Ten (Or So) Differences between AutoCAD and AutoCAD LT

AutoCAD and AutoCAD LT are quite similar but not identical. In this extra Part of Tens are the ten (okay, eleven) most significant differences between the AutoCAD and AutoCAD LT programs.

Price

Most important to many people, especially if you work in 2D drafting exclusively and see no need to spend time learning to use the AutoCAD customization languages or 3D capabilities, is the much lower cost of AutoCAD LT.

Offices that need 3D or other full-on AutoCAD capabilities sometimes (but not for everything they do) buy a mix of versions. Check out your network licensing options to see whether this strategy works for you.

3D abilities

The 3D features may be the most significant difference for some users. If you want to model in 3D, you have no choice but to use the full version of AutoCAD. In AutoCAD LT, you can open and view 3D models created in the full version of AutoCAD, though you can't create new ones or edit them, other than to move, copy, or delete them. The only 3D construction you can do in AutoCAD LT is to apply a thickness (height) property to line work. (In AutoCAD, thickness means perpendicular to the drawing plane; don't confuse it with width, which applies to objects on the drawing plane.)

And even if you can open 3D models from the full version in AutoCAD LT, viewing them isn't a simple matter. Only a limited number of preset viewing positions are available, unlike in the full version, where you can rotate or orbit around the model to your heart's content.

Finally, because AutoCAD LT is a 2D drafting program, it has minimal visualization or presentation capabilities, whereas the full program can display 3D models in several built-in visual styles ranging from a simple wireframe mode to full, photorealistic rendering complete with shadows, reflections, and a humongous materials library.

Customization options

Customization is also a major issue for many people. Talk to seasoned AutoCAD users at work or your local user group, and you'll find that their key to happiness is being able to customize AutoCAD to do what they want with minimum effort. The full version of AutoCAD supports a number of Application Programming Interfaces (APIs), including AutoCAD's own programming language, AutoLISP (and its marginally friendlier sibling, Visual LISP), ActiveX Automation, and compiled language programming using ObjectARX or the Microsoft .NET framework.

Although you can do simple customization in AutoCAD LT — for example, creating and modifying toolbars, writing scripts, and using custom hatch patterns and linetypes — none of the higher-level programming is possible in LT.

Network licensing

The paradigm is large engineering company versus home-office doodler, and the assumption is that AutoCAD LT users have no need for a network license. With regular AutoCAD, you can get a network license that makes things easy to administer.

For example, you can have a 10-seat license that lets AutoCAD run on any 10 of the 20 machines in your office, as long as no more than 10 are run at one time. If you're an LT user and you have 20 machines in your office, you'll need 20 licenses, one per machine, even if no more than 10 copies of AutoCAD are ever running at one time.

Express Tools

The Express Tools are a set of officially unsupported but nevertheless reliable bonus tools. They include useful utilities and previews of functionality that may end up being built directly into future versions of AutoCAD. The set has additional drawing and editing commands, a far more elaborate hatch routine than the regular Hatch command, and commands for working with blocks and xrefs, text, dimensions, and layouts.

Because most of the Express Tools are written by using the APIs mentioned in the earlier section "Customization options," they don't work in AutoCAD LT. On the positive side, sometimes a few of the Express Tools are moved into the core of the AutoCAD executable; because they aren't using an API, they can be made available to AutoCAD LT. For example, AutoCAD LT 2012 added the OVERKILL command, previously an Express Tool, for weeding out duplicate objects.

Parametrics

AutoCAD LT is extremely limited in parametrics. Yes, you'll see the Parametric tab, and the Parameters Manager, but the Manager has little clout in LT. You can't create parameters in LT, but you can delete them, and therefore do a lot of damage to a helpless DWG file.

If you like the idea of your drawing geometry changing when you change the value of a dimension, consider buying the full version of AutoCAD rather than LT.

Standards checking

Standards, as in drafting standards, are important to maintain in design offices. With standards checking, you configure a DWS file (a DWG file set up with standard layers, text, dimension styles, and layouts, for example), and then compare the current drawing (or drawings done by outside consultants) with that DWS file to ensure that they conform to your office standards.

AutoCAD LT doesn't support standards checking.

Data extraction

An attribute is a variable text string that you create as part of a block definition. The data in the attribute can be edited or extracted easily in regular AutoCAD and nearly as easily in AutoCAD LT.

But AutoCAD LT lacks the full version's Data Extraction Wizard, which extracts information from objects and from attributed or nonattributed blocks. If the ability to use all the data in an AutoCAD drawing is important, choose the full version.

MLINE versus DLINE

Here's a case where AutoCAD LT beats its elder sibling! AutoCAD (the full version) includes an extremely unwieldy command MLine for drawing multiple parallel lines. You can draw this type of line in the same way you pick points for the Line command, but multilines are unintuitive to configure and darned difficult to edit.

AutoCAD LT has no MLine, but it has the command named DLINE (Double LINE). It may not draw more than two parallel lines, and it can't add colored fills, but it's logical to use, much easier to edit, and does automatic intersection cleanup. And sorry, AutoCAD users, but you don't have DLINE.

Profiles

The Options dialog box is where you adjust both drawing-specific and system-wide settings so that you can configure the program to work the way you want. In the full version of AutoCAD, you can save these settings as named profiles and switch between them on the Profiles tab of the Options dialog box. For example, you can have one profile with a white drawing background and another with a dark background. Or you can have different profiles that point to different client support files. When more than one person shares a computer, each person can have her own profile.

You'll find profiles only in the full version, though. The Options dialog box in AutoCAD LT has no Profiles tab because AutoCAD LT doesn't support profiles. Any changes you make to the options in AutoCAD LT become the current default settings, and they can't be saved and restored later.

Reference Manager

The freestanding Reference Manager isn't part of AutoCAD or AutoCAD LT. If you have the full version installed, you'll find Reference Manager on the Windows Start menu (or on the desktop in Windows 8). Reference Manager helps you ensure that any dependent files (for example, font files, images, or xrefs) are included when you ship a set of files. The ETransmit command does the same thing from within AutoCAD. AutoCAD LT has no technical reason not to include the Reference Manager, but it doesn't. On the other hand, it includes the ETransmit command.

If you have both AutoCAD and AutoCAD LT in your office, you can use the Reference Manager on drawings created by AutoCAD LT — and why not, because AutoCAD and AutoCAD LT use the same file format.

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