Discovering Vectorworks

Today, we offer our readers an overview of Vectorworks, one of the most complete software packages for Building Information Modeling (BIM) and planning. Vectorworks, Inc., based in Columbia, Maryland, produces software used around the globe by over 650,000 professionals from the world of architecture, landscaping and entertainment, being active in the market since 1985.

The package is a complete and well designed product, including sophisticated 2D design and 3D modelling environments, enabling professionals to realise projects ranging from architectural to landscape, to 3D modelling and Lighting Design. A complete suite that, thanks to the different workspaces, enables its users to implement design in great detail through the many tools and features that simplify and speed up the designer’s workflow.

Vectorworks is able to interface with many other software packages such as ArchiCAD, SketchUp, Autocad, Cinema 4D and Revit. It allows users to generate plans, prospects, sections, reports, and material lists based on the information contained in the project, in addition to realising the graphical aspects of a presentation in a completely customisable fashion. Rendering in particular, available also in sketch style, generates representations that look like hand made sketches, resembling illustrations. The software is supplied for both Mac OS X and Windows.

Before talking about software and its specific uses in Entertainment, we want to share some considerations that in our view determine, even before the content, the high level of quality attributed to this company.

Discovering Vectorworks

Forum: This is a well organised section of the company’s site, where users can meet and interact with developers. It’s possible to directly access the area of interest (Architecture, Site Design, Entertainment, Vision, etc…) and find easy troubleshooting and tips. Users can submit wishlist features or content requests through the Vectorworks Forum page.

Feedback: A particular section within the Forum, in which it’s possible to propose changes and report problems or bugs within the software. Response times are often quick and users can rate the proposals, allowing developers to prioritise which elements are actioned first.

Webinars: A section of the site containing a number of useful and free online courses, which are either pre-recorded or broadcast live, aimed at helping users to fully understand the features of Vectorworks.

Tutorial: For entertainment enthusiasts, check out the dedicated playlist on the company’s YouTube page to learn the basics of Vectorworks Spotlight, which currently contains 23 videos. Not only this, but the Vectorworks channel is also rich in videos and inspiration for any type of design.

I have personally used a lot of software for lighting design, and Vectorworks is without doubt up in the elite of the industry, especially when you consider the attention to detail paid to ensuring that the user’s experience is practical and fast, with the possibility of choosing the level of detail for each project. All of these elements are fully supported at every phase by the many resources described above.

Discovering Vectorworks

Speaking of organisation and utilisation within Entertainment, Vectorworks offers two basic concepts: Classes and Layers. These can be translated in a practical way as “what” and “where”. Selecting the Spotlight workspace, the system creates a set of default classes that allow the user to quickly associate the various object being created.

Many design tools and features are available during the design phase. Among the Tool Sets are some interesting functions, including modular stages, ramps and stairs. These all include the possibility of choosing the type of surface and the size of the individual modules or the type of support, right up to the selection of the light fixtures, curtains, audio line array systems, point-source speakers, truss of all types, rigging management, video projection, LED wall, seating layout creation and cabling management. There are a number of options for each tool that give life to a truly realistic and uncompromising project.

Discovering VectorworksParticularly useful is the snap tool, which with the presence of the smart point, allows the user to locate spots in space without having to trace support lines or continuously change the snap type.

In the image to the left you can see how easy it was to find a precise point at one third of the total length of the module, simply by going to select the mid-point between the vertices and mid-point of the module. The operation is immediate and requires no click besides the final press on the desired point. The user needs only to hover briefly in a certain point and wait for the red square to appear, then repeat the operation at the next reference point.

The construction of truss or pipe trains is also fast and practical, since the user does not have to go looking for the model library and truss type, which can be done at a later stage with a form of conversion. Instead, once the user has selected the straight or curved tool trunk, Vectorworks offers a range of options that span from simple length determination, to choice of dimension of the profile (square, triangular, plate etc.), choice of connection system, pre-rigging and more.

After converting a truss or pipe to “Light Position“, you can then go on to “hook up”, a tool to position and distribute the various fixtures, with many choices of DMX mode.

After the design, you can switch to DMX address assignment, allowing for the numbering fixtures, assignment of accessories and more, through the “Number Instruments” function. This allows the user, with just a few simple gestures, to decide what and how to number selected fixtures.

Discovering Vectorworks

The design phase is rich in small but useful features that make the experience of using this software enjoyable and stress-free. These include features such as graphical representations of fixtures size, the ability to generate multiple types of projector identification labels to avoid reading problems, two side menus that allow for fast selection the various tools or visualisation of any classes or layers at any one time, and the ability to create and print reports by dragging data directly from the database attached to the project.

The last step consists of creating project plans. The user simply chooses the “Create View” function, which allows for the creation of various views, on which the user can select the page size, set the scale, decide on the point of view and render it if necessary. With the “Sheet Border” tool, it is possible to insert information into the project by choosing from a number of available layouts, while using another tool will add a legend providing information on the various fixtures in the project.

And then? The user simply sends everything to Vision to test the project with a console. But that’s a story for another time…

With this first article, we wanted to illustrate some of the many features of this incredibly useful tool, focussing on basic use as lighting design software. We can’t under-emphasise the potential of this software, which is vast, especially when paired with 3D Vision simulation software.

Want more? Stay tuned!


Walter Lutzu
ZioGiorgio team

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