VectorWorks is the latest incarnation of the venerable Minicad drafting application by Nemetschek North America. Not content with changing the name of the application, they changed the name of the whole company from Diehl Graphsoft Inc.
We have been using MiniCad+ since version 1 and have always found it to be the best all-around package out there. The latest versions have capitalized on its popularity with stage designers and have added features tailored just for them. We tested the final beta for VectorWorks 8 and found the usual rock solid drafting tools and user-friendly interface. The initial lighting tools were very hard to access , but we have had a peek at version 8.5 and all the bugs seem to have been worked out. Now light plots can be made very easily with included instrument symbol libraries. All instrument notation can be added and edited in several ways, on the symbol itself, in the object info window or by a pop-up worksheet. An internal database holds all the instrument information and can be used to create all the usual paperwork with a couple of clicks. Very cool!
In addition, there are a few visualization aids that are very valuable. Light pools can be made to appear so as to judge the coverage of various instruments.
VectorWorks is built around a GUI interface and is still one of the easiest applications to learn and teach despite all the new features that have appeared in the latest versions. Also, being cross-platform, it the ideal choice for an education lab that includes both Mac and Windows computers. One lecture-demonstration covers use on both platforms, as the applications are virtually identical. Students who prefer different platforms can work side-by-side and share information and techniques. The file format allows files to be moved from Windows to Mac and back with no losses.
VectorWorks includes 3 dimensional creation tools. Unlike other drafting applications, the 3D tools are not in a separate package, but included and accessible through a special tool palette. With these tools you can quickly convert a ground plan to a 3D model and be assured of perfect accuracy in the transformation. There is an additional package for creating fully rendered scenes from the model. RenderWorks provides libraries of standard materials and produces ray-traced images. We have not had a chance to try this software and so cannot comment on it.
As MiniCad and now VectorWorks has gotten more sophisticated and feature-laden the price has risen accordingly. It may be moving out of reach of the average designer, but compared to the price of its chief rivals, it is still a good buy. The good news is that educational discounts and lab site licenses are available at discounted prices at education resellers such as journeyed.com You can download a demo version at the VectorWorks download page.