The program in the spotlight this time is Vectorworks Architect from Vectorworks which is a Nemetschek Company. A BIM software that is oftentimes overlooked in favor of the bigger names in the industry but is this justified?
The Vectorworks program suite is split into 4 programs. Each caters to a specific design discipline and can be purchased separately or as the Vectorworks Designer Package which contains all features.
In the table below the main highlights of each program as shown on the website are displayed.
Architecture, Structure & MEP Design
Stage & Exhibit Design
|Precision Drawing||GIS & Planning||Precision Drawing||Precision Drawing|
|Creative Modelling||Site Deisng & Reporting||Creative Modeling||Illustration|
|Site Modeling||Creative Modelling||Reports & Coordination||Surface & Solid Modeling|
|BIM||Planting & Hardscapes||Braceworks Analysis||Reports & Coordination|
|Alogirthmic Deisgn||Irrigation||Previz with Vision||Rendering|
|Graphics & Presentation|
|Graphics & Presentation||Graphics & Presentation||Customization|
As my area of expertise does not extend to GIS and Stage Design we will stick to Vectorworks Architect during this evaluation which contains all the tools in FUNDAMENTALS and more.
These are my experiences in using the program over de last few days. Keep in mind this is from the perspective of someone who has never used this program before.
When you first open Vectorworks after getting the license setup you see the interface as shown in the image below, it’s quite overwhelming, and Tools are located in different locations depending on what you want to do.
Basic tools are located in the top left, these are your generic selection, move, mirror, and so on. Also included are the shape and polygon/line tools, Eyedropper, Selection, Visibility & Symbol tools/
Below that is the Toolbox containing the different toolsets which are based on which discipline of Vectorworks you are using, This is the Designer Package and as such we have access to all of the options. The buttons at the bottom allow you to switch between the different toolsets thereby showing the relevant tools in the list above. Here you will find almost all object creation tools a few exceptions of which are the roof and floor Tools. These can be found under the Designer tab next to File and Edit when selecting multiple walls.
Object manipulations such as creating voids and such can be accessed from the Modify tab at next to the View tab.
The bar above your viewport contains the visibility, layer, style and view navigation tools for the current view. Right below this are the tools and options for the currently selected tool. This is also where you can specify an object before placement.
To the right of the viewport is the Object Info panel which displays the information about the current object and allows you to edit the properties using the corresponding tabs in the menu.
Below the Object Info panel is the Navigation. This gives you a different project navigation option as well as being able to control visibility for each class and layer for the current view.
To access the report options you need to open the Tools tab located at the top of the window.
To conclude it is not the most consistent UI design with how tools are located and accessed but with enough usage, this won’t be a problem, proven by the many people that use Vectorworks daily.
Out of the Box Template
When first downloading Vectorworks you will get the option of choosing a few different configurations depending on which country you select. These configurations influence the language of the interface and the content libraries included with the package. In my case I was able to keep my interface in English while getting the content libraries and basic setup as required by the Dutch standards. This will also be what I will be basing my interpretation of the Template on.
The way the components are classified is according to the Class parameter which if I am correct correlates to the Assembly code and is exactly as would be required here, as such this requires no tweaking. All created elements are automatically set to the corresponding class and manual manipulation is possible if needed.
The included object libraries, as well as generation-presets, are more than enough to be set up for most projects without having to do any tweaking. Most content is created by generation using adjustable parametric objects, as such most desired results can be created with a few quick edits and can then be saved as a preset for future use.
The included libraries also include a lot of manufacturer specific content for some of the big suppliers in the Netherlands, I expect this to be the same depending on which country you select during download but I have not tested this.
Overall this is one of the most complete template experiences I’ve seen so far and pretty much everything you need is included out of the box.
Modeling in Vectorworks requires a basic understanding of the way Vectorworks divides up the project space which is why we will cover them quite thoroughly.
Design layers & Stories
Vectorworks uses two systems to divide up the project space. Both offer similar functionality but in different ways. There is the original Design layers system which is included in every Vectorworks software package and the Stories system which is included with Architecture in addition to Design layers.
The design layers act as a mix between levels, groups, and views, they are groups of objects of which the visibility and editability can be controlled. They also work like slices of the model where manipulating the stacking order determines the position of a slice in a view. You can also give them an elevation which sets the default placement height of objects which is why I mentioned they are a mix between levels and groups. In addition, there is a parameter to set the layer wall height which sets the default height of height constrained objects placed on this layer if the object in question was set to extend to the layer wall height instead of stories. Talking about stories you can link a story to a design layer as you can see in the image above.
