Patent illustration was what I cut my teeth on, and still remains that comforting place to go, where I always know what to do and how to achieve the end result, even before I get started.

Working in something like patent illustration, where you use commands as they are useful to you, and not always as they were originally intended to be used, definitely has helped my experience to be broader, and I feel more comfortable delving into the some of the less commonly used commands.  If the shoe fits, after all!

One command that I began to rely on and use a great deal was the SPLINE command, quite simply an S-curved polyline.  Way back in the day, the only way to get a spline was to create a regular, jagged polyline, and then go back and edit it so that it created vertices and curved along the points that you had selected.  In 1998 though, Autodesk created a separate command that allows the user to draw with splines.

More recently, there has also been a command called SKETCH.  At first glance, those looking to create some quick lines to delineate a design element may think that sketch is more what they are looking for.

However, unlike splines, sketch lines need user input in the beginning to set the increments, and the final product is a series of unconnected lines – a pain to join together if you’re looking for one segment.

The other benefit to splines over sketch is how editable they are.  Once a spline has been create, a user can go back and tweak it indefinitely using its grip points, even adding in additional points for more control.  Newer versions of AutoCAD include the option of showing the control vertices, a little flashback to those days of creating them from polylines, and that allows for finer control over the curves of the spline.

The benefit to using sketch is apparent when creating topographical lines, lines that need to be shown straight.  And, if you don’t mind having separate elements (or going back over them and joining them all using the PEDIT command) the motion of simply tracing the mouse is a very fluid one.

It always pays to experiment with both.  While most users working in architectural or engineering firms will not necessarily have to use either command, it pays to be familiar with them.  There will always come a point where it will come in handy; to create a curving leader line, freehand in design ideas, or just to have some fun!


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