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Vectorworks: Learn The Basics In 1 Hour

Updated Nov 24, 2019
VectorWorks Learn the Basics

If you like to stay updated with Scan2CAD’s blog, you’ll undoubtedly be familiar with Vectorworks, a notable CAD and BIM software that we’ve recently put in the spotlight. It deserves its place there: Vectorworks‘ numerous features and wide accessibility has seen many different industries adopt it, including the design, lighting and AEC sectors. As such, it should come as little surprise that professionals, hobbyists and students alike have taken have taken to the software. If you’re new to the software, however, you may need a few pointers to fully get to grips with the Vectorworks basics.

Fortunately, Scan2CAD has put together a guide to learning Vectorworks basics in one hour. We’ll cover how to use the software’s interface, information on the all-important tool palettes and much more!

Vectorworks basics: orientation

It’s always a good idea to familiarize yourself with the basic interface of your chosen CAD package before you move onto features and drawings. While CAD software packages have fundamental differences, they tend to share overriding similarities—particularly in regards to the interface. Fortunately, this means you might not need long to get to grips with the Vectorworks interface if you’ve used CAD software before. Take at least 10 minutes to ensure you know where everything’s located and how basic features work.

When Vectorworks first opens, you’ll be faced with a standard drawing area and a variety of tool palettes. Interestingly, the color of your drawing area changes depending on your chosen view. To start, it will have an off-white background to indicate you’re in a top plan view. If you switch to a 3D view it will change to green, whilst a perspective projection will give you a green gradient to represent the ground and a blue gradient to represent the sky.

As with most CAD software, you’ll find white rulers on the left hand side of the drawing area—giving you an X and Y reference. At the bottom, you’ll find the message bar which will give you general help tips. As for the menu bar at the top, it should be very familiar for all users, containing common menus like File, Edit, View and Modify. You will, of course, find specialized menus depending on your chosen Vectorworks product, e.g., Architect, Landmark or Spotlight. A noteworthy difference between Vectorworks and other CAD packages is the lack of a command line, which we will discuss further below.

Before you start drawing 

So, you’ve gotten to grips with the interface—but hold your horses, you’re not ready for your first drawing yet. We always recommend checking the default settings for any CAD package. More specifically, you should check you’re using the right unit system. You don’t want to be using the wrong angle or length of units in your drawing. It’s simple enough to select or change your current measurement system. Head to File > Document Settings > Unit and the Units dialog box will pop up. Then specify the units display parameters and click OK. Additionally, you can create a custom unit system by selecting Custom from the length, area or volume units list. 
Quick Preferences menu in Vectorworks

You might also want to play around with your preferences. One of the main benefits of Vectorworks is its huge variety of customization capabilities. With this being a Vectorworks basics guide, however, we’re going to look specifically at Quick Preferences. This menu controls the buttons displayed on your toolbar. The following preferences are already enabled by default on the menu: Data Bar and Edit Group Options, Default 3D Render Mode, Default 3D Projection and Zoom Line Thickness. 

If you want to add more buttons to your toolbar, just click on the relevant item and a check mark will appear. You can add preferences like Show Grid, Use Layer Colors and Show Rulers. If you have too many tools in your toolbar, it will be resized and ellipses will show on the right. Take the time to individualize your interface and it will pay off in the end. 

Tool palettes 

By this point, we’re sure you’re desperate to get started on your first drawing. Before you can do so, however, you need to familiarize yourself with Vectorworks’ tool palettes.  

To start, you have the basic palette. As the name suggests, this palette contains commonly used tools which will be vital in any drawing you do. Example tools include the selection tool, rectangle, circle and polyline. Below the basic palette is the tool sets palette containing multiple sets of tools grouped according to functionality and similarity. The 3D modeling tool set, for example, contains tools that can be used to create or modify 3D models. How extensive each tool set is depends on which software package you have. Vectorworks Architect, for example, will have a larger tool set for Site Planning. 

Object info palette in Vectorworks

The object info palette is located on the right hand side of the drawing window. Cited as one of the most important palettes available in Vectorworks, this palette is vital in giving you essential information about your drawing objects. There are three tabs: shape, data and render. The Shape tab gives you general information about a selected object and allows you to edit parameters. With the Data tab, you can name the selected object and edit and record information you might have. The Render tab enables you to apply aspects like sketch effects to objects. 

The resource browser, as the name suggests, gives users a way to look for resources within their files. With it, you can view, edit and apply resources. You can even navigate to resource libraries within the Vectorworks software, e.g., line types. Additional palettes include attributes, snapping and much more—as you can imagine, it might take you longer than one hour to familiarize yourself with everything available!

Drawing and editing

The best part about trying out new CAD software is testing the waters with drawing and editing tools. If the large variety of tool palettes didn’t give it away, Vectorworks has quite the selection of tools available. You’ll no doubt be familiar with geometric shapes like rectangle, circle and polyline. You’ll also be able to take advantage of modification tools like rotate, mirror and trim. If you don’t recognize a tool, try it out in a practice drawing. 

If you’re a regular user of software like AutoCAD or DraftSight, you’ll probably be used to commands and shortcuts. While Vectorworks doesn’t have a command line, it does come with keyboard shortcuts for almost all of its tools. All you have to do is hover over the top of a tool for a tool tip to appear—giving you general information about the tool and the keyboard shortcut it’s been assigned. For example, the shortcut for the rectangle is the number 4. You can see this in action in the video below. 

Want a complete list of all the shortcuts and hotkeys? Take a look at this handy Vectorworks list. You might find it useful to print it out so you can practice until you know them off by heart. Using shortcuts can really speed up your drawing process, taking you from a Vectorworks amateur to a Vectorworks pro. 

Extra resources

Vectorworks white banner

Hopefully, we’ve covered the majority of Vectorworks basics that you should get to grips with before moving onto the more advanced capabilities offered by the software. Regardless of whether you found this guide to be easy or not, it’s not as simple to master the entirety of Vectorworks. Why? There’s a lot going on and it will take you a lot of time and effort—not to put you off! With that in mind, we’ve put together a few top resources that should help you along the way. 

What better way to learn from Vectorworks than from the company that developed the software? Vectorworks provides users with a wide variety of resources to help them with their learning process. Here are a few top picks below—featuring beginner guides, tutorial videos and software update news. 

Another way to get acquainted with Vectorworks is by surrounding yourself with relevant blogs and tutorial providers. By doing so, you can keep updated with the latest news and software features. It’s also a great way to follow tutorials from people who are more than experienced with the software. 

Want to know how to learn other CAD software in one hour? Check out AutoCAD or DraftSight Basics


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