Monday, June 23, 2014

How to make people props in Vectorworks

Here is a short video on how to make people props in Vectorworks and information on how and why to buy my collection of readymade people props as symbols.

You can also view this video on the Vectorworks Youtube channel:

Thursday, December 12, 2013


Here's a project we are working on, it's an interactive children's museum for the city we are in Belluno Italy.  Have a look on Facebook.  We will welcome ideas from architects.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Review of Vectorworks 2014
By John Helm, architect

130 new functions and improvements

That’s what they are telling us; there are 130 changes, improvements and new functions in total in this year’s release.  And a quick look at their web site will let you see that there is a lot to review.  The gang at Nemetschek has provided several videos to make it easy to get a good feel for all that’s new.  As usual my review will focus mainly on areas most used by architects, and I can’t really address them all.  So I will look at some that seem most useful. 
Here is the VW PDF file that pretty much describes all the new features:
I have been using the program since the Minicad days.  The reasons for using it then are pretty much the same now.  It is an intuitive program, Most of an architect’s projects can be accomplished in one file that ends up looking like a complete set of drawing sheets.  Select the sheets to be printed and send them to your plotter or your printing service and the job is done.  I’m working in Italy most of the time and when I have work back in California I just create a pdf set and send it to the local printer who prints and delivers it in just a matter of a few hours.  But now I’m getting too personal.  The point is that VW has grown but continues to be easy to learn, functional and extremely flexible.  As I have preached in the past an architect, interior designer, landscape architect or anyone else who needs to use a design and drafting tool shouldn’t have to go back to school to learn to use the tool or as with some programs really become more of a CAD drafter than an architect.  This is what has always attracted me by VW; it’s a tool that is relatively easy to pick up and use and doesn’t require one to change the focus of one’s profession.
I have to say that my first impression of the latest installment was amazement.  So I’m going to have to be careful.  It can’t be all flowers, there must be a few thorns here and there.  I will try to point them out as we go.

Still simple to use for basic drafting

VW has become a program which has a great depth of possible uses, has a wide range of tools and fits into many design professions.  In fact if you really look into everything the developers have done with the program lately you might decide that it is one of the most technically advanced programs around.  But it still retains the possibility of being used for simple drafting projects.  With a bit of study one can open up the program and just start drawing.  Pick an icon from the menu and draw lines, rectangles, circles, walls etc. then hit the print button and print what one sees on the screen - WYSIWYG.  It does not require one to spend a lot of time setting up a project just to start.  Copy and paste, cut and paste, back up using control Z and other commands are familiar to anyone familiar with typical windows commands and though I’m not a mac user I believe it’s pretty much the same there.   The advantage here is that if you are like me a person who wants to be able to start using a program without taking a bunch of classes you can do it.   You can then progress to more complex features one step at a time.  At that point you may benefit for online classes, books, etc.

The Help Files

Regarding progressing to more complex features, the help feature works well, and is very easy to use.  Just open it up and search for what you want to do.  It’s very inclusive so you can pretty much use it to learn as you go, but there does seem to be a few things missing.  For example I searched for Model to Floorplan and it didn’t show up.  It would also be good to have a printed manual to study and brose but it doesn’t seem to be the industry standard to include them these days and there are various guides that can be purchased separately. Such as those from Jonathan Pickup
And here is an idea, someone needs to create a list of all the things that can be done with the program.  It seems a basic request, but I don’t think it exists.  Anyway even experienced users can go on doing things in the same old way they always have not knowing there is an easier way or a new tool.  It would just be a list without explanation letting us know what it can do.

The main new features

  • A new visualization engine which allows designers to work in a rendered mode.
  • Open GL now allows a consistent 3D view with no switching back to wire frame with large models. 
  • Revised walk through tool works with new visualization engine to provide clean and consistent walk through viewing.
  • A new 3D X-ray Select tool that allows users to see a wire frame view while still in a rendered mode, just press the B key.
  • A new twist and taper tool that allows for twisting solids and tapering faces of solids.
  • The ability to directly reference DWG/DXF or DWF files in Vectorworks projects without importing the file.
  • Increased compatibility with DWG/DXG or DWF files.
  • Support for Python scripting language.
  • The ability to create sections from a clip cube’s section that update when changes are made to the drawings.
  • Self-healing wall joints, walls stay connected when moved.
  • The ability to import images and crop them within the program.
  • Mirror tool preview feature, allows a preview of the mirror before accepting it.
  • The ability to directly measure objects on sheet layer viewports (paper space) without entering annotations.
  • Added texture tools for more photo realistic representations of textured surfaces.
My favorite new features

