At a Glance
The latest version of Nemetschek's excellent 2-D and 3-D CAD program is the result of 17 years of evolution, but rather than showing its age, VectorWorks 10 (formerly MiniCAD) is showing its maturity. In the past, CAD programs were good at either 2-D drafting or 3-D modeling. But VectorWorks 10 integrates these abilities in one program that excels in both areas, providing everything CAD users are likely to require, whether they're producing details for shop drawings or creating photo-realistic renderings and animations.
Design in 3-D Space
VectorWorks has always been great for 2-D drafting and adequate for 3-D design. In version 10, Nemetschek has included features that were previously part of its 3D Power Pack add-on, providing more-advanced solid-modeling and surface-modeling capabilities, as well as better Boolean support and an IGES (Initial Graphics Exchange Specification) import-export feature.
VectorWorks provides comprehensive 3-D modeling and rendering based on OpenGL, but for architectural or other work requiring high-quality rendering, you'll need the $300 RenderWorks add-on, which provides photo-realistic rendering including texture mapping, more-realistic shadows, ray tracing, and atmospheres.
A Changing Interface
Nemetschek has enhanced VectorWorks' extensive interface, made up of multiple palettes and well-populated menus, by making the palettes more manageable. One of the biggest changes was merging the Resource Palette and the Object Browser into a single Resource Browser. The Resource Browser is now the place to view and manage resources such as symbols, objects, textures, records, and worksheets. But these changes may cause aggravation for longtime VectorWorks users, as a few commonly used tools and menu items now have different names or locations.
While most of the alterations are improvements that you'll welcome once you get used to them, Nemetschek has thoughtfully included a "classic" mode, which provides an interface that is more similar to older versions of VectorWorks. Even better, VectorWorks' customizable interface allows users to configure tools and menus.
Keep the Old, Add the New
VectorWorks 10 retains some great features from previous versions -- one of the most important is the worksheets feature. Worksheets are Excel-like spreadsheets, built into VectorWorks, that allow you to create schedules, material lists, estimates, and more, with data extracted directly from drawings. You can also export worksheet data to (and import it from) other spreadsheet or word-processing programs.
Another great longtime feature is VectorScript, a lightweight programming language that you can use to customize VectorWorks and add tools and automated solutions.
This version also includes some very useful new features, such as the ability to use tabs within text blocks. Also, you can edit objects simply by double-clicking on them. Other new features we particularly like are the Image Fill and Gradient features. The former lets you create gradients and import 2-D images that you can use to fill objects in your drawing. The latter allows repeated images -- much like Adobe Photoshop's pattern filling. These features, along with VectorWorks' ability to import multiple graphics formats, allow users to create graphically richer drawings and presentations.
Works Well with Others
Many CAD programs provide extensive, albeit generic, templates and symbol libraries, but VectorWorks 10 is a bit stingy in this department. This is a problem because architects need to specify real products with real dimensions. Using a generic toilet symbol, for example, doesn't get the job done. However, many building-product manufacturers provide symbols and symbol libraries of their products, in Autodesk's AutoCAD's native file format (DWG) and the AutoCAD Drawing Exchange Format (DXF), that can be imported and used in various CAD programs. VectorWorks 10 makes this a snap by letting you import DWG or DXF objects directly as symbols.
While VectorWorks' Workgroup References allows you to manage drawing standards, layers, symbols, and more across multiple documents, the program lacks the well-developed collaborative capabilities of AutoCAD's External Reference (XREF) files, which allow several team members to work simultaneously on different parts of a drawing. For this reason, we recommend VectorWorks 10 primarily for small to medium-size organizations.
The DXF and DWG import and export capabilities of a CAD program are extremely important for professionals who use CAD and work with a team that uses some form of AutoCAD. VectorWorks' enhanced DXF and DWG capabilities allow the program to import and export AutoCAD versions 2.5 through 2002. More important, VectorWorks' helpful documentation devotes 24 pages to the subject of optimizing DXF and DWG import and export. While VectorWorks does work well with other programs, we would like to see the ability to export models and renderings in QuickTime VR format, which is a terrific way to show clients how a space will look.
Performance and Help
This latest version boasts faster speeds than VectorWorks 9, and it was quite responsive in both Mac OS 9 and OS X. Another feature that remains -- and this is perhaps the most important one for new users -- is free technical support. VectorWorks' support representatives will answer your questions not only on issues regarding the installation and running of the application, but also on how to use it or how to solve a particularly tricky drawing or modeling problem.
Macworld's Buying Advice
VectorWorks 10 is a full-featured, mature product that successfully integrates 2-D and 3-D design, allowing CAD users to have their cake and eat it too. You could pay more than $4,000 for similar capabilities, so VectorWorks 10 is an excellent value at $895 (not including the $300 you may need to spend on RenderWorks).
New CAD users will appreciate this program's low entry cost and its ease of use. Current users of VectorWorks or MiniCAD will find that VectorWorks 10 is more than worth the cost of upgrading.