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Text fonts in AutoCAD and IntelliCAD drawings

Text in an AutoCAD or an IntelliCAD drawing, is created whenever you use the DTEXT command for a single line of text, or the MTEXT command for a paragraph (multi line) of text). 

Activating the text commands

These DTEXT and MTEXT commands can either be typed at the keyboard, or activated by clicking on toolbar buttons (icons). The actual command is 'hidden' behind the toolbar button and is fed to the AutoCAD or IntelliCAD command line whenever you 'pick' one of them.

The buttons are usually found on the standard toolbar, but may be on other toolbars depending on your version/release of AutoCAD or IntelliCAD. [There have been 20+ versions of AutoCAD and 7 releases of IntelliCAD since they were first released].

The DTEXT button on left and MTEXT button on the right (taken from IntelliCAD 4.)

We like to use the DT and MT shortcuts to start these from the keyboard rather than use the toolbar icon.

A word of warning: In our hands, AutoCAD often loses its way to these shortcuts, so be careful when using it.

Detailed instruction on using the DTEXT command and DT shortcut in producing CAD drawings (to AS1100) is given in our QuickStart CAD, Basic CAD 1 and  Basic CAD 2 courses.

Placing text

To place text, you simply start the command by whichever means you prefer, click into the drawing area where you want the text to appear and start typing the required text.

We prefer to use single line text (created with the DTEXT command) when building technical drawings. If we need several lines of text one under the other, we commonly set up a grid of appropriate size (and snap settings) in the zone where we are placing text. In this way, our text lines up. Drawings with text misaligned, especially where the text is lined up in a column, look rather amateurish.

Problems soon arise

However, it is highly likely that the height and possibly the style of lettering (the font) of text will be incorrect for the drawing. In order to correct the problem(s), you need a proper understanding of the AutoCAD/IntelliCAD STYLE command.

Styles

Although it is possible to place text without giving any thought to the style of lettering, an understanding of the STYLE command can help enormously in your application of CAD.

(Incidentally, as a service to our students we sell copies of IntelliCAD, but will not supply it without a proper reference manual. CAD is not trivial software - you do need reference materials. You should insist that your copy of AutoCAD or IntelliCAD is delivered with a copy of the (excellent) manual. This can be in PDF form to cut down on harvesting trees, but you do need one.

Do not throw away old manuals from earlier versions of AutoCAD. We constantly refer to the manual which came with our copy of AutoCAD 12 for DOS.

The STYLE command

We have provided a few brief comments on the STYLE command below.

Setting a named style

In our view, it is far better to create a named text style and use a specific lettering font rather than take 'pot luck' that the text you type will turn out to be appropriate for the (technical) drawing that you are about to produce. Lettering fonts are best created by using what is called an SHX file to build the font rather than use Windows True Type fonts.

Style 'STANDARD'

The default style in the AutoCAD and IntelliCAD environment (the lettering style that will be used by the program if you do not use the STYLE command before starting to place text) is called STANDARD. This style uses a CAD shape font called TXT.SHX. This is a very crude lettering style indeed and produces quite awful lettering.

Some text created using the style standard with the txt font.

There is however, a reason for this crude style as it was developed early on in the development of Computer Aided Design in order to optimize speed of plotting in the days when pen plotters were in common use. Individual strokes of a pen held in a carousel in the pen plotter were used to form each letter. The more strokes used to form a letter (and the 'nicer' the lettering looked), the slower the generation of the plot.

Setting a style

Use type the word STYLE on the command line or find it in a toolbar or drop down menu. The figure below shows the result of doing this in the IntelliCAD 4 environment.

The style standard using the IC-txt.shx shape font file in the IntelliCAD environment.

Naming styles - one approach

It is very easy to become confused about styles and fonts in a CAD drawing, so in our office, we adopt a very disciplined approach to style naming conventions and always name the style the same as the font name. That is, if we want to use the ROMANS font, then we create a style called ROMANS and select the romans.shx font to go with it.

We recommend that you set up a consistent naming convention and publish it in your CAD standards manual.

Font problems

Click here to play a movie which illustrates some of the problems you may encounter when dealing with fonts.

Fonts for technical drafting

In Australia, the Australian standard for technical drafting (AS1100) requires the use of a SHX font called ISO3098b.SHX so we are in the habit of creating a style of that name - ISO3098b.

(There are ISO fonts similar to iso3098b.shx that are used in the internationally accepted ISO system).

If you do not have a copy of this font file, visit our downloads page.

Using the naming system set out in the section above, means that whenever we the LIST command to determine information (extract information) about a piece of text in our drawings, the style name and font match. A trivial point, but one that we find eliminates much confusion.

