Rhino as an AutoCAD Killer — The Ultimate Guide

Four years ago, I started a discussion on improving the Rhino drafting experience, and it generated many useful tips (See link below).

RHINO FORUM — POPULAR THREADS FROM MAR 2020 — The Ultimate Guide for Rhino-to-AutoCAD Workflow

At that time, many believed AutoCAD was becoming obsolete. And actually, for+6 years, our team has been using Rhino for everything from concept design to construction documents — and worked at firms like Jean Nouvel, BIG, and Aires Mateus, where Rhino is also a primary tool.

However, there are some areas where Rhino is not able to replace AutoCAD, according to our Executive team. They’ve specifically requested a switch to AutoCAD during the construction stages for better XREF management, layout handling, and other features.

I’m open to this if it benefits my team, but I want to revisit the challenge from four years ago: How can we make Rhino 2D a true AutoCAD killer?

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List of areas where AutoCAD is a better tool than Rhino according to our Construction Dept. Director. Would love to find workarounds or alternatives to justify the use of Rhino in that stage:

  1. XREF (External Reference) Management:
  • “AutoCAD has robust XREF management, allowing for easy linking, updating, and managing of external files within a drawing. Rhino’s referencing capabilities are less intuitive and require more manual management, making it less efficient for complex projects with numerous external references.”
  1. Layout and Sheet Management:
  • “AutoCAD excels in creating and managing multiple layouts and sheets within a single drawing file. It offers advanced tools for setting up viewports, scales, and plotting configurations. Rhino’s layout tools are more basic and may require additional steps or workarounds to achieve the same level of efficiency and organization.”
  1. Annotation and Dimensioning:
  • “AutoCAD provides a comprehensive set of annotation and dimensioning tools that are highly customizable and easy to use. Rhino’s annotation tools are improving but are still not as advanced or user-friendly, potentially leading to inconsistencies and increased time spent on documentation.”
  1. Block Management:
  • “AutoCAD offers sophisticated block management, including dynamic blocks, which can significantly streamline the drafting process by allowing for reusable, parametrically adjustable components. Rhino’s block functionality is more limited, lacking the dynamic capabilities and ease of management found in AutoCAD. Importing AutoCAD Dynamic blocks results in terrible results.”
  1. Compatibility and Interoperability:
  • AutoCAD is the industry standard for 2D drafting and is often required by clients and contractors, ensuring compatibility and ease of file exchange. Rhino’s file compatibility with DWG/DXF formats can sometimes be less reliable, requiring additional checks and conversions to ensure proper integration with other software, specially in regards to curves, hatches or annotations, losing scale and sizes. Would appreciate a seamless import/export workflow."
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These seem to be well-stated general criticisms comparing “Rhino” with “AutoCD”. I think it would be helpful if you mentioned the versions of each upon which these comparisons are drawn. I assume that since they come from actual use in the field that they stem from earlier than current versions. Has your firm been able to use Rhino 8 enough to learn whether there have been any improvements in these areas?

I also suspect from years of reading this forum that for any improvements to be implemented more detailed item-by-item comparisons would be needed, although I am also pretty sure that McNeel is aware of many of these issues from other users.

On a general note:
I’ll celebrate the day when Autocad vanishes from the face of the earth (which I doubt I will live to see). There’s nothing likeable about it. It’s a living corpse, that still exists for one reason only: it became industry standard decades ago, and now it gets moneymilked by Autodesk, and there’s no probable version of reality in which it will get ergonomic and modern.

How would you ‘modernize’ a program laid out originally for 2D work anyway? BIM/3D programs like Revit or Archicad are just this, and even if they are around for decades already, no common ground has been found for modern, flexible file standard / scene description.
IFC? USD? Those are still not there, and support for 2D (non-physical objects) is lacking.
Interestingly, the DWG format is best at exactly this: 2D content. (whether producing 2D content from 3D scenes still makes sense is another debate).

So, the DWG format sticks. For legacy reasons (access to countless old files), and for lack of a better alternative.
Rhino needs to support it. Because it’s standard, and because Autocad should be sent to hell…
Unfortunately, most of your points are true.

