The CAD Learning Curve, Version Upgrades, and Paper Drafting

Here's an interesting discussion of the learning process for design draftsmen and the influence of technology on the process of getting a vision down on paper. May 28, 2010

I plan on taking classes for AutoCAD 2009 later in the year. I have AutoCAD 14 but have zero experience with it. Is there any advantage to start learning AutoCAD 14, or are they so different I should wait for the AutoCAD 2009 classes?

Forum Responses
(CAD Forum)
From contributor B:
No reason not to play with Rel. 14 and learn how it works. Drawing lines, arcs, splines etc. is a basic procedure that has not changed. The stuff that does change with new releases is more sophisticated and not beginner related as a rule. Use what you've got. If you are doing basic drawings, you'll be just fine.

From contributor S:
I disagree. Do not try R14. It is old, outdated software and is way too different from 2009. Autodesk will soon release 2010. Start from 2009 and as soon as there is a new version, upgrade. If you stay behind, it is hard to catch up. If you learn R14, you need to relearn 2009 from scratch. I think starting with R14 will be a complete waste of time.

From contributor C:
I would wait until a month or so before your classes and download the demo version of AutoCAD. That way you can play for 30 days with it free. You could even do that with the LT one first, then the full version so you have 60 days to play.

From contributor D:
Start learning now. While the software will appear completely different when you do start taking classes, you can learn the basic concepts now. Learn what paper space/model space is. Learn how to draw shapes and use layers, etc. These concepts will remain constant with any version; they'll just look a bit different and have some added functionality. Use the command line, not the toolbars, so you learn the basic underlying commands. The tool bars will be completely different when you use a current version.

From contributor F:
I don't think it's wrong to learn the basics with R14. It's just getting easier. I started with older versions and still like to use all the keyboard commands. Today many people do not know those. But I think it makes working with AutoCAD faster. Learn the basics with R14 and you will how easy it is with 2009 or 2010.

From contributor S:
Aliases (keyboard entries) for basic drawing commands are probably the same in all versions and you can change them to anything you want. I use aliases all the times and it is my preferred way of command entry. Those basic commands, such as line, trim, stretch, circle and so on, are easy to learn and do not require lots of time. You will probably learn how to draw the line in 1.5 minutes, in any version of AutoCAD. Autodesk provides a 30 day free trial for the newest version. Why just not download it and use it for a month and learn new, instead of learning old?

From contributor C:
There is some validity in learning the newer version. AutoCAD does have quite a few differences in the user interface between r14 and 2009/2010. The hud, dynamic input, geometric constraints (new in 2010) and even how the drawing status bar is handled are different enough to make learning the new stuff right off the bat a better idea. Not saying newer is better, but you may as well learn what you're going to use.

As far as the keyboard stuff, that didn't go away in the new versions, and that is a personal style thing that only he can develop. I am a mix of keyboard, icons and right click menus (you don't disable them, do you?).

From contributor N:
As I recall, the progression from R10 (very fast, seeing we were using early 386's!) to the windows R14 versions, was a slow, expensive, and painful, process. I'd get a 2002 or later and ask WOODWEB this same question.

From contributor J:
"I have AutoCAD 14 but have zero experience with it."
Exactly what is your drafting education and experience?

From contributor T:
I still use AutoCAD R14 for my shop drawings. It is all I do with AutoCAD (no rendering or CNC). I've become proficient with this version of it, and since I don't share files, I don't need a newer version. Best of all, it's paid for. It really depends on what you intend to do with it. There are those who think using R14 is stepping back to the Mesozoic era of computerized drafting. (I started using R12 for DOS, so maybe I'm actually Paleozoic.) I had R12 loaded with enough LISP routines to almost be R14.

If I were starting today, I would go 2009 and wait for the class to start, so you don't go too far down the wrong path. Usually the classes assume no knowledge of the program, and proceed at a pace where you can absorb the information, and practice the routines you have just learned. It might be best to wait and have the instructor show you a more efficient way to use the program, rather than stumble around on your own.

I took the classes for R12 at my local community college. I audited the classes, and while the rest of the students did the assignment for grades, the teacher took the terminal next to mine, and I learned a wealth of information during that time that I would have missed had I taken the class for a grade. To this day, it remains my most enjoyable educational experience.

When I took the classes, I had been a cabinetmaker for 23 years, with no drafting experience. The teacher's opinion was that I would be the perfect candidate for AutoCAD, as I knew what a drawing was supposed to look like, but had no pre-conceived ideas or mechanical drafting baggage that would hinder me from learning computerized drafting. A clean slate, as it were.

Hopefully, you are not taking one of those four or five day AutoCAD cram-fest classes that throw information at you faster than you can process it.

From contributor J:
"...mechanical drafting baggage that would hinder me from learning computerized drafting."

That's nonsense. That's like saying you're hindered from learning to operate a calculator because you first learned math.

Drafting is drafting, whether it's done on a drafting board or a PC. The same principles and standards apply to both. As a matter of fact, I am appalled at many of the drawings I see that are created by CAD operators who know nothing about drafting. CAD, like a word processor, is only a tool. Being trained to use a word processor doesn't make one a novelist.

