The Internet and AutoCAD: Options for Sharing Your AutoCAD DWG Files - dummies

The Internet and AutoCAD: Options for Sharing Your AutoCAD DWG Files

By Bill Fane

The days of sending drawings are largely gone and, just as AutoCAD provides new tools for modern design, the web gives you options for sharing your drawings. Now remember, the web is changing so quickly that it’s almost impossible to spell out exactly how everything works and what’s best for you when it comes to sharing your AutoCAD files. The following features are ones that are widely used to transfer AutoCAD files to and fro.

This is known as the CYA (Cover Your bAckside) paragraph. Here, you will find certain Internet features as they are known to exist at the time this content was created, but things are subject to change without notice. There is no warranty, expressed or implied, that everything will be the same when you try to use it. For example, one function changed names four times in six years.

Sending AutoCAD files via email

Email and the cloud have largely replaced blueline prints and overnight delivery as the standard means of exchanging drawings. Snail mail is dead for envelopes but is otherwise rapidly growing because of online shopping.

Sending and receiving AutoCAD drawing files doesn’t differ much from sending and receiving other kinds of files, except that

  • DWG files tend to be bigger than word processing documents and spreadsheets. Consequently, you may need to invest in a faster Internet connection, and you can easily run up against email attachment size limits.
  • You can easily forget to include all dependent files. An AutoCAD file may not be an island unto itself, but it can also require other files to go with it.
  • It’s often not completely obvious how to plot what you receive. Solving plotting puzzles is a frequent punchline among seasoned AutoCAD users.

Whenever you send DWG files, ask the recipients to open the drawings you’ve sent as soon as they receive them so that you both have more time to respond if there’s a problem.

Prepare it with AutoCAD’s eTransmit

Many people naively assume that an AutoCAD drawing is always contained in a single DWG file, but that’s often not the case. Each drawing file created in AutoCAD can contain references to more than a dozen other kinds of files, the most important of which are described in the following table. Thus, before you start exchanging drawings via the Internet, you need to assemble the drawings with all their dependent files.

Kinds of Files That DWG Files Commonly Reference
Description File Types Consequence If Missing
Custom font files SHX, TTF AutoCAD substitutes another font
Other drawings (xrefs) DWG, DGN, DWF, DWFx, PDF Stuff in the main drawing disappears
Raster graphics files JPG, PCX, TIFF, and others Stuff in the drawing disappears
Plot style tables CTB, STB Lineweights and other plotted effects don’t look right when the drawing is plotted

The table above doesn’t exhaust the types of files that your DWG files might refer to. Custom plotter settings (such as custom paper sizes) may reside in PC3 or PMP files. If you use sheet sets, DST files contain information about the sheet structure. An FMP file controls some aspects of font mapping. Look up sheet sets and the FONTALT and FONTMAP system variables in the AutoCAD online help system for detailed information.

Using AutoCAD’s rapid eTransmit

Fortunately, AutoCAD’s ETRANSMIT command pulls together all files that the main DWG file depends on. Follow these steps to assemble a drawing with all its dependent files by using ETRANSMIT:

  1. Open the drawing on which you want to run ETRANSMIT.

    If the drawing is already open, save it. You have to save the file just before using ETRANSMIT.

  2. Click the Application button and choose Publish→eTransmit from the Application menu.
    The Create Transmittal dialog box appears.
    AutoCAD eTransmit
    Using eTransmit to share AutoCAD drawings.
  3. On the Files Tree tab or the Files Table tab, remove the check mark next to any file that you want ETRANSMIT not to copy with the main drawing.

    Unless you have assigned custom font mapping, you can omit the Acad.fmp file (in AutoCAD) or acadlt.fmp (in AutoCAD LT).
  4. Select a transmittal setup from the list.

    Transmittal setups contain settings that control how ETRANSMIT processes the drawings and creates the transmittal package. Click the Transmittal Setups button to create new setups or modify existing setups. The default Standard transmittal setup works fine for most purposes. In any case, you should view the settings (click the Modify button) just to see what options you can change if you need to later.

    If you want AutoCAD to include SHX and TTF font files, including any custom fonts that you’re using, you must turn on the Include Fonts setting in the transmittal setup. However, many custom fonts work like licensed software. Sending them to others is just like sharing your AutoCAD program installation media with others: illegal and unethical. Don’t share licensed text fonts outside your organization.

  5. Click the View Report button.

    You see a report listing the files that ETRANSMIT will copy, along with warnings about any files that it can’t locate.

