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Screen and Layer Plane - Pain Points and Wishes

PVA - Admin


  • Vectorworks, Inc Employee

I need to ask all those of you who struggle with Screen Plane and Layer Plane to detail for me your use cases and how you wish we handled things instead. I need examples (preferably with screenshots or screen recordings) of what you are doing when the Plane system gets in your way or slows you down. 

We acknowledge there are a wide array of different issues with the Plane system, but even among users in the same industries there are wildly differing opinions on how it should be changed for the better, and even more difference of opinion between users who work in unrelated fields.


In this thread, please keep the responses limited to:


1) What problems you encounter with Screen/Layer Planes, with visual examples

2) What are you doing when you encounter these problems

3) If the problems didn't exist in older versions but exist today

4) How you feel the problem could be solved for your specific scenarios

Normally I encourage open debate, but I ask that in this thread the responses are only direct feedback from you to us, please refrain from debate or criticism regarding what another user is doing or why they may be doing it. In this thread, all needs are legitimate regardless of their origins.

Please feel free to link to or copy from other threads if you have already provided examples of what I have described above. We are still actively viewing and reviewing the older threads on this issue, but wanted to start a larger repository that was purely feedback in the form of a Known Issues thread. Thank you.

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The distinction between "Screen Plane "and "Layer Plane" as currently implemented in VW has never made much sense to me.  It seems leftover from the ancient VW of yore where Model Space didn't yet exist.   I've always wondered why it hasn't gone away, especially since VW has focused on 3d modeling.  People in my office are perpetually confused by the concept.  We tell people never to use it since it results in messy models and general confusion about where information is located in the file/model. 


Screen Plane Mode, however, *could* be useful if it could somehow become the repository of all the 2D linework that always needs to be drawn onto 3d Models to make them useful.  If you could imagine the screen plane as a piece of paper that inserts itself at the plane of a section/model cut, it would become very useful, since it would be a space for 2d Drawing, providing a logical place for this information to reside.  It would leave the Annotations Viewport as a place for tags, dimensions and, um, annotations... 


Within the VW Community, there appear to be two schools of thought with respect to 2d linework associated with models.  One group of people takes flattened section cuts of model and puts them into design layer viewports so that they can be drawn over and ultimately re-viewported onto sheets. The other school of thought makes linework drawing changes directly in the annotations viewport.  Each approach has its advantages and disadvantages.


The Screen Plane mode (if retooled) could be the rightful 2.5d repository for this linework information.


Just one thought.



Edited by cberg
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Zoomer and I have been through this before.


Please try to remember that the way you use VW is very different (no matter who you are and how you use VW) than the majority of users.


The idea of Screen Plane and Top/Plan is absolutely critical to many of the primary industries that VW excels in. Specifically entertainment lighting. If the idea of hybrid symbols goes away, (hybrid symbol automatically separate out Screen Plane objects from other objects), then nearly all of the benefits to that industry go away also.


Any time you are advocating to take away some capability because it does not make sense to you, please really consider how others may be using it.


The above being said, if the separation is truly hindering your workflow, it is reasonable to try to ask for changes to keep functions you don't use out of your way. It is not reasonable to ask for things to be removed that are heavily used by others just because you don't need, don't like, or don't understand them.


My 2¢.  To be repeated as necessary when the idea of removing key capabilities arises.  ;-)

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I think this is a missunderstanding.

Nothing will be taken away in any way.


Of course there is a need for forced 2D geometry in Containers.

But there often is used a Screen Plane,

which gives a mess if you copy and paste these elements out into 3D space.

In fact these elements are never meant being oriented according to any Screen

but being forced to the XY plane in the Container's space and being limited to

not have any Z depth.

It only works by a screen plane as the screen or view is forced to be oriented

to that actual XY plane.


Screen plane doesn't help modeling geometry at all.

It is just a nice additional feature to make Annotation Labels that orient to the viewer

in a 3D presentation. Something like image props.

