Happy 40th birthday AutoCAD: My journey for 30 of those years

My History with AutoCAD

When I started my career as a CAD drafter using AutoCAD 25+ years ago the software looked much different. I started with AutoCAD Release 8, in 1987. I was still doing a mix of hand drafting as well as some computer aided design drawings using AutoCAD. These were the days of using DOS, the digitizer, and no ribbon. In college we had to go to a computer room and use desktops in that room when they were available. These were much different times then now where we can work remote, access AutoCAD via the web, and host drawings using BIM360. Let’s review a couple of my favorite “old school” things we used to do and one at the end where you can still do.


The Tablet Drawing

Before Tool Palettes we had the tablet drawing as shown below and attached to this post. This is the drawing where we (you know who you are) could predefine the acad menu file (acad.mnu) and place all our blocks in the top grid area where you could touch with your digitizer and insert into your drawing. Then we would print out symbols in the gridded area to notify our users of these blocks or commands that we have added.


We used this tablet daily and were able to know the exact locations of the commands needed and sometimes did not have to look. Simply hover over the command and select your mouse button to start. The figure below shows a zoomed in portion of editing tools on the tablet drawing where you can click on editing commands. There are still options for using a tablet and you can find more information on the knowledge network and at this link. Configuring a Digitizer Tablet Menu Area | AutoCAD


The Digitizer

A digitizer is an input device (tablet or table) that can convert analog input to digital by a single pointing device. In most cases this device is a mouse or stylus configured to work with the digitizer you have purchased. I would use a digitizer to configure points on a map going from left to right. Then I would trace the contours on the blueprint using AutoCAD (sketch command) and create my map. Most of the time I would then assign a z elevation to the contours to maintain accuracy. Field notes sometimes were on these maps where we could use the digitizer to add a point or block where the boring or well location would need to be placed. Once all the information is in there, we add a title block and complete our map using AutoCAD commands.


The Office in 1995

This was at my second job using AutoCAD in 1995. Below is a snapshot of my office highlighting important features. What is not shown is my cool briefcase and drafting table on the other side of the cubicle.

  1. The new CRT heavy 16” monitor
  2. Wall printed AutoCAD charts of tips, tricks, and anything I could learn from.
  3. The large format digitizer used to customize AutoCAD and trace maps.
  4. The 80s boom box complete with tape deck and bass boom.


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The Screen Menu

Where the magic happened was the Screen Menu. With the Screen Menu and the digitizer we could navigate through commands in AutoCAD to get to where we needed to be. The screen menu would be docked on the side where you would select a command and another menu would pop up. For example, in the Figure below I selected FILE then the menu came up for all the options when I select file starting with New.  Selecting AutoCAD will always take you back to the default menu.

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Selecting the ***** will give you the option of using object snaps on the fly. This is shown below in the Figure below.

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The Screen Menu in AutoCAD 2022

Now you see it and now you can try it out! Do you want to see how it was to work pre ribbon and windows in more of a DOS environment with the screen menu? You still can be invoking a simple line at the command prompt in AutoCAD. At the command prompt in AutoCAD 2022 type:

(setvar “screenmenu” 1)

Like magic the menu appears!  If you are using the dark screen mode it may be hard to see but you can easily change that by changing the Colortheme variable from 0 to 1.



I started my career using AutoCAD and I still use it every day in my current workflow. I have seen things evolve and continue to grow and advance over time. 

I currently work as an Autodesk Design Systems Administrator for CHA Consulting, Inc. I provide design support for a variety of engineering design projects and collaborate with design teams to develop comprehensive and thoroughly detailed plans for projects. I believe that continued hard work and dedication will provide value to the company you work for leading to success. I am the owner of a blog named CADproTips.com and can be found on twitter @CADprotips.


Below is a photo from Autodesk University 2012 where I first became a speaker on a class focusing on AutoCAD. After using the software for over 15 years I decided to start sharing what I knew and becoming more involved with the community. I became certified in AutoCAD and Civil 3D and am also an Autodesk Expert Elite Member.

I am so proud to say that many of my closest friends are people I have meet through the Autodesk Community, the Expert Elite Program, and Autodesk University. I am looking forward to seeing everyone in person again when it is safe to do so.


I hope you enjoyed my look back at how I have used AutoCAD over the years!  Happy Birthday AutoCAD!