Review of Vectorworks 2014 By John Helm, architect

Review of Vectorworks 2014

By John Helm, architect

130 new functions and improvements

That’s what they are telling us; there are 130 changes, improvements and new functions in total in this year’s release.  And a quick look at their web site will let you see that there is a lot to review.  The gang at Nemetschek has provided several videos to make it easy to get a good feel for all that’s new.  As usual my review will focus mainly on areas most used by architects, and I can’t really address them all.  So I will look at some that seem most useful.

Here is the Vectorworks PDF file that pretty much describes all the new features:

I have been using the program since the Minicad days.  The reasons for using it then are pretty much the same now.  It is an intuitive program, Most of an architect’s projects can be accomplished in one file that ends up looking like a complete set of drawing sheets.  Select the sheets to be printed and send them to your plotter or your printing service and the job is done.  I’m working in Italy most of the time and when I have work back in California I just create a pdf set and send it to the local printer who prints and delivers it in just a matter of a few hours.  But now I’m getting too personal.  The point is that Vectorworks has grown but continues to be easy to learn, functional and extremely flexible.  As I have preached in the past an architect, interior designer, landscape architect or anyone else who needs to use a design and drafting tool shouldn’t have to go back to school to learn to use the tool or as with some programs really become more of a CAD drafter than an architect.  This is what has always attracted me by Vectorworks; it’s a tool that is relatively easy to pick up and use and doesn’t require one to change the focus of one’s profession.

I have to say that my first impression of the latest installment was amazement.  So I’m going to have to be careful.  It can’t be all flowers, there must be a few thorns here and there.  I will try to point them out as we go.

Still simple to use for basic drafting

Vectorworks has become a program which has a great depth of possible uses, has a wide range of tools and fits into many design professions.  In fact if you really look into everything the developers have done with the program lately you might decide that it is one of the most technically advanced programs around.  But it still retains the possibility of being used for simple drafting projects.  With a bit of study one can open up the program and just start drawing.  Pick an icon from the menu and draw lines, rectangles, circles, walls etc. then hit the print button and print what one sees on the screen.  It does not require one to spend a lot of time setting up a project just to start.  Copy and paste, cut and paste, back up using control Z and other commands are familiar to anyone familiar with typical Windows commands and though I’m not a Macintosh user I believe it’s pretty much the same there.   The advantage here is that if you are like me a person who wants to be able to start using a program without taking a bunch of classes you can do it.   You can then progress to more complex features one step at a time.  At that point you may benefit from online classes, books, etc.

The Help Files

Regarding progressing to more complex features, the help feature works well, and is very easy to use.  Just open it up and search for what you want to do.  It’s very inclusive so you can pretty much use it to learn as you go, but there does seem to be a few things missing.  For example I searched for Model to Floorplan and it didn’t show up.  It would also be good to have a printed manual to study and brose but it doesn’t seem to be the industry standard to include them these days and there are various guides that can be purchased separately. Such as those from Jonathan Pickup

And here is an idea, someone needs to create a list of all the things that can be done with the program.  It seems a basic request, but I don’t think it exists.  Anyway even experienced users can go on doing things in the same old way they always have not knowing there is an easier way or a new tool.  It would just be a list without explanation letting us know what it can do.

The main new features

A new visualization engine which allows designers to work in a rendered mode.

Open GL now allows a consistent 3D view with no switching back to wire frame with large models.

Revised walk through tool works with new visualization engine to provide clean and consistent walk through viewing.

A new 3D X-ray Select tool that allows users to see a wire frame view while still in a rendered mode, just press the B key.

A new twist and taper tool that allows for twisting solids and tapering faces of solids.

The ability to directly reference DWG/DXF or DWF files in Vectorworks projects without importing the file.

Increased compatibility with DWG/DXG or DWF files.

Support for Python scripting language.

The ability to create sections from a clip cube’s section that update when changes are made to the drawings.

Self-healing wall joints, walls stay connected when moved.

The ability to import images and crop them within the program.

Mirror tool preview feature, allows a preview of the mirror before accepting it.

The ability to directly measure objects on sheet layer viewports (paper space) without entering annotations.

Added texture tools for more photo realistic representations of textured surfaces.

My favorite new features

Open GL

Wow, this is a big change.  I’m kind of a bottom line guy, in that all the technical stuff is great to read about but I just want to know if it’s going to help me get my work done faster and better.  Well yeah this one does that.  At least it doe for those of us who love working and designing in 3D.  Your 3D/BIM model will now stay rendered as you move around it no matter how complicated the model.  Press the B key and a round window pops up that shows whatever you put the cursor over in wire frame view; where you can also select what you see, move it or change it.