Open GL
Wow, this is a big change.  I’m kind of a bottom line guy, in that all the technical stuff is great to read about but I just want to know if it’s going to help me get my work done faster and better.  Well yeah this one does that.  At least it does for those of us who love working and designing in 3D.  Your 3D/BIM model will now stay rendered as you move around it no matter how complicated the model.  Press the B key and a round window pops up that shows whatever you put the cursor over in wire frame view; where you can also select what you see, move it or change it.



Press the B key in open GL and get a wireframe view
Along with this the walk through feature has gotten much more fluid and easy to use.   I almost can’t say enough about this.  It’s just too much fun to use and your clients will love it too.
Lately we are all thinking green, check out the solar modeling feature, open GL makes it easy to do a real time exam of how the sun will affect your building at various times of the year and hour.  You can spend a couple of days scrolling around the model while sliding back and forth on the time of day and month watching those cute little shadows move around.  Someone needs to write an app that gives you the best orientation considering solar heat gain, lighting etc. automatically.  I almost went insane doing it manually on a small project with three identical homes attached only at the navel, I mean garage.
Read a good article about the new Vectorworks graphic module here:

Fast Interactive Display

This is cool.  Make changes to your model and see the appear almost instantly.  It’s a great way to try out various textures, colors, or even move walls, etc.

What about Increased Compatibility

One of my biggest hangups has been the ongoing issue of working with other professionals that use programs with the dwg format (like AutoCAD).  So this year VW promises increased compatibility.  What I really like here is the ability to bring in referenced dwg and dwf files without having to actually convert the original file. This can be huge for several reasons.  But the main one is that the original file can be modified by the outside professional and the changes he or she makes are then easily updated in the referenced file.  Another thing is that when importing a dwg file the VW file can get cluttered up with a bunch of new classes which have little use in the VW way of doing things.  That’s because Autocad uses layers for everything and they usually get converted to classes in VW.  I would normally import a dwg into a blank VW file then consolidate the classes into just a few, before importing that file into my working file.  The problem here is that one can’t really export the revised original file back to whomever created it, without their file system being messed up.  As one user told me DWG import export is pretty good but it will never be good enough, probably because as fast as other programs update their compatibility those AutoCAD people change their program.

Section Viewports and Clipcube  

You’ve been wining about the lack of good sections that can be created and change when changes are made to the design.  Now you have them, they can also be flattened placed on a drawing sheet annotated and then they automatically change when changes are made.  This seems a very powerful tool and will take some getting used to.  The sections can be made on sheet or design layers.  Section lines are added automatically and can be moved around in 2D or 3D views automatically changing the section.  If you click on the section line and look at the object info another click can take you to the section viewport.
Study model of three units, note the shadows that are accurate using the Heliodon tool
Clip Cube cut through the model
Section from the Clip Cube

Shaped Windows

Several new shapes appear in the window selections and 3D tags remain on the outside of the wall.  Doors can have several glass panels inserted wherever one wants them.

Wall Tool Improvements

The big thing here is that when moving a wall it remains joined to other walls, it’s a small change but a time saver.  Now you don’t have to go back and reconnect walls that get moved.

Roof Tool Improvements

Several changes here, but the one most interesting is the ability to use the clip tool to cut holes in the roof for placement of skylights, etc.

Eye Dropper Tool

In the past this seemed somewhat hit and miss, maybe I never really understood it, but now I find it very easy to use and I like how one can select from the tool bar to be in drop mode without holding down a key.  Just select it and go around dropping in the features in the eyedropper.  It is very handy for a lot of things, especially applying things like textures to walls.

