Set Your Constraints to Suit Your Project (Working with VectorWorks)

8 May, 2008 By: Jonathan Pickup

Take advantage of these tools when drawing complex shapes or drawing relative to other objects.

Editors note: This tutorial was contributed by ArchonCAD.

Snaps in VectorWorks are called constraints. To use VectorWorks effectively you will need to activate some constraints. The constraints (or snaps) can make it easy to draw accurately. When you draw complex shapes, they allow you to draw relative to other objects, and they help with dimensioning.

Many people do not open the constraints palette and don't want to know how to use the constraints. This is not an effective way to use VectorWorks because it makes accurate drawing a lottery.

Constraint palette with the most useful constraints highlighted.
To open the Constraints palette, go to the Menu Bar. Choose Window / Palettes / Constraints. Click on a constraint to activate it; click on it again to turn it off.

The top-left constraint is Snap to Grid. This constraint is useful only if you need to snap to a specific grid. I rarely use this constraint, but for some situations it's useful. So, for most situations, turn this constraint off.

This constraint controls the Reference Grid. To check your Reference Grid, double click on the Snap to grid Constraint.

The only time I use the Snap to Grid constraint is for drawing walls in 3D. Snapping to a 3D grid is very useful.

Click for larger image Use Snap to Grid to draw walls. (Click image for larger version)

The top-right-hand constraint is called Snap to Object. This constraint is the most useful one and therefore it should be left activated (turned on) for nearly every situation.

If you want to be able to snap to the corner of an object (and you should) then this is the constraint to turn on.

Click for larger image You can snap to the corner of objects only when the Snap to Grid Constraint is turned on. (Click image for larger version)

The second constraint down on the left is called Constrain Angle. This constraint is really useful, and I leave it activated most of the time. This constraint makes it easy to draw objects that are orthogonal (horizontal and vertical).

Constrain Angle makes it easy to draw objects parallel and perpendicular.

The third constraint down on the left is for Smart Points. This constraint is really useful, and I leave it activated for nearly every situation. This constraint has many uses; you can use it to help align objects, you can use it to line up with two points, and you can use it to set up a temporary datum.

Smart Points helps in drawing objects lined up with two existing objects.

This constraint has several options. To access these options, double-click on the Smart Points constraint. You get a dialog box that gives you the options. Some options are better left turned off, and some are better turned on. I leave the Floating Datum (temporary datum) turned off because it's easier to use this way. To set a floating datum you hit the G key. If you turn on the floating datum, it can turn on whenever you leave your mouse on the end of a line, or corner of an object.

To set up a Floating Datum (temporary datum) move your cursor to the end of the object. Hit the G key once. This will set the floating datum. Move away from the datum. If you activate the Floating display bar in VectorWorks 2008 or look at the Data Display bar in earlier versions of VectorWorks you will see the measurements are relative to the datum.

Floating Datum in action.

The third constraint down on the right is called Snap to Distance. This constraint can be useful for some situations, but I don't use it very often. It's useful if you want to snap to one-third of the way along an object, or a specific distance along an object, but most people don't want to do that very often. If you need to do this, turn the constraint on, then turn it off when you are finished.

To edit the settings on this constraint, double click on it. This will open a dialog box to choose your settings. Choose the type of setting first, snap by fraction, distance, or percentage, then type in your settings.

The constraint on the bottom left is called Smart Edges. It is really useful in situations where you want to create objects parallel to other things, rotate objects parallel to other objects, or offset from existing objects. I use this constraint often, but I activate the constraint when I need it and deactivate it when I 'm finished.

To edit the settings on this constraint, double click on it. This will open a dialog box to choose your settings.

The constraint at the bottom right is called Constrain Tangent. It is useful for drawing a line to the tangent of a circle, but I do not use it often.

I hope this tutorial has convinced you to try using your constraint settings; you'll be glad you did.