Alternates to AutoCAD….Vectorworks?

Landscape Architecture for Landscape Architects Forums TECHNOLOGY Alternates to AutoCAD….Vectorworks?

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    Anthony Parziale

    Fellow LA’s  I have a question for you all.   I’m sure this probably has been asked already but only had a few minutes online and figured this might be quicker then searching.  I’m looking for a good alternative to AutoCAD.  We use A.C. 2016 in our office but I was looking to possibly purchace a CAD program for myself at home.  With A.C. no longer selling perpetual licenses and the subscription is extremely expensive, I was hoping to find an alternative that people are actually using in their office(s) as their primary CAD software and translates well back and forth with A.C.  My first thought was Vectorworks but any suggestions are very much welcomed.



    Robert Anderson

    A couple of questions first. Are you intending to simply do work from home or are you interested, let’s say, working on some small designs for friends and family? What operating system are you using and what is your budget?

    I will tell you that when you start using Vectorworks, even just the fundamentals, you will wonder why in the heck is your office using autocad. When I started my own practice I was exhaustive in my research and built my practice on a Mac and Vectorworks Landmark with Renderworks and will never go back. Having said that your answers to the above would shape my recommendations for you.

    Andrew Garulay, RLA

    There are a number of companies that produce Intellicad which is basically a clone of AutoCAD for about 20% of the price. AutoCAD seems to have worked out business deals with some of the “add on” software companies so that you may find some are no longer available for Intellicad. I believe there are some companies producing landscape specific Intellicad products. Bricscad and Progecad are a couple of the Intellicad consortium companies that have been around quite a while. 

    I use AutoCAD Lt 2016. I managed to buy it before the end of January when it went to subscription, but it is not expensive as a subscription. I don’t do 3d work with it, but it does carry “z” values for contour lines and such. I stick to plan view for the most part and exchange files constantly with engineers/surveyors who use ACAD Civil 3d or Carlson software. There are never any issues. You can also download enablers for entities produced in other Autodesk products such as Civil 3D, so that contour lines and such show up as they would in Civil 3D. The only reason that I did not do the subscription was that I did not know if I need to be online for it to work.

    Jaime Del Carpio

    Seek out CAD programs that have dwg as their native file format. That will narrow your search, BricsCad comes to mind. I would not recommend VWorks for that reason and the learning curve involved to be proficient. Best of luck.

    Luke Coughlan

    Hi Anthony, there is a really great open source program called Draftsight, they have a free version as well as paid for versions that are a fraction of the price of AutoCAD.

    Eric Gilbey

    Anthony, Vectorworks has the ability to import DWG files in two ways, depending on how you expect to use the information. A direct import enables you you manage the geometry as if you created it, and can directly convert the lines and shapes to smart site specific objects. A referenced import is like an ex-ref (external referenced) file. Which allows for updates and enables you you do you work without marrying your work to the other files if you only need them for background purposes. If you have any other questions about the process of using Vectorworks when you are used to AutoCAD, let me know and I would be glad to answer any questions you have.

    Anthony Parziale

    Hi Robert:

    Thanks for the response and great questions!  I’m in the process of setting up my own firm so it will be used for all firm based work, which is fairly small at the moment but growing.  At the moment I am using an A.C. 2016 license from my office but that’ll only last as long as I’m working there.  At the moment my primary computer is running Windows 10 Pro, but I do have a iMac which is running (OS10.8 – Moutain Lion) as well (which I use for my wife’s production company)

    In terms of budget, I have no problems actually putting out an initial 3 – 4 thousand for a license of say Vectorworks (looking at their online store).  My big motivation is to try and move away from AutoCAD.  I’ve been using it for about 21 years now and am extremely comfortable with it.  My big complaint is the new subscription format they have gone to.   I actually don’t even mind paying a monthly/yearly subscription (I do so with Adobe CC, which isn’t that cheap either but having all of Adobe’s software available and allowable to be installed, authorized and used simultaneously on 2 computers is a big plus).  A.C.’s subscription being $1,600/ year per license is ridiculous and just Autodesk’s way of saying…”Hey we know you need us so pay up.”  At least when you could buy a perpetual license still (which still might be the case outside the US but according to our re-seller, that ended here on Jan 31, 2016) you could own the seat and pay the yearly maintenance fee which was about a third of the new subscription based cost.  Even if you stop paying the maintenance fee and forgo the updates and eventually the support, at least owe the license and have the software to use.  I understand the subscription route, most software companies are doing it in one way, shape, or form, I just think Autodesk is taking advantage.