Taper Face and Twist

These two seem like small changes, but they speak to something much more interesting. VW has become a real 3D design tool.   One can really design using three dimensional shapes, build them, stretch, combine, subtract, twist, cut, and slope. 
The Twist tool
There doesn’t seem to be a limit to what one can do in design, other than ones design talent and ability to understand how best to use the features available in 3D Modeling.  According to some experienced users free form NURBS shaping is not up to speed but better than ArchiCAD or Revit. I finally learned how to use the model to floor plan tool.  It’s hidden in the space planning tools.  It will convert most basic 3D objects to walls, so one can model with shapes only and then convert the shapes to a floor plan.  If you have complicated twisted shapes for example you need to convert them to NURBS surfaces in pieces in order to create a form somewhat like a wall.
The taper tool allows one to taper most any selected surface.
Select a surface and drag it out to create a tapered wall
Create a model using 3D blocks, convert model to walls, set wall heights, add texture, create polygons from walls, create objects from polygons (slabs, spaces, etc,)
Here we might talk a bit about what is VW really.  Part of its problem and at the same time its advantage is that it’s not just dedicated to one design profession.  It’s not just a program for architects.  It’s kind of a universal design and rendering program.  I like that because I don’t want to have to use 3 or 4 different programs to accomplish my work.  It can be used for most any design project from a paste up poster for your kids school play to that high rise building project you’ve always dreamed of.   But in being the one program for all it may lack some features that would make say the architects work more automated. 

Crop Imports

In the past if you imported a graphic, picture, etc. you had to crop it before the import or create a viewport and crop the viewport.  Now you can simply crop the imported image in VW and just keep the part you want.  That’s a nice change.

Publish Command

Well now you can select all the types of publishing you want to do all at once with one command.  That is publish to the printer, pdf, dwg all at the same time.  It’s an interesting idea, I wonder how much use it will get.  I think most people tend to do one or the other and not all at the same time.

But what is still missing or on the wish lists

The stair tool seems to still be getting lots of complaints.  DWG import export is much improved but since it doesn’t produce native drawings in that format there will always be issues.  Referencing them eliminates a lot of the issues there.  Free form NURBS shaping is very useful and probably more than enough for architectural use, but for designers working mostly with NURBS there are better programs. 
I did also have a couple of problems during this test.  One is hung over from last year.  Whenever I try to print to my 10 year old HP 1050c plotter directly from VW my computer using windows 8.1 crashes completely.  I have been working with tech support to try and solve this, but no luck so far.  The other is that importing a file that originally came from version 2010 had a couple of problems.  As you see in the pictures below the model looks pretty good and the clip cube worked fine cutting through the model, but when I tried several times to make a section I got nothing.  Also exporting an image to jpeg got me just a kind of greyed out version of the image.  I did try everything several times and then went to the other model shown earlier and got a good result so it wasn’t that I was doing something wrong.

Model and Clip Cube imported from a much earlier version would not produce a section


All in all it’s quite a nice group of improvements.  For anyone working in 3D and BIM the new open GL engine alone is probably worth the upgrade.   Is VW the CAD program for you?  That depends.  It is probably the most CAD for the money on the market today.   Some designers might prefer a more specialized and or simpler program.  And some may just have to use a program like Revit that is more integrated with AutoCAD which is still the industry leader in number of users.  The debate goes on, especially between Revit and Vectorworks.  I don’t know enough about Revit to really make a comparison and searching the internet for opinions only leads to more confusion as everyone has his favorite.  There are even people who will argue that AutoCAD is the best, of course they are kidding themselves.  The final choice might not depend so much on which is the best program.  If you are a sole proprietor or someone in charge of making a decision for a one program office VW is a good choice.  If you are wanting to maximize your chances of finding a job I’m sorry to say you may have to spend your time learning to use an inferior program that is more commonly used. 
One should also keep in mind that VW is highly customizable.  So while out of the box it may not seem perfect spend some time setting up office standards, work sheets, or even writing custom tools using the Python scripting language, and it will probably become perfect for your needs.
Also have a look at my last year’s review of VW 2013.  The site is listed below.  You will find more useful insights into VW.

 Links: The VW main site The Service Select website  Our office website Our blog about design and architecture Jonathan Pickup’s site for manuals and videos
Compatible with Windows and Mac, including Windows 8.1 and Maverick.  One of the best Open GL renderers on the market.  Fast and stable walkthroughs.  Flexible scripting using Python. Can reference dwg without importing.  Excellent  BIM capabilities. Ability to export to many other programs, including IFC and gbXML for energy calculations. Great rendering capabilities. Simple file structure.  Works the way architects think.  Many new features.  Useable by several of the design professions.
Still no major improvements in the workgroup or team capabilities, no SE, MEP or energy modules. No window-tiling options. NURBS surface capabilities somewhat weak.  
The latest update includes the completely revised Open GL rendering engine which is worth the cost of the update alone.  Add to that the dwg reference feature, the revised section viewports and the rest of the 130 improvements and it becomes even sweeter.  For the small office the ability to just buy and use one program for all the design, production, rendering and presentation needs makes VW a powerful choice.  For the larger office VW is somewhat weak in workgroup or team capabilities, however there are many large firms, some very famous, using it and it doesn’t seem to hold them back. 
Cost: Vectorworks 2014 comes in many versions. In this review we focused on Architect and discussed Renderworks . We did not fully review Renderworks 2014 or the other features in the Designer package.
Prices: (from the VW online shopping site, note upgrades can only be done from version 2013)
Architect alone                             $2,595             Upgrade       $  908
Architect w/ Renderworks           $3,145                                    $1,101
Designer w/ Renderworks            $3,945                                    $1,381
Designer alone                              $3,395                                   $1,069

