The 3D Side of VectorWorks

31 Jan, 2003 By: John E. Wilson

Like AutoCAD and TurboCAD, VectorWorks from Nemetschek AG is a 2D-drafting program that also has 3D-modeling capabilities. We'll begin exploring the 3D features of VectorWorks this month. VectorWorks comes in either a Macintosh or Windows version for $895. For an additional $300, you can add a photorealistic renderer, called RenderWorks. Other add-ons include Architect, Landmark (for landscape design and site modeling), and Mechanical. These add-ons increase the 3D capabilities of VectorWorks, but we will concentrate on the capabilities that are within the basic version. Visit for more information about VectorWorks and these add-ons.

In Figure 1 you can see a typical screen from the Windows version of VectorWorks 10. The Macintosh screen, including the tool palettes, dialog boxes, and menus, is basically the same. You can customize the menus, palettes, and even the shortcut keys of VectorWorks through the Workspace Editor (select File from the Menu Bar, and then select Workspaces>Workspace Editor), or choose one of several ready-made workspaces that suits your needs. Figure 1 shows the menus and palettes of the Classic workspace.

Figure 1. The VectorWorks screen consists of a flexible and easily customized collection of windows, menus, and palettes for creating both 2D and 3D objects.

Drawing Window
You draw and construct 3D models in the drawing window, which comprises the bulk of the VectorWorks screen. Although you can have multiple drawing windows open simultaneously, you can have only one window for each file, and you cannot divide a window into multiple viewports. You can choose between white or black as the background color of the drawing window when you set up your preferences for VectorWorks.

Menu Bar
The menu bar at the top of the screen contains pulldown menus for performing various operations. For example, when you move the cursor to Model, a pulldown menu for performing 3D operations, such as creating an extrusion or combining two solids, appears. Items that are not applicable are grayed out in this menu. Thus, if you have not drawn, or selected, a 2D object suitable for extruding, Extrude will be grayed out. The VectorWorks manuals refer to the items in these menus as commands, and none of them are duplicated in the tool pallets. In general, commands perform actions that do not use a pointing device, while tools perform actions that do need one. For instance, the 2D Rotate tool in the Editing palette (which we will describe shortly) directs you to pick a rotation point and then establish the rotation angle by picking two additional points. The Rotate command in the Tool pulldown menu, on the other hand, displays a dialog box for you to specify a rotation angle about the center of the object's bounding box.

Data Display Bar
The Data Display bar, located just below the menu bar, displays information appropriate to the current operation. When you are drawing a 2D line, for instance, the X and Y fields of the bar display the coordinates of the current location of the cursor, the L field displays the current length of the line, and the A field displays the current angle of the line from the x axis. When you are drawing a 3D object, such as a spline curve, the Data Display bar expands to display fields for the z-axis direction and differences between the ground plane and the working plane. You can enter data in the fields by clicking within them, or by pressing the Tab key and typing the data. The bar also displays the current class, layer, and zoom factor.

Mode Bar
The Mode bar displays options and prompts for the current operation. For example, when you select the ellipse tool, options for drawing an ellipse and also for drawing a circle appear in the mode bar along with prompts for specifying points of the ellipse or circle, as shown in Figure 1.

View Bar
The View bar, located to the left of the horizontal Scroll bar at the base of the drawing window, contains eight buttons for changing your view or the zoom factor, within the drawing with one click. Zoom In, for example, doubles the zoom factor, and Fit to Objects zooms in or out as necessary to completely show the existing objects or the currently selected object (or objects). Viewing operations that require a mouse, such as real-time zooms, are initiated by buttons in the tool palettes. The View bar is not displayed if you have set your VectorWorks preferences to not display the Scroll bars.

Object Info Palette
Data about the selected object, or objects, is displayed in the Object Info palette, and often you can edit the data to change the object. For instance, when you select an extruded object, its extrusion height is given, also shown in Figure 1, and you can go into the height field to change the extruded length.

Resource Browser
The Resource Browser is a repository of VectorWorks resources, including hatch patterns and predrawn 2D and 3D objects--which VectorWorks calls symbols--you can insert in a drawing or model. Items are shown in the browser in either a list mode (again, see Figure 1) or a thumbnail mode.

Attributes Palette
The Attributes Palette sets the appearance properties of selected or future objects, if no object is currently selected. To set the color of 2D-surface objects, such as circles, and the surface color of 3D objects, click within the Fill color field to activate a dialog box containing samples of as many as 256 colors. 2D surface objects are always displayed in the color you specify, but 3D objects assume the color only within shaded viewing modes. You can set the edge color of 3D objects, as well as the color of 2D objects, by clicking in the Pen color field. And you can set the thickness of edges by clicking in the Line Style field. For 2D objects, you can also set the line style to one of several dashed line modes. 3D objects, though, can have only continuous edges.

2D Tool Palettes
The 2D Tools palette contains tools for selecting, viewing, and creating 2D objects. VectorWorks depends extensively on object preselection. For example, to rotate one or more 2D objects, you must first use the 2D Selection tool to select them, and then activate a tool or command to perform the rotation. The viewing tools--Pan, Zoom In, and Zoom Out--also work with 3D objects, and they work in real-time. The Zoom In and Zoom Out tools also have a marquee option in which you specify a viewing area by drawing a rectangle in the drawing window. You will often use 2D objects as the basis for 3D models. For instance, to create a 3D column, you will first draw a 2D circle and then extrude it to the length you want.

The 2D Editing palette has tools for modifying 2D objects. It includes tools for changing their shape and size, for creating mirror image and offset copies, and for trimming and splitting them.

Palettes for 3D Tools
The 3D Tools palette contains tools for selecting 3D objects, performing real-time view direction rotation, setting the working plane, creating and modifying basic 3D objects, and drawing 3D wire objects. A second set of tools, found in the 3D Power Pack palette, creates NURBS 3D surface objects as well as fillets, chamfers, and shells from existing 3D objects. These tools first appeared in a no-charge supplement to VectorWorks 9.5.1. A third set of tools, found in the Walls Palette, creates a variety of curved and straight 3D walls. I will describe how to use these VectorWorks 3D tools in the next Third Dimension column.

About the Author: John E. Wilson

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