vectorworks: a springboard

When I began working at Ruby Architects just over a year ago we were a 2D office, which is fine, but the software we were using hadn’t been updated by the company in a while and after a couple of months it became apparent that the company simply might not exist anymore. So we began searching for a new cad platform and the discussion turned quickly to BIM and 3D. Personally I’ve been using Autocad and various other 2D drafting software since 1998, but about 3 years ago I started playing around with BIM software. If you don’t know there is more to BIM than Revit, and in my opinion Revit is the last of the platforms that should be considered and for two very big reasons – cost and ease of use.

When I began using Autocad 15 years ago it was required as part of my college core courses. My alma mater prides itself on keeping up with technology and the latest digital techniques, so we had the latest versions of Autocad, Microstation, Rhino, 3D Viz and Maya installed which was a lot of software to try and learn. I stuck with Autocad and Microstation, which was plenty, and since then my career has centered around Autodesk software. Given this background you would think that moving to Revit would be a foregone conclusion, but you would be wrong.

Autodesk softwares are not easy to learn. They are not intuitive and are very VERY clunky. So, when my boss asked me to research some BIM options I looked for software that was more tailored to Architects and Designers. The two big names that I found were Archicad and Vectorworks. Both are much more design oriented and are fairly simple in their project organization and object modeling approach. They are also quite a bit cheaper than Autodesk Revit and have fewer limitations. Ultimately we went with Vectorworks and over the last 9 months we’ve been getting up to speed on several projects and trying to work out our office standards, migrating our title blocks, details, etc. It’s been a steep learning curve, but like any new tool you just have to use it.

As the office guinea pig, upon launching Vectorworks I knew I had to not only figure things out fairly quickly, but I also had to get up to speed with an efficient workflow as well. There was one book that helped me out immeasurably and I would highly recommend it as a springboard for anyone just starting out, or needing a good desk reference, in Vectorworks.


Vectorworks Architect Tutorial Manual, Fifth Edition.

For the size of the book it seemed a little pricey at $75, but once I got into it and started bookmarking multiple sections and referring to it constantly for the first office project in Vectorworks, I knew it was money well spent. The book takes you through a simple residential project from start to finish, beginning with a site model and finishing with production drawings and notes, and gives a basic set of tools to get you working quickly and efficiently.


Another great springboard for Vectorworks that I have on my “to buy” list is one written by a friend of mine, Mark Stephens, titled Vectorworks: 101 Tips and Tricks (Kindle Edition). Mark is an Architect with over 20 years experience practicing in UK and Ireland. His firm has been using Vectorworks for some time and his blog posts on the subject have been incredibly helpful to me since I started working in BIM.

If you’ve been working in Vectorworks for a while, or if you’re just getting started, I’d love to hear from you about any successes, challenges, and even failures and lessons learned.

8 thoughts on “vectorworks: a springboard

  1. Jeremiah,
    I would like to go to a BIM system too, and as a small firm, REVIT doesn’t make sense. The problem I have though is is I am at the mercy of whoever the Architect is on the project. As the structural engineer, I have to work with whatever CAD drawings I get sent. That means wildly varying formats sent to me with weird layering, drawings weighted down with useless (for me) objects, XREFs that lead nowhere… It goes on.

    So, if I want to use a BIM system, does the Architect have to be using the same platform? Will something like Vectorworks read a Revit file? I know I am going to have to deal with this sooner or later.


    • Those are incredibly valid concerns, and this was also part of my research for our firm as well. I’d also like to mention that architects have the same types of issues with consultants sending files with odd and often times frustrating objects, layering, etc. It’s an industry wide problem.
      And this doesn’t really change with BIM. It’s just another tool and if used improperly will carry on the same inefficiencies and problems as traditional 2D drafting. BUT BIM is a paradigm shift in the way buildings are conceived and detailed, so if we take the opportunity that is presented to us we can change the way deliverables are created and foster true collaboration.
      Now, to answer your question about platform, the answer is no you do not have to be limited to whatever your architect and/or sub consultants are using. There is a format called IFC that is an open source BIM translator. It’s not perfect, but since BIM in the mainstream is only about 10 years old, it’s a good start.
      Thanks for your comments, George!

  2. I’m on Vectorworks 2010 and since I learned sketchup, I have only been using it as a drafting tool. I started down the BIM path years ago but found it too cumbersome and time consuming. I spend so little time drafting on any particular project and I’m so quick at it that I actually use VW as a sketching tool often. The idea of going with Revit light instead of upgrading VW is somewhat appealing because 90% of the help wanted ads for architects require expertise in Revit or AutoCAD. Which I do not have. But I really like VW for my purposes.

    • Having used Revit, Archicad and VW, I much prefer VW. It has some limitations, as do others, but it’s much more Architect friendly in my opinion. And it’s flexible enough to do sketch, schematic 2D and 3D as well as 2D construction detailing all in one file. You can also import SketchUp mass models and create more detailed models from those objects. And for the price of VW, Revit, even Revit LT, doesn’t make any sense for a small firm.

  3. As a draftsman I’ve mainly used Autodesk products, but then again I’ve been in the defense contracting world for all my working career (cabling schematics, rack elevations, etc.) . I was able to get a technical degree a few years ago in Architectural Design/CAD and even in the school I attended we used Revit. Schools are teaching Autodesk product; they get it for free. Until this post I had never heard of VW (sorry!). And like Bob mentioned the majority of the jobs are for Autodesk (not saying it’s the best product though). Autodesk definitely have the market share.

    • Dan, thanks for your comments. I appreciate you visiting the blog and offering your experience.

      I do want to say though that schools, higher education included, do not get Autodesk products, or any other software, for free. They have to pay for it just the same as any individual or business. I now this because I was an adjunct professor and I had to deal with the nightmare of upgrading the autodesk license twice while I was there. It was incredibly expensive for the college (a 2 year technical college) and even more difficult to deal with the multi-seat licensing and other issues. Autodesk is the elephant in the room only because they have marketed themselves as the “standard” for the last 30 years. It’s no accident it’s called “AutoCAD”. Not to mention it’s incredibly easy to get cracked copies for free to use personally. This is no accident either.
      But with increasing awareness for overhead costs in smaller businesses we’re seeing increased use of the smaller, and in my opinion, better BIM platforms that have been available as long and longer than Autodesk.

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