Managing Styles and Standards in Autodesk Inventor

IMAGINiT Technologies

Introduction

Styles and Standards are, and always have been, a sticking point for a lot of Inventor users. The complexity of managing them seems to be far more involved than required. But once you understand how styles are managed it becomes a very good way to ensure consistency across your design team.

In this guide I hope to explain how Styles are managed by inventor both inside the active document and externally by Style Libraries, and how users can interact with Styles and Standards to improve efficiency in the workplace.

What are Styles and Standards?

Let us start with a brief description of what styles are in the context of inventor. Most commonly people know that Styles are used to control the appearance of annotations, tables, text, etc. in the drawing environment. However, they are also used to control things like sheet metal rules, unfold calculations and lighting.

Standards are used in the drafting environment and define a collection of styles that create the Company/Project “Standard” for drawings. What these means is that all the designers are working with the same styles when creating drawings which ensures consistency across documentation.

1Figure 1 - Style and Standard Panel

The Style Editor in the ‘Styles and Standards’ Panel of the ‘Manage’ ribbon tab (Figure 1) is used to create, modify and delete styles and Standards. The style editor dialog box appears differently depending on the environment in which you open it. From a part, assembly or weldment file the style manager only shows the lighting and text styles. From a sheet metal part, the style library shows the lighting, sheet metal rules, Sheet metal Unfold and text styles. And from the drawing environment the style manager shows all annotation styles including text, tables, dimensions, etc. and two important Style Types:

  • Standards
  • Object Defaults.

Most commonly people manipulate styles in the drawing environment so that is what we will focus on in this article. (Figure 2)

1Figure 2 - Style Manager (Drawing Environment)

What's a Style Library?

A Style Library is a collection of external .xml files that contain Inventor styles. Each .xml file controls a ‘Style Type’ such as ‘Dimension’ or ‘Table’. If you have only one Style Library, it is commonly referred to as the Global Style Library as it contains all the styles provided by Autodesk® as well as any you create and save to it. It is highly recommended that all companies with multiple users have a common Design Data folder either in the Vault or on a network location that all Inventor users have access to. This allows consistency across the department by ensuring everyone is working with the same design data. With a default install of Inventor, the Global Style Library is located in the following area:

C:\Users\Public\Documents\Autodesk\Inventor <Version>\Design Data

Note: It is possible to have Project specific Style Libraries however, for the purposes of this article, we will only consider the Global Style Library 

What is the Relationship Between Style, Standards and Style Libraries?

This is where things get more complicated. Even though every document has access to the Global Style Library the document only loads the styles into the document that are specified in the ‘Standard’. What this means is that each document embeds the styles specified by the Standard into the file creating, in essence, a Local Style Library. And this is the crux of the issue when it comes to managing styles. When a user modifies/creates a style, it is only created/modified in the Local Style Library. There is no persistent connection between the styles embedded in the file (the Local Style Library) and those in the Global Style Library.

What Happens When You Change a Style in a Drawing?

Consider the following workflow as an example of editing a style in a drawing:

  1. Create a new Drawing document from a template
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  2. Place base, side and top views and position accordingly
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  3. Dimension the views
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  4. The user decides the dimensional precision is to loose and changes the [Default-mm (ANSI)] dimension style (the dimension style specified in the Default-mm (ANSI) Standard that is currently active) to increase the precision from 2 decimal places to 3 decimal places
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  5. All dimensions that are of the [Default-mm (ANSI)] dimension style are updated automatically and now show a precision of 3 decimal places.
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Note: At this point the User is modifying an existing dimension style here not creating a new one – this will become important later.

As discussed earlier the change this user has made is only affecting the Local definition of the [Default-mm (ANSI)] style that is embedded in the file. Hence, if this user now created a new drawing from the same template file the precision setting would be reset to two decimal places. This is because the [Default-mm (ANSI)] style is loaded from the Global Style Library upon creation* of the new document and the Global Style Library definition of this style has a precision setting of 2 decimal places.

*In reality, the Template files already contain the styles from when they were created and if the styles match nothing happens. If there are styles that do not match, however, Inventor will automatically update the Local Styles to match the Global Styles. This is often seen in the ‘Style Conflict’ message as shown in Figure 8. This will be addressed later in the document.

1Figure 8 - Style Conflict Message Box

How Do You Make Changes to a Style Library?

Making a change to a library involves saving the Local Style changes to the Global Style Library. If the style is new it creates a new style in the Global Library and if it is modified it overwrites the existing style in the Global Style Library. Consider the workflow just demonstrated, the following example works through the process of updating the Global Style Library:

  1. Select the ‘Save’ button on the ‘Styles and Standards’ panel of the ‘Manage’ Tab
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  2. In the ‘Save Styles to Style Library’ dialog box, click the ‘No’ under the ‘Save to Library’ column to toggle it to ‘Yes’
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  3. Click ‘OK’
  4. Click 'Yes’ to the warning dialog box
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    Note: This will overwrite the style definition in the Global Style Library and so, before making any edits, it is recommended you make a backup of the Design Data folder incase anything files becomes corrupted/unusable

  5. That’s it. The style has now been overwritten in the Global Style Library and every new drawing created that uses the [Default-mm (ANSI)] dimension style will, by default, have a precision of 3 decimal places.

