What I Didn’t Know About Vectorworks 2012

June 28, 2012 | Comments

By Christopher Fugitt

A veteran AutoCAD, Civil 3D user explores Vectorworks – and finds some gems.

Numerous years ago I took my first CAD class outside of college. I learned many CAD tips and tricks in the class, but probably the most beneficial topic was a discussion on “knowing what you don’t know.” You may think a task can’t be done with your CAD program but often it is possible. I took the idea to heart, and set out to learn what I didn’t know about the software. I didn’t necessarily master the feature, or even use it, but if a troublesome task presented itself to me, at least I was equipped to remember the function existed. To gain this knowledge, however, I spent way too much time visiting online discussion groups.

Vectorworks has been designing architecture for 25 years

Like most CAD users, CAD software didn’t choose me; my employer chose it for me. I had heard of many other CAD programs and even used some of them, but I never explored what I didn’t know about products from alternative vendors; I expect this is a common theme in our industry: getting that first job, learning the CAD platform the company utilizes, and then hopefully mastering the feature set in order to create a comfortable existence with the CAD product.

Recently, I was given the opportunity to get outside of my comfort zone by exploring Nemetschek Vectorworks’ Vectorworks 2012 product. I’d heard of Vectorworks, but never went out of my way to try it. After having tried it, I’m disappointed… in myself for never having tried it before! It has some fantastic features that are solutions I’ve been looking for in the CAD program I currently use.

Callout Tools

The first feature to catch my eye was the callout tool. It seems to function perfectly for the intended job. We use callouts to convey information to the readers of our plans; we want a consistent message throughout our sets of plans. We don’t want notes whose wording changes slightly as we make our way through the drawing plans.

The Vectorworks callout tool uses a database to store information from which it pulls callout text. This makes it easy to enforce consistent wording of callouts throughout a set of drawings. Callouts are organized in a manner similar to how drawings are organized: each section of work gets its own collection of callout notes. Notes can then be added, edited, and removed through the dialog box shown in figure 1. Editing a callout is as simple as double clicking on the callout and then making the changes.

Figure 1: The dialog box for setting callouts in Vectorworks

Another feature I found in Vectorworks is Site Tools. As a civil engineer, I’m yearning to use the civil design software tool that I spied amongst all the others. These include ones to create parking lot spaces and areas, landscape walls, guard rails, and even just simply place roadways. While the tools are not fully developed for large roadway projects, I see the value in them for site design, something that is missing from products like AutoCAD Civil 3D.

I found the tools easy to find using tool sets. (See figure 2.) The icons at the bottom are colorful, making them easy to see; descriptive images illustrated what type of work they are for. Workspaces let me narrow down (or expansion) the number of available commands, providing me a user interface more focused to my needs. I welcomed the responsiveness of changing workspaces, compared to the time-killing experience in the product I normally use.

Figure 2: The dialog box for setting callouts in Vectorworks


The next feature I found intriguing was the concept of classes. If you come from an AutoCAD background, then I can liken it to having external references in drawings. With classes, I’m able to break up objects in drawings to both layers and classes. So I can have all my HVAC piping on the usual layer, but then by also placing them in classes I can break up the HVAC piping for different stories of the building. This provides an additional level of control, without shipping the object out of the drawing into an external reference.

A Few More of My Favorite Things

All of the standard CAD editing tools are present in Vectorworks: Move, Rotate, Trim, Erase, and so on. I especially liked the Clip command: after I draw a rectangle on the screen, any clippable linework is then deleted from the drawing. If I don’t remove the entirety of an object, then an extra object will be created from the remains. Not all Vectorworks objects are clippable, however, but I thought it was a fabulous concept.

The polyline editor allows for the use of a Lasso Marque mode. This lets me create temporary polylines around vertices that need modification. The temporary polyline may be moved to a new location to affect a change on the selected grips. Vectorworks appears to have come up with a great way of moving a group of grips without having to select each one that I want to modify.

Attending the Local User Group

With any product being evaluated, it’s always nice to get as much knowledge about the product as possible, especially as a novice to the product. Luckily, my area has an active Vectorworks users’ group which holds monthly meetings. Being the start of summer, the meeting I attended was small, but nevertheless I gained a wealth of information from the hosts, William Hurley and Garret McElveny from Dos Osos Timber Works, a local timber frame builder. They have been using Vectorworks for 6 years and have nothing but great things to say about it. They primarily work on residential buildings, specializing in taking projects through the byzantine permit process found on the central coast of California. They especially enjoy using Vectorworks because “it just works.”

Dos Osos Timber Works uses Vectorworks for its timber frame construction

To facilitate the permit process, Dos Osos Timber Works created a standard work flow in which they model the building and the surrounding site as a 3D model. When I looked at some of the models they’ve created, it was evident to me that Vectorworks does a masterful job of combining buildings, site works, and existing topology.

Cross-sections of project sites are easy to create once the model is complete; these show the buildings, site topography, existing trees, and proposed landscaping. Quite often, the firm is required to show the surrounding area in their drawing for viewshed studies. (Viewshed studies help illustrate how projects will be viewed from surrounding areas.) The program appears capable of modeling quite a large area around the project site; for instance, several years ago they worked on one project that included the surrounding 6 square mile area in the drawing. Dos Osos Timber Works indicated that they don’t experience much slowing down with files that get quite large, up to 300MB.

Mr. Hurley conveyed to me his recent experience in plotting plans to paper. He started up the program, but then received a notice to update the product. Following the download of the update file, he installed it without hesitation; this is a far cry from the refrain I hear from AutoCAD users, where they quite often wait a month or two to make sure no issues arise from installing an update. Once the upgrade was complete, he proceeded to print the drawings. I too upgraded Vectorworks 2012, and found it an easy flow process from start to finish.

From my time with Vectorworks, the product has caught my attention, and so I want to continue to learn more about it. I especially desired its ability to combine the site and building design into one model – especially after some recent projects in which I was unable to create sections from the model; conveying the design intent would have been helpful. When I have time, I plan on exploring the Vectorworks even more. I might even become a regular to the local Vectorworks users’ group.



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