Edited by zoomer
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As a point of clarification, I wasn't advocating eliminating Screen Plane  (even though I wondered out loud about its usefulness)....  I actually think it should be made more robust or retooled to support other much needed functionality within the program. 


Top Plan (despite its quirks) works reasonably well.  Hybrid symbols also work reasonably well.  However there is no 3D equivalent of Top Plan, and this is very much necessary for folks working in a 3d Context. 


I don't necessarily associate Screen Plane Mode with 2d Plan view.  But maybe somewhere under the hood these things are necessarily linked.  However the concept of Screen Plane could perhaps be retooled to be more of a Drawing Plane, either as flat horizontal sheet of paper or as vertical section/elevation.  

Edited by cberg
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I have used VW since Minicad 5.0. I work entirely in 3d creating accurate 3d models. All dimensions / notes / guides are placed in the annotations of a sheet layer viewport. I always use Screen Plane and sometimes use Automatic. I very much dislike Screen Aligned -


I use Screen Plane and Layer Plane objects. Layer Plane objects are well behaved on the ground plan, not so much on other planes. I wish they behaved and looked the same on all axes planes (where the ground plane is the XY Plane)


Most of my frustration comes down to snaps and tool behaviour. I want my snaps to behave properly and I want to be able to use the paint bucket mode of the 2d Polygon Tool reliably in orthographic views. 3d geometry should be “projected” to the screen plane in these instances.


I almost always build 3d geometry starting from 2d geometry. I often use 2d geometry as construction guides for laying out shapes. Its similar to the working method I used to use in 2d. I entirely disagree with this - 

8 hours ago, zoomer said:

Screen plane doesn't help modeling geometry at all.


I believe orthographic views (Top/Plan, Top, Front, Right, Bottom, Back, Left) are technically 2d views of a 3d model. This means when I’m working in the design layers I don’t want them to have perspective and I don’t want objects moving in and out of the plane while I work with them. This means I want all the snaps that appear in the view to be snap-able but I do NOT want them to pull objects in the depth direction. If I want an object to remain on the plane of the current orthographic view I switch its state to “Layer Plane” using the dropdown in the OIP. Graphic of what I mean - Orthographic Views


When I want to move things in 3d I will switch to a 3d view. Vectorworks doesn’t have a 3d “grabber” so I often find it easier to orient things accurately in orthographic views.




If I want 3d linework I use NURBS curves. Currently they don’t render as 3d objects in Sheet Layer viewports but they should -


The Vectorworks “Automatic” implementation is not great if you want to draw some 2d layout lines to construct shapes or place holes on the surface of a 3d object.


There is too much “interactive graphic stuff” associated with the plane modes. This, for example, seems to have no documentation and when it appears it almost certainly means I will have to undo the result and start again. See this thread for an example - 


Example Workflows


I will often import an image, trace it in top/plan view, switch to front view and extrude it to create 3d geometry. I trace it in Top/Plan view because then I know the snaps will work properly.


I often work from a screen plane image, using it as a reference for a 3d model. By placing it on the screen plane, its always present when I switch between orthogonal views or into 3d views.


Those are my initial thoughts. I may come back and add more documentation to them.



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9 hours ago, Kevin McAllister said:

I entirely disagree with this - 


I don't think we disagree.


My poor english is just not enough to be understood at such complex subject.


"Screen Plane" is meant to orient elements along your screen/monitor view,

independent from the VW world coordinate systems orientation,

where the monitor view orientation is dynamic, VW XYZ is fixed.


And when ever I see the appearance of, or being forced to have something being "screen plane"

oriented, there is NO intention at all that the objects are really oriented to your monitor plane !

They are intended to sit on a 2D plane.

Either (mainly) XY plane of VW coordinates or on XY plane of an internal POI coordinate system.


Some times the Monitor/view plane is locked to that standard XY plane, like for Sheet Layers.

But there is no real reason to NOT be able to look at your Sheet Layer Viewports from right front isometric

if you prefer.

So it is never intended that your, for example Viewport border rectangle, is really oriented to "screen plane"

at that point. It was only at the time you draw that rectangle in a 3D view when you create your viewport.