Some caveats for this process:

  • The Style-Library setting in the Project file must be set to Read-Write
  • You must have ample permissions to overwrite the .xml files in the Design Data folder
  • If utilizing the Vault to manage data, you will need to check out the .xml files in order to make the changes
  • Now the Global Style Library has been updated the ‘Style Conflict’ message will appear every time a user creates a new file from a template.

Now we know the process let’s examine the ‘Save Style to Style Library’ dialog box in Figure 10.

This dialog box is displaying the following:

Column Name  Description Example
Document Name     The file in which the new/modified Style is embedded Style example.idw
Style Name The name of the style that has been created/modified Default-mm (ANSI)
Type The Type of style that has been created/modified Dimension
Location Whether the Style exists ‘Local’ (embedded), ‘Library’ (external) or ‘Both’ Both
Change Whether the style was changed in the document or in the library* Local
Save to Style Library Toggles between ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ to indicate if the user wants to save the style to the Library or not No**

*If the Style is new and not in the Global Style Library this shows up as ‘No’
**This was changed during the above workflow to ‘Yes’ as an example of saving a style to a library

How Can an Old Drawing be Updated to the Current Standard?

So, we have successfully changed the [Default-mm (ANSI)] style and saved it to the Global Style Library, but now we have opened and old drawing and none of the dimensions are displayed at the new standard despite their Style showing as [Default-mm (ANSI)]. Again, this is due to there being no persistent link between the embedded styles and the Global Style Library. So, in order to update the drawing to match the latest Styles and Standards we must use the ‘Update” command on the ‘Styles and Standards’ panel of the ‘Manage’ ribbon tab.

Upon selecting the ‘Update’ command an ‘Update Styles’ dialog box appears (Figure 12)

1Figure 12 - Update Styles Dialog Box

Note how similar this appears to the ‘Save Styles to Style Library’ dialog box. That is why it is important to take note of the dialog box you are working with prior to selecting ‘OK’. The dialog box contains all the same columns, except for one, as the ‘Save Styles to Style Library’ dialog box. The one column difference is the last column where it says ‘Update’ instead of ‘Save to Library’.

When you have selected the Styles you want to update to the current standard select ‘OK’ and you are presented with a message box (Figure 13)

1Figure 13 - Update Message Box

This informs the user that any locally edited styles will be overwritten with the Global Style Library definition effectively erasing any of the edits. However, unlike saving styles to the Global Style Library, this process can be undone. If you make an error in your selection you can always undone the command and go back to select the right styles to update.

A Graphical Representation of Styles and Style Libraries

1Figure 14 - Graphical Representation of Style Management

Understanding Standards

We have delved into Styles and how they are managed between documents but that is only part of the problem when it comes to effective use of Styles in Inventor. Now we need to understand how styles are managed in the documents and that is done using Standards.

Note: Standards are only available in the drafting environment

When you open the Style and Standard Editor the first category in the left-hand pane is Standard. This is where we can see what Standards are available to us and “Activate” the Standard we want to use. When you Activate a Standard, you are defining what styles are available to the user during drafting. You can tell which is the Active Standard as it is highlighted in Bold. See Figure 15.

1Figure 15 - Standard Categories

When you select a Standard to edit, see Figure 16, the right-hand pane consists of 5 tabs:

  • General
  • View Preferences
  • Available Styles
  • Object defaults
  • And Material Hatch Patter Defaults

1Figure 16 - Styles and Standards Editor (Standards)

The General Tab contains settings for the Units, decimal marker, Character Exclusions, etc. The View Preferences Tab contains settings for default view labels, how sections are details, First/Third angle projection, etc. And the Material Hatch Pattern Defaults is just that, here you can set up the default hatch pattern for set materials when sectioning them in drawings. The two tabs that we are going to discuss in more detail are the ‘Available Styles’ tab and the ‘Object Defaults’ tab.

Available Styles

The ‘Available Styles’ tab is where we can specify what Styles should be made available, when the standards is Active, to the user.

1Figure 17 - Available Styles Tab

As you can see from Figure 17 there are 5 Dimensional Styles available that can be checked. There are also 18 Style Types to choose from, each with their own list of Available Styles. When a Style is Checked in this box and while the Standard is Active, that style will be available to to use in the Document. An important thing to note here is the Style Filter in the top right of the Style and Standard Editor dialog box (Figure 18).

