REVIEW OF Vectorworks software 2020
By John Helm Architect
Vectorworks software has been the only design and drafting program we use in our architectural office for several years now. Every year I look forward to any new improvements or new features that have been developed over the last year. Some years ago, I started writing a review to let others see what is new and exciting. I focus mostly on the things that concern architecture, and I concentrate on those that stand out to me. Also, I am a bit of a promoter of Vectorworks software just because I like it, so I am perhaps somewhat biased. Don´t expect an under the hood look, I am a user not a programmer.
What is Vectorworks software?
Vectorworks software is a 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 most, perhaps 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 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.
What makes Vectorworks software unique?
Vectorworks software is not just a collection of tools for the architect, it is a collection of tools for the designer. Just about anything can be designed using Vectorworks software, really anything. What I mean by that is that there are not restrictions. A design can be a free form chair or a tall and twisting high rise. The 3D design tools rival many dedicated programs, the presentation tools allow one to make a very sophisticated rendering within Vectorworks software and the tools for completing construction docs makes it almost fun.
The way it works
Vectorworks software for architects is a bit different from many other programs. I remember the days when we used tracing paper to create a base drawing and then traced over it for the various sheets that make up a set of plans. We would also copy or trace details etc. Vectorworks software functions in a similar way. Design is done on design layers that can be a bit like the old tracing paper, but it is all digital. You turn layers on and off to create the various drawings; in addition to layers there are classes, like doors and windows, notes, dimensions etc. which can also be turned on and off. The final documents are virtual sheets of paper just like the old days. They are sheet layers. We organize our sheets by topic, floor plans, elevations, and details. But any sheet can contain anything we want with various scales and various views, perspectives and elevations. The way sheets are formatted is simple, you see a sheet of paper with your border on the screen then using what they call viewports, you paste up your sheets, what you see is what you get/print. Copy and paste makes it easy to copy viewports on the same sheet or others, changing the scale and turning off layers and classes to create other views. Finally, we have our list of sheets that we can scroll through for review and then print. What you see is what you get in the final print. That is what I like.
Now let’s talk new and improved features. If you want more details and a list of changes go here.
Vectorworks software photo
As a model is created it becomes more and more complicated obviously, the problem is that when viewing the model in 3D the more complex the model the more work the program has to do to generate each view. So, panning, zooming and flying around it creates more and more work for the graphics card and computer. The thing is that on every object much of the object is not seen but it still must be generated by the program. Vectorworks software has done some magic in order to reduce the time spent on those unseen pieces of the model. The result is that the parts we see are generated much faster and moving around in Open GL for example is much faster and smoother. This is a good improvement especially for those of us who like to design in 3D. Make a change then zoom in look around quickly to see how the change affects the overall design – great stuff.
This one is a big deal and they have done a lot on It, so it is worth exploring. What you make of this depends a lot on your approach to the documentation of your project. If your output is mostly graphics, as mine is, then you might not use it so much. However, it is a top of the pack resource for those who can use it to make lists of parts, quantity take-offs and manufacturer's numbers. It is a tool that allows you to manage all of your different forms of data – such as object parameters, custom records and IFC data – all in one place. You can consolidate and organize this data into custom Data Sheets, giving you easier access to the data that is relevant to your workflow
Now all you need is your project sites address in order to place it on the map. Geolocate and instantly incorporate street map, satellite and other imagery through ArcGIS and WMS servers. I believe you must subscribe to one of those services to get the best views and then really learn how to use. Once properly set up your project can be integrated into a true view of the site.
You know you thought your relationship was going just fine, everyone was getting along even as changes were made but suddenly your partner slams the door in your face, and you don´t know why. It is one of those things about life that no one wants to talk about or deal with. And so, it also is with software. The developers don´t want to admit that their beloved programs have faults and that sometimes things just get the best of them. The door slams in your face just when you finished a series of complex operations and have not taken the few seconds it takes save your work. It makes me so nervous that it seems every time I do something important, I click the save button. Anyway, Vectorworks software has really done a good job on this latest version of taking that fear away. So, you can be a lot more relaxed, the program seems very stable and it is not by accident, they have been working on it.
History based modeling
The new feature keeps track of all the changes you made while designing that super complex curved whatever thing you are working on. So, if you want to change a fillet or chamfer, for example, you can go back to previous versions and change them, remove them or add to them, without having to start all over. In the past, you might have not wanted to make a change to something sort of deep in the object because it would mean having to redo a bunch of work. Now you can go ahead and make the change without losing a bunch of time – nice.
