VectorWorks: Not Just Another CAD Package

By Scott Weinberg FASLA, Technology Editor, University of Georgia, Athens

FIG 1- The opening of a new drawing contains commands for basic drawing and management tools.

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Let’s put it all out in the open. I am a big fan of AutoCAD and have been using it solely as my computer automated design application for the past 22 years. That is a long time! With that said, I was recently asked to look into the CAD program VectorWorks and see what some of the differences and similarities may be with AutoCAD and other CAD programs. What I intend to accomplish over the next few months is a fairly detailed analysis of the VectorWorks program, through a series of articles. This first article will concentrate on the basic CAD functions and serve as a stepping stone for a more in depth look in subsequent articles.

It seems that the newer programs encompass a much more diverse set of commands and functions than that of the original programs in any given area. In this case, VectorWorks has a more substantial amount of functionality than that of the original AutoCAD program.

FIG 2- In Designer this tool set area allows you to specify which product information you want active so you can select items directly off the screen.

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As with all program reviews I always mention the time it took to get from the box onto my screen. This case was a little challenging for me. It took about an hour to get the three CD set loaded and the disk called Core Concepts up and running on the computer.

So, if you are looking into purchasing the program take your time and remember that disk 1 is followed by disk 2 and disk 2 is followed by disk 3 and disk 3 is than followed by disk 1 again. There are a few dialogue boxes that appear and disappear, they really just go behind another box, and they need to be navigated through in the correct manner. For the most part just finding them and selecting the OK box will move you on. Finally after the initial loading is done the Core Concepts disk requires QuickTime and a minimum screen resolution to function. So be aware.

FIG 3- It was easy to import a dwg file without losing any of the details.

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When you open a new drawing you get what appears to be a full screen with a great amount of information. The drawing screen is located in the center of the screen and is surrounded by a ruler showing a real time measurement. Unlike AutoCAD which requires you to set drawing limits, with VectorWorks you can simply use your scroll button on the mouse and set your drawing space to any needed. This is a quick and easy improvement beyond AutoCAD.

The basic drawing commands are also located in the top left area of the screen. You have the same types of commands here that you have in AutoCAD. You have line, polyline, arc, ellipse and many other common drawing commands. Directly above the main drawing screen is a space called screen tips. These tips are available throughout the program and help you select details about the commands that you are using. For instance, if you are drawing a circle, the tips line will allow you to select four different ways of drawing the circle or an ellipse. Similar information comes up each time you change the command.

FIG 4- When saving a VectorWorks file as a dwg, use the information found in the export dialogue box.

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Beneath the drawing commands is an area called Tool Sets. This has specific tools for each of the different types of VectorWorks products. The products available are Architect, Designer, Landmark, Machine Design and Spotlight. Each of the programs contains the same basic CAD functionality of the VectorWorks program, but has different details available to that specific package. In another article I will focus on the Landmark package, which is most beneficial for the landscape industry. The Designer product contains all of the different packages as motioned. The products mentioned are specifically for use by Landscape Architects, architects, lighting designers and mechanical engineers.

Since AutoCAD is the most widely used CAD program, it was important to see how easily an AutoCAD drawing could be imported in VectorWorks. Using a fairly complex planting design as an example, I was able to open an AutoCAD drawing with a few clicks of the mouse. Looking at the comparison between the two, you could not tell which was the original or which was the converted file. I also wanted to look at how the program translated into 3D. By using another DWG file and a few quick clicks I was able to successfully open the AutoCAD drawing in VectorWorks with no loss of information.

FIG 5- Classes in VectorWorks are consider to be the same as layers in AutoCAD.

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The Design Series program, which has all the applications for the practitioners, comes with about 1,000 pages of documentation. About 500 pages each for the basic fundamental program and 500 pages for the different applications.

During the next few months I will review specifically at the Landmark product, along with evaluate the tutorials for the program. I look forward to sharing some of the things that I find with you, in order to help you make an informed decision regarding your CAD choices.

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