VectorWorks 11 full review

VectorWorks, a 2D and 3D CAD (computer-aided design) staple for architecture, design and engineering pros, is proof that you don’t have to run Autodesk’s AutoCAD on a PC to be taken seriously as a designer. VectorWorks 11 sports a wealth of productivity improvements and key new capabilities that align it more closely with AutoCAD, the industry leader.

Productivity and drafting
Nemetschek, VectorWorks’ developer, has added a wealth of productivity and drafting enhancements. Users will appreciate the attention to detail shown in this upgrade, as it will make day-to-day drafting tasks significantly easier.

First, the much-improved Trim and Split tools give you more control over trimming and/or splitting complex shapes and polylines with other objects, such as lines. I also like the Resource Browser’s new feature that allows you to quickly apply symbols to a drawing with a simple drag-&-drop. An improved text interface now lets you change the font, point size, style, alignment, and spacing of any text block right in the Object Info palette, instead of requiring multiple selections from the Text menu, as previous versions did.

VectorWorks 11 features additions that give more 3D presentation options. For example, a new Artistic Rendering mode applies artistic effects to 3D renderings, giving them a warmer, hand-drawn feeling similar to effects produced with Adobe Photoshop plug-ins.

VectorWorks 11 also comes with hundreds of new textures, including wood, stone, metals, fabrics, and an extensive collection of linoleum floor and wall coverings. Simply drag-&-drop textures onto a 3D model, and then position, resize, and rotate them in real time without having to search for a specific dialog box.

The best new presentation addition to VectorWorks, however, is QuickTime VR. VectorWorks 11 includes an easy-to-use, built-in QuickTime VR generation tool for both panoramas and objects. QuickTime VR panoramas allow you to view a model from a single point and rotate 360 degrees. QuickTime VR objects allow you to grab an object on the screen and spin it around to get multiple viewing angles. You can distribute the VR files via email or Web sites; they’re viewable with QuickTime on both Mac and Windows machines. Until now, only Graphisoft’s ArchiCAD, a high-end CAD program, had this feature.

VectorWorks’ most significant improvement is the new Viewports, a page-layout feature that lets you set up sheets that show multiple views of the same model or drawing. Each view has an independent scale, orientation, rendering, layer, and class visibility setting. These views are automatically updated when you change the master drawing.

Viewports can also show you different layer sets of a master drawing on the same sheet, without requiring that you physically separate layers that should remain aligned. For example, you may have aligned a first-floor layer and a second-floor layer, but you want to see both floors on the same sheet next to each other. Viewports lets you do this without moving them out of alignment. Viewports can contain separate annotations that give you detailed or enlarged plan views on the same sheet from the same drawing.

This feature is even more valuable because Viewports views are now maintained during import and export, using AutoCAD’s native DWG format. And VectorWorks 11 supports AutoCAD 2004 formats and the sharing of 3D data – including 3D solids information. This lets VectorWorks designers integrate seamlessly into teams that use different CAD programs in Windows.

Wish list
While you can easily create a PDF of any VectorWorks drawing, I’d like to see a more integrated approach to PDF that allowed you to batch-print multiple sheets and/or Viewports. This ability already exists in AutoCAD on the Windows platform.

I would also like to see VectorWorks integrate URL hyperlinks into drawings for both objects and text blocks. That would let users link to project Web sites, or specific Web-based product information, from within a drawing. It would also allow a VectorWorks drawing to serve as the central interface of a presentation, or of a working session containing multiple media formats such as images, virtual-reality views, and QuickTime movies.

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