Press the B key in open GL and get a wireframe view

Along with this the walk through feature has gotten much more fluid and easy to use.   I almost can’t say enough about this.  It’s just too much fun to use and your clients will love it too.

Lately we are all thinking green, check out the solar modeling feature, open GL makes it easy to do a real time exam of how the sun will affect your building at various times of the year and hour.  You can spend a couple of days scrolling around the model while sliding back and forth on the time of day and month watching those cute little shadows move around.  Someone needs to write an app that gives you the best orientation considering solar heat gain, lighting etc. automatically.  I almost went insane doing it manually on a small project with three identical homes attached only at the navel, I mean garage.

Read a good article about the new Vectorworks graphic module here:

Fast Interactive Display

This is cool.  Make changes to your model and see them appear almost instantly.  It’s a great way to try out various textures, colors, or even move walls, etc.

What about Increased Compatibility

One of my biggest hangups has been the ongoing issue of working with other professionals that use programs with the dwg format (like AutoCAD).  So this year Vectorworks promises increased compatibility.  What I really like here is the ability to bring in referenced dwg and dwf files without having to actually convert the original file. This can be huge for several reasons.  But the main one is that the original file can be modified by the outside professional and the changes he or she makes are then easily updated in the referenced file.  Another thing is that when importing a dwg file the Vectorworks file can get cluttered up with a bunch of new classes which have little use in the Vectorworks way of doing things.  That’s because AutoCAD uses layers for everything and they usually get converted to classes in Vectorworks.  I would normally import a dwg into a blank Vectorworks file then consolidate the classes into just a few, before importing that file into my working file.  The problem here is that one can’t really export the revised original file back to whomever created it, without their file system being messed up.  As one user told me DWG import export is pretty good but it will never be good enough, probably because as fast as other programs update their compatibility those AutoCAD people change their program.

Section Viewports and Clipcube

You’ve been wining about the lack of good sections that can be created and change when changes are made to the design.  Now you have them, they can also be flattened placed on a drawing sheet annotated and then they automatically change when changes are made.  This seems a very powerful tool and will take some getting used to.  The sections can be made on sheet or design layers.  Section lines are added automatically and can be moved around in 2D or 3D views automatically changing the section.  If you click on the section line and look at the object info another click can take you to the section viewport.

Study model of three units, note the shadows that are accurate using the Heliodon tool

Clip Cube cut through the model

Section from the Clip Cube

Shaped Windows

Several new shapes appear in the window selections and 3D tags remain on the outside of the wall.  Doors can have several glass panels inserted wherever one wants them.

Wall Tool Improvements

The big thing here is that when moving a wall it remains joined to other walls, it’s a small change but a time saver.  Now you don’t have to go back and reconnect walls that get moved.

Roof Tool Improvements

Several changes here, but the one most interesting is the ability to use the clip tool to cut holes in the roof for placement of skylights, etc.

Eye Dropper Tool

In the past this seemed somewhat hit and miss, maybe I never really understood it, but now I find it very easy to use and I like how one can select from the tool bar to be in drop mode without holding down a key.  Just select it and go around dropping in the features in the eyedropper.  It is very handy for a lot of things, especially applying things like textures to walls.

Taper Face and Twist

These two seem like small changes, but they speak to something much more interesting. Vectorworks has become a real 3D design tool.   One can really design using three dimensional shapes, build them, stretch, combine, subtract, twist, cut, and slope.

The Twist tool

There doesn’t seem to be a limit to what one can do in design, other than ones design talent and ability to understand how best to use the features available in 3D Modeling.  According to some experienced users free form NURBS shaping is not up to speed but better than ArchiCAD or Revit. I finally learned how to use the model to floor plan tool.  It’s hidden in the space planning tools.  It will convert most basic 3D objects to walls, so one can model with shapes only and then convert the shapes to a floor plan.  If you have complicated twisted shapes for example you need to convert them to NURBS surfaces in pieces in order to create a form somewhat like a wall.

The taper tool allows one to taper most any selected surface.

Select a surface and drag it out to create a tapered wall

Create a model using 3D blocks, convert model to walls, set wall heights, add texture, create polygons from walls, create objects from polygons (slabs, spaces, etc,)

Here we might talk a bit about what is Vectorworks really.  Part of its problem and at the same time its advantage is that it’s not just dedicated to one design profession.  It’s not just a program for architects.  It’s kind of a universal design and rendering program.  I like that because I don’t want to have to use 3 or 4 different programs to accomplish my work.  It can be used for most any design project from a paste up poster for your kids school play to that high rise building project you’ve always dreamed of.   But in being the one program for all it may lack some features that would make say the architects work more automated.

