CAD … touching the Surface

New year, new tablet, new CAD. CAD by touch on the Surface Pro 4 is interesting. On the face of it the Surface is an ideal ‘CAD on the go’ platform: plenty of processing grunt and good battery life. Sure it’s fragile but good hard shell cases are available for it.


A secure mount to the tripod is not essential but I feel happier knowing I have a safe place to park the tablet on site.

The performance is such that I can now almost ‘do it all’ on a single tablet as opposed to lugging a tablet for TST and a laptop for image processing. Progress indeed. I’m learning to live with it for field CAD and this is what I have found so far…the Surface native screen resolution makes a mess of CAD toolbar buttons and command line text.

Tiny toolbars don’t work as a touch interface. I’m used to adding ‘cancel’ ‘enter’ ‘esc’ and a bunch of setvar re-sets for the way I work-cancel and enter are basic and I’m still surprised they don’t come with the package but working by touch is still new and pull and pinch gestures have only just made it for zoom so I expect CAD will catch up eventually- touch devices are here to stay even if Windows 10 is a bit behind IOS it’s not going to be long before the mouse and pen are replaced by the finger for a lot of man/ machine interfaces.


A whole new meaning to the term ‘fat finger sydrome’. The man /machine inteface: finger at actual size on screen…finger too big, button too small!

Because the 1824 x 2736 native screen resolution on the Surface will display only tiny toolbar buttons (even the option to ‘use large buttons’ makes no difference) I’ve had to get my head around the ribbon interface as a route to the ‘most wanted’ commands by finger.

*Where’s Esc? The most wanted missing command is CANCEL, we will come to that shortly. If we are working by touch alone the lack of ‘esc’ is the first hurdle to clear. The Windows 10 touch keyboard doesn’t have esc until you change the typing settings to add the standard keyboard layout as a touch keypad option. Now with an escape route on the keypad we can begin.


Tidy up the command line font size. For some reason the default font size in the command line (Consolas regular 10pt) comes out huge on the Surface, it can be reduced to 5pt in Options, Display, fonts:


The Windows ‘Advanced sizing of text and other items’ doesn’t seem to have any effect on toolbars so it’s off to the ribbon to get finger pudgeable buttons.

Adding a CANCEL button to the ribbon. The best metod I have found so far is to add a toolbar button with the macro: ^C^C  which will cancel a lot of bungled commands (the touch interface lends itself to them)  but will not clear grips – the keyboard ‘hard’ Esc is the only way for that (unless you are lucky enough to have TheoLt’s Theocancel command on your system).

  1. Create a new command. Open the Customise User Interface Panel and pick on the create new command button (it’s the star and spark next to the ‘All commands Only’  browser)


On the right hand panel a ‘blank’ command called ‘Command 1’ is created- all you need to do is re-name it as ‘Cancel’ and find a button image for it, the cancel macro ^C^C is supplied by default. Hit ‘Apply’ and the new command appears in the list:


2.Hack the ‘Home’ panel. In the tree dispaly expand Ribbon and Panels locate ‘Home 2D’ and expand it, select Row 1 and expand:

command-1_03In the command list box select the CANCEL command and drag it into position in the ‘Row 1’ branch. This is impossible to do by touch so hook a mouse or pen to your Surface for this. Next the button style has to be set ‘Large with Text (Vertical)’ in the properties panel, hit ‘apply’ and close the edit sesion with OK: command-1_04The big cancel button is now in the ‘Home’ slot on the ribbon ready for pudging:


note the tiny toolbar: this is with ‘use large buttons’ on.

With the Surface in portrait aspect the ribbon re-arrages itself which means the buttons flyout from the Home Draw tab:


Enter command. Enter closes the current command and repeats it. Tablet PCs  of old (the XP era) had a ‘hard’ enter button and I have got used to being able to work line as a stop start operation with it. The macro is ; ; (semi  colon space semi colon). It dosn’t work as well as smacking the enter key but it will repeat the last command.

TheoLt deals with almost all else although I like to have some preset views by UCS handy.

Battery conservation. My example is an i5 chip with 4Gb ram. Milage may vary. Best battery life so far is around 6 hours running TheoLt and CAD (wire frame capture only). I ran the Surface with all radios turned off with comms by USB cable. It’s worth noting that a special cable (GEV 267) is required to do this on Windows 8 and 10.

A nice touch from Microsoft is the 5v USB charging outlet on the Surface mains adaptor, given the number of things that need charging on a job (headlamp, phone, Disto etc) I welcome that.

Happy surveys!


* Update Nov 2017: as of the Win 10 ‘Fall Creators Update’ the Surface removes the full on screen keyboard (OSK) FOR ALL LANGUAGES other than ‘English US’.

If you neeed the escape key you need to have the tablet language set to ‘US English’

keyboard and select the full keyboard from the OSK settings on the top left of the keyboard panel..


About billboyheritagesurvey

Heritage worker
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2 Responses to CAD … touching the Surface

  1. Note that a fix for the ant sized text had been found:

    which makes life a lot easier for the pudgeing!

  2. * Update Nov 2017: as of the Win 10 ‘Fall Creators Update’ the Surface has lost the full on screen keyboard (OSK) FOR ALL LANGUAGES other than ‘English US’.

    If you neeed the escape key you need to have the tablet set to English US

    keyboard and select the full keyboard from the OSK settings on the top left of the keyboard panel..

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