Re: Help needed with tools

Subject: Re: Help needed with tools
From: Dan Azlin <dazlin -at- SHORE -dot- NET>
Date: Wed, 8 Apr 1998 11:15:27 -0400

First the easy answer: FrameMaker is your only choice. Word is just not up
to the task you describe.

Now the harder answer:
CAD based graphics are a very different breed than the vector or bitmap
graphics we normally deal with. This is because of the genesis of CAD vs
the rest of the word of computer based graphics. The principle problem is
that virtually all CAD systems were designed to work with pen plotters for
their hard copy output. Pen Plotters use a variety of "pens," each
providing different line widths and ink colors. Plotters frequently come
with carosels or pick racks where the pens are stored until needed,
whereupon they are plucked from their storage place by the motorized pen
holder and used to make line on paper. This also limited the techniques
that could be used to make "fills," usually requiring multiple straight
line passes at incremental positions so that the overlapping lines fill the
desired area.

The source files for these CAD programs basically only store pen selections
and vector coordinates for the lines to be drawn. Even fonts are stored as
vectors. The end result of this is that the electronic file formats output
from CAD programs are fully vectorized representations of the source.
Translation filters designed to convert these CAD formats can't deal with
the multitude of pens, so there is an arbitrarily thin line width assigned
to them all by default, typically about 0.2 pt. The most common output file
format is DXF (Digital Transfer Format) developed by AutoDesk for AutoCAD.
Other formats include IGES and HPGL. IGES is little used today, and HPGL is
based on the plotter command language standardized by HP (i.e. Hewlett
Packard Plotter Language). The problem with HPGL is the multitude of
variations of HPGL developed over the years to accomodate new plotter
features; the best version to use is, therefore, one of the older and
simpler formats like that for the (I believe) 7240A plotter. This flavor of
HPGL is more easily digested by conversion filters. DXF is also a moving
target because it is modified every time a new release of AutoCAD comes out.

The bad news is that this confused mess has typically forced us to import
DXF files into a drawing program like Corel Draw and clean up the file,
adding appropriate line widths, assigning reasonable line colors, making
fills real instead of a bunch of parallel lines, and cleaning up fonts from
...hell. The end result can look very good because the CAD drawings are
usually very uniform and accurate. Except, of course, when the original CAD
file was created by a non-CAD-draftsman with no regard for the intelligent
use of layers and groupings... very painful to deal with.

The good news is that many CAD manufacturers are finally getting the point
and making filters available internally to the CAD program. They are
generally very good yet, but they are getting better. The sad thing is that
they aren't always included as standard equipment. ProEngineer, for
example, includes export menu selections for .eps, .wmf, and other more
common formats... but they are all options that must be ordered separately.

I deal with these kinds of conversions every day. Hijaak can't do the job.
I always have to manually clean things up, adjust the scaling of some
elements, remove the title block and drafting border, and save the result
as an .eps file. This last step is important because the vector graphic
nature of CAD is preserved and that means you can scale the drawing to fine
tune its fit and appearance from inside your publishing tool, without
loosing quality in the rescaling process.

Using FrameMaker, you create an anchored frame at a suitable point on your
page and import the .eps file (or other file type) into the frame. You have
full drag and drop control over the position of the graphic in its parent
frame. Oh yes, always import by reference so that you don't bloat your
document files and minor changes to the graphics will be updated

There's a lot more to say on the subject, but I hope you get the basic
idea. Using CAD graphics is beneficial, but it isn't necessarily easy.

Good luck,
Dan Azlin

At 10:47 PM 4/8/98 -0400, Robert E. Garland wrote:
>I'm currently working on a project where the final product, a printed
>manual, is being produced in Micosoft Word.
>The company used PCAD and ORCAD for the electrical stuff, namely pc
>board layouts and schematics, and AUTOCAD for the mechanical drawings.
>On past manuals, much pain was endured in trying to get mechanical
>drawings, board layouts, and schematics into the maintenance manual.
>Nothing wanted to convert to anything recognized by Word.
>Is there a tool that will 1) make the conversions into something Word
>recognizes with little pain OR 2) nicely replace Word as the publishing
>Recommendations welcome.
> Robert Garland Amateur Radio Station NX3S
> Hilltown Township Bucks County Grid FN20ii
> Pennsylvania USA robert -at- jtan -dot- com
Dan Azlin ** WORD ENGINEERS, Technical Writing & Publishing **
dazlin -at- shore -dot- net 7 Myrtle Street
ph/fax 978-921-8908 Beverly, MA 01915-3315

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