Monday, April 29, 2013

Real People Props for Vectorworks

A collection of props for Vectorworks using pictures of real people.  To use them just load the file and select the symbol to place it in your drawing.  Props take up very little file space and they always face the rendered view.  To purchase them click on the link at the right; the cost is $49.95 for 35 props.  Use just a few of them once and the savings in time over making your own pays for them and you can use them as many times as you like.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Review of Vectorworks Cloud Service
With some notes about Hyperlinks
By John Helm Architect

It seems the whole computer world has become somewhat cloudy these days.  There is a move by most of the giants in the software business to put their programs in the cloud, in other words on some big server or servers in some unknown place.   I say it’s cloudy because it’s all in a transition phase and I think there will be some resistance on the part of users to commit themselves to having to continually pay an ongoing fee in order to use particular software.  Vectorworks (VW) hasn’t gone to the cloud with their CAD program yet but they have introduced a yearly subscription which entitles users to yearly updates and some special programs such as their online cloud service.
I will join the complainers and say right off that I think it’s too bad that a handy program such as this Cloud Service can only be used by subscribers to their “Select Service”, which is their yearly subscription service to the VW programs and not cheap. 

So what is their cloud service.  In a few words it is a service whereby a VW user can upload drawing files and then have them available anytime, anywhere on any computer or even on smart phones and tablets.  It’s a great idea, one that really changes the way architects and designers can work with clients, and contractors while on the go.  Assuming you are a subscriber you download a little program and install it on your office computer.  Then you open up the program log in with your user name and password then upload any files you like.  The service then converts the files to PDF and will also render your 3D work online.  Pretty cool right.  The rendering service comes with a price.  It’s based on a point system.  Each user of Select Service starts out with a yearly 100 points and more can be purchased.  You can avoid the charge if 3D views are rendered and saved before uploading.  And there are no points lost for and 2D work uploaded.  At this time I don’t know how points are charged or how much additional points cost.
The whole program even though it works on both Mac and PC seems to have been first designed for the MAC, which is kind of a reversal, and then made to work on the PC.  That should make the MAC users proud.  So what can we do with this?  Once you upload a file you can go to the special Cloud web site, log in and have access to your files remotely.  You can view them, download them, print them and share them.  You cannot revise them online.  You can however download or share both the PDF and the actual Vectorworks VWX files.  But only the Select Service subscriber has the ability to upload revised files.  Which brings up an interesting point, it’s very easy to create a PDF file while in VW and there are a number of other Cloud servers out there many of which are free to use.  So you might ask yourself why do I need this.  Good point and a reason why I think it should be free for all users of VW. 
There is a nifty little addition to the system which they call Nomad.  This is the app, originally made for the Ipad and Iphone, see what I mean about MACs coming first, but now available also as an Android app.   With the app after logging in, you can also make notes, measure distance, and angles and upload the notes, etc. to the cloud for later use back in the office.  That’s a handy tool, too bad it doesn’t also work on the website version.  Hopefully that will be added later as it’s much easier to use on a laptop vs a smartphone.  It’s also only available to the Select Service subscriber so you couldn’t give it to the contractor for example to use for asking questions or highlighting problem areas online.

