast and sharper icons that the company hopes will be easier on the eyes without distracting from the drawing area. Of course, you can still switch to the “light” theme, giving the ribbon an off-white background.
The overall performance of AutoCAD 2020 has also been improved. This is especially apparent when saving drawings. Most saves now take less than half a second, compared to 1.5 seconds on average in the previous release. In addition, installing the software should be up to 50% faster for solid state hard drives.
AutoCAD’s MEASUREGEOM command now includes a “Quick” mode, which is active by default. Now, when you click the Measure tool in the ribbon, dimensions, distances, and angles are dynamically displayed as you move your mouse over and between objects in a drawing. The cursor displays all nearby measurements, both inside and outside the nearest geometry. Of course, the other command options are still available for explicitly measuring distance, radius, angle, area, and volume.
While the dark theme and measure changes are essentially eye-candy, improvements to the way users insert blocks are very significant. AutoCAD 2020 introduces a new Blocks palette that replaces the old Insert dialog. This is the most significant change to the way blocks work since Autodesk added the block gallery in the 2015 release.
The new Blocks palette makes it extremely simple to select and insert any block at any location, scale, or rotation angle, regardless of whether the block was defined in the current drawing or in some other drawing. Now, when you expand the Insert tool in the ribbon, in addition to displaying a gallery of blocks in the current drawing, you can click Recent Blocks… or Blocks from Other Drawings…. Either of these choices opens the Blocks palette.
The Blocks palette has three tabs. The Current tab displays all the block definitions in the current drawing. The Recent tab displays the most recently inserted blocks. And the Other Drawing tab provides an easy way to navigate to any folder, from which you can choose drawings to insert as blocks, or you can choose from blocks defined in drawings. The drawings you select in the Other Drawing tab persist between drawings and sessions.
To insert a block, you simply click it in the palette. The top of the palette also includes controls for applying wildcard filters to block names, as well as options for displaying blocks as different size icons or as a list. Controls in the lower portion of the palette let you control insertion options such as insertion point, scale, and rotation angle. If you select Repeat Placement, you can quickly insert multiple instances of the same block. And, since it’s a palette, it can be anchored, docked, floated, resized, and so on, so that it is readily available whenever you need to insert a block.
The Purge feature has also been redesigned for easier drawing cleanup. While the options remain nearly the same as before, the appearance and organization of the Purge dialog are all new and provide much better feedback. For example, you can now view purgeable or non-purgeable items, with a resizable preview area. Check boxes in the Named Items Not Used panel provide a way to select purgeable items by category or by individual items. You can also now purge zero-length geometry without also purging empty text objects.
But the biggest change is the ability to display non-purgeable items with a single click. For items that cannot be purged, the new design provides enhanced information, including better explanations for why items cannot be purged, how many times a non-purgeable item has been used, what layers those items are on, and their impact on file size.
In addition, with a non-purgeable item selected, you can click a Select Objects button to quickly zoom to those objects. Those objects are also selected in the drawing, so that you can easily make changes. For example, you could change the properties of the selected non-purgeable objects to move them to a different layer so that you could then purge the layer on which they had previously been inserted.
The DWG Compare feature, introduced in the 2019 release, has been enhanced in response to user feedback. Now, you can easily compare the current drawing to another specified drawing and import desired changes into the current drawing in real time. Any changes you make in either the current drawing or in the compared drawing are dynamically compared and highlighted.
While most of the comparison options remain the same, instead of a ribbon, the DWG Compare tools now appear on a docked toolbar at the top of the drawing area. Most of the options have been combined into a Settings control panel that can be pinned open and relocated on screen, so you can easily change the default comparison colors, toggle the comparison categories on and off, swap the order of drawings, adjust revision clouds, and so on.
You can also now export both drawings into a new “snapshot drawing” that combines the similarities and changes between both drawings. This operation provides the same result as performing a drawing comparison in AutoCAD 2019.
AutoCAD 2020 includes additional support for AutoCAD Web and AutoCAD Mobile. It also now supports cloud connectivity with Box, Dropbox, and several similar services. You can include Xrefs with drawing files that you save for AutoCAD web and mobile access. In addition, the CAD Manager Control Utility includes a new checkbox to disable the SAVETOWEBMOBILE and OPENWEBMOBILE commands, for those companies that require their drawing to remain within their organization’s network.
Finally, AutoCAD now launches correctly with different DirectX drivers, high resolution (4K) monitors, and dual monitors. In addition, the graphics display settings have been consolidated into three modes, which include gradient hatches and images.
While AutoCAD 2020 may not bring the quantity of improvements we have come to expect, the quality of its enhancements should benefit all users, regardless of what they create. After more than 35 years, AutoCAD remains the world’s leading CAD program.