So now we have design layers that act as levels and views what are stories for? Well, Stories are the actual building levels within a project. they can like Design layers be given an elevation but in addition, as shown in the image above you can specify sublevels based on the main story with a specified offset. These sublevels can then be automatically referenced by objects to extend to certain sublevels for automated placement. This can be done in the Styles settings of each object which is Vectorworks rendition of Revit Types.
While working with this system I have gotten used to the way it works but I can’t say I prefer it compared to a more generic level and view-based system. I find both systems in Vectorworks offer similar features and would find it more intuitive if they were incorporated into one system but this is just my personal opinion.
Styles (Object definitions & Generation)
In Vectorworks Styles are the parameters and settings which define a series of objects these styles can look very different depending on which type of object is selected or being created. This is due to the fact that some of the Vectorworks content is based on generation.
One of the cool things you will notice while editing a wall style or working with walls or layered objects is that each layer is treated as a separate object and can be modified individually. In the picture below the styles settings for one of the components making up a wall are shown. Here you can see that the top and bottom of the components can be defined relative to the wall or by the aforementioned stories and that a positive or negative offset can be given, this means that you no longer need to place separate walls to be able to individually control separate parts of a wall. This small addition adds a ton of functionality in my opinion.
These layered styles can be applied to any layered object and created in much the same way as you would in most BIM software, a nice thing though is that Vectorworks includes a lot of wall styles related to your working local which saves you the time to set them up.
I mentioned generation before and Vectorworks makes a lot of use of it to its advantage. For example, the joinery tool which can be used for windows and doors. Using this tool you can generate almost any window or door layout, either by using a template as shown in the image below or defining it yourself from scratch. The tool covers many aspects of creation from handles to vents and shades and is relatively easy to use.
Another tool where generation plays a big part is the roof tool. as previously stated this can be accessed under the Designer tab after selecting one or more walls or a polygon, Vectorworks uses polygon edges or wall objects to create a roof using generation, when using the tool you are greeted with the menu as shown bellow
This menu allows you to specify the way the roof initially generates, which style is used, and the parameters it uses to do the generation, of these parameters one is always calculated based on the others, you can pick the calculated value by using the bullets.
After the initial generation, it is then possible to edit the shape of the roof using one of the blue nodes that appear on each roof race on selection, this menu is shown above.
Another very cool generative feature that is included is the automatic dormer generation by placing a 3D symbol of a window on the roof face thereby launching the dormer generation tool which allows you to specify its geometry and styling.
While being quite different from the competition Vectorwork’s implementation of a roof tool is quite powerful for creating complex roof structures in a short amount of time and quickly editing them when needed.
Elevators & Escalators & Stairs
Vectorworks also includes a tool to generate elevators and escalators which I have not seen included in another software before, which is really useful.
The built-in stair tool is also easy to use and has extensive functionality which results in good-looking and accurate stairs according to your specified parameters.
The other tools like walls, beams, etc. all work as you would expect using the previously mentioned stories and layer settings. If you combine that with the nice features previously mentioned I would say Vectorworks is a very capable program for your modeling needs.
There are however some features which are missing or could use improvement in my opinion such as
- There is no dedicated foundation tool, you have to use walls or floors
- Some aspects of tools are not always clear
- A few extra features on tools especially roofs seem broken or are missing extra positioning options that would make them useful
- The fascia tool only works for the horizontal edges of roofs.
Content creation seems to be mostly done by using the included freeform 3D modeling tools. These are similar to other Push/Pull modeling software’s like Sketchup, Rhino, and FormIt, with more or fewer tools than you would be used to depending on what you use, see the image to the right for the toolset.
These created elements can then be assigned data and saved as a 2D or 3D symbol which is Vectorworks version of a saved object definition.
There does not seem to be something like a family creator like is available in Revit for parametric manipulation and this feature does seems to be missing in Vectorworks.
It does however seem possible to create, but not manipulate objects based on parameters by using Vectorworks built-in visual scripting engine Marionette
Vectorworks out of the box produces very clean and readable plans and with tweaking is able to create some of the nicest colored elevations and 3D views I have seen without leaving the software or rendering. Annotations are also straightforward and work as expected in addition to very clean tags for objects that make for a clean plan overall.