Here’s a quick look at how to use the Cloud service once uploaded

Now I wanted to talk a bit about Hyperlinks.  I wrote about them in my review of VW 2013; in fact I wrote that they could revolutionize the way architects work.   I am sticking with that but with some new reservations.  At the writing I had not used the hyperlink tool.  I imagined that making them would be similar to the way they are made in other programs, such as Microsoft Word, that is you just for example select a bit of text then select hyperlink.  A dialogue pops up where you write in where you want to go with the hyperlink.  Instead VW has a much more awkward way of making them.  You have to open up the tool then select create a new symbol then select an icon to represent it and enter the destination of the link then save it and then you can paste it onto the drawing.  I suppose there is some advantage in that you can use the symbol once created as often as you like.  However even that seems to require a bit of a learning curve to effectively use it.  Hopefully future versions will make this tool more intuitive as I think it can be very useful.

Using hyperlinks in a file put up on a cloud presents some different issues.  For example if you access the PDF file in the cloud from the web browser you can click on a hyperlink and it takes you were it’s supposed to go.  But if you use the app to access the file nothing happens.  That’s too bad since it’s out in the field where those links on a tablet might be most useful.

In conclusion, the cloud service is a great addition to the VW program.  It will make the architect and designer’s life easier. In fact this addition along with the Hyperlinks tool (assuming they make it easier to use) are the type of features which have the potential to really change the way we work in the office and in the field.  We might imagine a day when a digital file becomes more important than the paper prints which today are the general end product of our work.  A building construction document might mainly consist of a BIM with links to floor plans, details, installation videos and manufacturer’s specifications that can be used in the field on laptops and tablets even carried in the tool belts of the onsite workers.  With today’s ease of setting up a jobsite wireless LAN with internet access every person on the job might have access to every bit of project detail whenever needed without having to sort through plans often only avail after stopping work, walking back to the construction office and waiting for a chance to look at the plans.  Think of it, architects, no more excuses for not following that important detail you spent hours studying.
This addition of VW Cloud service has a way to go before offering all of the above but it is a worthy start.

Files can be loaded onto the cloud server and are available anywhere for viewing and printing.

Files are easily synchronized from computer to cloud server.

Using Nomad on a tablet or smartphone one can view files anywhere and can make markups and notes that are automatically saved onto the cloud server and downloaded to the office computer.

Using the app dimensions and angles can be checked in the field.

Hyperlinks offer a chance to streamline access to sheets, details, websites and more.

Potentially, using a jobsite wireless LAN anyone with a tablet, smartphone or laptop could instant access to referenced plans, details, internet links and even how to videos.  This isn’t so much a feature of the Could service now but a feature of having a PDF file available.  


In order to use the service one has to subscribe to the yearly update service, Select Service, which is not cheap.

Some of the potential is lost in the present state where access is limited to the Select Service subscriber.

Much of the same things can be done using a free cloud service.

Downloading files to a smartphone or tablet can consume a lot of time and file space.

The program is not very intuitive.

Hyperlinks are time consuming and confusing to set up.

Tools available on smartphones and tablets are not available using a laptop.

Links: The VW main site The Service Select website  Our office website Our blog about design and architecture


Tuesday, November 27, 2012

What Architects do in their spare time

Besides going to museums, trade shows, seeking out wonderful buildings to study and appreciate, architects tend to like to cook.  Having spent most of the last 7 years living and cooking in Italy I decided to write a couple of cookbooks.  Check them out here:

You might also like my book on how to use PowerPoint to produce your own book. 

VW 2013 review comments

Give me your comments about the review, is it too one sided, did I leave out your favorite new feature, are you having problems with the program, etc. 