Crop Imports

In the past if you imported a graphic, picture, etc. you had to crop it before the import or create a viewport and crop the viewport.  Now you can simply crop the imported image in Vectorworks and just keep the part you want.  That’s a nice change.

Publish Command

Well now you can select all the types of publishing you want to do all at once with one command.  That is publish to the printer, pdf, dwg all at the same time.  It’s an interesting idea, I wonder how much use it will get.  I think most people tend to do one or the other and not all at the same time.

But what is still missing or on the wish lists

The stair tool seems to still be getting lots of complaints.  DWG import export is much improved but since it doesn’t produce native drawings in that format there will always be issues.  Referencing them eliminates a lot of the issues there.  Free form NURBS shaping is very useful and probably more than enough for architectural use, but for designers working mostly with NURBS there are better programs.

I did also have a couple of problems during this test.  One is hung over from last year.  Whenever I try to print to my 10 year old HP 1050c plotter directly from Vectorworks my computer using windows 8.1 crashes completely.  I have been working with tech support to try and solve this, but no luck so far.  The other is that importing a file that originally came from version 2010 had a couple of problems.  As you see in the pictures below the model looks pretty good and the clip cube worked fine cutting through the model, but when I tried several times to make a section I got nothing.  Also exporting an image to jpeg got me just a kind of greyed out version of the image.  I did try everything several times and then went to the other model shown earlier and got a good result so it wasn’t that I was doing something wrong.


Model and Clip Cube imported from a much earlier version would not produce a section


All in all it’s quite a nice group of improvements.  For anyone working in 3D and BIM the new open GL engine alone is probably worth the upgrade.   Is Vectorworks the CAD program for you?  That depends.  It is probably the most CAD for the money on the market today.   Some designers might prefer a more specialized and or simpler program.  And some may just have to use a program like Revit that is more integrated with AutoCAD which is still the industry leader in number of users.  The debate goes on, especially between Revit and Vectorworks.  I don’t know enough about Revit to really make a comparison and searching the internet for opinions only leads to more confusion as everyone has his favorite.  There are even people who will argue that AutoCAD is the best, of course they are kidding themselves.  The final choice might not depend so much on which is the best program.  If you are a sole proprietor or someone in charge of making a decision for a one program office Vectorworks is a good choice.  If you are wanting to maximize your chances of finding a job I’m sorry to say you may have to spend your time learning to use an inferior program that is more commonly used.

One should also keep in mind that Vectorworks is highly customizable.  So while out of the box it may not seem perfect spend some time setting up office standards, work sheets, or even writing custom tools using the Python scripting language, and it will probably become perfect for your needs.

Also have a look at my last year’s review of Vectorworks 2013.  The site is listed below.  You will find more useful insights into Vectorworks.

 Links: The Vectorworks main site The Vectorworks Cloud website The Service Select website Review of Vectorworks2013  Our office website Our blog about design and architecture Jonathan Pickup’s site for manuals and videos Home of Camera Match



Compatible with Windows and Mac, including Windows 8.1 and Maverick.  One of the best Open GL renderers on the market.  Fast and stable walkthroughs.  Flexible scripting using Python. Can reference dwg without importing.  Excellent  BIM capabilities. Ability to export to many other programs, including IFC and gbXML for energy calculations. Great rendering capabilities. Simple file structure.  Works the way architects think.  Many new features.  Useable by several of the design professions.


Still no major improvements in the workgroup or team capabilities, no SE, MEP or energy modules. No window-tiling options. NURBS surface capabilities somewhat weak.


The latest update includes the completely revised Open GL rendering engine which is worth the cost of the update alone.  Add to that the dwg reference feature, the revised section viewports and the rest of the 130 improvements and it becomes even sweeter.  For the small office the ability to just buy and use one program for all the design, production, rendering and presentation needs makes Vectorworks a powerful choice.  For the larger office Vectorworks is somewhat weak in workgroup or team capabilities, however there are many large firms, some very famous, using it and it doesn’t seem to hold them back.

Cost: Vectorworks 2014 comes in many versions. In this review we focused on Architect and discussed Renderworks . We did not fully review Renderworks 2014 or the other features in the Designer package.

Prices: (from the Vectorworks online shopping site, note upgrades can only be done from version 2013) $US

Architect alone                     $2,595             Upgrade        $  908

Architect w/ Renderworks $3,145                                     $1,101

Designer alone                      $3,395                                     $1,069

Designer w/ Renderworks   $3,945                                     $1,381



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