Vectorworks also has some very capable reporting capabilities. apart from the usual quantity takeoffs and scheduling they also include cabinet and window schedules which is a really amazing feature that I have yet to see in another software. see the picture below, this will save a lot of time for people that need to create these schedules via other means normaly.
The IFC capabilities of Vectorworks seem capable, as a test I have exported the basic sample project from Revit to IFC 2×3 and imported it into Vectorworks. The material, properties, and geometry information is imported perfectly, there are however some parts that are slightly bugged.
- Curtain walls are imported as Windows and a group, upon ungrouping object information is lost.
But apart from this bug, the import process seems to work well, see the result in the image below.
When exporting to IFC there are few options apart from the basic IFC versions selection of which it supports 2×2, 2×3, and 4, Some project settings, and which design layers to export. The IFC mapping is actually done on a per-object or per style basis in the data tab of that object’s properties.
As a test I exported a test project from Vectorworks to IFC 2×3 opened this in an IFC viewer and Imported it into Revit and also linked into Revit.
As you can see from the results this was not the most flawless export, While the IFC file itself seems to be great without artefacts or glitches it seems that Revit specifically does not like the way the IFC is structured as on either the import or the link there are either large bits missing or artefacts.
As an additional test, I imported the Vectorworks IFC into Renga (See our previous post), while an improvement it still has artifacts like missing a few of the roofs, see the image below. A unique feature Vectorworks has is that it is the only software as far as I know that supports an RVT export so maybe this gives a better result, but as you can see in the image below the geometry does come over perfectly however everything is a generic model and the information contained is lost.
To conclude I would stick to linking IFC’s created from Vectorworks based on these results but you might get different results so its always worth a try.
Rendering & Presentation
Vectorworks has quite a few ways of presenting projects. Either via the integrated Renderworks render engine which gives very clean and fast results, or by using the live link with Lumion if you happen to use that. or exporting your project into one of the many file formats that Vectorworks supports and rendering in any software of your choosing be it Blender, Unreal Engine, Cinema4D, Maya or 3ds Max.
Another option is to create a virtual tour using the built-in cloud presentation settings or going into Augmented reality using the Vectorworks Nomad app to make design decisions.
In addition to these options, there are also image manipulation tools included where you can tweak images with a number of filters and sliders.
By having all these options I think Vectorworks has got a good mix of ways to present projects to clients and the capabilities to do so at a professional level. Sadly it does not support Enscape as of yet.
During my testing of Vectorworks I encountered numerous small hiccups and stutters using the software, nothing that bad but enough to not be a smooth experience, these happen mostly while panning, zooming, or editing the model your experience may vary but this is what happened to me.
In addition to those stutters I have also experienced three crashes upon which all work since the previous save was lost, this is something to take into account and a lesson that saving frequently is extra important while working with Vectorworks.
Learning Curve & Support
From my experience, over the last few days, Vectorworks can be quite overwhelming but the provided tutorials are enough to get you going but don’t have the necessary depth to fully understand the finer parts of the program. In addition, many UI’s of tools have changed drastically over the years so finding the correct learning material to know how something works can sometimes be difficult but this is a good sign that improvements are still being made each year.
As mentioned before Vectorworks is available in 4 sub packages and 1 all inclusive suite. So how does the Architectural package compare to the competition.
As you can see from the table Vectorworks is quite a bit cheaper than the direct competition. One thing to note is that during my evaluation period I got quite few offers for extra discounts so the price you might be paying could be even lower.
For recently graduated students they also offer a 40% discount under their student2PRO program which might make the software extra appealing to students just starting out.
Coming back to the question at the start of this article, Vectorworks is often overlooked, but is this justified?
Based on my experiences while using Vectorworks, looking at the features and capabilities it has i think it should be seriously considered as an alternative. Especially the well filled content libraries based on your local, that require little to no setup make it a good software to facilitate the transition from 2D to 3D, since most of your time will be spent actually working instead of creating content to get your work done.
Now it might not be the most stable and smoothest running software, also the UI seems a bit chaotic with how tools are placed but take into consideration that its only 1/3 to 1/2 of the price of the two big competitors while only offering slightly less functionality.
These reasons make it a perfectly reasonable alternative to Revit or ArchiCAD and definitely not one to be underestimated but one to consider.