Monday, November 26, 2012


By John Helm, Architect
Vectorworks (VW) is a wonderful program and every year it gets even better.  What makes it great is its ease of learning, its flexibility and its wide range of dedicated fields.   It is truly a designers program that can be used to design just about anything, from stage sets, to buildings, furniture, landscapes, theatre lighting, and even industrial products.  A preliminary design can be taken without using any other programs all way to construction drawings, and a detailed BIM model that can be exported to most other programs using IFC (Industry Foundation Classes) and several other export options. 
The first thing I want to mention is an area that does not depend so much on the program itself. 
Customer Service
Let’s talk about customer service.  CAD programs are complicated and no matter how much time we have used a program or how much study we do questions and issues still come up.  VW has made it easy to resolve issues, with a good amount of phone up customer service.  But what I am most impressed with is their continuing support of the online user technical forums and the one that I have used for many years now the Vectorworks User Discussion List.  I subscribe to the digest which arrives in my email nearly every day and includes questions asked by users and user responses.  What is so impressive is that these lists and forums are actually read by the technical staff and managers of the company.  Sometimes when they see a need they reply. For example I recently posted a message about importing dwg files and got a response from the person directly responsible for that part of the programing.
80 New Features
There are 80 new features or improvements this year.  That’s what they say, I haven’t actually counted them. The best way to find out about them is to visit the VW website.  There you will find videos and lists pointing them all out.  I will just write about a few that impressed me the most.  And towards the end of this review I will mention a few of the things they didn’t fix or do yet.
Just Call me Frank
Gehry that is, here is my favorite new feature.  You know all those nice buildings he does with the warped surfaces requiring the use of a super high end computer and CAD program.  Well now you can come pretty close to doing the same thing or even do the same thing, with little ol VW.  Yes really, the new surface array feature lets one put windows, structural elements, surface treatments or even pictures of your kids on just about any surface shape you can come up with.  Create a surface using, an arc, circle, oval, polygon, polyline, rectangle, rounded rectangle or nurbs surface, then create a second object to be placed across the surface make a few decisions and clicks of the mouse and instantly the design is distributed across the surface.  One can then still make various changes and the array changes accordingly.  Once done the original surface can be left in place or turned off to create a transparent affect.   This really opens up some possibilities not just in creating exciting new designs for buildings, but in many other areas like furniture design, interior design and product design.
Surface array, one with the surface on and the other off
Auto Hybrid
This a great tool for anyone doing complex objects, walls, etc. and drawing them in 3D. The normal plan view would cover up too much of the ground plane.  The Auto Hybrid tool lets you cut the object at any level you chose and only show what is below the cut line.  And if you make the hybrid view into a symbol only the hybrid view shows up in plan view, but the whole object shows up in 3D.  I wish one could take an existing symbol and turn it into a hybrid symbol.  I tried it and it seems it can’t be done, but one can always edit the 2D component of a normal symbol.  It just takes longer.
Two plan views of the surface array objects show above.  The one on the left is how it would show up normally and on the right the Hybrid view with a cut line at 2’ above the ground line.
Non-blocking RenderingThis is a feature that lets you keep on working while your view ports are rendering.  It has potential, but you can imagine that with a weak computer everything is going to slow down.  Anyway it’s high on the list of time savers given the proper computer. 
If you use the internet, who doesn’t, you are familiar with hyperlinks.  This feature has the potential for really changing the way we produce drawings.  Of course they don’t work on paper prints.  I don’t really need to point that out except that it is the reason we would have to use an electronic means of distributing plans.  In the hands of the construction supervisor, for example , one can imagine the usefulness.  Click on a detail call out and you are taken directly to the detail, or click on a plumbing fixture and you are taken by the web (if connected) to the manufacturers site for installation instructions, or even a Youtube video.  Only the links calling out web pages or sheet layers can be exported in PDF files.  So there are some limits, but I suppose anyone with the VW viewer would have full use of them.  Next step -  those augmented reality glasses.  The carpenter wears them and the plans just pop up in front of him.  The architect doesn’t even need to include details for say a window installation, just refer to a detail on the manufactures web site.  A bit of dreaming, but I think this might be the most revolutionary and important thing they have going.  It seems one of those why didn’t we think of this sooner ideas.
The Clip Cube
Here is a tool that is truly amazing for any designer who regularly makes 3D models of his or her project.   For the designer it allows one to zoom in on an area and get rid of all the other parts of a building outside the boundaries of the cube.  This lets us work on an isolated area without the confusion of the rest of the building being in the way or a distraction.  For client presentations it can really be cool.  You can put the cube around the whole building for example and then move the boundaries in real time to expose various parts of the building – clip off the front to see inside, or the roof to look down to the upper floor and then clip more to see the lower floor in 3D.  Your clients will love this and you will be thrilled to do all the extra work it takes to make the inside of your model look as good as the outside – right?
Here are a couple clipped views of the house shown below.  Note that once you make the clip you can also move around the model to change the view. 
Create Detail Viewport
