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jeff prince

Evaluating Vectorworks - Developing a plant database

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I'm throwing out a detailed story in hopes that you will read it, participate in the discussion, and help develop best practices...


I am in the process of evaluating Vectorworks (VW) to see if it can handle the types of projects we do (large parks, transportation infrastructure, airports/airbases, large campus designs, etc).  I am also taking this as an opportunity to organize our plant information.  I just attended a getting started webinar a few weeks ago.  So, I know just enough to be dangerous and enthusiastic, but far from productive.


The situation...  The firm (large AEC) has roughly 15 years of poorly curated, high quality data (plant lists, photos, horticultural information, etc).  We are moving towards full BIM implementation to meet contractual obligations and increase collaboration.  Revit and Civil 3D are becoming the choice of other departments.  I am in the position to do something different, should I choose to.  My staff currently supports me using AutoCAD and MColor, Revit as required.  I gave up AutoCAD and the PC recently.  I produce most designs by hand, photoshop, and/or sketchup.  Reports are done in Office/Adobe CS.  Vectorworks seems to have a workflow that may benefit us from concept to tender, if it can handle the vastness of our sites and the requisite detail that is eventually added.


This portion of the evaluation - Plant Information



  • Organize the information in such a way that it may import to VW or another database, if we end up using a different solution.
  • Develop a plant database that is composed completely of plants where we have verified the data, customized to suit our particular needs.
  • Have the ability to query the database for plants that posses unique attributes we have defined, such as being approved for certain jurisdictions, communities, or biological regions.  Sometimes two or more of these unique attributes may be coincidental.
  • Have photos in the cut sheets that match photos used in elevations, sections, and perspectives.
  • Ability to print larger photos from the database, if required.


Process thus far  Here's where I could use some advice before investing significant time in the project.

1.  Exported a single plant record from VW to Excel in order to gain a list of its field headings.

2.  Gave this to our staff and instructed them to fill out information per the fields.

3.  Instructed staff to rename our image files to correspond to VW fields (Image1, Image2, Image3) using the following convention <botanical name>_<#> where # represents the image type

(1=form, 2 = detail, 3= misc.).


"Image1" - elevation or texture of a plant AND serve as the image prop.  What is the best image format to use for Image1 in this example for creating image props?

I discovered PNGs with transparency actually look pretty nice but want to make sure to choose wisely before committing a lot of staff time to editing images.

"Image2" - typical details of interest, dominate characteristic, or supplemental glamour shot of the plant

"Image3" could be the plan symbols type.  I say type because it doesn't seem possible to use one image that would convey the various scales we use on drawings.  "Image3" in this case would simply be a resource for times when we are explaining what a particular plant on the plan looks like to stake holders.  


Units for Height & Spread, I'm thinking of using meters.  I'm an American, now working abroad, and generally tired of living with the Imperial system.  What is this data field used for besides informing a dialog box when sizing plants?  Does it influence size of symbols or model elements? Of non-Imperial Vectorworks LAs, what do you use?  Thoughts?


Region Notes - Thinking of using this as the place for the 'unique attributes' previously mentioned since they somewhat relate to regional usage.  These attributes are like belonging to a club.  Some plants are popular and belong to many clubs, where other plants may go unrecognized and belong to none.  What would you do?


Are there any warnings, case studies, or other useful information to consider when building a plant database?

What happens to the files size and speed of the database as you add photos and other media?  Has something been made that explains sharing the database over a network with multiple users?


I'm sold on the work environment and graphics.  If the plant database and reporting proves useful,  I'll be exploring other topics in the coming weeks such as Revit/Civil 3D data exchange, studying performance on very large planting plans, replacing AutoCAD xref workflow with the VW equivalent, creating workflow strategies on very large projects (we are currently involved in a port project that consists of 33 sheets at 1:500), and evaluating PDF output.  After that, I'll try my hand at stairs, ramps, and railings.


Thank you in advance for any thoughts,


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I found that there were several aspects of the standard Vectorworks plant database (I'm using the Australian version) that didn't suit us - many of the data fields were of no use to us and there were others that we wanted that weren't there. A big limitation was not being able to search properly for a height or width range.


Using Filemaker, I added the extra fields we wanted and then created our own layout that provided the formatting we needed. Thus we have a customised database that integrates with Vectorworks. 


There was a bit of a glitch in the upgrade to VW2017. There must have been some internal changes within the database that meant we couldn't automatically convert out modified database to the new version. I had to re-create our new database fields and layout in the new VW plants database, but that wasn't too big an issue. I've been assured that the upgrade path should normally work properly :)


Doing this, we have al the power of FileMaker for reporting when we need it.


The big enhancement I'd like would be for VW to store the tag id in the database so we can use consistent and unique tags across all our jobs.




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Thanks for the thoughts Chris.  I too wish there was an easy way to search for plants that fit within certain size parameters.


I haven't had the time to further my research on the program in recent weeks.  When I opened up the plant database today, all the text is now white and I can't figure out how to get it to be black again.  Very frustrating.

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frustration remains.


How do I fix the following problem:




I do not believe I changed anything.  The only thing of note recently was Microsoft updates to Office.

I'm using a Mac w/Sierra

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My issue with the white text remains and support from VW seems unlikely.


Today I successfully placed the plant database on my iPad and opened with Filemaker GO per:



I was pretty excited, especially when I successfully opened the Vectorworks database on my iPad, added a plant, and even added some photos of it directly in the database.

I then transferred the modified database off my iPad and back to my laptop.


If I open the modified plant database in FileMaker Pro on the laptop, I can see my edits and photos.

If I open it in VW on the laptop, no such luck.

The modified database opens and displays the old plants in VW, but no trace of my new plant and photos.


Any ideas as to what is going on?

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