Saturday, November 29, 2008

Convert to Lines #32

Serving the Seattle VectorWorks Users Group and Northwest VectorWorks users.

An archive of past newsletters can be found at
To contact me, please write to or call (206) 524-2808

In this issue:
• NNA (still) coming to demo Version ‘09
• New movie for User Group members
• Getting to converted line drawings while using Stack Layers
• Making promotional materials
• Misc. cautions, etc.

No meeting for December as usual but I had more than a few things to talk about so I’m getting this letter out hoping to have a running start when we return in late January. By then I hope to have a few hours under my belt using Version ‘09 which is due to arrive any day now.


Still time to register for the free demo of Vectorworks 2009, to be held December 11th, on Thursday evening, downtown Seattle. Please pass this on to anyone you know who uses Vectorworks. Thanks!


We have a new movie provided by NNA for user group members.
Francois Levy, leader of the Austin Texas Vw User Group, has created a movie that shows how he uses the power of Vectorworks to design in 3d, then display model information throughout his plans. Levy has evolved a sophisticated approach to plan development. I think you’ll enjoy seeing him employ those processes.


The following describes how to use Stack Layers to rapidly get four exterior hidden line views of your model, placed on new layers, rendered and converted to lines for ease of editing.

Reconciling old and new technologies within your Vectorworks workflow is a normal part of learning and advancing but can sometimes be a challenge when a technique you’ve used in creating drawings disappears. The direction we’ve gotten from NNA is that we should be using Stack Layers, along with Viewport Sections, to display our models. This is a natural evolution as new ways are developed to show information but as a result of this transition, we find tools such as Create Layer Link and Model View tool left off the main menus and sent into the Legacy folder. And yet there isn’t an official method—no developed alternative—for getting to the benefits of a traditional model-on-design layer using Stack Layers. For me, a big benefit of the past has been ease of converting a model into editable lines.

Stack Layers has become a key part of my drawing process and there is real advantage to seeing your model all at once while being able to isolate layers to correct various issues, usually related to textures or fills; errors that typically show up during rendering. Many of you have embraced Stack Layers and not looked back. When you’ve needed to edit-over unfinished or unwanted lines, you do it in Annotations mode after making a viewport of a model view. I find in my own drawings I do quite a bit of reworking of viewports, both adding lines, revising weights, or adding details, frequently because pushing the 3d model toward total completion didn’t seem practical at the time. These days I use Stack Layers to make viewport-based elevations of my drawing, typically in Hidden Line style, and I stay with these as long as possible, taking advantage of automatic updating of layers since projects change over time. But ultimately I want to convert my model to lines so editing is easier, really, much easier than staying solely with Stack Layers based viewports.

To start, assemble your Stack Layers model in the regular way by turning to visible any design layers holding 3d info. (Tip: indent the name of each 3d-holding layer by three spaces to ease finding them on your Layers list, then bunch them together). Make a viewport and send it not to a Sheet, but to a Design Layer. This is called a DLVP. Note that from this single DLVP you can rotate the model contained within to any view. Set your model to a side view, render in Hidden Line, then Convert Copy to Lines. Send the converted lines, using the OIP (or Object Info palette) to a new design layer we’ll name “Elevations”. From there it can be ungrouped and edited.

BONUS TECHNIQUE: before you render a second view, but after having sent your lines to the Elevations layer, select the Render Bitmap tool from the floating palettes (look at the Visualization palette sporting the light bulb and select the teapot icon) and drag it over the elevation such that it creates a full color image, perhaps using Custom Renderworks, which can be chosen from the Render Bitmap Options palette. Send this image to your Elevations layer and it will fall exactly atop the rendered lines. Obviously, we’ll want to send the full color rendering to the back so that the lines sit up front, accenting and highlighting the colored image. Repeat this process for the other three elevations but do the bitmap render first and the hidden lines second which places them in the correct order.

Make a viewport of each elevation, either of the line work alone from Hidden Lines rendering, or a composite including the Bitmap renderings.

From here you can annotate each elevation viewport, organize them on sheets and eventually print. If your model changes later, you can redo the bitmap render and replace the old with the new rendering. Same with the Hidden Line rendering. Having made a viewport of the line work from each face of the model, if the model changes you can turn the DLVP to visible, set it to match the original orientation, and rework your lines, assuming that the changes are small. If the changes are big, re-render as Hidden Line and Convert Copy to Lines again.

I found, in editing lines placed over a fully rendered model, that the result looked really good but there were many lines I didn’t want, lines that cluttered, rather than aided clarity. Among these:
•Muntin bar lines
•cable railing lines
•lines from objects with a heavy polygon count (people)

These can all be hand-edited out. With a little advance planning, you could class your cables and turn that class off prior to beginning Hidden Line rendering. I removed the image of the person from my line drawing by doing just that, since, with its high poly count, it rendered out as nearly all black. I turned that class back ON when rendering with Custom Renderworks, going into the dead lines VP and removing background lines that now overlaid and obscured my figure. The muntin bars can’t be controlled by class so manual removal is the only option.