This is a nifty little time saver.  Zoom into an area of your drawing, the kitchen for example then create a viewport that is automatically referenced to the viewports drawing and sheet numbers.  Now you can annotate the viewport with callouts for the appliances, finish materials and even hyperlinks to manufacturers of the appliances, tile, etc.
 Architectural Elevations and Sections
This feature kind of snuck up on me.  I don’t see it in my version of VW 2012 and I don’t see it on the list of important new features. Turns out it was hidden away in the mechanical section and now they just added it to the View menu.  Anyway, it is the create multiple viewports command.  Quoting from the help menu, 
The Create Multiple Viewports command generates 2D drawings from a 3D model and creates up to seven viewports configured with several orthographic views and one isometric view of the model.If the command is run while on a sheet layer, the viewports are added to that sheet layer. If the command is run while on a design layer, the viewports are added to an automatically created sheet layer.
So with all the possibilities of turning on and off layers and classes and various rendering modes this makes the creation of elevations very quick. 
3D of a simple house, made in an older version of VW
Front hidden line elevation captured with the create multiple viewports command.  It is workable and with some adjustments in how I set it up it would probably be better.
If I don’t mention this I suppose the reader will wonder why.  I won’t get into it too much because there is a lot to read on the VW website.  I have been doing most of my design in 3D for some years now.  And I use the models as much as possible to create those paper drawings.  But I couldn’t say that my models are really qualified to be called true BIMs.   VW is committed to this, but I can’t say which program on the market today is the best.  At least I can say that the VW user will not be left out in the cold in this area and just may be at the leading edge.  Others more expert can make the argument.  
So these are the features that most impressed me so far, and really make this issue worth buying. 
Now what are some of the things they didn’t do.
Work Groups
VW is still a program best suited for the small office.  Even though there are many large firms using it, the program still requires a lot of planning and organization in order to have more than one person working on a project at a time. 
DWG/DWF Import Export
Improvements have been made in this area and depending upon the complexity of the project it is possible to pass files back and forth.  But doing much more than a one way pass to say a consulting engineer is still bound to be frustrating.  You can’t really blame all of this on VW as Autodesk is continually updating their products and always trying to make it difficult for competitors.   It is a major handicap considering the fact that the majority of architects and their consultants use AutoCAD and now Revit.  The VW people tell us that they have made big improvements, but some recent work on a very small residential project has shown me that there is still a long way to go, and if there are problems with such a small project one can imagine what would happen with a large complex one.
No more Manuals
I know it has been a while since the last one, but I wish they would bring them back.  Writing this article I opened up mine from 2008 to review some things I had forgotten how to do.  Sure I could use the help file, it is very good.  But it is just more comfortable to have a book in front of me.  And besides I don’t really like taking the laptop with me in the bathroom or to bed at night when I need something boring to help me fall asleep.  A book is still really the best way to study especially for someone just learning the program.  Digital help files are best suited for those already familiar with the program who want to learn something new or refresh their memory.  The lesson files provided must be good, I haven’t really looked at them, for students taking classes; however, I really wonder how many working users would take the time to go through a lesson.  It just seems much faster to read through something you want to learn and then just try it yourself.
VW continues to be what it has always been, a versatile program that can be the one program a designer needs.  It is probably the most flexible CAD program available.  Some who prefer a completely dedicated program might consider that a handicap; and for those who work in a very limited range of design options it might be true.   But for others who are into creative design and want a program that does it all it may just be the best one available.  It can be used to create everything a project needs from site plans with contour maps, pad elevations and 3D site models, to Sketchup like preliminary designs to complete construction documents and it even works well for paste up sheets of photos and scanned documents.  A landscape architect can do everything including plant lists and a stage set designer can produce his entire production with it including the lighting design.
As an architect who began his career with pencil, paper and parallel bars, I have always felt comfortable with the intuitiveness of the VW process.  I especially like the what you see is what you get aspect as well as the fact that most architectural projects end up as one file with numbered sets of sheets that become and look just like the printed sets.   One can easily scroll through the finished sheets before printing and export to PDF for client review, before issuing final drawings.  Most of these aspects of the program have been around for years.  I also appreciate the fact that VW does not force you to always design in 3D.  You can take 3D as far as it makes sense economically and then switch to 2D, or not do 3D at all.  It lets you work the way you want and the way you find most efficient; it is a bit like the fact that when we design we usually start with pen or pencil and paper, because that is often the most efficient way to get started. There are also the cloud computing services and the annual subscription services that are worth checking into.  I haven’t tried the cloud service as one has to subscribe to the annual update to be able to use it.
All the little improvements have only made the old features better  And along the way the program has grown up a lot with all the features of BIM and industry interoperability.   
As always I remind the reader that VW has furnished me with a copy of the program in order to be able to write this review.
Some Links Main site for VW My architecture blog  Helm & Melacini Architects website Jonathan Pickup’s site for manuals and videos