Editor's note: John Helm is an Architect trained in California with more than 30 years of experience. He currently works with his partner, and Italian Architect wife, doing projects in Italy and California. Check out their website here. John has been using Vectorworks for over 15 years and writes a yearly review of each new update.
The views, opinions and positions expressed within guest posts are those of the author alone and do not represent those of Novedge.
Are you ready for 2018? It seems the years go by too fast, maybe it’s just my age and wishing things would slow down a bit. But the people at Vectorworks haven’t slowed down, so here we are with another year a bunch of new improvements and a few great ones. As usual I will stick mostly to architecture. That’s what I do. Also I will stick to the changes and improvements that impressed me most.
What is Vectorworks
Vectorworks is the BIM/ design tool for all designers, architects, landscape architects, stage lighting designers, or anyone who designs almost anything. It is a stand-alone program that supports all of an architect’s needs. It will take the architect from design concept through client presentations to final construction documents without having the need for any other programs. It is unique in that respect. It is designed to be intuitive and follows the concept of what you see is what you get. It is designed to be a program that the architect himself can use without having to go back to school or hire specialized BIM designers and drafters.
How creative do you want to be? As I said above Vectorworks can take you from the concept to completion. There is no need to model using say SketchUp because you can do it right in Vectorworks. This video will give you an idea of the possibilities and also show you how the new multiple drawing views feature works:
It is also a great tool for just doing block layouts that later turn into buildings or creating a simple design for a curved railing, as in the example below. Or for more sophisticated designs you can get into subdivision modeling which will allow you to create shapes without limits.
Design your own railing profile
Multiple Drawing Views
This is the one that many people have been asking about for a long time. You can have almost as many views of your project going on at the same time as your eyes and computer can stand. You just click an icon then split up the screen as you choose. Now you can watch your 3D model change as you modify the floor plan. There is no more need to switch back and forth between saved views while updating and making changes. Is your time worth anything? Really, how much time have you lost just sitting there while your computer loads up the model after you made some changes in window sizes and you want to see how it looks? I’m guessing lots.
Multi view panes
Live Editing of Elevations and Sections
Elevations and sections are fundamental to the work of an architect and now they can be edited live. This is a great new feature. I understand that it required a huge amount of work to implement it, and the time spent has made a great tool much better. It is now possible to edit an elevation while actually looking at the elevation. So if you want to say line up some windows vertically, you can do it live while looking at the elevation, and the floor plan and every other instance of the windows is updated. That is much better than having to go back and forth between the floor plans and the elevation. It is another one of those features that not only save time but makes the work more pleasant. And of course it helps pay for the upgrade in money/time saved. The only downside here is that refreshing the original viewport can take a bit of time depending on the capability of your computer and the size of your project.
This is one of those things that makes Vectorworks shine. Why? Well because when working in the digital environment, it’s the things that are already drawn that makes the workgofaster. The problem in the past has been keeping track of them and finding when you need them. The Resource Manager was here last year, this year it has been improved. What it does is allow easy access to thousands of pre-drawn items. They could be chairs, appliances, wall types or really anything. You can make up your own or import others. But the best part is the search feature. Search for what you need and bam they pop up. Then just click on the one you want, and you are done.
Typical view in the Resource Manager
This year they have improved the title block feature making it more inclusive and automated. But even more important is the concept. What I mean is that going back years as mentioned above, Vectorworks has been the what you see is what you get BIM program. In Vectorworks, you easily set up your sheets the way you want them and that is how they will print out. In the end no matter how much we talk about BIM, virtual models, videos, etc. we still send printed copies of our drawings to the job site. And each one of those drawings typically has a border and a title block that gives dates, names, who is responsible and addresses. So, making that easy to do is to be expected.
Typical Title Block
Renderworks just gets better and faster. Now it is upgraded with natively integrated MAXON CineRender R18. When you need to make a real rendering Renderworks can’t be beat. We do need to remember that it is not just push a button and get a great result. There is a bit of a learning curve and a few settings may need some changing. Which is something I was a bit frustrated with at first, call me lazy if you want. However, the possibilities and the effects of lighting, reflections, day and night scenes, and sky backgrounds are great and really lead to near photo quality renderings. And all of it is built right into Vectorworks. There is no need to export your file to another program.
I have to say I love this thing. Really, it has been around for a long time and I can’t exactly say what they have done to it. But it hauls ass. Working on a project like the one I have shown here, the 3D model is always there, rotate around it, zoom in and out, whatever you want and it is like live action – no waiting around. If you are working in 3D or BIM if you prefer that term, what more do you want? Combine that with multiple drawing views and you can really have some fun. In fact this is the fun factor in architecture and design today, designing in a virtual world. The quality of renderings you get from it is just fine for many presentations, like colored elevations and sections. In fact, today, many print shops will print color for the same price as black and white so why not add some colored elevations to your construction documents. OpenGL makes that easy.
Open GL fly around all you want
Here is a rather one sided feature but still very handy. You could import Revit to some extent in the past, but now you can directly import Revit models and they are converted into native Vectorworks symbols and objects with textures. It is only one sided because you cannot export back to Revit. That I’m told is an issue that is not under the control of the people at Vectorworks. But it is great for importing all sorts of Revit items made by manufacturers and designers for use in your Vectorworks designs. And, you can directly import the work of Revit users that you may be collaborating with.