1Figure 18 - Style Filter

This filter allows us to control what shows up in the Editor dialog box. There are three options available to use:

  • Active Standard
  • Local Styles
  • All styles

This filter allows us to narrow down large amounts of styles (All Styles) to just ones contained in the document (Local Style) or currently available in the Active Standard (Active Standard). See Figure 19 and compare this to Figure 17 for an example of how the available Styles and Standards Editor dialog box changes when the user sets the filter to All Styles

1Figure 19 - Available Styles (All Styles)

When you are creating a new style the dialog box allows you to automatically add that style to the Active Standard as shown in Figure 20.

1Figure 20 - New Local Style dialog box

Object Defaults

An Object Default sets the default style and layer for each object type in the drafting environment. As an example in the Objects Default tab of the Default Standard (ANSI-mm) the Object Type “Linear Dimension” has an Object Style specified as [Default – mm (ANSI)] and a Layer Specified as [Dimensions (ANSI)]. See Figure 21

This means that when the user places a linear dimension it will be placed on the [Dimensions (ANSI)] layer and its appearance will be defined by the [Default – mm (ANSI)] style.

1Figure 21 - Object Defaults Tab

1Figure 22 - Object Defaults Edit

This tab, however, does not allow you to edit the Object Defaults directly. This tab allows the user to select an Object Defaults Style in the Active Object Defaults dropdown box above the window which will be applied to the active standard. From here the user can also select the pencil which will redirect to the referenced Object Default Style for editing as shown in Figure 22

Form here the user can define what the Object Style Default and Layer Default should be and create a new Object Default Styles for reference by the Standard rather than modifying an existing one.

Purging Styles

The last item we are going to touch on in this article is the purging of styles. The Purge command is the last command located on the ‘Styles and Standards’ panel of the ‘Manage’ ribbon tab.

1Figure 23 - Styles and Standards panel

The Purge command clears any unused styles, materials and appearances from the document. This allows the user to remove any unwanted data that is taking up space in the file and helps improve clarity when managing styles, materials and appearances. It is important to note how the program only selects styles that can be purged.

Firstly, the style must not be in use. If the user has a dimension placed that references a particular style that style is in use and cannot be purged. Moreover, if the style has been made “Available” in the Standard it is also considered “in use” and cannot be purged.

Secondly, the command only purges styles that are embedded in the file (Local). So, the command is safe to use knowing that any Style in the Style Library is safe from being purged.

Figure 24 shows the available ‘Dimension’ Type Styles in the [Default Standard (ANSI)] Standard. This list has been filtered to only show the “Active Standard”. You can see, due to the filter in place, all the dimension styles are checked.

Figure 25 shows the same list with the results being filtered to “Local Styles”. Notice there are now 3 additional Styles in the list that do not have checks against them. This tells us that the document has 3 additional ‘Dimension’ Type Styles embedded. If these styles are not in use the file is larger than it needs to be, and it is less clear what Styles are currently in use and available.

These styles are not part of the Active Standard however, they might still be in use in the document and hence not capable of being Purged.

1Figure 24 - Available Styles (Active Standard Filter)

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Figure 25 - Available Styles (Local Styles Filter)

Below is an example of the Purge workflow:

  1. Select the Purge command on the ‘Styles and Standards’ panel or the ‘Manage’ ribbon tab
  2. The ‘Purge Styles’ Dialog box is displayed
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    Figure 26 - Purge Styles Dialog Box

  3. The ‘Purge Styles’ Dialog Box resembles both the save and update dialog boxes displaying the same information.
  4. Click on the ‘Yes’/’No’ in the Purge column to toggle if you want the style to be purged or not.
  5. Once the Selection is made click ‘OK’
  6. The Styles have been Purged.

Manual Management

The commands demonstrated in these workflows are used to highlight Styles and Standards that are new, updated or unused and deal with them accordingly. If you have a particular Style that you need to Save, update or Purge this can be managed manually in the Styles and Standards Editor through the use of the shortcut menu using a right click (Figure 27). Using this method the user can purge styles that are currently referenced by the active standard, however, if you try to Purge a Style that is referenced by the Active Standard Inventor will warn you that the Standard will be modified to reflect this change (Figure 28). This means the Style will be removed and the standard will be updated to remove that Style from the Available Styles List.

You should never attempt to manage Style Libraries through the use of an .xml editor. Only use the tools provided by Autodesk to make edits to the Style Library.

1Figure 27 - Manual Style Management

1Figure 28 - Purge Local Style Dialog Box

Conclusion

Styles, Standards and Style Libraries can be confusing when first trying to understand the relationships between them. It is well worth spending the time to learn and understand this relationship as having a consistent Standard across the company not only provides a professional appearance to your documentation, it also makes production of these documents consistent and more efficient for the design team.

This article has been designed to give the reader a high-level overview of the Styles, Standards and Style Library relationship and an introduction into the tools that can be used to manage them. These tools are sufficient to get a Standard in place and manage that Standard and associated Styles. However there is a lot more information about styles available and, if you are managing company drafting standards, time should be spent understanding styles in more detail.

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