After creation all including elements have to be changed to XY plane, on a Sheet Layer.



"Screen plane" is a nice niche feature to have some labels always oriented to the viewer, similar like

image props that always look at camera, no matter how you look at your 3D geometry in 3D space.

Like @digitalmechanicsannotated 3D models, or spotlight setups with lighting devices if that may

be the case.

In 99% where I crossed "Screen Plane" orientations in VW it was exactly NOT the case that it is intended

to align those objects to screen but a 2D plane. Therefore I think "Screen Plane" is used deeply wrong in VW.


And if an element is "screen plane" oriented - it will orient along screen reliably.

Which is annoying if you want to bring such an element back into real 2D or 3D space



Similar for my conversations and misunderstandings with @Pat Stanford


Pat has some deep knowledge of a lot of older or designer edition tools, that I even haven't touched so far

as I don't need them, which he says rely on a "screen plane".

I never thought about destroying any of these or take away some functionality.

Chances are that I would also insist that "screen plane" is used wrong there too and terms should be changed

or if not, there maybe could be more consistent ways to run create such objects.



And I also vote that VW gets more 3D in the future,

where XY plane is not dominant but all YZ or XZ (2D) planes are equal.

Of course I want be able to draw and work with 2D elements in an orthogonal side view.

And never jump in 3rd dimension with snapping (2.5D snap)


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15 hours ago, Kevin McAllister said:

I almost always build 3d geometry starting from 2d geometry. I often use 2d geometry as construction guides for laying out shapes. Its similar to the working method I used to use in 2d.


I missed one very important issue related to container objects, specifically Symbols. Right now its very difficult to edit within the 3d component of symbols and use 2d screen plane geometry as guides. The geometry often there (eg. selectable) but invisible. And sometimes when you switch to Top/Plan it gets sucked into the 2d component when you don't want it to be. I should be able to edit within any container object and do anything I can do editing under normal conditions on a design layer. VW should not sort 2d/3d elements or screen plane/layer plane element until I either exit the editing mode or switch between the components of a symbol. This is a real weakness of the plane system and when it happens to me I start to look at other software.


This is a more detailed post about this issue - 





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5 hours ago, zoomer said:


I don't think we disagree.


Hi Zoomer,


You may well be right. I've always imagined the screen plane objects sit on a piece of glass between me and the 3d world, like a heads up display except that it extends further out. It relates to how I was taught about orthogonal views. I like that the objects remain on that plane and are not in the 3d world. It means that if I draw close to the origin the 2d object become powerful guides for making objects. (If you draw them far away from the origin it can be confusing if you don't understand how it works. Try drawing things in a stadium using VW2009..... I did a whole Olympic Ceremony that way :-) ).


This is different than objects that always orient to the user (editor camera) in 3d space. Image props for example. I do think allowing 2d objects to also do this would be quite useful.



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8 minutes ago, Kevin McAllister said:

I've always imagined the screen plane objects sit on a piece of glass between me and the 3d world

I like this description.

I feel a large part of the issue with Screen Plane/ Layer Plane objects is that they are often indistinguishable. If this difference was visually clarified I believe much of the difficulty would evaporate. eg - if all Screen Plane objects were also dotted pale blue, pulsed a little, appeared to be focused on a screen 1/2" in-front of the pixel matrix or in some other crafty, elegant & pleasant way then there would never be a confusion and once all the idiosyncrasies are ironed out the new Screen Plane object mode, whenever used, would be powerful component of the VW environment.


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Yes, a screen plane oriented (2D) object behave like a HUD.

And therefore screen plane should only be used in cases where you want objects being dynamically fixed to your monitor orientation.


Currently in VW screen plane is also used in a lot of cases where objects are thought to be oriented to a 2D (mainly XY) plane instead.

Which I think is wrong.


And of course we all want the same 2.5D comfort like we have only for Top Plan View , for ALL orthogonal 2D Views.

