Daniel Ewald, landscape architect MNLA

AutoCAD – Setting the correct layout scale, once and for all


Cartoon by Roger Penwill

When working with AutoCAD, there are some common issues people run into. One that keeps coming up is how to set the proper layout scale when plotting. Depending on which template was used to create the drawing, the attached scales might look different from file to file.

In AutoCAD, we draw in 1:1 in model space with our (pre)defined units. The paper space where we create layouts is set to millimeters, and the scale used in the paper space is calculated based on a factoring number between the model and paper space. Basically, we don’t need to worry about custom scales, we can just zoom to scale in the drawing.

  • First, make sure which units (UN) are used in the drawing. Take note of how many millimeters there is in one of these units – as in, if we are drawing in meters, we would have 1000. We usually draw in meters over here, so I will continue using it in this example.
  • Then, make sure the paper space plot scale is set to 1:1 (with 1 mm = 1 drawing unit). Set this in the Page Setup Manager (PAGESETUP). This means that our 1 m in the model space is now 1 mm in the paper space.
  • Now make sure the Viewport is active by double-clicking in it.
  • Enter Z for zoom, then our unit in mm (1 m = 1000 mm) divided by the desired scale (for example, 200 for 1:200) XP. The command would look like this: Z 1000/200XP. The factor number between the scaled paper and model space would in this instance be 5. We can also use this number directly by trying Z 5XP, which will yield the same result.

In other words, we need only to divide our units in millimeters by the desired scale in the XP zoom command (either directly by typing for example Z 1000/200XP for 1:200, or by using the factor number of 1000/200 = 5XP). Z 1000/100XP for 1:100, Z 1000/10XP for 1:10 etc. Another way of stating this mathematically is by multiplying the unit in mm by the desired scale – as in, in the example above, the formula would look like this: Z (1000)*(1/200)XP. Same thing, but some like to remember it this way. Also, you can memorize what number you multiply with in order to get 1000 when setting your scale; i.e. for setting 1:200 you would simply multiply 200 with 5, ergo you zoom with 5XP.

In summary, when drawing in meters and the above parameters are set:

Z (1000/scale)XP 

As a final note, make sure to lock your viewport after zooming to scale to keep the scale intact.

Filed under: AutoCAD, Tricks of the trade, ,

39 Responses

  1. karlbarrett says:

    Be sooooo good if you did a you tube video! Im graduating this summer and looking at setting up a co authored landscape tutorial blog if you are interested? Think there is a need for it and it would be well used…

    • Daniel Ewald says:

      Might be able to contribute with a post or two! Haven’t really thought of making tutorial vids, but these things are indeed best explained through demonstrations…Good idea, might give it a spin!

  2. Drew says:

    Hey! Thank you for posting this. Saved my ass.

  3. Hello friend Daniel.

    I want to propose (as some seasoning for your already good point on this) another alternative method, as follows:

    If you do not want to set the scale by command line, you can use instead the “Viewport scale” button located in the Status Bar (bottom-right of workspace) after configuring it.

    Setting this will involve deploying the list of Viewport Scale and clicking “Custom”. There, you can edit the set of scales shown.

    Just look for the scale you want to use (1:100 as ex.) and edit it; while leaving the Paper units set to 1, set the “Drawing Units” to the second number of the scale —divided by 1000—!. This is, for 1:100 scale >>> Papel: 1, Drawing: 0.1. For 1:200 >>> 1-0.2 and so on…

    And voilà!, now you may use your Viewport Scale dropdown list instead of command line.


  4. ssalazar18 says:

    Hi to all,
    I am wendel, and i am on my first project with CAD. please help me, 1:75 MTS scaled layout given for me to do it in CAD. i already made 1:1, do i have to start over again?

    thanks and regards.

  5. chiraagrs says:

    Hi, I’m usually not one to comment on websites but I just wanted to say thanks for taking out the time to demystify this whole paper space scale business. It still doesn’t make much sense to me but I now do know how to get my desired scale.

  6. Festus Omokafe says:

    I Need U To Help Me With Details On How To Link Work Space To Several Layout Within A Work Book In Autocad

    • Daniel Ewald says:

      Festus, I’m not sure if I understood your query, but if you have several layouts in paperspace, the same principle applies as you zoom to desired scale in each of the separate viewports in the layout.

  7. Haja Nasurudeen says:

    In my drawing it will come 11xp for 1:100
    Also in layout I deleted all view port, and I manually entred 10cm dimensions using dli command, when I printed out in the paper and checked with ruler, actually 9 cm came in ruler,
    So am using 11xp
    Please clarify,

    • Daniel Ewald says:

      1:100 should be 10xp (1000/10xp). Do you print directly from AutoCAD or via PDF? When files are sent as PDFs to the printer, the paper size may have margins which in turn can skew the actual size of the drawing.

  8. Rudolph says:

    Hi daniel, Why viewports dont have a feature where you select with a rectangle or circle whatever in the model space and port that zone to the selected viewport.???

  9. lindsay says:

    hi all , I generally draw in metres and print to A3 paper and A4 .
    can someone please tell me how to get my scales true so when I measure from my drawing at 1:50 it will be true to scale.
    I don’t mind going back and start a new drawing to do this , I use Acad 2010.

    • Daniel Ewald says:

      Hi Lindsay
      If you zoom to scale 20xp in the viewport in your paper layout, this is equivalent to 1:50 (z [enter] 1000/20xp [enter]). Remember to lock your viewport to prevent accidental zooming afterwards.
      Good luck!