  6. Review the report and make sure that ETRANSMIT was able to find all the files.
    If files are missing, find them and move or copy them to the location where ETRANSMIT expects to find them.
  7. Click OK.
  8. Specify the name and location of the transmittal package.
  9. Click Save.
    ETRANSMIT creates the transmittal package (which is a ZIP file by default). Zipping creates a single, tidy, compact package of all your DWG, DGN, DWF, PDF, raster image, plot style table, and font files — all ready to be emailed.

FTP for you and me: Sharing your AutoCAD files

File Transfer Protocol (FTP) is a system for sharing files over the Internet. A computer that’s connected to the Internet can act as an FTP server, which means that part of its hard drive is accessible over the Internet. The person who configures the FTP server can place restrictions so that only people who enter a particular logon name and password can see and download files. FTP overcomes the file size limitations that often occur with email.

Because of all these FTP benefits, people at larger companies commonly place drawing files on their company’s FTP sites and tell you to get the files. This approach relieves them of having to email you the files, and it relieves you of having to wait for that 19.9MB email download when you least expected it.

The person making the files available to you via FTP usually sends you a Uniform Resource Locator (URL) that looks like a web page address, except that it starts with ftp:// instead of http://. Simply enter the FTP URL into the address field of your web browser and follow any instructions regarding the login name, password, filename that may appear.

Increasing cloudiness: Using cloud services to swap AutoCAD files

The trend these days is away from private FTP sites due to the proliferation of free or inexpensive services such as Google Drive and Dropbox. These services work on pretty much the same principle. You upload a file or files and assign access rights. The intended recipient or recipients then receive an invitation email that grants access to the specified file or files.

Okay, here’s a change already. Until recently, A360 was called Autodesk 360. Subject to change …

… Oops, it changed again.

Bad reception?

If you are on the receiving end of incoming drawings, as soon as you receive them (zipped, hopefully), copy the file to a new folder on your hard drive or a network disk and then unzip the files.

Check at least a few drawings in the package to make sure that all the xrefs and other reference files, fonts, and raster image files are included. Open each main drawing in the folder, press F2 to view the AutoCAD text window, and look for missing font and xref error messages, like this example:

Substituting [simplex.shx] for [helv.shx].
Resolve Xref “GRID”: C:\Here\There\Nowhere\grid.dwg
Can’t find C:\Here\There\Nowhere\grid.dwg

Write down each missing file and then tell the sender to get on the ball (in a nice way, of course) and send you the missing pieces.

If you receive drawings with custom TrueType font files (files whose extensions are TTF), you must install those files in Windows\Fonts folder (not in one of AutoCAD’s support folders) before Windows and AutoCAD will recognize them. All you need to do is to right-click the TTF file name, and then choose Install.

If you move project folders around or transfer drawings to or from somewhere else, AutoCAD may not be able to locate any raster image files and DWF/DWFx, DGN, PDF underlays and font files. The ETRANSMIT command does a good job of gathering dependent reference files, raster files, and font files, but it can’t gather what AutoCAD can’t locate.

The AutoCAD Reference Manager utility (not included with AutoCAD LT) is a real lifesaver if you’re suffering from file-path perils, whether they occur in your own company or when sending files to, or receiving them from, others.

Reference Manager is a separate program, not a command inside AutoCAD. Follow these steps to launch the utility from the Windows desktop:

  1. Start Reference Manager.

    The process depends on your version of Windows and how you have set it up. The bottom line is that Reference Manager is a separate program, so it must be started accordingly. The Reference Manager program opens.

    Reference Manager
    Reference Manager.
  2. Click the Add Drawings button to add one or more DWG files to the Drawings pane on the left.

    Navigate to the folder that contains the drawings you want to send, select them, and then click Open.

  3. In the Reference Manager – Add Xrefs dialog box, choose Add All Xrefs Automatically Regardless of Nesting Level.

    The Reference Manager processes the drawings and displays all referenced objects in its right pane.

  4. Click Export Report to create a text report listing all dependent files and their paths, or click Edit Selected Paths to modify the paths of selected reference files.
  5. If you choose to modify any selected paths, click Apply Changes.

    When you’re finished exporting reports and repathing reference files (or finding reference files that you may never have suspected you had if you hadn’t run the Reference Manager), close the Reference Manager window.

    Click the Help button in the Reference Manager to find out more about the utility’s capabilities.

If you always store parent and child DWG files in the same folder, which is the simplest approach to dealing with xref paths, you probably don’t need to use the Reference Manager.

AutoCAD can also save files in the ubiquitous PDF (Portable Document Format) from Adobe Systems. Files can be opened, viewed, and printed from virtually any type and model of computing or communicating device. This format can be particularly useful when you want to show drawing information to people who aren’t particularly CAD literate (that is, they aren’t fellow geeks).