That's not to say you can't learn drafting with CAD instead of a T-square and a pencil, because you can. But a trained draftsman is much more than someone who understands how to operate a particular version of a CAD program.

From contributor N:

Finial goods and services are driven by cost - what the consumer will pay. After 20 years of the electronic copy, consumers have settled for less because of cost. Increasing the technical quality of the CAD data to include better geometry, spatial, and descriptive solutions while paying the additional cost, the desire to draft more concisely will increase and drafters will get paid better. Unfortunately, market driven protocols make this difficult. Furthermore and industry specific, most of these one stop solutions haven't addressed this need. Ask any drafter who has 10 or more years board experience what they have to say about them.

From contributor T:
The ability to envision an object with its various views and sections, and represent those views and sections to someone other than yourself in a manner that the object can then be constructed by that person, is fundamental to drafting. Some people can "see it," and some people can't. Those who can't should not be draftsmen using any medium. In 35 years of custom cabinetmaking, I have seen no shortage of bad draftsmanship in the form of both pencil on paper and pixel on screen. You don't need a computer to help you do bad drafting, and good drafting can be done with tools other than pencil and paper.

The "pre-conceived notions and mechanical drafting baggage" refers to some of the older mechanical draftsmen who had to learn AutoCAD to keep their jobs because of a corporate shift in drafting methodology, and had trouble making the switch to using a mouse and keys instead of a drafting machine to create a line. My instructor wound up working with a number of these draftsmen, and found that ingrained mindset difficult to overcome as a teaching process. Perhaps much the same way cabinetmakers who used molding planes for 30 years reacted to routers. Some could embrace the change and some could not. My instructor made the observation that I had none of this to overcome.

Knowing what a drawing is supposed to look like was part of the process. I will add that also knowing what information needs to be conveyed and how to best convey it is fundamental. And I agree that knowing AutoCAD is not the equivalent of knowing drafting. As you say, just another tool.

I did not mean to insult anyone, especially the mechanical draftsmen who produce exceptional drawings using pencil and paper, but instead recounted my own experiences learning AutoCAD, and tried to give the questioner a positive outlook on his classes so that he needn't feel intimidated by learning AutoCAD. As a cabinetmaker, he already understands the need for information and how he would like to see that information presented, so now he needs to learn how to use the tool to make that happen.

From contributor J:
Your post implied that anyone who had mechanical drafting experience would have baggage and would be hindered by it when learning "computerized drafting" (CAD).

From contributor F:
I am very glad that I learned the old fashioned way of drafting. I have seen so many CAD drawings unorganized with stuff everywhere in the model space, and those drawings were all from the younger people who never worked on a drawing board.

Do not learn too much before the class, because you might get bad habits.

From contributor C:
Having managed quite a few draftsmen, I can tell you that often the nature of the system you learned on dictates a lot about how you go about creating your drawings. This is true, be it a board background or a computer background. I see it every day and it's just a fact of life. Board drafters frequently make absolutely sure they know exactly what is going on before creating a line. Nothing wrong with that of course, but in the era of dynamic blocks and such, it is also valid for draftsmen to put in detail placeholders, if you will, and finalize the details later. We have had a few that pretty much could never feel comfortable creating a drawing without knowing every aspect of it. I understand that, but sometimes you have to get things drawn and fill in the blanks later. Some get used to this and learn to adapt. Others don't let that baggage go and just cannot perform as well. This is not a slam in any way, because in general the vast majority of drafters with time on the board are just plain better at presenting information.

If you think there is nothing negative about learning on either the board or on the computer, you're lying to yourself. Both have advantages and drawbacks. Acknowledge them and you will perform your job better.

From contributor J:
"...some of the older mechanical draftsmen who had to learn AutoCAD to keep their jobs because of a corporate shift in drafting methodology, had trouble making the switch from using a mouse and keys instead of a drafting machine to create a line."

I would agree that's an obstacle, but one of age and resistance to using a computer, not "mechanical drafting" baggage. For example (maybe not the best one), my dad, who is in his late seventies, simply cannot understand and use all the tools and options in his email program. Would you say that's because he has handwritten mail baggage? I don't think you would. My point is that someone who was a mechanical draftsman is not at a disadvantage to learning CAD. But someone who is computer illiterate and perhaps older, is. For example, mechanical drafting experience being equal, someone who uses a computer for many other purposes is going to learn CAD faster than someone who has never used a computer (keyboard and mouse).

From contributor S:
These are brilliant words:

"The ability to mentally envision an object with its various views and sections, and represent those views and sections to someone other than yourself in a manner that the object can then be constructed by that person, is fundamental to drafting. Some people can 'see it,' and some people can't. Those who can't should not be draftsmen using any medium."

Unfortunately, there are too many who can't and too few who can.

From contributor C:

Pretty simple, really. The board guys come from a background where making changes is just a tad more involved than the guys who learned on computer. That tends to make a person look at what they are doing more than it would make a person who can draw it look at it if it needs changing, and change it. The pre-consideration of the job generally means that the work is thought out better and laid out better. Not always true - we have some that are just as good who never touched a table, but they are the exception.

