Book Review – Vectorworks Essentials Tutorial Manual – Sixth Edition

Review by Neil Barman (

Jonathan Pickup’s “Vectorworks Essentials Tutorial Manual”, now in its 6th edition, is a deceivingly simple manual. It’s simple in that it will walk you (whether you are a new user or a seasoned user who has never had any formal training in the application) through from the very basics of drawing with objects in Vectorworks. It plays a great trick on you though, because while it may seem like you are just doing the basics, you are actually learning to do 3D modelling and BIM at the same time. This is the beauty and power of the manual.

And this is the way one should learn to use Vectorworks. Sure, the application is simple enough to let you draw individual lines on a single, flat plane, effectively replicating the age old practice of drawing in 2D on paper. However, drawing this way with such a robust application is sure-fire way to miss out on its power and develop some terrible habits as you do.

The manual starts with a few ways to draw to simple, flat shapes while also showing many aspects of the application’s interface. Before long you are giving those flat shapes height, viewing those objects from various sides and laying out a simple page to print. Within a couple of chapters you really have been shown the pure essentials of using Vectorworks effectively.

From there you go on to seeing how to edit, modify and annotate what you’ve created so far. The often overlooked, abused or feared topic of drawing organization is covered well, with sound and clear advice, giving you a strong foundation to keep your drawing file in order. Beyond that, you work through a drawing exercise that brings together all that you have learned, thereby reinforcing the skills.

While the manual certainly could stop there, having provided the true essentials of Vectorworks, it then covers the basics of 3D modelling. This is another often-feared topic, especially for Vectorworks users more familiar with the 2D aspects of the application, but again it is demystified through Pickup’s clear and easy to access presentation. (This section is merely a taste of the Pickup’s 3D modelling manual, another in the series.)

Finally, as Vectorworks is perhaps most often used for architecture, Pickup walks you through the essentials of creating an architectural design. You work through drawing a simple building, from walls, windows, doors, materials and a roof to sections and elevations. Vectorworks’ spreadsheets (aka worksheets), which can be used to quantify or list parts of your drawing, are also well explained and demonstrated in relation to architecture. The included examples show you how to create and use two very useful worksheets: site area calculations and a window schedule. (Again, this section hints at the vast and highly applicable capabilities of Vectorworks. These are which covered in greater depth in another of Pickup’s books, the Vectorworks Architect Tutorial Manual.)

For those who feel they are not “book learners”, preferring to attend a class where you are shown everything instead, this manual has you covered.

Basically, this manual, like all of Pickup’s manuals, gets as close as you can to simulating an in-class experience, but in book form. Each and every step of each and every task is spelled out clearly with its own instructions and a screenshots. Pages are not overloaded with text, with only the rare image here and there where they author thought you might need one. Instead, there is an image every step of the way. Both of these aspects of the presentation makes every exercise easy to follow along with.


The other beauty of this format is that it feels like you are watching a presenter in class, but you can work your way through the material at your own pace. And if that weren’t enough, to bridge the gap between a class and book, a PDF version of the manual (on the included CD and meant to be viewed with Acrobat for best results) contains a short movie presenting each chapter. So if you would actually like to just sit back and watch Pickup work through the steps himself, with running commentary, you may.

If you are a new Vectorworks user, the manual is a “no brainer” as they say; the Vectorworks Essentials Tutorial Manual is the single most versatile way you can learn the application quickly and correctly. If you are a seasoned Vectorworks user without any previous formal training, chances are that you have learned some bad habits from other seasoned users who themselves had no formal training. You would be well served by working through the Essentials Manual and erasing those bad habits. I have no doubt that you will find your drawing speed, accuracy, efficiency and productivity increase.

In either case, you owe it to yourself, your colleagues, your boss and your clients to learn this powerful application properly. The good techniques you learn will serve everyone well as you will be able to draw faster and edit faster, so you can get your ideas & designs out more quickly and more efficiently.

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(A copy of the 6th edition of the manual was provided by the publisher. A review was not required but has been written because of how important I feel this manual is for learning Vectorworks properly. Previous editions of the Essentials manual were purchased with the cold, hard cash that I earned by actually using the manual.)


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