NEED AN INDUSTRY-FOCUSED YET FULL-FEATURE CAD package but don't want to spend $3,000 to $5,000 for a seat license? Check out VectorWorks Architect 11 from Nemetschek North America.

For less than half the price of competing products, this new version has builder-specific modeling and rendering features that rival the best 3-D object-oriented programs plus powerful 2-D CAD automation that will make even hard-core AutoCAD users look twice.

VectorWorks Architect 11 is noticeably cleaner and faster. It features fast OpenGL pan and zoom capability and better-looking line intersections. The software also has much-enhanced notes and dimensioning options and a revamped interface featuring modern scroll bars and tool buttons.

Design-builders will appreciate innovative features that other CAD programs in this price range don't touch. For example, it has space planning tools that let users start with simple shapes, convert those shapes to a floor plan schematic, and then pop the whole thing into 3-D. Or users can design in 3-D, and then slice the model to create a floor plan or building sections.

VectorWorks Architect has all the industry-specific features that builders expect: wall panel design, roof framing, automatic windows and doors, and a stair modeler with an automatic railing generator. What builders might not expect are the extensive site planning and modeling tools such as the ability to create a site drainage plan, complete with flow arrows, in just a few clicks, or tools to find the exact elevation of any point on the site plan.

The sizzle might be 3-D, but for most builders, 2-D working drawings are the steak. When builders draw with VectorWorks, they are really adding objects and properties to a database. VectorWorks 11 can recall that information in the form of extensive millwork and hardware schedules, room and finish schedules, electrical panel, riser, and circuit schedules, and more. Automation features such as automatic call-outs, rise/run indicators, and the ability to place drawing notes from an external database can save hours of drafting time. Nearly anything entered in a VectorWorks drawing can be tracked in “worksheets,” a spreadsheet-database hybrid grid that can be used to create bill-of-material reports, track properties of drawing objects, perform calculations, and organize data for import/export with other programs.

Changes to the drawings can be managed by the use of “redlines,” a special VectorWorks feature that lets users tag track drawing items that need attention, attach sketches and notes to those areas, and track changes in a “redline status worksheet.” A “revision manager” automatically tracks version information right in the title block of the drawing. VectorWorks Architect 11 also plays nice in the AutoCAD world, exporting directly to AutoCAD 2004 .dwg format.

VectorWorks is also highly customizable. A workspace editor allows users to create and save their individual working environment. For example, a draftsman working on architectural details would not want to wade through the tools that a designer working primarily in 3-D would use. If that's not enough, those of you with some programming skills can further automate VectorWorks 11 with VectorScript, and you can develop customized menus, objects, and controls using a free software developer's kit that can be downloaded from the Nemetschek Web site. VectorWorks Architect 11 is not for the casual user who needs to sketch a room addition when he gets home at night.

VectorWorks Architect and VectorWorks Industry Series are intended for serious design professionals and builders with full-time production drawing and 3-D presentation needs. VectorWorks Architect 11 is available for both PCs and Macs, with pricing starting at $1,295; pricing with RenderWorks for 3-D rendering is $1,645.

Joe Stoddard is a process/technology consultant to the building industry. Contact him at