    Sorry this is so long winded, Thank you again for responding.

    Anthony Parziale

    Thanks for the response Andrew.  At my last office I had purchased a few licenses of LT in order to try and save some money and they worked out ok, though we did eventually end up going back to all full versions.  I do most of my 3D work in SketchUp and Rhino and Solidworks so I could probably get away with using LT as well.  My biggest issue is more to do with Autodesk and the fairly overpriced subscriptions they are forcing now.  I wish I had known about the January cutoff date but when I had called our re-seller to get a qoute in the beginning of Feb, she mentioned I was too late to buy a perpetual license…unless of course I wanted to spend a few thousand more on one of the Suite packages (which ends at the end of July, 2016).  I thought about it but the initial outlay is so much more.  Looking at the subscripton cost, the A.C. LT is actually fairly resonable.  Might be worth a trial as well.  Having used A.C. for so long (about 21 years) and being so used to the full features, I think….I know actually….that was one of the reasons I had us go back to the full versions.  We were doing a lot of 3D in A.C. at that point so it made sense.  Now we do most of it in SketchUp and Rhino, it may not be the case. 

    Have you found any issues with using LT?  Any issues with Xrefs, import / clipping of images/PDFs, coordinate based layout, use of lisp routines or even basic drafting issues?  I remember one of my biggest peeves with it was that it didn’t have the “align” command.  This bothered me to no end as I really feel it’s a basic drafting command and most likely bothered me enough to be a factor in going back to the full versions..haha.  

    Thank you again.  I may look to revisit LT as a viable option again.  

    Anthony Parziale

    Thanks Eric!  I appreciate the info and offer.  The ability to xref dwg files in is good to know and a definite plus.

    Anthony Parziale

    Thanks Chris!  

    Anthony Parziale

    Thanks Luke!

    Anthony Parziale

    Thanks Jim!


    Rhino 3d. Nearly identical. You can customize the key commands and the look to be the same as AutoCad, works with dwg files and maintains all the layers and styles. I would still prefer Autocad to work in cad documents, but Rhino comes very close. Basically if you know how to use AC, then you know how to use Rhino since mostly all the functions are identical.


    Bricscad is very impressive.  The 2D license sells for $500.00 and has a nearly identical workspace.  It uses the same commands as AutoCAD, has a nearly identical workspace, can save in DWG, and I “think” should be compatible with drawings saved in AutoCAD 2015.

    Bricscad’s website states that Autodesk charges such a high markup because of API and other software development, which is ongoing.  I use Civil 3D at work (doing subdivision design) but I am starting a side business doing drafting from home.  Bricscad has very little to no learning curve, which is a godsend so I can go right back to work.  

    Finally, Bricscad has a more sophisticated set of object snapping tools than Autodesk called the Quad Snap Intelligent Cursor.

    Good luck!

    Andrew Garulay, RLA

    Anthony, I don’t believe that you can use lisp routines in LT. It does have the align command which I am embarrassed to say that I was unfamiliar with. No issues with importing or clipping images or pdf. Not exactly sure what you mean by coordinate based layout, but if you mean laying our using surveyor’s bearings and distances, that is no problem – you do have to set your units to surveyor’s angle at least temporarily to input in that format (I already use decimal feet as a standard).

    Most of my projects are such that I have to start with a surveyor or engineer’s file, do my thing, and then send it back to them. Some use Carlson Survey over AutoCAD and some use Civil 3D. I did fifteen years of hard time doing civil plans in a couple of different offices, so I am very familiar with what happens on the other end when receiving files. The is no difference in receiving a dwg file that left civil 3d and got altered in ACAD LT when it comes back. I did not find that to be the case when LAs sent us dwg files from Vectorworks (maybe it is better now). No problems with Intellicad based programs either. I won’t accept site plans from one of the architects that I work with for that reason – can’t recall specifics, but sometimes weird things happen. I will only work in the dwg files from the CE or LS because I know they are native dwg.

    I suspect that one reason that I get a lot of referrals from the CEs and LSs that I work with is that they have no problems with my files (there are a lot of good LAs and LDs out there, so I believe this has something to do with my competitive advantage). They don’t care that much about what we are designing as much as how easy it is to work with us – make no mistake about that.

    If you are delivering them some funky file in dwg format, they are going to like working with you less than if it has no issues. In my arena, they are usually on board early and often influence clients on who to use for landscape – what is good for them is good for me.

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