With ‘we’ you mean McNeel, right?

  1. XREF management:
    We have worksessions, and inserted/linked blocks. It’s indeed confusing to understand the (subtle) differences, and there is potential for simplification/unification here.
    But it must come from McNeel. I doubt that a plugin/script solution would even be able to ‘reach down’ that deep into Rhino’s system.

  2. Layout and sheet management.
    Oh yes! I’m using R8, and have to export dozens of layouts to PDF for a project. The print dialog has improved allright, but still there are enough shortcomings (bugs even - will report), when it comes to exporting multiple layout pages.

  • The print dialog does not even remember the last file path, as of now! (I should post this more prominently). Nasty!

  • We need ‘publishing sets’ (a term from Archicad, which is pretty good with these things) - kind of layout groups that can be exported in one go, but with different file formats/page sizes/file paths, if needed.

  • The ‘Layout’ panel -
    image

and this new layout list in the Print dialog -
image
are actually unnecessary doublets. I’d say those hypothetical ‘publishing sets’ should be definable in the Layouts panel (by introducing classic folder icons, and checkboxes next to it to define what gets exported), along with properties for file path/format etc. The Print dialog would then just exports what has been ticked in the Layouts panel.

  1. Annotation
    Never needed to annotate that much, but what I did need many times were blocks that can live display their own coordinates!

  2. Block management
    I just… just cannot fathom why McNeel shows so little interest in pushing hard in the ‘dynamic block’ direction. There are even 2 plugins out there that can encapsulate Grasshopper scripts in dynamic blocks (APE, VisualArq), but this must come out of the box!

It should be possible in Grasshopper to introduce viewport UI elements that can trigger different block states (just like in Autocad), when the GH script is embedded in a block.

Another advantage of Autocad is worth mentioning: it’s parametric. Create a circle, and you can adjust the radius later. With this system of GH-powered blocks, this could become possible here, too.

Some progress has been made here in R8. Only the active block state is imported now, not all variants.

  1. Compatibility
    100% won’t be possible. I don’t believe there ever will or can be compatibility between Autocad and a potential Rhino/GH dynamic block system, so just go for a solution that works in Rhino, and forget about full compatibility.
    However, if draw order came across in the DWG format, it would be great.
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AutoCAD dynamic blocks is a pile of trash. My main complaint about Rhino is documentation. (AutoCAD always had good documentation. Its best part, from my point of view, is AutoLisp.) I need Bongo 3 much more than Rhino 8.

It’s refreshing to see a post like this from someone who actually understands AutoCAD. I usually see posts from people who don’t even use the program. Some LinkedIn cringe I saw a while back was someone stating “Revit is better at everything”. It’s not. Decided to completely ignore another similar discussion here for the same reason (they were probably trying to sell a course or something). Actually discussing real objective differences is a big key to success.

I agree with Eugen. I still find myself spending stupid amounts of money on AutoCAD. If I could switch to Rhino I would. But I can’t sadly. Not yet at least.

Other companies could have made a better CAD program and just refined it. Other CAD issues have a bunch of random issues that their developers don’t bother to address (they’re busy working on stuff nobody will ever use).

Revit was a downgrade in some respects for annotations. AutoCAD’s text editor is way more advanced among other things. Lots of other stuff just works better/quicker and it’s far more flexible. There’s a reason 98% of Revit drawings look like crap. And then there’s the issues with missing details and dimensions.

Disagree with regards to Dynamic Blocks but 100% agree on the other stuff. The API documentation especially got the better of me. I realize that AI might be the antidote for that however.

As far as my current situation goes: In R7 I was telling people I was about 75-90% as productive in Rhino as I was in AutoCAD. It came with some catches however: The gas pedal was depressed to the floor while I worked (where as in AutoCAD I could take it a bit easier without slowing down as much) and it would have been far more difficult to train someone else to use Rhino the same way I was.
R8 in all it’s glory means applying a factor (greater than 1.0) as far as getting others on board. There’s so many little things wrong and inconsistencies, most of which I work around without even thinking about, but would really hamper others. Especially those that aren’t “hobbyists” who don’t mind spending the extra time figuring things out. If R9 doesn’t improve these things that might be all-she-wrote for me :frowning: .