Problems with fonts seen by designers who need to use 'base plans' from others

Designers in disciplines such as Landscape Architecture and Facilities Management are at 'the end of the line' where the transmission of electronic drawings is concerned. A drawing which they need to work with may have passed through many hands - from a surveyor to a civil engineer, then to an architect and possibly to a mechanical and electrical services engineer before it reaches them. This long chain can create a number of problems for the user who is further down the 'food chain'. Foremost among these is the issue of font (in)compatibility and missing fonts.

This is important because lettering in drawings containing missing fonts can often 'bleed' into unwanted parts of the drawing.

True Type fonts and SHX fonts

As mentioned, fonts define the shapes of the text characters that make up each character set. There are two types of fonts commonly in use in CAD drawings - True Type (Windows) fonts and SHX fonts.

True type fonts

You can create styles using Windows TrueType fonts in AutoCAD and IntelliCAD drawings.  Generally speaking, these True Type fonts produce a nicer style of lettering than that generated by styles which use SHX fonts. Despite these advantages, as mentioned, we do not recommend that you use TrueType fonts for CAD lettering styles in your technical drawings as it is not possible to guarantee that the Windows font you used is available on the computer of the next user of your drawing file. We have experience of drawings containing True Type fonts in which it was not possible to edit the text. In one instance, some text was rotated by 90 degrees and nothing we tried could correct the problem.

Recommendation: Always use SHX fonts in your drawings

We recommend that you always use AutoCAD's own compiled shape fonts (.SHX fonts) when defining text styles. Lettering in technical drawings which are going to be distributed to others will give far less problems than those with contain text placed with a style which uses Windows (True Type) fonts.

If you always use the SHX fonts that come as standard with AutoCAD, anyone on the receiving end of your drawings will be able to read the lettering that you have placed in your drawing as you intended. There will be no font substitution as the drawing loads.

Royalty issues

By all means, use SHX fonts, but be aware that only those fonts that are delivered with AutoCAD and IntelliCAD are 'Royalty Free' and can be copied. The table below gives the fonts that can be freely copied between AutoCAD users.

AutoCAD fonts

BIGFONT SHX 324,330 05-06-97 4:17a bigfont.shx
COMPLEX SHX 30,376 05-06-97 4:17a complex.shx
GOTHICE SHX 37,809 05-06-97 4:17a gothice.shx
GOTHICG SHX 36,504 05-06-97 4:17a gothicg.shx
GOTHICI SHX 33,627 05-06-97 4:17a gothici.shx
GREEKC SHX 11,317 05-06-97 4:17a greekc.shx
GREEKS SHX 8,021 05-06-97 4:17a greeks.shx
ISOCP SHX 5,117 05-06-97 4:17a isocp.shx
ISOCP2 SHX 5,118 05-06-97 4:17a isocp2.shx
ISOCP3 SHX 5,118 05-06-97 4:17a isocp3.shx
ISOCT SHX 5,091 05-06-97 4:17a isoct.shx
ISOCT2 SHX 5,091 05-06-97 4:17a isoct2.shx
ISOCT3 SHX 5,090 05-06-97 4:17a isoct3.shx
ITALIC SHX 27,181 05-06-97 4:17a italic.shx
ITALICC SHX 26,481 05-06-97 4:17a italicc.shx
ITALICT SHX 37,545 05-06-97 4:17a italict.shx
MONOTXT SHX 8,748 05-06-97 4:17a monotxt.shx
ROMANC SHX 22,955 05-06-97 4:17a romanc.shx
ROMAND SHX 22,424 05-06-97 4:17a romand.shx
ROMANS SHX 14,883 05-06-97 4:17a romans.shx
ROMANT SHX 39,614 05-06-97 4:17a romant.shx
SCRIPTC SHX 26,443 05-06-97 4:17a scriptc.shx
SCRIPTS SHX 20,126 05-06-97 4:17a scripts.shx
SIMPLEX SHX 16,602 05-06-97 4:17a simplex.shx
SYASTRO SHX 6,841 05-06-97 4:17a syastro.shx
SYMAP SHX 6,149 05-06-97 4:17a symap.shx
SYMATH SHX 6,070 05-06-97 4:17a symath.shx
SYMETEO SHX 5,084 05-06-97 4:17a symeteo.shx
SYMUSIC SHX 6,944 05-06-97 4:17a symusic.shx
TXT SHX 8,415 05-06-97 4:17a txt.shx

AutoCAD fonts 2005

A list of fonts supplied with AutoCAD 2005 LT (we have added monoiso.shx and iso3098b.shx which are part of the Australian standard).

