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Nemetschek's VectorWorks 12.5, released in September, introduces a number of new features and productivity enhancements which continue to make it the software of choice for small to mediumsized projects, particularly given its value for money and ease of use. For Apple Macintosh users with the new Intel or earlier PowerPC based Macs, 12.5 is an absolute must because it is now a universal application, which means the software will run natively on both platforms. Nemetschek's speed comparisons show the application can run nearly twice as fast on a Mac Pro Quad.

Running VectorWorks 12.5 on my new MacBook Pro, I experienced impressive performance (similar to a Dual 2.5Ghz G5), making it perfectly feasible to work on complex drawings and 3D models on the road. Best of all the update is free to VectorWorks 12 users via a web download or for a small fee on DVD.

At first glance, the interface for VectorWorks 12.5 looks virtually identical to the previous release, which is sensible, as Version 12 marked a significant revision that takes a little getting used to for experienced VectorWorks users. However, the introduction of toolsets, a navigation palette and an improved organisation dialogue make for significant workow enhancements over Version 11, which may prompt users still on Version 11 to upgrade now.

Another major new feature is the ability to import and export PDF documents directly from within the software with real control over file resolution, layers and batch exporting, which makes working with PDFs not only quicker but also more precise and more exible. This gives enormous time savings during the design process as PDF is now the universally accepted method of transferring information between consultants and client.

Workgroup referencing has had a significant overhaul with support for relative file paths. This means that if source files are moved or folders renamed, the referenced file will still be found and the path automatically updated. Also, the ability of a reference file to update class attributes in the target file means one master file can be used to update graphic styles of all other project files if required. Moving references using layer linking is also simpler.

Viewports in 12.5 also offer a number of improvements that will save time. Right-clicking offers immediate access to editing the annotations, crop or source-design layer. This can also be set as the default for double-clicking if required. When navigating from viewport to design layer, VectorWorks 12.5 takes you directly to the correct view, and there is an option to display the crop if required. Another useful feature is the ability of the eyedropper to match viewport properties, as well as to pick up plug-in setting for windows, doors and walls etc. between sheets or even different files.

As well as the major features, designers using the program day in and day out will be interested in the many little improvements. These include the improved offset tool, which allows for objects to be preselected or post-selected and can leave or delete the original object, and the duplicate array command, which is now capable of complex 3D modelling functions.

Inverse selections and new search criteria for selecting objects within complex drawings are welcome additions.

Communicating with other applications is an important function of any CAD system and VectorWorks Architect 12.5 has a number of advances. DXF/DWG files are the bedrock of CAD information exchange, and automatic unit matching and missing Xrefs alerts will make this process smoother. The ability to import native Sketch UP files is a big plus for architects developing early ideas into more accurate 3D CAD models. Finally, support for Google's KML files, another new feature, means it is simple to insert VectorWorks models directly into Google Earth.

Architectural 3D modelling has always been a strength of VectorWorks. 12.5 offers a few tweaks such as automatic mesh smoothing and easier light aiming. Creating images from within VectorWorks is possible with the addition of RenderWorks 12.5.

Here there are some useful rendering improvements, such as support for high dynamic range imaging (HDRI) for creating photorealistic lighting and reflections. However, while RenderWorks has improved greatly in recent years and is quick and easy to use, it is still difficult to achieve the high-end image quality and animation of programs like Artlantis R or Cinema 4D, which work directly with VectorWorks via plug-ins.

An important feature of all CAD systems is the ability to use library parts effectively, but traditionally UK architects have often been unwilling to compromise on using generic objects, preferring to draw them. In the Architect version, the introduction of UK metric architectural libraries with all the standard door, window and wall types available as pre-made parametric objects should make this simpler. These new plug-in objects are vastly more flexible than in previous versions, making it simple to drag and drop elements into the developing designs and make changes easily. Using intelligent parametric objects also makes other benefits such as automatic scheduling available. There are also new libraries of sanitaryware, cars and the complete collection of Marvin products. However, with this increased flexibility comes added complexity in the number of options available, and it would be useful to be able to see changes in plan, elevation and 3D all at the same time.

Overall, the VectorWorks 12.5 upgrade is worthwhile for all Version 12 users. The most useful new features are increasingly only available in the industry versions, which means that for architects using older versions of the software or alternative CAD packages, the motivation to upgrade to VectorWorks Architect 12.5 will now be even more powerful.

For more details see www. nemetschek. net and www. unlimited. com/3ddesign/vectorworks. html Jonathan Reeves is an architect specialising in CAD training and 3D visualisation consultancy. Visit www. jr-architecture. co. uk

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