AutoCAD 101 Series – Dynamic Blocks Week 2 – Visibility States

Are you new to AutoCAD? Have you been using AutoCAD for years but only use the blocks, styles, layers and tools that others have created?  Do you want to learn more or step up your game on features you’re not very strong in and pick up some practical examples of best practices?  If so, this series is for you.  Over the course of 12 months and maybe more I will cover the basics of a lot of AutoCAD tools and features that many may want or need to learn more about.

This is the 7th article in my AutoCAD 101 series – to read about the origination for this series, see the first post here: <Intro>  The last post in this series was about diving in to “Dynamic Blocks” <link>, this post will be diving in to Visibility States.

Let’s start with an example of something that affects both architects and electrical engineers – Lighting.  Since we have been using the 2X4-Light fixture as an example in our previous posts, I’ll continue with it for this topic.  Architects use Lighting to enhance the visual appeal of spaces while electrical engineers use them to provide required illuminance.  In order to show the different types of lighting in a building, you could put letters and numbers next to a light symbol to indicate what it is, then, a schedule could be referenced to describe the fixture in more detail.  But if you actually gave each block a unique look, you could tell just by looking at it what it is.  This also helps the project owner or client visually see what the light is by just looking at the floor plan.  One commonly used light fixture is the 2×4 recessed fixtures that are found on almost every commercial project.  Although these fixtures are one size, they can be a variety of lighting types (Prismatic, Parabolic, LED, Direct/Indirect as well as Emergency versions of each).

See ‘Figure A’ below that shows a small variety of light fixture types. All of these light fixtures are actually in one block and use the dynamic Visibility option to change the views that represent each individual look.  With this one block, you could place 2×4 fixtures throughout your project, then in rooms that needed specialty fixtures like parabolic or direct-indirect, you would highlight the fixtures in the room or rooms, right click and select quick properties and choose the parabolic version from the drop-down menu. You could repeat the same process for the lights required to be emergency or night lights as well.  The variety of lighting types used on a project that are similar in nature but have some unique characteristics could easily be shown in a single block and quickly changed using the dynamic visibility state option.






Figure A

How to:

The steps outlined here will work for any trade or block – you just need to determine which feature will benefit you in your work and use that when defining or modifying your blocks.  I use dynamic blocks for two primary reasons – minimize the number of blocks required to represent items in a drawing and make changes quicker.

You may want to start using dynamic blocks by creating new blocks from scratch or since you probably already have an extensive block library a better approach may be to modify an existing block that you currently use by adding dynamic features to it.

Like any customization process there are a series of steps that you would typically go through to implement your ideas.

Dynamic block creation Steps:

  1. Start out by planning on what you want your block to do.  Often this comes from experience with blocks that you keep replacing, rotating, flipping or changing out.
  2. Draw your block geometry or edit an existing block to add dynamic features.
  3. Choose a ‘Parameter’; there are various Parameters to choose, see ‘Figure B’ for a screen shot of the dynamic options pallet.
  4. Match an ‘Action’ with your parameter – see ‘Figure C’.
  5. Test your option.
  6. Repeat 1 – 5 for each dynamic option.
dynamic-1 dynamic-2
Figure B Figure C

The items in red in ‘Figures B and C’ are what will be covered over the next few posts on dynamic blocks.  For this post I will just cover the Visibility Parameter.

For the dynamic block demonstration here I am going to start with our ‘2×4-Light’ fixture that I have been using in previous posts and add the visibility parameter to make it more flexible.  You can follow along with any type of block that you already have and want the ability to change it’s look of on the fly (Visibility State).

Like many blocks, our light fixture is composed of basic lines and hatches.  From experience of working with lighting plans, I know that the basic 2×4 fixture often gets changed out for a more decorative one like direct-indirect or parabolic fixtures in some offices or conference rooms.  Throughout the building emergency ballasts may be used to make the light an emergency light, which is typically indicated by a hatch or fill.  To make my job easier, I do not want to erase the old block and insert a new one for each change I need to make.   So for this issue I use ‘Visibility States’, using the Visibility Parameter.   Visibility states allow you to change the look of a block by selecting a pull-down menu and choosing the new look or ‘state’.  Note that ‘Visibility’ is the one parameter that does not require an Action item associated with it.