Here is the corresponding list from IntelliCAD 4

Dim.shx
Hand1.shx
IC-complex.shx
ic-dim.shx
ic-gdt.SHX
ic-hand1.shx
IC-isocp.shx
IC-italic.shx
IC-italicc.shx
IC-italict.shx
IC-MONOTXT.shx
ic-msimplex.shx
IC-romanc.shx
IC-romand.shx
IC-romans.shx
IC-romant.shx
IC-simplex.shx
IC-txt.shx
Msimplex.shx
Special.shx
Spec_bar.shx
Spec_sl.shx
Times.shx
Timesout.shx
txt.shx
visiohg.shx
visiojp.shx
visiotc.shx

Both AutoCAD and IntelliCAD have added many more fonts to the latest incarnations of their software.

Fonts from IntelliCAD 6

A list of fonts supplied with intelliCAD 6 (SIACAD version)

Fonts from other sources

It is possible to create your own fonts and compile these using tools distributed by Autodesk, the publishers of AutoCAD. This is where copies of old AutoCAD manuals comes in handy. Detailed instructions are provided there on how to make your own fonts.

Several industrious CAD users have done this and the techniques for doing so are discussed in our CAD workshop series. We are aware of some very nice fonts which simulate hand lettering. These are much valued by architects and landscape architects who want an 'individual' look and feel to their CAD drawings.

Some commercial custom SHX fonts exist. These are not royalty free and cannot be distributed without the recipient purchasing copies of the fonts.

An example is the Ausfont series produced by Graphic Computer Services, a company based in Western Australia. I have listed the fonts in the Ausfont series in the table below. If you are transmitting drawings and font files from the list below, you are breaching copyright if the recipient has not purchased a set of Ausfont fonts.  

List of Ausfonts - a restricted series of SHX fonts

CENT SHX 11,922 03-06-87 10:17a CENT.SHX
CENTBH SHX 9,274 12-03-86 4:01p CENTBH.SHX
DIN SHX 3,898 12-03-86 3:49p DIN.SHX
DOTFONT SHX 5,602 12-03-86 3:49p DOTFONT.SHX
FUTURA SHX 6,748 12-03-86 4:00p FUTURA.SHX
HELV SHX 10,979 06-09-87 7:29a HELV.SHX
HELVL SHX 4,158 12-03-86 3:50p HELVL.SHX
ISO SHX 4,127 11-24-86 8:46p ISO.SHX
ISOEQ SHX 4,116 12-03-86 3:49p ISOEQ.SHX
LEREQ SHX 4,024 06-03-87 9:22a LEREQ.SHX
LEROY SHX 4,084 12-03-86 3:52p LEROY.SHX
MICRO SHX 4,182 12-03-86 3:54p MICRO.SHX
ROMAN SHX 12,377 12-03-86 3:59p ROMAN.SHX
SCRIPT SHX 12,639 12-03-86 3:53p SCRIPT.SHX
UNIV SHX 10,577 12-03-86 3:53p UNIV.SHX
UNIVCH SHX 7,570 12-03-86 4:00p UNIVCH.SHX
UNIVCL SHX 4,396 12-03-86 4:00p UNIVCL.SHX
UNIVH SHX 6,590 12-11-86 9:28a UNIVH.SHX

Some tips regarding fonts in CAD drawings

Drawings often fail to load and display properly in your environment because previous users fail to transmit the font files that they have used. The notes below are designed to help you deal with font transmission problems.

1. Watch carefully as the drawing loads and jot down any error messages that you see. The most common message will concern missing fonts. Both IntelliCAD and AutoCAD will substitute one of its own in-built fonts for a missing font so (unlike earlier versions of AutoCAD) you will not lose information. However, the spacing of substitute fonts will not necessarily precisely match the original font so you may see text 'bleeding' across into areas where it should not intrude. This is very frustrating. Press the F2 key to pop up the text screen and scroll back over the error messages that appeared when the drawing first loaded.

2. Make a list of missing fonts. If the developer of the drawing has used True Type (Windows) fonts, get them to make a font substitution using a SHX font in the original drawing. If they insist on the use of True Type fonts, get them to email the font to you and install the font in your system. Tip: make sure that you remove the True Type font after you have finished with the drawing - you don't want their Windows fonts in your system forever. Note that there can be royalty distribution issues with True Type fonts as well as SHX fonts.

3. Get to know the fonts that come with AutoCAD. Error correction does not have to happen immediately. If you note missing fonts, you can ask the distributor of the drawing to send the correct (missing) font(s) at a later stage. When they arrive, copy IntelliCAD or AutoCAD fonts folder (or, better still, create your own fonts folder) and copy the new fonts fonts to tyour own fonts folder. This may be something as arcane as  J:\ProjServ\LandScpe\Fonts.

When the drawing is opened the next time, the correct fonts will be found without the need for the program to do any font substitution.