Meaning that your drawing workplane is limited to the 2 axis only, (XY, XZ or YZ) which you can see and control only,

locked to the 3rd dimension and also having that wonderful Top Plan View (pseudo section) real time illustration.


Legacy screen plane is currently just misused to mimic that missing top plan view behavior for drawing in side views.

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Some screen plan pain from just now.


I want to grab some geometry from a 2d drawing, and pull it into a 3d model to use as a guide for setting out some stuff in 3d.


So I get the bits I want (various bits and pieces including some groups) make the lot into a group, copy.


Go into my 3d model. Paste. When I do this I paste in top/plan view. Then I have my group of 2d geometry there, sitting flat on the ground. I want to then rotate it 90 degrees so it's like a plate of glass on its edge that I can move into position in the model and start using for reference points in placing 3d elements.


But when I rotate it, everything goes haywire, because it seems that some of the geometry within the group is in screen plane. When it's just a simple object that does this, it's easy enough - I just change it from screen plane to layer plane and then do the rotate. But a group with lots of elements....means I then have to go into the group (including nested ones) and inspect every single element to find the screen plane objects and change them all.


In this instance, that's just too much hassle so I gave up, went back into 2d layer, traced over the bits I was interested in as simple polygons and brought those into the  3d view. Not very efficient, any of this.


I've no idea why some elements are in screen plane and some not by the way. Not something I've ever used. I just know it as one of those things that can explain weird stuff happening.

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27 minutes ago, line-weight said:

When it's just a simple object that does this, it's easy enough - I just change it from screen plane to layer plane and then do the rotate. But a group with lots of elements....means I then have to go into the group (including nested ones) and inspect every single element to find the screen plane objects and change them all.

If I'm understanding correctly editing the group, using select all and then changing from screen plane to layer plane in the OIP should work to correct the problem.



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1 hour ago, Kevin McAllister said:

If I'm understanding correctly editing the group, using select all and then changing from screen plane to layer plane in the OIP should work to correct the problem.



Unfortunately not so simple if there are nested groups. Either you have to ungroup everything down to the bottom level, then do the select all, or go into each group individually to do the process.

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2 hours ago, Kevin McAllister said:

using select all and then changing from screen plane to layer plane in the OIP should work to correct the problem.


I've found this unreliable, personally, but there was a script posted on here at some point that helps with this issue. Of course I can't find it at the moment...


It's a menu command that converts all selected objects (including sub-objects) to screen plane or layer plane. This should really be a built-in VW command, in my opinion. Very helpful when the situation arises.

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Changing the plane type of Screen Plane and Layer Plane objects would be improved by being able to change the Plane type for a Group on the Object Info Palette.   Currently you have to enter the Group to make the changes and if there are lots of Groups and / or nested Groups this can be tedious.


We also need menu commands to change the plane type of all 2D objects in a drawing (excluding those in symbols of course). 

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I'm having the following issues:

  • When I have for example 2 extrudes, on the same Z-plane:
    And I want to move them when I'm in the top view (or any not isometric/custom view) and layer plane is active:
    The result I want with this is that point A is on D and B is on C. But sometimes it brings A on C or B on D because I can't control which point to snap to from the top view. A great help would be you can't move the object "in/out your screen" when the view is in front/back, side or top/bottom. A bit like how screen plane works but without the need to switch to screen plane every time.
  • Then when I'm on screen plane and I want to move this same extrude in a custom view
    it get messed up and the object is on a random location (you see this when you rotate the camera a little bit):

    So to wrap things up:
    The first issue can be prevented if the user first changes to screen plane, the second issue can be prevented if the user first changes back to layer plane. But the user (specially me) mostly forgets to switch and sees the problem too late and has to adjust afterwards.

    Imo: A great solution would be if the objects can't move in or out of your screen if you're looking from side, front, back, bottom or top and layer plane is active. And moving objects (that are not on the screen layer) in a custom 3d view with screen plane active doesn't end up like the example above.