I open the existing block called ‘2×4-light’ in AutoCAD, and type Bedit to open the block editor.  See ‘Figure D’ that shows the block editor toolbar.  If you are not a ribbon rebel like me, see ‘Figure E’ for the ribbon version of the block editor.


Figure D


Figure E

When entering the block editor you will get the dynamic options pallet shown above in ‘Figures B and C’, and the block editor toolbar or Pallet shown in ‘Figures D and E’.

I select the Visibility parameter option and place it next to my block.  When doing this think about how your final block look will change so that your parameter does not end up under some of your line work.  I now see a new toolbar on the screen, the visibility toolbar, see Figure F.  I select the button that opens up the Visibility states option and rename the default menu item to ‘Standard’.  I then select ‘New’, and name the new state ‘Emergency’.  You may be asked if you want to “Leave the visibility of the existing objects unchanged in the new state”.   Since I am only going to be adding line work for this particular view, I will choose the option to leave the objects in the new visibility state as it currently is shown; see ‘Figure G’. Note that you can determine the default view or ‘visibility state’ by moving the one you want as default to the top of the Visibility states list.



Figure F









Figure G

Next, with the ‘Emergency’ state checked off in the list I’ll then draw an angled line between the top right and lower left of my internal rectangle to create hatch boundary and then choose my hatch command and hatch the space to the right side of the angled line.  Once this is done, on the block editor toolbar/pallet there is a small symbol with a check mark next to it.  This is the symbol to test the new dynamic options.   Once the block is highlighted in the test mode a blue triangle will show up off to the side.  By selecting the triangle I can choose between the ‘Standard’ and ‘Emergency’ display options.  If all is well I can move on to the next fixture type; but if not I can make the necessary corrections and test again.  Make this a habit, as finding and fixing issues later, after you have added a bunch of dynamic features can be a nightmare. Once testing is complete I can move on.

Now I want to expand this block to also represent all the other fixture types shown in Figure A.

Highlight the ‘Standard’ Visibility State each time you start a new fixture type, and when you are adding the emergency option, select the standard option of the that fixture type first.  See below a bulleted list of steps to use for each fixture type.

When adding new parameters and actions and you have multiple visibility states, make sure you are on the state that you wish to perform the new action.  This is not a deal-breaker, as it can be corrected with a few extra steps – but keep it in mind.


  • Open visibility states menu
  • Select ‘Standard Fixture’
  • Select ‘New’
  • Type ‘Parabolic’ (Choose: ‘Leave visibility of existing object…’)
  • Ok
  • OK
  • Draw the Parabolic grid line work
  • Leave the Parabolic State highlighted and select ‘New’
  • Type ‘Parabolic Emergency’
  • Ok
  • Ok

For this step, I am going to use the same hatching I used for the ‘Standard Emergency’ fixture.  On the Visibility states toolbar there are some shaded and non-shaded boxes next to the Visibility Pull-down.  (See ‘Figure F’ above)

  • Choose the combo ‘Shaded/Open’ box symbol. (This will show all other entities in a grey faded color as they are not part of this Visibility state).
  • Choose the larger solid shaded box and pick the hatch that was created for the previous ‘Standard’ fixture. (This hatch will now show up in both emergency versions (Standard and Parabolic) of the light fixture).

You could have redrawn the hatch, but that adds additional size to the block, and you want to keep your blocks as lean as possible.

The block now has (4) visibility states, representing Standard and Emergency versions of two fixture types.  Try the final two states for direct/in-direct on your own.

Combining Wipe-outs in to your blocks will add even more flexibility to your dynamic blocks.  For instance in our light fixture block, adding a  wipeout behind the fixture keeps anything else on the ceiling plan from bleeding through , I.e. putting fixtures in a gypsum board ceiling that is hatched with a pattern. Other examples would include room name blocks that have wipeouts to mask the background or door blocks that have wipeouts to hide the wall underneath making it appear that wherever you place your door the wall is on that wall is automatically cleaned up.

If you run into a snag with this, email me at

In the next post, I will go over the Point, Alignment and Basepoint Parameters.


Leave a Reply