  10. Tadej Bevk says:

    Hi there! A question about PLOT scale vs LAYOUT scale relationship. What is the benefit of setting the PLOT scale to 1mm = 1 unit (aka 1mm coresponds to 1m, which is realy 1:1000 scale) instead of setting it to an actual 1:1 plot, which would be 1mm = 0.001m?

    I realize it affects how you then set up the layout scale. If you set it as 1mm = 1 unit then you have to adjust each layout scale to this setup, meaining all of the scales have to be tailored to drawing in meters. Now, while I guess it’s common to always draw using the same units, if you would for some reason use different units, say centimeters or millimeters for a drawing you would have to create a new set of custom scales. You mind end up with 1:500 (cm), 1:500 (mm), 1:500 (m) etc.

    On the other hand, if you set PLOT scale to be actual 1:1, which would be 1mm = 1 units when using mm, 1mm= 0.1 unit when using cm etc. you can always use the same LAYOUT scales (eg. 1 paper unit = 500 drawing units) each time. To me this solution seems simpler and quicker. It’s also a lot easier to explain to someone, at least in my experience.

    So are there any special reasons to chose one over the other or is it just how you get used to doing it?

    Thanks for any feedback

    • Daniel Ewald says:

      Hi Tadej,
      Thanks for your comment.
      Regarding the scale of 1mm=1 unit in paper space: In our case our layouts are always set in standard sizes of A4 to A0 paper size for plan production, and for sake of convenience the size of these are measured in millimeters. As for us landscape architects, we usually draw in meters (as opposed to architects, who use millimeters), thus we need to have a convenient way of converting our units to the paper sizes.
      The point about zooming to scale, as this article covers, is precisely to avoid having to create sets of custom scales – it’s a shortcut, per se; it’s a quick command you type in the layout. Granted, the scale zoom has to be done in each layout window on the plot sheet, but you then also have an easier time handling different layout windows showing different scales on the same sheet (i.e. a 1:500 plan drawing with details shown in 1:50), which is a common plan production issue.


  11. Afzal Tanveer says:

    this is very helpful thanks

  12. aman says:

    Hi there, I am working an interior designer and all my work come on online so I draw my drawing cms and I want to set scale 1:50/1:20 my employer print drawing on A3. Can you please tell me how to do it and I send them files in pdf. I watch so many videos on youtube and read so many facts but nothing helps me.

    • Daniel Ewald says:

      Hi Aman,
      I am not familiar with the CMS IntelliCAD software, unfortunately! I don’t know how that software operates with scaling – in other software such as SketchUp Layout or Vectorworks one basically just needs to click on a viewport and select its scale directly, as the program recognises the paper space size automatically. I’m afraid you will have to do some more searches online! Best of luck!

      • Kenny4christ says:

        i am kenny and i am a graduate urban planner..
        i got confused on scaling AutoCAD works drawn in meters just as you Landscape Architect do your works. i want to print a design on A1, A3 & A4, tho i do turn my works to PDF before printing and i use ISO Full A1 paper size, i typed Z enter, S enter, 1000/10000xp because i couldn’t get a desired scale to centralize the design on the paper. therefore specify that the scale of the plan/design is 1:10000. i don’t know if i was wrong to have used 1000/10000 even as the original paper survey was scaled 1:10,000..

      • Daniel Ewald says:

        Hi Kenny
        Sounds like you are on the right track. If you zoom to scale (just Z enter 1000/10000xp, or 0.1xp) in the viewport, you should be fine – as long as your original survey is to scale! Cross check in model space with a known length (road, building or similar) and verify if the drawing units is set to meters. If the file is not to scale, zooming to scale will not work either, naturally.

  13. Iki-Dons Mayor says:

    Very useful information. Thanks.

  14. Chris Turner says:

    So Daniel, What would happen if your plot scale is not 1mm=1unit? I have some drawing templates we use that are not. How would that work in your equation. Thanks.

  15. Abubakar Gee says:

    Thanks for both your questions and responses. I actually wanted to suggest to create a video clip to demostrate the various steps especially when meter is used as a unit of measurement for example. That will surely wipe the confusions off and learning will certainly be easier. Thanks once again!

  16. abedfawzi says:

    hi…whats xp means in zoom scaling….important to have an answer ..thanks.

    • Daniel Ewald says:

      I’m not sure if it is an abbrevation, but it is simply a way of telling the program that you are zooming with a scale factor value. As such, the command will not work without the “XP” in the end.


  17. Diwas says:

    Plz explain about dimensions in inch and feet

  18. William says:

    Just stand in de viewport make sure its active, enter “z” then enter your desired scale example 1/25 ..enter “1/25xp” your done. dont forget to close your viewport, just click oustide your drawing.

  19. Marina says:

    Finally, I have understood. Thank you so much for taking the time to explain it so comprehensively.

  20. Raymond says:

    Great Content! This article literally saved me 🙂

    Here’s what I did after reading

    “In summary, when drawing in meters and the above parameters are set:
    Z (1000/scale)XP “:

    my drawing units are set in METERS

    MVSETUP > n > 1:400 > set paper size in meters

    plotting: change units to mm
    (1000/400) [400 was my scale in mvsetup ] = 2.5

    2.5 meters = 1 unit

    1:400 scale done!
    Thank you! 🙂

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