AutoCAD tips and tricks for PVcase

autoCAD, commands, explode, properties, select similar, circular roads, geolocation, zoom, hatch, contour lines, edit sections and SLD, 3D,

Silja Stirnimann avatar
Written by Silja Stirnimann
Updated over a week ago

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Since PVcase Ground Mount is based on AutoCAD, for experienced AutoCAD users, it will be easier to learn how to use PVcase than for inexperienced ones. However, it is not necessary to be an expert at AutoCAD, it is sufficient to know some of its functions - this article will give an overview of some of the most useful ones when it comes down to PVcase Ground Mount.

Green/blue multi-selection

AutoCAD natively has a function to select objects either by green or blue selection.
When selecting objects, hold the mouse button down and move it to the right and it starts to make a window lasso with blue shading. This will only select objects that are entirely inside of the lasso.

Move it to the left and it starts a crossing lasso with green shading. This will select all objects that are touched by the lasso.

Click and release the mouse button to create a rectangular selection area. Again blue or green as described above.

More info

Both of these selections can be used on multiple objects once PVcase prompts to select any particular one. This means that even if several objects are selected, PVcase will filter unnecessary ones out and will select prompted object.

For example: When PVcase asks to select PV area, mass selection with all objects included can be done quickly without the need of particular polyline selection. This applies to most of other selections in PVcase.

Second example: You can select your whole drawing when prompted to select the transformers (cabling, coloring etc.):

Deselect objects

To deselect already selected objects, hold the shift key and select objects by clicking on them or by using one of the methods explained above:

Useful keyboard commands

Most AutoCAD commands can be found as visual symbols on one of the AutoCAD ribbons. Some of the most used ones are situated on the Home ribbon:

To get more details on how to use these commands, use mouse over and then open the tutorial via F1:

However, accessing the commands via the different ribbons using the mouse is usually not the most efficient way. Instead, all of these commands can just be typed in on the keyboard, that way you can always stay on the PVcase ribbon. In order to draw a polyline you can just type PL and then hit Enter and then draw your line for example:

More examples of some of the most common AutoCAD commands for PVcase usage and what to type on your keyboard to launch it:

Rectangle: rec (draw a rectangle)

Offset: o (create an offset for a given object)

Move: mov (move selected object(s))

Copy: co (copy selected object and place copy once or several times in the same drawing)

Join: j (Join the endpoints of linear and curved objects to create a single object)

Explode: expl (break compound objects into their individual elements, reverting to original attributes)

Burst: Bu (break compound objects into their individual elements, maintaining attributes)

Block: b (convert elements into a block object)

3D Orbit: 3 (rotate 3D scene freely)

Zoom: Z

Text: te (create a text element)

Dimension: dim (create dimensions to permanently visualize measured distances)

Distance: di (display measurement near cursor)

Select similar: sel (select objects with similar attributes)

Layer manager: layer (open layer manager)

Properties: pr (open properties)

Ribbon: ri (show ribbon)

Match properties: match (apply properties of a selected object to another object)

And so on, usually, it's enough to start typing the name of the command and once it appears on the first line, ENTER

Should you not be able to type the commands simply in the model space (but only in the command line), press F12 to activate it.

In this article, we will be using the English AutoCAD command names. You can find their translations i.e. HERE. Also, if you would like to use the English keyboard command with a non-English AutoCAD configuration, you can just precede it with an underline:

Extensive lists of these commands can be found online (i.e. here), or in AutoCAD itself:

Also under Manage - CUI (on keyboard: cui), you can find keyboard shortcuts and customize them:

Some examples of useful keyboard shortcuts:
F1: AutoCAD help center

F3: turn on/off Objects Snap

F8: switch on/off Orthomode

Ctrl S: save

Ctrl Z: undo

Ctrl Y: redo

Ctrl A: select all

Shift A: select similar

Ctrl 8: open the calculator

Enter or Space: confirm action, or repeat previous command

Properties for analysis and object modification

The properties of a selected object can be displayed by typing pr on the keyboard. A lot of valuable object property info will then be displayed:

Being able to see information such as object type, elevation/Z, length, number of selected objects can help analyse objects and serves for troubleshooting purposes. Properties can also be manually changed here (i.e. click on the color in the example above).

A few application examples:

  • Change text or arrow size and type of dimension:

  • In the following examples it is possible to identify why the topography cannot be uploaded or doesn't make sense:

    Polyface meshes are not supported by PVcase (only polylines and block references consisting of polylines, points with elevation or text elements with numeric values)

Points (or contour lines) are missing the Z component/elevation.

