Top Tips and Tricks for Vectorworks Newbies

Updated Jul 8, 2019
Vectorworks: Tips & Tricks for Newbies

If you’ve been keeping an eye on the Scan2CAD blog, you might be familiar with Vectorworks—a cross-platform CAD and BIM software gaining popularity in the entertainment and architecture industries. As you’d imagine, a software offering both CAD and BIM has many advanced features and capabilities that can be difficult to get to grips with. Fortunately, we’ve compiled some top tips and tricks for Vectorworks newbies to help you become a pro.

Scan2CAD’s latest guide covers the best tips and tricks for Vectorworks—including advice on managing workspaces, customizing shortcuts and creating your own drawing templates. We’ve even included a few top resources for you to take advantage of.

Summary of Vectorworks

Vectorworks is a cross-platform CAD and BIM software developed by Nemetschek Vectorworks Inc. Used internationally, it was one of the first CAD programs and the first cross-platform CAD application. It was also one of the first companies to start introducing BIM capabilities to its software. Vectorworks is used across the AEC and entertainment industries—a strong competitor to software like AutoCAD and SolidWorks.

With Vectorworks, users can create 2D and 3D designs and models. It comes with parametric features and photo-realistic renderings that bring designs to life. Additionally, BIM capabilities enable users to conceptualize designs, analyze projects and generate schedules to refine construction details. It’s designed to run on Windows and Mac OS X. As with developers like Autodesk, Vectorworks offers different packages—or suites—all tailored with features to suit different industries:

There’s a lot more to Vectorworks than meets the eye. Not encountered it yet? That’s fine—check out our article on everything you need to know about Vectorworks.

Vectorworks basics

We can’t exactly go straight into tips and tricks for Vectorworks if you haven’t first gotten to grips with the very basics. After all, you need a bit of a foundation before you start looking at advanced capabilities. So, where do you start? Scan2CAD’s way ahead of you, which is why we’ve got a handy guide to learning Vectorworks basics in 1 hour—helping you get to grips with the user interface and much more. Not enough for you? You could always check out Vectorworks’ very own basics guide featuring tips on:

  • User Interface: looking at aspects like the drawing area and the view bar.
  • Palettes and workspaces: showing users how to customize their workspace.
  • Mouse Interaction: covering basic user interaction and selecting objects.
  • Navigation and views: how to switch between standard views and use pan.
  • Object types: looking at the various types of objects available.

Of course, that’s just the tip of the iceberg with the basics. There’s so much to do with Vectorworks that you need to give yourself time to get fully acquainted with it. Fortunately, Vectorworks offers beginners—and experts—a lot of help in the way of getting started guides.

Vectorworks community

Whether you’re using Vectorworks as a hobbyist or looking to incorporate it into your business, it’s certainly worthwhile joining the Vectorworks community. Why? The Vectorworks community gives you access to a large number of resources that you can look to whenever you’ve got questions or issues. You can make use of message boards to talk to other users—ideal for when you’ve got technical issues.

There’s even a Vectorworks User Group community which is great for helping you learn how to use Vectorworks more efficiently. You can network with designers and Vectorworks users in your area, so no question goes unanswered. Looking for a job? Vectorworks even has its own job board featuring employment opportunities at Vectorworks, internships and positions offered by users.

And for those looking to stay updated on all things Vectorworks-related—which we definitely suggest—there are a number of mailing lists for you to join. This enables you to receive all press releases as soon as they’re announced. There’s even a latest news section so you can look at press releases, recent blog articles, case studies and product reviews.

Commands and shortcuts 101

The next step to becoming a Vectorworks expert is definitely getting to grips with commands and shortcuts. By using them, you can easily cut your design process in half—speeding up your productivity immensely. You might choose to learn commands after you’ve figured out the basics and designed your first model. Or, you might learn how to use commands at the same time as everything else.

Interestingly, Vectorworks doesn’t come with a command line, which might come as a surprise for AutoCAD and SolidWorks users. Fortunately, it does come with a wide variety of keyboard shortcuts for most of its tools. Typical shortcuts look like:

  • Rectangle: 4
  • Rounded rectangle: Alt+4
  • Triangle: Shift+T
  • Mirror: =
  • Chamfer: Alt+7

Take a look at the full list of Vectorworks shortcuts here. Fancy customizing your own shortcuts? Keep on reading to see how you can customize menu, tool palette and tool set commands and much more.

From newbie to expert: customization

One of main things that tends to set CAD beginners and experts apart is the use of customized workspaces, shortcuts and tool palettes. If you know how to shape your CAD interface to better suit your own preferences and needs, you can speed up your workflow dramatically.

Managing workspaces

Screenshot of managing workspaces in Vectorworks

You can manage your workspaces in a number of ways. To manage all available workspaces, select Tools > Workspaces > Workspaces. If you’re only looking to make changes to your current workspace, head to Tools > Workspaces > Edit Current Workspace. Alternatively, you can click Customize from the utility menu of a tool set or tool palette.

You can then make changes to menus, commands, tool palettes and more for all available workspaces. We’re going to look at modifying menus and commands and tool palettes—as you’ll see below.


