How to use Coordinate Entry in DraftSight

Article by Mike Walloch, CSWE updated February 2, 2024

Article

DraftSight gives us multiple ways to enter and display coordinates. This ensures we can position entities exactly where we want them. Of course, you can also just select points on the screen using the Snap and Grid, or completely freehand. But for precise control, you often need to enter coordinates.

Using the coordinate system isn’t complicated, but some settings can trip you up without some foreknowledge. If you’d like to know more about cartesian and polar coordinates, direct distances, and relative vs absolute coordinates, this is the blog for you.

DraftSight Cartesian coordinate system

Cartesian Coordinate System – X, Y, and Z Axes

Cartesian Coordinate Entry

DraftSight uses Cartesian Coordinates to define any point in space. You’re probably already familiar with the system as it’s used nearly everywhere. To summarize, the 3 axes shown in the illustration above meet at the origin point, also known as the 0,0 or 0,0,0 point. Numbers above or below zero determine the distance and direction from the origin.

In DraftSight, the axes are usually used as follows:

  • X Axis = Right or Left
  • Y Axis = Up or Down
  • Z Axis = Above or Below the XY Plane.

 

Many commands like LINE, COPY, MOVE, STRETCH, etc. require you to select or enter a start or base point, then a 2nd point. Terminology can vary based on the situation, but I’m going to use the terms start and end points for simplicity.

Coordinates are entered separated by commas in this order: X, Y, Z. When working strictly in 2D, everything is on the XY plane, so the Z coordinate is not used. It’s always there, just set to 0. So, you can leave off the Z and the system will assume it’s 0.

For example, if you want to draw a line from the origin point to a point 5 units to the right, 2 units down, and 1 unit above the XY plane, you’d enter the following at the command prompt:

0,0 <ENTER>

5,-2,1 <ENTER>
Line with Coordinate Entry

Line from 0,0 to 5,-2,1

Polar Coordinate Entry

Polar coordinates allow you to position an endpoint relative to a start point by entering the distance and angle separated by the ‘<‘ symbol. For example, if you want to draw a line that is exactly 4.5 units long at an angle of 45° from the origin point, you’d enter the following for the start and end points:

0,0 <ENTER>

4.5<45 <ENTER>
DraftSight Polar Coordinates, Line Command 1

LINE Command in Progress

DraftSight Polar Coordinates, Line Command 2

LINE Command Completed

Direct Distance Entry

Direct distances can be entered for endpoints once a start point has already been selected. Just move your cursor in the direction you want to go, then enter the desired distance. The Ortho (F8) or Polar (F10) options are helpful to control the angle.

For example, to draw a vertical line 3 units up from the coordinate 2,-1 turn on Ortho or Polar, and enter the following when prompted for points by the LINE command. Remember to move your mouse in the correct direction.

2,-1 <ENTER>

3 <ENTER>
DraftSight Coordinates Direct Distance

Vertical Line, 3 Units Long

Quick Input Setting – Relative vs Absolute Coordinates

The Quick Input setting can be found in Options > User Preferences > Drafting Options > Quick Input. It’s easier to reach it by right-clicking the QInput button in the Status Bar and selecting Settings.

DraftSight Options, Quick Input, Absolute vs Relative Coordinates

DraftSight Options – Quick Input

You can toggle Quick Input on or off with the ‘Enable Pointer Input’ checkbox, the button in the Status Bar, or the F12 key. It’s on by default and causes everything you type to appear next to your cursor in the graphics area instead of at the Command Line in the Command Window. To enter coordinates, distances, or angles with Quick Input on, you can type a number, then hit the TAB key instead of the ‘,’ or ‘<‘ symbols to advance to the next box.

Under ‘Format’ there are radio buttons for Relative or Absolute coordinates. This has a big effect on how any points after the start point are entered. Relative is the default setting.

If you enter coordinates for a start point it’s always absolute, which is to say based on the origin of the coordinate system. So, entering 6,9 means 6 to the right and 9 above the 0,0 point. With Quick Input on and set to Relative, if you’ve already selected a start point, the next point will be relative to the previous point, not to the origin. To demonstrate this let’s draw a line from -3,-3 to 3,3:

-3,-3 <ENTER>

3,3 <ENTER>
Line with Relative Input

Quick Input Set to Relative

The start point is indeed 3 to the left and 3 below the origin. But the endpoint is on the origin because DraftSight interpreted the input as meaning 3 to the right and 3 above the start point, which happened to land on the origin.

If we change the Quick Input setting from Relative to Absolute or turn Quick Input off, and give DraftSight exactly the same input as before, we get the result shown below. The start point is -3,-3 and the end point is 3,3 in the absolute coordinate system.

Line with Absolute Input

Quick Input Set to Absolute

Even if you have Quick Input set to Absolute or turned off, you can still get results that are relative to the start point by typing the ‘@’ symbol in front of cartesian or polar input. For example, giving the LINE command -3,-3 for the start point and @3,3 for the endpoint would produce the result in the first image.

Setting Quick input to Absolute gives you more control, especially if you want to move or copy things to the 0,0 point. Leaving Quick Input set to Relative just means you don’t have to type the @ symbol.

To see the effects of Relative vs Absolute coordinates in action, please watch this short video.

Coordinate Display in the Status Bar

Your current coordinates are displayed in the Status Bar. There are 3 settings for how they are displayed:

  • Relative
  • Absolute
  • Off

The default setting is Absolute. As you move your cursor around the graphics area, the coordinate point you are currently over is displayed.

You can change the setting by right-clicking on the coordinate display in the Status Bar. If you change the value to Off, it will show the last point you clicked on instead of updating dynamically as you move your cursor.

You can only change the setting to Relative if you currently have a command active AND you’ve already selected a base point. Once set to Relative, polar coordinates relative to the start or previously selected point will be displayed. It will dynamically update as you move your cursor around the graphics area.

Coordinate Settings in the Status Bar

Setting Relative Coordinate Display

Conclusion

The basics of Coordinate entry in DraftSight are not difficult. Anyone can get the hang of it quickly. But as you can see, there are some settings all users need to be aware of. There are also some more advanced, less often-used options we can look at in the future.

For more information on using DraftSight, see our resources here. 

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Mike Walloch, CSWE

Mike Walloch is a Certified SOLIDWORKS Expert (CSWE) and works as a Process & Training Consultant at TriMech