We explain in this post the AutoCAD interface and its different menus and options before using any of the tools. It is not the intention to identify every ribbon and tool available, nor to show what tools do, but rather to explain the ethos behind the groupings, to show where certain types of tools can be found and what the different drop-down and menu expansion symbols mean.

Drawing Area

Objects are created in the drawing area. By default, a grid will be shown. The grid is an indication of the drawing orientation and is otherwise not used.

To turn the grid off, click the Grid Display button in the Drafting Settings.

Ribbon Panels

The AutoCAD Ribbon is composed of tabs for different tasks. Each tab comprises a series of panels which group similar commands.

The AutoCAD ribbon

The Ribbon tabs

A Ribbon panel (Draw)

Slideout Panels

A down arrow in the panel’s title bar next to the name indicates that additional tools can be accessed from a Slideout Panel. Click the title bar to show the Slideout Panel. The Slideout Panel will close automatically when the cursor is moved away from the panel.

Dialog Box Launcher

Some panels have a dialog box that can be launched by clicking the arrow icon in the corner of the panel title bar.

Contextual Ribbon Tabs

When certain AutoCAD objects are selected, or a particular command is invoked, a contextual Ribbon tab is displayed with options and properties relating to that particular object or command.

Note: Contextual Ribbons can be identified by their green colour.

Ribbon Display Options

The arrow to the right of the Ribbon tabs cycles through four display states for the Ribbon panel.

Full Ribbon

Minimize to Panel Buttons

Minimize to Panel Tiles

Minimize to Tabs

Tool Palettes

Tool Palettes can be launched from the Ribbon View tab > Palettes panel.

Tool Palettes can be used to store and provide quick access to commands, Blocks and Hatches.


Properties Palette

Every AutoCAD object has properties that can be altered. The Properties Palette is used to adjust these properties. The Properties Palette can be launched from the Ribbon Home tab > Properties panel > Dialog Box Launcher

With an object selected, the Properties Palette shows a list of General properties, such as colour, linetype and lineweight, and Geometry properties, such as length, angles and start and endpoints. Different objects also have other properties such as 3D Visualization properties which control materials.


Command Line

The Command Line gives prompts to the user for information or to provide instructions. When working in AutoCAD, it is essential that the command line is monitored for instructions on using each of the tools.

Most commands can either be entered in full or by using a shortened command. In the example of Line, “Line” or “L” can by typed to start the command. The case is not important. “L” or “l” will both work.

A standard command line message has three sections to the message. The first part of the message is the instruction telling you what to do.

The second part of the command line message, enclosed in “[ ]” brackets provides different options split using a “/” symbol. The letter of the option shown in capitals can be typed to invoke it.

The final part of the command line message is the default option contained within “< >” brackets. Pressing [Enter] will use this default option.

To cancel a command and reset the command line, press the [Esc] key. Pressing this key will also cancel any current selections.


The Options dialog box has a number of options that relate specifically to your copy of AutoCAD and some which relate to the drawing file.

To show the Options dialog box, click the AutoCAD ‘A’ Icon and choose Options.

Drawing Status Bar

The Drawing Status Bar provides access to Annotation Scaling. (See Modules 06-Text and 07-Dimensions for further details on annotation scaling.

Application Status Bar

The Application Status Bar shows the cursor coordinates (1), the status of Drafting Tools (2) (see Module 02-creating basic shapes for further details), Quick View tools (3) (See Module 11-Layouts and plotting for further details).

Mouse buttons

The mouse is used to place objects and move around the AutoCAD environment. When clicking in the drawing area, the buttons work as follows:

Left mouse button; This places a point or selects an object.

Select an object then hold the left mouse button over the object and drag your mouse will move the object arbitrarily. This is an inaccurate way of moving objects.

Hold the [Shift] key and click on already selected objects to remove them from the current selection set.

Right Mouse button; This shows a right-click menu that has options and additional tools related to the tool you are currently working with.

Mouse Wheel; The mouse wheel is used to pan and zoom around a drawing.

Hold; Holding the wheel and moving the mouse will pan around a file.

Double click; Double-clicking the mouse wheel will fit the contents of a file into the current view.

Scroll; Scrolling the mouse wheel away from you will zoom in, scrolling the mouse wheel towards you will zoom out.





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