From contributor T:
What it seems people are saying is check out the classes you plan on taking and make sure you can get out of them what you need. I'm an old pencil pusher and the CAD classes I took at the local tech school initially did not cover any of the basics of drafting. They were designed to teach AutoCAD to draftsmen. If you don't have any drafting and/or shop experience, this may be a problem.

During my tenure as head of an engineering department, I saw many applicants I like to call CAD Jockeys. They knew the program very well but could not create a usable shop drawing. I decided my best opportunity to find a qualified draftsman was to grow my own out of our shop. Since I really didn't have the time to teach the basics, I would send them to school. When I sent them to the tech school, I made them take a short, 6 week drafting class (paper, pencils, triangles, parallel bar). Then I signed them up for a CAD class. This worked very well and enhanced their ability to understand what was expected of them in the drafting department.

So, I would contact the instructor of the class you're planning on taking and find out how the class is structured, to be sure you can get the most out of it.

As far as practicing with R14, I say go ahead - it won't hurt. You will be able to get the feel of drawing on a computer screen. But I would do as other have suggested and get a demo of 2009 once you start the class and practice your class assignments with that.

From the original questioner:
Thanks. I took tech drawing for 4 years and have been doing shop drawing with Visualcad for 16. So it comes down to whether I'm building a wall to hurdle between R14 and 2009. And I think I'm smart enough to climb the wall.

From contributor N:
2D is still the standard even though a lot of companies are drafting 3D. Today, drafting as a whole is caught up in making a standard transition from 2D to 3D. This is causing the quality of drafting across the disciplines to benchmark what it is now.

Woodworking products drive an array of differing drafting protocols. Iíll mention pro and con, ACAD and rules based software.

Iíve seen awesome pens, pencils, and points drafting like the White Pine Monographs and Lester Margon on vintage furniture, but quite frankly, perfect CAD drafting with ACAD is far more useable and in many ways is much clearer, perhaps explaining why, further up the food chain, the bill gets paid by our owners. Any product can be produced using textbook quality drafting skill in ACAD.

Software packages designed to provide an array of downstream products (shop drawing, piece bill, pre/post-p2p data, etc.) assume that products sent to shop personnel donít require textbook standards, and they are right so some degree. After all, this could be patronizing to your in-house shop experts - youíd be preaching to the choir. True, nearly 100% of the time most of that information never leaves in-house circles, yet somehow these unclear treatises are satisfying consumers every day.

The problem with this type of drafting is such information can become ambiguous over time, will need further explanation, and can be vague and confusing to the next group. Shops invest additional work into the presentation to minimize misinterpretation. Critics notice how this additional drawing tends to move presentations further away from classic 3rd angle projection and get offended.

Is your system working? As long as a well-trained engineer or technician can pick up a drawing and understand it without an ambiguous interpretation and vagueness, work orders will continue to be processed with the CAD tools we have today and in most cases, be accomplished very accurately regardless of what critics have to say about them. I say there is much more to processing an order than just the drawing.

Positively, business managers will continue to buy either product and teach drafters and sales staff how to use them productively and tolerate the challenges they present because itís true, the drawing is meaningless without clear communication and purposeful relationships in the shop.

So, I believe only some consumers really trust our drawings, regardless of how clear or unclear the presentation.

From contributor Q:
I started taking AutoCAD courses at my community college this year (AutoCAD 2007). The only CAD experience I had is with PCDraft, a completely different CAD program. Basically, the simple fact that I understand what the teacher is talking about when it comes to simple functions, put me leaps and bounds ahead of the rest of the class to where I'm helping everyone else out to understand things when the teacher is busy.

From contributor O:
I did pencil/ink/paper drafting for 50 years in the shipbuilding industry. When CAD first began to appear, shipbuilders weren't too overjoyed with it. Despite CAD demos, management never felt the need to draw differently. Cost and time to switch over were the major reasons for not doing so. The larger companies finally made the switch, due to competition. It took many years to adjust. Mechanical draftsmen were sent to school to learn, but it took upwards of 2 years to master the new medium. CAD operators from other disciplines came to work in shipbuilding, but their lack of knowledge of ships was a stumbling block. You now had to teach CAD operators about ships. The transition from board to computer was especially slow in the shipbuilding industry.

It was within the last 5 years before retiring that I learned CAD. I now use it for all my woodworking designs. Once you get to know it, it is a great tool. I started with R-14, went to 2002 and finally 2004. All my CAD needs are satisfied with 2004, so 2009 and beyond are not in my future. I feel that you should get the basics down with an early version, say 2002 or 4. The later versions will be concentrating on 3D drafting, which is complicated.

From contributor S:
We already have 2010 out. It is a great tool and there is huge improvement and difference from older (2002/2004) versions. My strongest advice: learn new versions, 2009 or 10, or you are going to be lost when the time comes to upgrade. Many old school, board draftspersons are not willing to learn new and switch to CAD systems. I was a board drafter myself, many, many years ago, but I did switch (R14) and never regretted it.