    I actually only use screen plane to prevent the first issue above and when I want to quickly measure for example the vertical distance between 2 points that are not aligned along the same Z axis. If this can be integrated in layer plane/automatic. I don't need to switch any more. 🙂


Kind regards,


Edited by Bertf
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We had some trouble working with text inside custom plugins, when the plugin is reset in layerplane, the text was no longer visible in '2d plan' view. I solved it by changing the screen mode in the script.


I always tought of screen mode as a relic of ancient versions, I can't see an advantage for us having these modes.



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In general I understand and use both screen plane and layer plane objects. It’s more feature than problem for me.  Confusions exist, especially in naming of things. If you know how it all works, the confusions are sporadic and surmountable. But the intricacies are many, seemingly illogical, and possibly hard to remember especially if you are just learning, or if you seldom encounter screen/layer issues.


Symbols are a good example of screen/layer working but confusing.
•2 categories are available in symbol edit dialog for every symbol (OK, 3 categories if Wall Hole component is counted)
••Edit 3d Components - accesses any Layer plane 2d objects and 3d objects in the definition. Symbol instances placed on the drawing display these objects in top/plan and 3d views unless screen plane objects are also present in the symbol definition.

•• Edit 2d Components - accesses only Screen plane objects (if any). Visibility of instance depends on whether 3d/layer objects are also present in the symbol definition.


Examples of Confusions:
1. A symbol is designated in OIP as a 3d symbol if it contains:
a. only layer plane 2d objects.
b. only 3d objects. (OK, that’s not confusing)
c. both layer plane 2d objects and 3d objects.


2. Edit dialog for any of above includes options for 2d components and 3d components.  The 2d edit space is empty. This is Working As Designed, and quite useful, but counterintuitive.


3. A symbol is designated in OIP as a “2d Symbol” if it contains only screen plane objects. (OK, that’s not confusing by itself, but is confusing when considered with #1a above)


4. A symbol containing both layer plane and screen plane objects is designated as a 2d/3d symbol in the OIP.

4.1  Note of additional confusion: A 2d/3d symbol is also commonly referred to as a Hybrid Symbol (not same thing as an Auto Hybrid), but the OIP displays “2d/3d Symbol”. Search Vectorworks Help for term “Hybrid Symbol” and find no direct hits.  Equating the names Hybrid Symbol and 2d/3d symbol is totally buried in the help and concepts topics.


5. A 2d symbol (only screen plane objects) instance on the drawing “floats” parallel to the screen as the view is changed - same in top/plan, flyovers, etc. It has “location” in that it responds to the Pan tool. A hybrid symbol shows only the screen plane components in Top/Plan, and only the other components in 3d views. That’s confusing until you experience it and acclimate to the various conditions. It’s also VERY useful.


6. In viewports, the controls for Display Planar Objects and Project Screen Objects change the view behavior of symbols and other objects. Can be confusing.


•Some of this confusion is just complexity. Lots of explaining is required describing Symbol visibility. Try getting all that down the throat of a new user in one sitting.

•Some confusion is nomenclature:  “2d” applies to both layer and screen objects. We draw a layer plane object, it stays on the layer in 3d views, interacts with other objects as expected and we think if it as a 2d object. But screen objects are 2d as well, and they behave differently

•Some confusio is just evolutionary - symbol behavior changed with intro of layer/screen differentiation and hybrid symbols (v2008?).  If you have been playing along, the processes become ingrained in the workflow. But if you are new to CAD in general, or new to Vectorworks in particular or just not attuned to these concepts and processes, you may have barriers to learning and using.


Solutions? Suggestions?:
•Discontinue use of “2d” and “3d” in the Symbol edit dialog. Make it Screen Plane Components and 3d & Layer Plane Components?

•Discontinue use of the word “2d” throughout the documentation? (not practical because of the way we communicate with familiar words and concepts).

•Start using words “Layer object” and “Screen object” where the term “2d object” is too generalized.

•Pick either Hybrid Symbol or 2d/3d Symbol and stick with it.  Why should such an important element have 2 names, one of which can be confused with Auto Hybrid?!

•Maybe more later



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