  • In the following design the cabling is not done correctly because PVcase does not let you select the trench line:

    When the trench line in question is selected, we can see in the properties, that it is a 2D polyline instead of a normal polyline (PVcase only supports simple polylines in most cases):

    Once identified, the line can be replaced by a simple polyline and cabling will work as expected.
    If the 2D polyline is not a single line, it can also be converted to a polyline by using Explode and then Join.
    The same principle can be applied when the PV area boundary is imported as a 3D polyline from a KML file (and therefore commands such as AutoCAD Offset and PVcase Terrain mesh don't work):

Join for objects and lines

Join can be used to merge join linear and curved objects into one object. Example: Sometimes, you will get single lines as contour lines or PV area boundaries which PVcase cannot read :

If this happens, Join can be used (once or several times if needed) to convert them to longer polylines:

Explode for topographical point cloud data

Often elements are built of various objects which have to be separated in order to be used correctly. This can be done with Explode.

To showcase this, let's have a look at this example where the topography is not read correctly:

This height number topo points were selected as PVcase topography:

However, the terrain mesh shows that the terrain is completely flat even though the values vary:

After using Explode on these numbers, it can be seen in the properties, that they were built together with points that had no elevation at all:

It can also be seen now, that once separated from the points, the numbers themselves are on another layer:

So, now this layer can be selected as topography and everything works as expected.

In other contexts too, Explode can be very useful in troubleshooting contexts; to get agglomerated objects back into their original state on the original individual layers.

Explode and Ungroup for sections and SLDs

In order to modify individual objects or lines of composed objects such as front views, cross sections, and SLDs, they can be broken down into individual objects or lines.
In the properties it can be observed that front views, sections, and SLDs are groups:

The ungroup command can be used to get individual elements or blocks, Explode in order to decompose them into lines that can be modified:

  • Using Ungroup:

  • Using Explode (sometimes Explode can be used several times on the same object, every time it gets broken down a bit more) :

Break at point and Region for circular roads

The Draw road command doesn't work on polygons for circular roads

In order to create a circular road, it is necessary to either draw the polygon with at least two polylines or to break an existing polygon at least in one place; the latter can be done with Break at Point:

In order to avoid corners like this, it's best to have the breaks on a straight part of the line instead of in the corners. Since Break at point on closed objects automatically sets a second break in a corner, the separate polylines will have to be modified with the vertexes:

Draw road cannot be used on circles either. So, in order to create roundabouts etc., the circle needs to be converted to a polyline which can be done using Boundary. Break at point then needs to be used on this round polygon before using Draw road:

Settings for Select Similar

"Similar" doesn't mean the same for everybody:) Therefore, AutoCAD lets the user choose what should be considered similar. The settings can be accessed with the downward arrow or via SETTINGS in the command line after summoning up the command:

It can then be chosen what "similar" should be based on:

This can for example be useful if you want or don't want to select the same tables with different colors.

Turn off, freeze, lock, and isolate layers

With these commands, the user can define which layers should be visible, editable and active in the AutoCAD memory.

On/Off - makes layer visible/invisible

Freeze - makes layer invisible and releases from AutoCAD memory (thus, useful to speed up many drawing actions), cannot be used on active layer

Thaw - reverses Freeze

Lock - locks layer, so its object cannot be edited although they are still visible

Unlock - reverses Lock

Isolate - makes all other layers invisible

Unisolate - reverts Isolate

You can find these commands on the PVcase ribbon:

Top: Off, Isolate, Freeze, Lock

Bottom: On, Unisolate, Thaw, Unlock

Just click on Off, Freeze, Isolate, or Lock and select the layer(s) it should be applied to, Enter. To reverse the action and get back to the previous layer state, just use Ctrl Z. To turn on, thaw or unlock all layers, click on the symbol in question.

Layers can also individually be turned on/off, and (un-)frozen from the PVcase ribbon directly here, clicking on the symbols:

Or via the Layer Properties (along with other useful layer settings):

In the Layer Properties, you can also isolate one or several layers by right-clicking on it/them and selecting Isolate selected layers.

xref and xclip for lighter topography

"You can attach any drawing file as an external reference or xref in the current drawing.

Attached xrefs are links to the model space of a specified drawing file. Changes made to the referenced drawing are automatically reflected in the current drawing when it's opened or if the xref is reloaded. Attached xrefs do not significantly increase the size of your current drawing." (source and more details:

When using PVcase, xref is very useful for topography import because it keeps the working file light and therefore allows for higher working speed. xclip can be used in combination with xref - once the topography is imported via xref, xclip serves to limit the area of importance. Please click here for detailed instructions and explanations.

Geolocation for map background, terrain, and KML file import

It is possible to georeference files in AutoCAD. This is for example necessary if you would like to have an areal map in the background of your drawing, or use the PVcase Import terrain or KML function.

In order to do so:

  • Type geo on the keyboard and confirm with Enter

  • Choose Select location from Map, the tab for Geolocation will open

  • Search the correct location entering the address or coordinates and/or zooming on the map

  • Define the exact location with Drop Marker Here which is either available as a button (if the address or coordinates were entered), or via a right-click on the map:

  • Choose the according coordinate system (for example UTM84), set the correct units, and then click Next

  • You will then be asked to select a point in your drawing. If your drawing is empty, you can choose any point. Otherwise, choose the same point in the drawing as you have selected on the map (a significant corner in the parcel boundary, a building etc.): For example:

  • AutoCAD will then ask for the North angle - just mark a vertical line and click, best with active Orthomode:

  • If done correctly, and there is an existing drawing, the map and the drawing now match and there is a red marker for your reference point:

    Below a GIF of the whole process:

    In the Geolocation tab, you can also edit and remove your location, switch to another map type, switch the background map off, capture area (in order to keep a background picture without making the drawing to heavy) etc.