If you want to customize your workspace to better suit your needs and preferences, you might want to first start by customizing your menus. Simply head to the Workspace Editor dialog box by heading to Tools > Workspaces > Menu. On the left-hand side of the box, you’ll see all available commands grouped by category. On the right-hand side, you’ll see all the menus and commands currently assigned to your workspace.

  • Add a new menu or sub-menu: simply click the New Menu command from the commands list and drag it to the position of your choosing in the Menus list. Click the item to assign it a name.
  • Add a command to a menu: click the plus sign on the left-hand side to expand the commands list. Select your command and click-drag it to the desired position in the Menus list.
  • Change menu name: select the menu from the Menus list and type the desired name.
  • Shortcut modifications: you can assign or change the keys used for shortcuts to access a menu command. Select the command, select a shortcut key combination and click in the field to press the desired key.
  • Delete an item: select the item and press the Delete key.

When you’re happy with your selections, click OK to save.

Tool palettes and tool sets

Screenshot of utility menu in Vectorworks Much like customizing your menus, Vectorworks couldn’t make it any easier to alter your tool palettes and tool sets to your liking. Simply head to Tools > Workspaces > Workspaces to manage all available workspaces, then Customize. Alternatively, you can edit a tool set directly by clicking Customize from the tool palette utility menu.

Once you’re there, click on the Tools tab. The dialog box that pops up will show all tools available on the left-hand side, all grouped by category, e.g., 2D tools, bearings, detailing and so on. The right-hand side of the box displays the tool palettes, tool sets and other tools that are assigned to your workspace.

  • Add a new tool palette: simply click-drag the New Tool Palette command from the Create list to the Palettes list—you can then rename as desired.
  • Add a new tool set: click-drag the New Tool Set command from the Create list to the Palettes list and rename.
  • To add a tool or category to a tool set: click the plus sign to expand the list of tools, click-drag the tool from the Tools list to the desired position in the Palettes list.
  • Shortcut keys: as with menu shortcuts, simply select a tool and select a shortcut key combination. If the key’s already in use, a message displays and you’ll have to change it.
  • Delete an item: select the item in the Palettes list and press the Delete key.

Of course, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. You can also modify context menus, special shortcuts and initial palette positions and settings. Once you’re happy with your changes, click OK to save everything and close the Workspace Editor dialog box.

Creating drawing templates

If you’re looking to get started on a new drawing quickly, you might find it easier to create custom templates—or use standard templates. These templates can contain aspects like layers, classes, sheet borders and settings for attributes or units. When you open a template, Vectorworks then copies it to create a new file. This means you don’t need to worry about your master template being overwritten.

To create a template, open a new file. You can then set up the file with your desired preferences. Select File > Document Settings > Document Preferences. Here, the Document Preferences dialog box will open.

Screenshot of document preferences in Vectorworks

Image source: archoncad

You can then click each tab in the box to set your specific preferences, including:

  • Display tab: including parameters like black and white only, use layer colors, adjust flipped text and drop shadows.
  • Dimensions tab: set preferences like associate dimensions, auto associate, dimension standard and dimension slash.
  • Resolution tab: set resolution preferences like rotated text display, bitmap display, design layer raster rendering DPI.
  • Plane mode tab: including parameters like screen plane only, working plane only and screen plane or working plane.
  • Plan shadows tab: set shadow settings like offset units, fill style, opacity, use class opacity, show shadow under canopy.

Once you’re happy with your preferences select File > Save As Template to save your new drawing template. To use the template at any point, head to File > New > Use Document Template, then select your new template from the list.

Manage your standards

While it might appear obvious at first, we always think it’s worth mentioning standards and naming conventions. When you’re working with CAD and BIM, you’re almost definitely going to have dozens of files and templates at hand. So, if you don’t set standards and naming conventions, things are going to get confusing very quickly.

Make things easier for yourself in the long run—set up naming conventions the moment you start working in Vectorworks. Run with a certain style and make sure you stick with it for all of your files and drawing templates. If you don’t mind a bit of confusion in your life, then by all means, keep it spontaneous. If you’re working in a team, however, you will almost definitely need to use a standard naming convention—you don’t want people getting confused over which file they’re revising.

Looking for more advice? Head on over to our CAD file management tips.

Top resources

Vectorworks white banner

We always like to include a section on top resources to take advantage of. Why? It’s the best way to truly immerse yourself into your chosen software. In this case, there are plenty of top Vectorworks resources to enjoy—all in the name of helping you become a true Vectorworks expert.

To start, you can’t go wrong with checking out all the official Vectorworks channels. Keeping an eye on the latest software releases, updated guides and news will help you stay engaged with Vectorworks.

Not enough? Don’t worry: there are plenty of other blogs and resources to take advantage of. Not only do they cover aspects like the latest product changes, they also cover beginner tips and even video tutorials if you’re a more hands-on learner.

Not a Vectorworks user? That’s fine—we have a range of tips and tricks for AutoCAD, SolidWorks and DraftSight users too. If you’d like to stay updated on all things CAD-related, just keep an eye on Scan2CAD’s blog.

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