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All these posts and discussions are very insightful, I like to think ‘we’ includes us, but is not just us :slight_smile:

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According to Enlyft (iDatalabs) website, Rhino’s market share was 0.2% in 2017, 0.36% in 2020, 0.37% in 2021, 0.44% in 2022, and 0.43% in 2023. It did not change in 2024. This data suggests that Rhino 8 is not much better than Rhino 7.

This way of producing construction docs will slowly go extinct, even tho apparently it stubbornly refuses to die until now. You can use Revit or ArchiCad as 2D drafting tool without all the BIM and IFC stuff, and its vastly more productive than drawing indivdual polylines, hatches and text. Once its setup of course, which indeed takes quite the effort. Even most of the smalltimers around here now use Archicad instead of this.

Anyways, i did do some drafting in Rhino in the past, and many things improved with R8, most notably per object linetype and linetypescle accessible on the properties panel, also cap-style. I couldnt draw code-compliant property lines before R8 at all (which is a showstopper).

There are a few commands missing (wipeout, and no proper overkill command). But what i found most annoying are hatches - in Rhino you have to select the boundary objects, in Autocad you just click and it detects the boundary itself. If you do hatches a lot it gets tedious fast.

The text-editor in Autocad blows Rhino out of the water. In Rhino there isnt even justified text formating.

Dimensioning in the autocad arch vertical is also vastly superior, but i guess thats something Rhino wont get anyways, since McNeel doesnt do any domain-specific features as far as i can tell.

You have auto-boundary option in Rhino. You, probably, never explored the expanded options menu.
In my opinion it is quite the opposite - I find hatching in Rhino easy and robust.

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The hatch command makes me select curves no matter what. How does the auto-boundary option work and where can i find it?


Boundary = Yes
Select curves and pick inner points for auto generated areas. You can choose between individual or combined hatches.

Yes, Boundary mode of the Hatch command is priceless.

Two things, though:

  • Selected hatches should not display 100% opaque yellow. Has been requested many times.
  • Hatches can display their boundary in R8:
    image

Can we please have a boundary color parameter, too?

Section styles - which define a hatch, basically - already have a boundary color. So why don’t actual hatches?
image

Stuff like this fits the topic. Why is Rhino behind Autocad? It’s the seemlingly little things, lots of them.

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Yes i know that, and its not what i am talking about. It works the same in autocad, except in Rhino you have to select the curves first, and autocad you dont, you just click into the region you want to hatch and its done.

Just can’t believe it is significant slowing factor.

I’m able to leverage the advantages of Rhino’s hatch enough to make me faster compared to AutoCAD, which is impressive because I’ve been using AutoCAD for years. If you try to use it EXACTLY the same as in AutoCAD you won’t come out ahead.

AutoCAD hatches are buggy as hell (yet another thing they won’t even bother to fix). I’ve used AutoLISP to solve most the issues.

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I cant use it exactly like in autocad, i have to select the boundary curves. Otherwise it seems pretty much the same to me. I could probably make a macro with _SelCrv + _Hatch then its the same entirely. Might be a bit laggy tho in big files.

How quick is that selection when the drawing is huge? What is happening when you click out of possible selection? I left AutoCAD when hatches were horrible.

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You definitely have to use it a bit differently. I found that after I adjusted my workflow I was (on average) faster in Rhino compared to AutoCAD, which is pretty surprising given that I’ve been using ACAD for so many years (and Rhino for much less time). The big killer in ACAD is the percentage that it fails. And the percentage of times I have to manually draw the boundary in ACAD (let’s say in cases when the geometry is okay) is far higher.
In Rhino you can indiscriminately just select a ton of stuff, then click inside where you want the hatch. This worked really good.
In ACAD I have the advantage of LISP I made that draws hatch one of two ways: It “draws” a rectangle, hatches it, then deletes the rectangle (the hatch remains of course) and then the same with a polyline. It saves time when you don’t care about associative hatches…

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You cannot use Revit as a 2D drawing tool because Revit becomes slow as hell since it cannot handle large 2D data.

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