Build and Customize AutoCAD Tool Palettes

Improve productivity and standardization with custom tool palettes

Tool Palettes are one of the best CAD Management tools out there. To set symbol and layer standards, provide your staff with easy access to utilities, or put together a nice set of standard details then the tool palette offers your first line of defense.

The tool palette is a free-floating tab that you can bring up on screen and keep active while you work in your drawing, so you have quick access to common symbols, commands, and most any other tool you need to draft with. Think of it as a large, mobile, easily customizable toolbar and you won’t be wrong.

Working With Tool Palette Groups

AutoCAD products come with a vast array of tools already loaded into your palette. They will vary based on which vertical product you install—such as Civil 3D, AutoCAD Electrical or even just plain “vanilla” AutoCAD. Toggle the palette using the button on the Home tab of the ribbon panel or by typing TOOLPALETTES at the command line. The tool palette is divided into two categories: Groups and Palettes.

Palette Groups

Groups are top-level folder structures that organize your tools into reasonably sized sections. In the example above, the standard AutoCAD palette offers sections for Architectural, Civil, Structural, and related symbols and tools so you can quickly access what you need. You can create your own Groups to organize company standards, use the ones that ship with your version of AutoCAD, or mix and match them.

Tool Palettes

Within each Group, you can create multiple palettes (tabs) that let you further sub-divide and structure your tools.

This feature offers a convenient approach to limiting the number of tools displayed to your users at any given time. You could put all the functions on a single palette but having to scroll through several hundred functions to find the one you want defeats the purpose. By breaking your tools down into organized palettes, people select the category they need and only have a small group of tools to choose from.

Using Tool Palettes

AutoCAD tool properties screenshot

Click or drag any tool from the palette to use it in your file. Because they've been defined in advance, people don’t have to worry about settings—they can just click on the symbol or command and run it.

Set these options by right-clicking on the tool and choosing the Properties option.

Customizing Tool Palettes

AutoCAD tool palette customization screenshot

Customizing the palettes is simple. To begin, right-click the grey title bar on the side of the palette and select the Customize Palettes option to launch a dialog box for adding New Groups and Palettes. Create new Palettes on the left side of the screen by right-clicking and selecting New Palette and add new Groups in the same manner on the right side. Add Palettes to your Group by dragging them from the left pane to the right pane.

Nest Groups to create branching sub-options, to better organize a large amount of custom tools.

Adding Tools to the Palette

AutoCAD adding tools to the palette

After you’ve set your Groups and Palette structure, you’re ready to add the actual tools, commands, symbols, etc. that you want your users to access. To add symbols, drag them from inside your open drawing or, if you’re working from a networked standards location, drag the files from Windows Explorer. Incorporate custom commands or Lisp files you’ve developed in a similar manner; run the CUI command and drop your commands from one dialog box to the other.

You can even drop drawn items onto your palette. If you have a line drawn on a particular layer with a particular line type appropriate for reuse, drop it onto your palette and whenever you want to create a line of that type, just click it and AutoCAD runs the line command with all the same parameters set for you.

Sharing Your Palettes

AutoCAD tool palette sharing screenshot

To share your customized palettes with everyone in your CAD group, copy the folder containing the palettes to a shared network location.

Find where your tool palettes are located by going to the Tools > Options function and looking at the Tool Palette Files Location path.

Use the Browse button to change that path to the shared network location you want everyone to use.

Find the file from you source system, such as: C:\Users\YOUR NAME\Application Data\Autodesk\C3D 2012\enu\Support\Profiles\, and copy it to the same location on every person's machine.