Computer aided design (CAD)
Getting your AutoCAD drawings onto paper can be tricky if you are working on complex files or unfamiliar printers. This article guides you through how to print from AutoCAD to a printer, as well as how to convert a CAD drawing to PDF.
Printing AutoCAD drawings to a printer
If your computer is connected to a large format printer configured to print AutoCAD drawings, printing is relatively straightforward. You will need to input some information, including:
- Whether you are printing the entire drawing or a portion
- The paper size to print on
- The scale of the print
- The line weights assigned to different objects
All of these can be found in the Plot dialog box, similar to the Print dialog box in other software. You can access the Plot function via File > Plot or the keyboard shortcut Ctrl+P
Plot dialog box settings
The Plot dialog box may appear in standard or expanded mode. To open the expanded Plot dialog box, click the arrow icon in the bottom right corner.
To print a CAD drawing from a layout, simply right-click on the Layout tab you wish to print and select Plot. (If you are in Model view, go to Views and switch to the desired Layout.) This will bring up the Plot dialog box.
This dropdown list contains the printing devices which have been configured to work with AutoCAD. Choose the device which you will be using to print your AutoCAD drawing. The Properties button to the right of the drop-down list contains settings which will have been preconfigured by your computer.
The Printer/plotter dropdown list also contains various PDF printing options, as seen in the image below. We will cover the different AutoCAD-to-PDF options further down in this guide.
The Plot to File button saves your drawing as a .plt file so that it can be printed later, on another computer, or by a print production service.
Paper Size, Number of Copies
Make sure you have selected the right paper size and have the matching paper ready in your printer. You can also choose the number of copies you’d like to print.
Plot Area This is where you need to decide what you want to print from your drawing. If you have yet to set the visibility of your layers you want to print or hide, you will need to do that first. Next, click the dropdown list to find five options: Display, Extents, Limits, View, and Window. Assuming you have checked the “Fit to paper” option, this is what will be printed from your choice of plot area:
- Display: Print what is on the screen, including any blank areas
- Extents: Fill the print area with all visible objects in the drawing
- Limits: Print everything that lies within the limits grid set in your drawing. If your drawing contains Layouts, then you will see a Layout option instead
- View: Print a view that you have saved with the drawing. If there are no saved views, this option will not appear.
- Window: This allows you to drag a window around any part of your drawing that you want to print.
To see what your print will look like using different Plot Area options, simply click the Preview button at the bottom left of the Plot dialog box.
If want to print to scale from AutoCAD rather than fitting it to your paper, uncheck the “Fit to paper” option. You can then select either a predefined scale from the dropdown list or enter a custom scale.
This allows you to either centre the plot on the plot area instead of starting from the origin or input a custom amount of space to offset the plot.
The expanded Plot dialog box
Clicking the arrow icon in the bottom right corner opens the expanded Plot dialog box, which contains a few additional settings.
- Plot Style Table: Allows you to plot using different plot styles available on your computer
- Shaded Viewport Options: Select the shade mode for printing 3D views
- Plot Options: These are applied to layouts
- Drawing Orientation: Toggle the paper orientation
How to convert a CAD drawing to PDF
As AEC firms move toward remote work and digital transformation, digital file sharing is slowly becoming the norm. Instead of printing physical copies of your CAD drawings, you may find yourself converting your DWG files to PDF instead. Not only are PDF drawings more easily readable by users without AutoCAD, but they can also preserve layer data and other properties at your chosen file quality.
What confuses many users is that AutoCAD offers three different ways to convert your CAD drawing to PDF. Here, we explain the differences between each method and which you should choose for your needs.
Plot to PDF
This uses the Plot dialog box described earlier in this article. Depending on the edition of AutoCAD you are using, you should see options like DWG to PDF.pc3 or AutoCAD PDF (General Documentation).pc3. A PDF Options button should appear, allowing you to set the resolution for the output PDF drawing.
Export to PDF
The Export function can be accessed via the menu, or by typing EPDF on the command line, and is useful when you are in layout view. Using the Export command, you can plot all layouts of your drawing into a single PDF file.
Publish to PDF
The Publish command (synonymous with the Batch Plot command in your toolbar/menu) is useful for creating multi-page PDFs of selected layers. To open the Publish dialog, type PUBLISH on the command line.
The Sheets list will display all open drawings by default, but you can add or remove drawings to match the content you want printed. Then, click the “Publish Options” button and ensure that Type is set as Multi-sheet file.
Finally, if you are using Sheet Sets, you can publish directly from the Sheet Set Manager by right-clicking the Sheet Set tree menu. This allows consistent publishing standards using predetermined settings that have been added by a manager or project owner.
Determining lineweights for your drawings
Obtaining precise line weights can be a tricky aspect of printing AutoCAD drawings with a printer and in PDF, especially since standards vary across different professions within the AEC industry. If the object lineweights in your drawing differ from what is plotted, type LWDISPLAY in the command line and type ON to toggle on the lineweight display. Then, check the following:
- In the Plot dialog: uncheck Scale lineweights and Plot object lineweights
- Type PROPERTIES in the command line, and under the Lineweight dropdown, select ByLayer. This ensures that object lineweights are controlled by the layer
- User a higher resolution when plotting to PDF
- In your PDF viewer (such as Adobe Reader), go to Preferences > Page Display: uncheck Smooth line art and Enhance thin lines
As a last resort, you can change the lineweight of various objects to the desired thickness. However, this isn’t recommended for files and projects that involve a lot of collaboration, or if you are doing production printing on a client’s file.
Tips to ensure print precision from your CAD drawings
Ensure colours and patterns are distinct
When preparing your drawings, review them at a smaller scale and check if differentiating patterns, textures, and supporting text are sufficiently distinct. This can prevent confusion between different construction materials and construction delays.
Print using HPGL/2 drivers
CAD drawings need to be an accurate reference for anyone using them. To achieve this, HP developed the HPGL (and thereafter, HPGL/2) printer description language. Unlike raster-based driver outputs, HPGL/2 ensures 100% dimensional accuracy regardless of the printer’s output resolution. A CAD drawing printed on a 300dpi printer will have the same size and line weights as the same drawing printed on a 1200dpi printer.
HPGL/2 also produces plot files that are exceptionally compact, with a constant code size whether you print in Draft, Normal, or Best mode. This saves AEC professionals from having to export multiple plot files for different printers and use cases.
Choose the right printer for your needs
If you need to print complex drawings and your current large format printer is unable to fully realise the colours and details in your design, consider outsourcing that particular print job or investing in a printer upgrade. For instance, the HP DesignJet Z9+ uses a 9-ink system to reproduce subtle colours accurately.
If you encounter issues printing AutoCAD drawings, the AutoCAD support and learning centre offers tutorials, troubleshooting resources, and forums to help.
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