If you use the Render Bitmap tool, be sure to set your dpi high, perhaps to 300, via the Render Bitmap Options palette found in the upper left hand corner of the Mode bar once the tool has been activated. Also, make sure you Edit the final Sheet layers to also show a 300 dpi setting.

More tips:
•DLVP’s can be duplicated.
•In assembling my 3d-containing design layers, using Stack Layers, into something usable, I will often employ the Camera tool to place a 3d loci into one of my 3d layers which can then be activated via the OIP or by clicking on the camera angle icon to generate a perspective view. If you find that your DLVP of a perspective view has lost its position and is now in Top View, go to the layer holding the camera loci (don’t forget which one) and dbl. click it. Now click on your DLVP. The correct setting should return. If you forget which layer you’ve placed the camera loci on, you can easily find it by using the Visualization palette and clicking on the camera reference which will restore the orientation.
•When you do a Convert Copy to Lines and send those lines to a new layer, an odd condition can occur when the receiving layer inherits the same 3d orientation of the original layer but the converted lines no longer contain 3d information. Hit Command 5 or Control 5 (or Top/Plan View) and your converted lines will appear.
•You have quite a bit of control of lighting using Custom Renderworks. In Custom Renderworks Options, look under the Adjust Lighting tab as well as under the Rendering tab.
•When using the Render Bitmap tool on a Stack Layers model, the bitmap will be created BEHIND the model and you won’t be able to see it. Turn off Stack Layers after the rendering is finished. You’ll see it then and be able to route it to the appropriate layer. This behavior doesn’t happen on a DLVP. If you render a few times in this fashion and know that the image is still selected, then just send it on to the appropriate layer.
•Add “DLVP” as a prefix to the front of any design layer containing a DLVP to help you recognize its unique status.
•There are two palettes within Vw named Visualization. OOPS, in my opinion. There is the tear-off palette containing a host of tools. There is also the palette available via the main menu under Window > Palettes that holds instances of light objects and camera views.

In the future, I’d love to be able to edit my viewports by reaching into the model, shift-selecting to hide lines or otherwise modify, ideally by using a keyboard command. Workarounds, such as I’ve described above, are no fun. And feature-envey is no fun either when you find a competing CAD app has just added the very tool you want. From the Sketchup 7 web site: “Right-click on any placed SketchUp model and choose Explode. Depending on how it was rendered, you'll get vector lines, raster images, or a combination of both. It's the easiest way to get vector geometry to edit directly, hands-down.”

Ok, NNA, the gauntlet has been thrown down. Everything old is new again!

I’d like to thank Kevin Keys for input on this topic and for Matt Panzer for starting the thread on the NNA Listserv. Any mistakes or misrepresentations in the above discussion are entirely mine.


Use Vectorworks to make your promotional materials. I created a job sampler recently which consisted of six projects. Four featured fully rendered perspective drawings including photographs of the existing residence prior to construction. One included PDF’s of parts of the working drawings showing isometric views of a detail from a ellipse-shaped eyebrow dormer. Two were rendered in hidden line set to Sketch mode. All had some amount of text defining the project. The lead sheet included a viewport of a title block. The final output was in PDF format.

To make something like this, you could start with the method outlined in the Convert Copy to Lines description above. In my case, I wished to finesse the 3d output in Photoshop, where I could stamp out aberrations and drop a sky color into the background and onto corner windows. To do this I made sure my Sheet layer dpi was set high and then I exported the images to the desktop as JPEG’s. To export line detail such as details from your working drawings, don’t use a raster process like a JPEG, instead create a viewport of the detail, place it on a sheet, and then export as a PDF. This keeps the vector-based lines sharp and avoids the jaggies. Once all these elements are on the desktop, start a new file, letter sized, and import each set of images to a single layer in the new file. The layer scale should be set at 1:1. Once you have all the images assigned to unique sheet layers and arranged to your liking, export all as a PDF (Batch) file.

Some like to export using TIFF or PNG since they lose less data, gain fewer compression artifacts and therefor look better when printed. File sizes may be larger to much larger versus JPEG. In testing one rendering, size grew from 692 KB for the JPEG, to 3.5 MB for the PNG, and to 6.7 MB for the TIFF. Test print to see what looks best for your particular output.

See Convert to Lines #31 for info on setting printing resolution.


If you are using Vectorworks 2009, the advice I’ve read on the NNA Tech Board is to NOT convert an existing drawing into V. 2009 but rather finish in V. 2008 (or earlier) and start any new project in ‘09.


That’s it for now. See you in the new year!

Tom Greggs


Gerrit said...

So you too were missing the Layer Links, the 3D Section, etc ? Hehe, old times…

This article is a good chunk to read, Tom. I had already moved ahead into the workflow you describe, but I've learned from reading your ideas on the use of DLVP.

Thanks for sharing, and keep it up.

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