View controls, view cube and 3D orbit for 3D visualization

PVcase works in 3D. However, it's not necessary to be an AutoCAD 3D specialist.

Some useful functions that enable you to visualize and analyze your 3D scene:

  • View controls:
    An easy and fast way to visualize a design in 3D is using one of the predefined views from the view controls in the upper-left corner of the Model space. Just click on the current view (Top by default) in order to see the options:

    Here, SE Isometric is used:

    Use the mouse wheel to zoom in and out.

    In order to get back to the top view, click on the current view again and choose Top from the list.

    Should these view controls not be visible in your model space, type VPCONTROL on your keyboard and set the system variable to 1:

    Confirm with Enter.

  • View Cube

    3D views can also be achieved using the View Cube (usually found on the upper-right corner in the model space:

    The View Cube can be activated here:

  • 3Dorbit: This command allows you to freely rotate your design in 3D in order to be able to get exactly the view you need.


    • type 3d on your keyboard

    • the 3DORBIT command will appear - hit Enter

    • wait until you the mouse cursor is shown like this (can take a while in heavy drawings):

    • with the left mouse key pressed, just rotate the scene according to your requirements

    • It is also possible to let go of the mouse key and zoom in or out with the mouse wheel. Just press the left mouse key again if you want to rotate again.

    • In order to leave the rotating modus, press Esc

    • In order to go back to the top view, hit Esc, click on Custom View, and select Top here:

By the way, instead of typing 3dorbit, you can also select the tool from the navigation bar:

This navigation bar can be activated in the View tab:

3Dorbit can also be activated and used by holding the shift key and the mouse wheel at the same time.

Zoom Extend to find all objects in the drawing

Sometimes, users cannot find their plant on the drawing anymore. In order to get back to all objects in the drawing, the Zoom Extend command can be used. Just double click on the mouse wheel or type Zoom, confirm with Enter, and then type E, Enter and the drawing gets displayed to its full extent again:

If you still cannot see your drawing, or only very reduced, this probably means that there are some objects far away from your actual drawing. You can identify them by zooming out a little bit more after using Zoom Extend and selecting your whole model space. All objects will be marked blue, you can zoom into them scrolling the mouse wheel and delete the ones that are not needed (or move them closer to the actual drawing). Once the drawing is cleaned up, use Zoom E again and your plant should now be extended correctly:

Printing precision for azimuth ≠ 0

Sometimes, lines that are not perfectly horizontal or vertical, can get distorted when printed (for example to pdf) with AutoCAD. This can happen with PVcase tables with azimuth differing from zero:

You can avoid this by choosing "for Manufacturing" in the precision settings:

Hatches for substation and string level coloring

In AutoCAD it's possible to create hatches. To do this, just type Hatch and you will be able to define hatch details and the object it should be applied on.

PVcase uses this hatch function for string and substation level coloring in the Electrical design.

In order to modify a hatch, just click on it (use Select Similar if you want to modify all similar) and the Hatch Editor tab will open automatically.

Arrows to display "hidden" functions

Whenever a downward arrow is displayed in AutoCAD - and therefore also in PVcase -, additional functionalities are available. Downward arrow on the ribbon - just click on it to see more options:

Downward arrow in dynamic tooltip: click on the downward arrow on your keyboard (↓) or check the AutoCAD command line and click to see options. In short, pay attention to any downward arrows and check out their options!
A few examples:

  • Settings for Draw road:

  • Start cross section and front view numbering again from A-A:

  • Numbering options for Piling information:

Find/Replace to modify labels

If Electrical number labels need to be replaced with letters (or any other symbols), the AutoCAD Find/Replace tool can be used to do this quickly. Just follow these steps:

  1. Type the command "Find" in the model space or command bar

  2. Write the text to be replaced in the "Find What" cell

  3. Select "Entire drawing" in the "Find where" cell

  4. Write the text you want to use in the "Replace with" cell

  5. Click Find and wait for the list of all original text to be populated

  6. Click "Replace All" to convert all original texts to new label all at once (BoM will also show the updated labels)

  7. Repeat the steps 2. through 6. for each electrical block

  8. Close and Open the Overview to refresh changes

Note: Use the Update button in Labelling section to revert back to the original labels.

AutoCAD learning materials

For more details on AutoCAD than provided in this article, please consult the extensive AutoCAD tutorials and forums in the official Autodesk knowledge center or other places on the web. Also, in AutoCAD itself, just go to the Help ribbon or press F1 in order for the keyword search function and complete tutorials to be opened:

Tutorials for specific functions can also be opened directly from the command buttons on the ribbons with the mouse-over function and F1:

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