Architect. Are you still using the age-old technique of storing your drawing standards (blocks, annotations, and symbols) in the model space when creating 2D plans in CAD? I take it you want them to always be available to you without worrying about layer management that comes with it. What if I told you that a CAD software tool would enable inserting objects faster and more conveniently, with the layer properties intact, AND without them hanging around your screen all the time? I know you will be surprised just like me when I first find out about it. I am talking about the Tool Palette.      

From my senior year in college back in 2005 up to this day, I have done countless hours of 2D drafting on the computer. For many years I have not only seen drawings in different shapes and sizes but also encountered bizarre practices and techniques in using CAD software. While developers are hard at work trying to improve our workflow by offering us the latest and the greatest, most users are still unaware of or choose not to use some features that have already been available for the longest time. One of which is the handy Tool Palette.

AutoCAD® introduced the Tool Palette in 2004. That’s how old it is. I honestly do not know that it existed in the first place. But when I learned it in 2019 and gained its benefits, I never returned to my old way of inserting blocks. If you are one of those who still do not use the Tool Palette, now will be an excellent time to get your feet wet because, from where I stand, you are missing a lot.

What is a Tool Palette?

Let me briefly describe the tool palette from my point of view. It is a tabbed window serving as a repository of blocks, hatches, custom tools, tables, Xrefs, texts, dimensions, multileaders, and raster images. The type of content (or “tool,” as AutoCAD® calls it) you can put on a tool palette depends on the CAD software. AutoCAD® users get the full functionality while others, ZWCAD® users, for instance, are limited to blocks, hatches, and custom commands. Nonetheless, the CAD software is handing you over a tool that will make your drawing tasks easier. 

Benefits of using a Tool Palette

Creating a tool palette and then using its array of functionality paves the way for many benefits regarding workflow efficiency. Here are some:

  1. You no longer need to store your drawing standards on the model space of every project you work on because the objects in the tool palettes are always available. Keeping the used AND unused standard blocks around eats up real estate on your screen and unnecessarily bloats the file size. That won’t happen when you create a tool palette for your standard blocks. It will tidy up your drawing space and save you the trouble of zooming in and out repeatedly when copying the block you need.
  2. Unlike the Design Center, insert command, or the old-fashioned copy and paste, you do not have to browse from your stockpile of drawings painstakingly. Inserting contents from the tool palette is as easy as drag and drop.
  3. You can pre-assign several properties into an object in the tool palette. There are a number of options available but for me, assigning the layer is the most beneficial. The object will always go to the designated layer when you insert it, regardless of what layer you were on when the insertion occurred. 
  4. You do not have to worry about scaling when the objects in your tool palette have preset annotative properties. When you insert the object, it will adjust automatically to match your current drawing scale. 

With the introductions out of the way, let’s proceed with the tutorial. I derived step-by-step instructions from the software I use, Autodesk AutoCAD® LT 2023 for Windows. The steps should be similar no matter what CAD software you use. Just be sure that the Tool Palette feature is available.

How to create a custom Tool Palette?

Suppose you have a set of dynamic door blocks in plan view in your CAD library and want to create a tool palette for it. Here are the steps:

  1. Open AutoCAD®. Press CTRL+3 to reveal the Tool Palettes tab.
  2. Hover your pointing device to a blank space on any tool palette, then press the right button. From the pop-up menu, select “New Palette.”

    Alternatively, you can enter “customize” in the command line. Then from the pop-up window, right-click on a blank space under the “Palettes” section, then select “New Palette.”
  3. At this point, you should have created a blank New Palette. Let’s give it a name – “Doors” – for this instance. Next is to add blocks to it. 
  4. Open your door block. I’ll open Barn Door_Double Leaf from my library in this example.
  5.  Select the block, then press the right button of your pointing device until you see an arrow with a dotted rectangle under it. Still holding the right button, drag the block towards the Doors palette. You should see the block’s image and name in the palette. 
Adding a block into the Tool Palette

Great! You just created your first tool. Open several blocks, then repeat step 5 to populate the palette until you are satisfied.


Before adding a block into the tool palette, be certain that it is assigned to the layer you want. So every time you drag and drop that block onto your drawing, it will be assigned to the layer you designated.

You can add a text label and separator between blocks if you want to group them. Hover your pointing device on a blank space in the palette, right-click, then select “Add Text” or “Add Separator.”

That’s all there is to it. You can create as many tool palettes as you like. You can make one for annotations and symbols, another for site development elements, and much more. The possibilities are endless as long as the software accepts the content you put into the palette. To discover more about the other available functionalities, you can right-click on a tool, then select “Properties…” You will see from the pop-up menu many options to tinker around with. I suggest you play with each one and see what works for you. In my case, I choose “Yes” in the “Prompt for rotation” field for my door and window blocks, so every time I drag and drop a door or window, the software will let me rotate the block in the direction I want without typing the rotate command separately.

It is vital to know that the blocks in the tool palette are just links, meaning they do not “physically” reside thereon. When the source file is deleted or relocated, the tool will not work. In which case, you must re-establish the link by specifying the new path of the source file from the Tool Properties window.

How to use a Tool Palette?

Once you are satisfied with the Tool Palette you created, it goes without saying that the next thing to do is use it. Press CTRL+3 to reveal or hide the Tool Palettes tab, select the object you want, then drag and drop it into your drawing. That’s it. No sweat at all.


There are tools available to us to make our lives easier. Sometimes these tools are staring at our faces waiting to be discovered. Having the tools in our hands is one thing; using them is another. So squeeze in some time to learn these readily-available tools because you can only realize their real value when you use them.

Got a better idea or best practices you can share? Mention them on the comments below. Meanwhile, take a look at our CAD blocks and see how they will take your productivity to another level when you use them with the Tool Palette. No time to create a Tool Palette yourself? We took the groundwork off your busy schedule and made some. Check them out here.

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