Blockpad for beginners
Blockpad makes engineering calculations easier than ever, but it can be daunting to learn a new software, especially when you get blasted with a crazy list of features and options.
Fortunately, Blockpad has some easy first steps to get you from zero to working on practical problems.
Accessing the software
Blockpad is available online and on the desktop. Each has different benefits, but the files you create in one can be opened in the other, so you don't need to worry too much about which one to start on.
Go to the app workspace and select New Document from the center icons. (You can do this without ever signing up.)
While online is convenient, the desktop is best for features and speed, so we suggest to use that if you can.
Start on the desktop
Go to the download page and click the Download button. From there, you will have to sign up and start a free trial if you haven't already. After downloading the software, follow instructions for installation.
Once the program is installed, open Blockpad from the start menu. The program will open to a blank tab. From there, select New Document from the center icons.
In a lot of ways, Blockpad is a word processor that can do equations (and other stuff like spreadsheets and drawings, but we'll cover that another time).
Being a word processor, the interface is probably already familiar to you. You can type in text and edit that text using the toolbar, just like in other programs.
Your first equation
In Blockpad, you can run formulas anywhere in the document.
To open one, simply press the equals sign. When you press the equals sign, a formula box pops up, ready to have an equation typed in.
Try it yourself: press the equals sign, type in 2 + 3/Sqrt(4), and press enter.
On the simplest level, this formula box works like a spreadsheet cell with the equals sign. So, when you type in something like 2 + 3/sqrt(4), Blockpad will calculate the result.
But unlike a spreadsheet formula, Blockpad shows the equation in readable math notation after it's entered, instead of hiding it behind a cell (you can hide the equation if you choose to, but you have the control). For probably obvious reasons, this makes your calculations much more readable and checkable.
To edit an equation that you've already created, just go back and double click on it.
Also unlike a spreadsheet, you can name the result of an equation inside of the formula box. To do so, open a formula by pressing the equals sign, then type in the name and another equals sign before the rest of the formula.
For example, type in Length = 5 in a new equation.
Now you can use that name in other equations. To use it, open an equation by pressing the equals sign and then click on the named value like clicking on a spreadsheet cell (you can also just type the name in if you find that easier).
For example, open a new equation and type in Width = 2*Length/3.
You can edit existing formulas to give a new name or change an existing name, so you can go back to the first equation and type in Number_1 = at the beginning and that formula will be named Number_1.
Blockpad supports units intelligence. This takes a lot of mental burden off of you, because you no longer have to painstakingly check every conversion. Plus, the computer can help you catch mistakes as you work.
To give a number a unit, type in the unit abbreviation behind the number. The dropdown list will help you out.
For example, double click Length from earlier, and type in the abbreviation for feet, ft after the number 5. Now length is in feet, and this will affect how future calculations using feet are done. Notice that now Width is also in feet, because it uses Length.
As numbers with units are used in calculations, Blockpad will convert, multiply, and cancel out units as appropriate.
For example, open a new formula and type in Area = Length*Width. You will see that the result is in square feet.
Also, if you add 1 meter to Width, Blockpad will convert the values so you get the correct answer in feet.
As a third example, when dividing Area by 30 cm Blockpad will automatically convert centimeters to feet and then cancel units so that the result is in feet.
To convert a number to different units, use the to keyword after the number, followed by the units you want to convert to.
For example, go back and edit the Width equation and type to yd after the end of the equation. Now Width is converted to yards.
For a full list of supported units and some more information on how to use them, see our units page.
Functions in Blockpad work the same as functions in conventional spreadsheets. To use them, type the name of the function and then parentheses that enclose the inputs.
It’s important to observe that functions take units into account.
Most functions found in conventional spreadsheets can be found in Blockpad, including functions like Vlookup() (although a lot of these mostly make sense with Blockpad's table and spreadsheet features).
This includes the If() function, which works the same as a conventional spreadsheet If() function, but is displayed as a more readable logic table.
Blockpad also makes it easy to define your own functions, which you can learn about in the quick start guide.
That's enough to get started
Just with the topics covered above, you can get started on a lot of great calculations that are clear and readable.
To be clear, there is a lot more that Blockpad can do – spreadsheets, drawings, solvers, matrix math, to list a few. But a great thing about about Blockpad is that you don't need to know all of that to get started. You can learn as you go.
A note on navigating the program
Blockpad files can have multiple "sheets", just like a spreadsheet can have multiple sheets. In Blockpad we call them top-level frames.
These "sheets" are located in the column to the left of the window. They can be reports (the word processor like document), spreadsheets, or drawings. To add another top-level frame to the file, hover over any listed frames (e.g. Report 1) and press the plus sign that appears.
Viewing files as tabs in the desktop app
Multiple files can be open in one Blockpad window. These files appear as tabs at the top of the window, a lot like tabs in a web browser.
For example, you can create a new Blockpad file by clicking File>New in the toolbar and selecting Blank Document. When you do this, a new file opens in a new tab. You can go back and forth between files by clicking on their tabs.
Since there's a lot you can do with that we've already covered, the best thing to do next is to get into the software and play around.
If you've done that and you're looking for more content, you've got a few options:
- Blockpad walkthrough video if you're still getting a feel for things.
- Quick start guide starting with spreadsheets for a quick intro to other parts of the program.
- Deep dive guide starting with tables for a more detailed look.
- Example files on the web app for some examples of simple calculations in Blockpad.
- The Blockpad LinkedIn page for short videos of tips and tricks.
And if you have any questions, we’re happy to help! Drop your question in the contact us page, and we'll get back to you quickly.