Improved PDF import export
They have made some nice improvements but, I must complain that when one imports a group of pdf pages or sheets from a consultant, they all go into just one layer. Hopefully they will fix this problem soon as it is a total pain to move them to layers. The PDF file is also imported as an image, so it cannot be converted to lines or polygons.
Last year I complained that one could import Revit drawings but not export. This year they have included a limited bit of Revit export. That is, it is limited to exporting 3D geometry, but it is a start and can be very useful when needing to coordinate with Revit users.
Now you can cut a horizontal section through your model. Why not just cut a section through the model at any elevation level, good idea especially for presentations of room and furniture layouts. Or on the real BIM show a view of say the heating and cooling duct work just below the floor above. There are all sorts of possibilities.
Vectorworks software photo
Data Tag improvements
Several improvements have been made in data tagging. This is a very useful tool. Data tags allow you to display any information you wish from objects like doors, windows, fixtures and walls directly on your drawing. You can now use tags to sequence all the doors in a plan. Then use the reports tool to create a door schedule. That option applies to just about anything you can tag and if you think about it, it can really change the way you work. It's a good reason to check out the Data Tag improvements video. Also referring back to the Data Manager, once you have objects in your model, windows and doors for example, information can be extracted using the data management tools, like Data Tags, Data Sheets and Reports.
Live Data Visualization
This is really a big thing in Vectorworks software, why, because I believe it is somewhat unique in the BIM world. If your data is connected to or listed for various objects such as fire walls you can ask Vectorworks software to highlight them and instantly see where they are and see if any are missing.
Vectorworks software photo
The problem with BIM
Building information modeling would be great if only everyone would use it. It takes time to build a model and it takes time to learn how to do it. Vectorworks software makes it fairly easy and for the original designer of a project the time spent is worth it in presentations, and in creating the construction documents, and a lot of time is saved along the way. But much is lost when the consultants are still working in 2D. They can´t easily see the overall picture and may make mistakes placing ductwork in a location where it conflicts with the structure for example. At least in my practice I see most consultants still working in 2D and they don´t even ask to see my model nor would they be able to really study it should they want to.
Vectorworks software photo, how BIM should be fully integrated
People props, past reviews
If you are using your model to make 3D presentations, you really need to put people in the final rendering. People give a rendering scale and life. Vectorworks software props are a way to add lots of things, trees, objects, and people without using up a lot of data space. Making props for people takes a bit of time even if easy to do; each prop needs an alpha picture of a person with no background and then you can make it. I have made a collection of them which are available here. On the blog you can also find several of my past reviews. Have a look at the past reviews, you might find something that was new a year or so ago that you never really realized was available.
This year’s update is not one that is full of block buster new features. Most of the improvements are things that will impress current users as they are bits and pieces that make their work easier, more efficient, more reliable and cost effective. Anytime the product one uses makes their work go faster they save money and thus updating to Vectorworks 2020 becomes a no brainer.
I am most impressed by the animation update. Because the really big wow factor when designing in 3D and making BIMs is seeing the design, the new building virtually. You can make a video that takes the client on a walkthrough of their project using various camera angles, zooming, and speeding up or slowing down even stopping for a better look. The amount of detail included is just up to the amount of time available, include furniture, paintings on the wall, landscaping and people to make the project seem real.
Vectorworks software is as said above one program that does it all for the architect. There are of course programs more dedicated to some of what Vectorworks software does and perhaps better for their specific use but who has the time or money to waste using a bunch of programs when what they really need can be had from just one box. Architects are best off focusing on their work rather than learning to use a mix of software.
Pros and Cons
What´s a review without them. They have not changed much from last year.
1. Rated as one of the most complete and versatile BIM and design programs available.
2. Equally useable for 2D and 3D
3. Easy to learn, works the way architects work.
4. Reasonably priced.
5. Comes with the most used export tools for work with others including IFC, PDF, Revit (new) and DWG
6. Has the most used import tools including DWG, PDF and Revit.
7. It can be the only program needed for design, presentation and construction drawings.
8. It has excellent presentation tools, including, animations, videos, photo realistic renderings, and virtual 3D walk throughs.
1. The user base is lower than AutoCAD and Revit, so employment may be limited.
2. A well-equipped computer is required to take full advantage of some features.
Also check out our Novedge Webinar Playlist for great Vectorworks tips and tricks.