This post explains the AutoCAD interface and its different menus and options prior to 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.

Exploring the User Interface

Firstly you will need to get to know your way around the screen. By default, AutoCAD will open a blank file named Drawing1.dwg.

  1. AutoCAD "A" icon
  2. Quick Access Toolbar
  3. InfoCenter
  4. AutoCAD ribbons
  5. View cube
  6. Drawing area
  7. Command-line
  8. AutoCAD status bar
  9. Drawing status bar

Accessed by the large AutoCAD ‘A’ icon in the top left corner, the Application Menu gives file operation, printing and drawing tools.


Allows the creation of a new .dwg file. Clicking New launches the Select template dialogue box. New files are created by using the template file selected and copying all the settings.


Launches the Open dialog box to open a Drawing file (.dwg), Drawing Standards file (.dws), Drawing Exchange Format file (.dxf) or Drawing Template file (.dwt).

Drawing File (.dwg) This is the standard AutoCAD file format. When saving files, this is the format that is used.

Drawing Standards (.dws) Drawing Standards files are populated with standard styles such as annotation styles. When applied to a Drawing file (.dwg), AutoCAD will highlight the areas where the styles are different e.g. if the Drawing file (.dwg) uses a Verdana font and the drawing standards file (.dws) uses an Arial font, AutoCAD will offer to correct the Drawing file (.dwg)

Drawing Exchange Format (.dxf) This is a format that can be opened by virtually all other CAD products and was designed as a format for exchanging Drawing files (.dwg) between different applications.

NOTE: Most applications are now compatible with Drawing files (.dwg) therefore drawing exchange format (.dxf) isn’t needed as often as it once was.

Drawing Template (.dwt) Drawing Templates are used to create new Drawing files (.dwg). They are the same as a normal Drawing file (.dwg) but when used, will automatically prompt the user to save to a different name when clicking the save button. This is important to stop you from accidentally overwriting the template file.

AutoCAD can open several files at the same time. To swap between open files, from the Ribbon View tab > Windows panel click the Switch Windows drop-down and choose the required file.

The current file will have a tick next to it.


Files can be closed by clicking the X in the top right corner of the Drawing Area. Do NOT click the X in the top right corner of the Application Window. This will close the application and all open files.


Saves the current Drawing file. If the Drawing file has been saved before, it will update the saved version. If the Drawing file hasn’t been saved before, AutoCAD will prompt you for a location and file name.

Once saved, AutoCAD will create three files:

DrawingFile.dwg This is the Drawing file that has been created.

DrawingFile.dwl This file is normally hidden in Windows.This is a Drawing Lock file. This file remembers the name of the person who is currently working on the file. If another user tries to open the same file, AutoCAD will report the name of the person with the file open and stop two or more people working on the same file at the same time. These files are deleted automatically when the file is closed.

DrawingFile.dwl2 This is the same as the DrawingFile.dwl but in a different format for newer versions of AutoCAD.

Once a file has been saved, clicking save again will also create a Drawing Backup (.bak) file. These files are backups of the previous save. If you wish to open the .bak file, change the file extension from .bak to .dwg and AutoCAD will open these files like any other Drawing file.

AutoCAD will also automatically save your Drawing files every 10 minutes to your user’s Temp folder as another Drawing Backup (.bak) file. The name will also be appended with a collection of characters to ensure the file name is unique. To open this file, rename the extension from .bak to .dwg and open using AutoCAD.

Save As

Saves a copy of the current Drawing file to the chosen file format and file name.


Exports the current Drawing file to alternative file formats for use or viewing in other software.

Quick Access Toolbar

The Quick Access Toolbar is a customisable toolbar for frequently used tools.

Tools can be added by clicking on the down arrow at the right-hand end of the Quick Access Toolbar. This will offer a list of standard tools that can be added or removed.

Additional tools can be added by right-clicking on the Quick Access Toolbar and choosing Customize Quick Access Toolbar

The Customize User Interface dialog box will show. Tools can be dragged from the list into the Quick Access Toolbar.

Info Center

The Info Center is a search bar for searching for help. If you are connected to the internet, AutoCAD will not only search the help files but also the Autodesk forums for solutions to your problems.

Type your search term and press [Enter] to show the Autodesk Exchange with suggestions to your query.


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