Last year, I made the comments below on web view, but I also said it was a work in progress. This year it is much improved, the possible size of the model for 3D viewing is much larger, the interface is better and the virtual view works well.
You the designer can take your 3D model, your BIM, of your latest project to the level of detail you want. Then while being online click on the new export feature that sends the model to the Vectorworks cloud. Or you can save it locally. After a bit of a wait your model will pop up in your internet viewer. Now you can explore the model in 3D. You can send the link to a client and by clicking on it, the client can also view the model in 3D. But here comes the fun part. Copy the link and open it on a smart phone then click on the virtual reality icon. Now the image of the model will change to a stereoscopic view. Put the phone in your Google goggles, cardboard or plastic and you are in. That is you are inside the model virtually. You can walk around and look around all you want. You can go up and down stairs. Of course there are a few limitations. It’s not going to be high definition and there are some limits on the size of the model. But really the sense of actually being in the space and being able to walk around in it is amazing.
This is a nice addition to the client presentation possibilities. You can step inside your model no matter how big it is and create a 360-degree interactive view. It is like those 360-degree photos we get sometimes but it is your new design. It’s easy to use and easy for the client to view.
Although I do not use this feature a lot, worksheets is one feature that has tremendous potential. An organized professional can use it to automate the creation of reports, schedules, cost estimates, and various other worksheets. For example if you organize the door symbols with detailed information, like hardware, style, materials, etc. You can practically just push a button and get a very detailed door schedule.
Site Model Contour Editing
What is a 3D model of your project without a model of the site? OK, your site is flat so no big deal. But in reality, every site has its curves, dips, and drainage channels, not to mention are bit of sloping terrain or hillside lots. So once using the regular site modeling tools, you have created a model of the site, and it is now easy to modify an existing or new contour line and immediately change the model by editing its polyline. I used this a bunch on a current project and found it easy to use.
Trees and People
Props are a feature of Vectorworks that has been around for a long time, but still a great tool for rendering without increasing file size. Props are symbols made in such a way that in 3D views they can always face the viewer, similar to props in a stage setting.. This is useful for making and placing objects in rendered views. Since, they are 2D they add very little to the file size. There are many landscape props, and I have made several using pictures of real people. They are for sale here.
Props of people add scale and realism to a rendering at little cost in file size
That is always a question which current users need to answer when a new version comes out. Fortunately, Vectorworks is still a program which you can buy and then keep on using as long as you like. So, spending the money to upgrade is always a question to be asked by those who are not already on the Vectorworks Service Select and maintenance program. Is it worth the expense of upgrading?
There are many improvements this year and two major reasons for upgrading are multi views and direct section and elevation editing. But there is one other big reason. No one likes to talk about bugs in software, after all if you buy a shirt, you don’t expect to have to accept it with some flaw in the material. But software, especially something as complex as a BIM program always comes with a few, sometimes more than a few and we just have to live with them. Vectorworks has a great group of beta testers and they spend every year going after bugs in the program. I have seen some of the lists of things that have been fixed some were old and some resulted from changes in the program. Lots of things that may have bugged you in the past are gone. The news here is that Vectorworks 2018 runs smoothly, it hums along like a supercharged diesel engine with plenty of power to haul a heavy load up a steep hill without a single misfire. In other words sometimes a new release of an existing program is just better because it’s better.
If you want to see how beautiful Vectorworks can be and get a glimpse of what it can do have a look at this video:
Perhaps the best thing that can be said about Vectorworks software is that once designers and architects get familiar with it and use it in their work they rarely switch to another program. They stick with it even though some other programs may have more users. It is a design program that knows no limits; from chairs to sky scrapers, it makes designing fun.
There are many features – some new some old – that I have not touched on. The best way to find out more about them is to visit the Vectorworks website. And read my past reviews here.
It is intuitive, and works like an architect works.
Final plans are generally all in one file composed of sheets to be plotted looking much like they would look if hand drawn only better.
The thinking one needs to do is much like in many other programs, like copy and paste, plus many of the keyboard entries are the same as found in other programs such as Microsoft Office.
It can be self-taught, of course you can take classes or just get a good book by someone like Jonathan Pickup and in a week or less you are in business.
3D design comes along without any real effort. Draw a wall and it already has a height. Draw a floor plan with wall heights and it is already a 3D model.
Open GL makes it easy to see the design in 3D
Renderworks gives you all the tools you need to make beautiful renderings, videos, etc.
Multi view screens and live editing of elevations and sections make the work flow easy.
Web view brings the virtual world to your designs and can be viewed by clients anywhere.
File sharing among teams is easy.
The price is reasonable.
It allows cross-over work from architecture to design, lighting, stage design, site design and landscape design.
BIM is built in and easy to use.
Window and door schedules, quantity takeoffs, etc. can be automatic.
Numerous presentation possibilities – renderings, animations, videos, walk throughs, and panoramas.
A capable computer and graphic card is needed to avoid slow refreshing of viewports and renderings.
No direct export to Revit, import only.
Cannot copy viewports between drawing files.
Direct editing of elevations and sections works well, but refreshing is slow on less capable computers.
I like and have used Vectorworks for years in my architectural practice.