Vectorworks: Learn The Basics In 1 Hour

Updated Nov 4, 2022
VectorWorks Learn the Basics

If you like to stay updated with Scan2CAD’s blog, you’ll undoubtedly be familiar with Vectorworks, a term that represents CAD history and heritage dating back to the 1980s. Vectorworks refers to both a software development company founded in 1985 (Vectorworks, Inc.) and a notable CAD and BIM (Building Information Modeling) 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 this 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!

About Vectorworks

Vectorworks is a popular CAD and BIM solution. It is available as several different products targeting disparate niches,including design, construction, entertainment, and more. Together, these products, which include Vectorworks Architect, Vectorworks Landscape, Vectorworks Spotlight, Vectorworks Design Suite, Braceworks, and ConnectCAD, serve a community of more than 685,000 users (as of September 2022).

Billed as a flexible solution created to facilitate the entire design process from start to finish, Vectorworks contains precision drafting tools (to facilitate 2D design), a 3D modeling engine powered by SIEMENS Parasolid (that supports 3D modeling), and an extensive suite of rendering tools. In addition, Vectorworks products promote collaboration; they natively and by default support imports from and exports to other CAD and design software, including AutoCAD, Revit, Rhino, Photoshop, Cinema 4D, and more.

This extensive offering of design and modeling tools is, of course, not available for free, unless you are using the products on a free trial or under an educational license. Instead, each Vectorworks product is sold or rented out at a set price.

Currently, Vectorworks uses a hybrid pricing model that includes perpetual licensing and subscriptions. Starting January 1, 2023, however, the company will no longer sell its software using the perpetual licensing model. This means Vectorworks will mainly concentrate on the subscription model. The company has even sought to help existing perpetual license holders to transition to the subscription-based model by paying a discounted fee for the first year. We have discussed how much Vectorworks costs in a comprehensive pricing explained article. 

However, if you cannot afford the listed prices, you can consider some equally formidable but affordable Vectorworks alternatives. You can also choose to offset the lifetime cost of using the software by using free Vectorworks objects instead of buying them. Available on more than 10 websites, these objects are essentially 3D models and BIM objects of different products. In addition to helping you save on cost, the objects also enable you to create designs and models much faster, saving on time.

Vectorworks Basics

How to Download Vectorworks

As Vectorworks products are available for both macOS and Windows OS, it is important to ensure that you download the correct installer. That said, there are two approaches you can use to download Vectorworks.

Approach 1: Free Trial Download from Search

To download Vectorworks free trial, follow this procedure:

  1. Type ‘Vectorworks free trial’ on your preferred search engine
    Vectorworks Trial Version Request Form

    Vectorworks Trial Version Request Form (Form 2)

    The search engine will display a result from titled ‘Free 30-day, BIM & CAD software trial request.’ Click on this result.
  2. Fill and submit form 1
    This form will require you to select the category that best describes your work or organization. You will also have to select a country from a drop-down menu on the website.
  3. Depending on the country you select, Vectorworks will also require you to choose your preferred language. Click ‘Continue’ upon selecting your language.
  4. Fill and submit form 2
    This form (shown below) requires you to populate various fields with your first and last name, company name, city, email address, telephone number, and industry. You also have to agree to Vectorworks’ privacy policy. Click ‘Submit.’
  5. Vectorworks will send an email containing your free-trial serial number along with a download link for both macOS and Windows.
  6. Select your preferred installer based on the OS you are using.

Approach 2: Download from Vectorworks Customer Portal

To download Vectorworks from the customer portal, follow this procedure:

  1. Create an account with Vectorworks or log in to your account via this link
  2. Under the Vectorworks 2023 section on the dashboard, click “Download Now.”
    Download from the Vectorworks Customer Portal

    Vectorworks Download from the Customer Portal

  3. On the new page, select the Vectorworks product you want to download from a selection that contains Vectorworks, Viewer, Vision, and Select Protection Server. You also have to choose your platform (operating system). Finally, click ‘Download.’
    Vectorworks Visual Download Procedure

    Vectorworks Visual Download Procedure

How to Install Vectorworks

To install Vectorworks, follow this procedure:

  1. If you are using Windows OS, extract the installation files from the downloaded ZIP file using an extractor and open the resultant folder. If you are a macOS user, the downloaded files will be located in a .dmg file, macOS’s equivalent of disc files.
  2. Click the Vectorworks Installer file/icon, which automatically extracts and installs the installation module
    Vectorworks Installation Module

    Vectorworks Installation Module

  3. Enter your serial number (it could be a free trial serial number, a subscription-based serial number, or a perpetual license serial number) and hit ‘Next.’
  4. Agree to Vectorworks License Agreement and hit ‘Next.’
  5. Review the ‘Read Me’ information to familiarize yourself with the system requirements for running Vectorworks. Then, click on ‘Next’
  6. Choose a location for your installation as well as whether or not you would like to help Vectorworks to improve your experience by collecting usage data. Finally, click on ‘Install.’
  7. Click on ‘Finish’ to complete the installation process.
  8. If you downloaded Vectorworks using Approach 2 above, you will be prompted to choose the category that best describes you or your organization.
  9. Activate Vectorworks.

The procedures described above result in the installation of Vectorworks Design Suite 2023.

How to Set Up Vectorworks

Setting up Vectorworks is a straightforward process. As a beginner, you may not have used the application before. You may not even have access to Vectorworks documents. So, to create a new document, click ‘New,’ whereupon a ‘Create Document’ window will open. Here, you can either opt to create a new black document or use one of the many templates available on Vectorworks. That said, if you already have a Vectorworks file (.vwx file), you can open it by clicking ‘Open.’

Create Document Window on Vectorworks

Create Document Window on Vectorworks


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.

Vectorworks 2023 Interface

Vectorworks 2023 Interface

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 

Quick Preferences Menu

Quick Preferences Menu

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. 

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. 

Vectorworks 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’ 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. 

Basic Palette on Vectorworks

Basic Palette on 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. 

Object Info Palette on Vectorworks

Object Info Palette on Vectorworks


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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