January 5, 2023

How to get consistent, reliable output when printing your AutoCAD Drawings.

By: Kevin Spear, P.E, Application Consultant – AEC, Synergis Technologies, LLC.

One common refrain I hear from different companies is, “why is it so hard to PRINT an AutoCAD Drawing?” The question really isn’t why is it hard, because it’s not hard. CTRL-P and done. What’s hard is getting consistent, reliable output at the desired page size and scale!

Printing from AutoCAD is all in the details of the setup/configuration used to output a given drawing. I’m going to cover 3 topics that affect the output – Printers, Page Size, and Pen Tables.


This part seems obvious. Select a printer from the list and move on. In AutoCAD, you will see two types of Printers – System Printers, and AutoCAD Configured Printers.

System Printers have various settings that are configured by your IT department so all users get the same settings. Typically, these settings are applicable to general business printing and can include many page sizes never used within AutoCAD.

AutoCAD Configured Printers take those system settings and tweak them for use in AutoCAD. When these settings are tweaked, AutoCAD creates a plotter configuration, otherwise known as a PC3 file. Tweaks might include removing unwanted page sizes, adjusting margins, or even changing graphics properties. Depending on what gets tweaked, an additional file, PMP, will also get created. These files will be saved in locations defined in your OPTIONS dialog under ‘Printer Support File Path.’ If you are self-employed, you do not need to edit these paths. For most folks who work for a company with more than one AutoCAD user, these settings should ultimately be saved to a shared location. Use the shared location defined by your IT staff on the OPTIONS dialog.

Enough background details…what things would I change from the System Printer? First and foremost, always filter the page size list to only the sizes used by your company. Maybe that’s a list like this:

  • ANSI B – 11×17
  • ANSI D – 22×34
  • ARCH D – 24×36
  • ARCH E1 – 30×42
  • ARCH E – 36×48

One last item to address for Printers is margins. System printers have pre-defined margins because of the physical printer limitations. Of course, no two printers have the same margins. So what are we to do? We need to stop using margins as our reference point for borders when setting up a layout in AutoCAD. This is done by going back into our OPTIONS and making a simple change on the ‘PLOT and PUBLISH‘ tab. We want to ‘Specify plot offset relative to’ EDGE OF PAPER.

Pen Tables

Now that our printer is configured and our plot area is absolute to the paper edge, our last area to address is the Plot Style Table (has a .ctb file extension), otherwise known as a Pen Table. You assign a plot style table in the plot dialog shown in the ‘More Options’ area (click the chevron in the lower right corner).

You can start with the acad.ctb plot style table.

But you notice nothing really changed in the plot preview. In fact, all of the linework looks exactly like it did in model space at the top of the page.

We need to edit the plot style table to map various output preferences. In general, most firms will assign a black or grayscale color and a lineweight to AutoCAD colors. To edit the CTB file, click the printer icon to the right.

You can then assign various properties that would map to each AutoCAD color. In general, most firms are only changing the output color and lineweight.

This can become rather random; color 1 may be thick and color 42 may be thin, etc. Some companies have adopted a uniform method where consecutive colors are solid and another set of colors are grayscale with the differences being the lineweight. An example might be:

There you have it – three areas of plotting settings that get over looked – Plotter Configuration, Title Block Size/Page Origin, and Plot Style Tables.