Vectorworks Tips: Emphasizing Light Symbols and Information in Lightplots

I  just returned from KCACTF Region 5’s festival in Lincoln NE.  Many schools from across our 8-state region (Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota & South Dakota) met for a week in celebration of theatre during the third week of January.  I have written of this event here in past years, so I won’t spend too much time explaining the entire festival again.  One major event is the Design/Tech Expo where student designers share their design work and process in a poster-display format.  These display/presentations are judged based on creativity and adherence to industry standards by respondents who are professionals in the various areas and one entry from each category is offered the opportunity to display their projects on the national level at the National KCACTF Festival at the Washington Kennedy Center in March or April.  As great as this may be, all student entrants receive feedback from those professional during a day-long feedback session.  I had two students entered in the Lighting Design category and when not listening in on responses from my other students I followed the respondents Steve Shelly (USA Designer, Author of A Practical Guide to Stage Lighting, second edition & patent holder of the Field Template and the Vectorworks theatrical lighting toolkit SoftSymbols) and William Kenyon (USA Designer, Associate Professor of Lighting Design & Head of Penn State’s BFA Program in Design and Technology) around the Expo floor and listened in on their helpful commentary on many student projects.

One of the several themes that recurred in their responses was that important information such as lighting position, instrument symbol and critical labels, which should have been the most prominent elements of the drawing, failed to command the necessary prominence on the Light Plots that were displayed.  They gave several tips as to how this information might be emphasised.  The following instructions should be adaptable to earlier and later versions of Vectorworks, but apply directly to the 2013 version.

SpotlightNonEmphasisPlotThe light plots under discussion featured symbols and the information drawn in the thinnest of lines and with a non-prominent font.  Often extraneous elements from the set are too prominent and the lighting elements sometimes in the wrong stacking order.  The sample at left illustrates all of these deficiencies.

SpotlightEmphasisPlotBy greying out the extraneous background elements, editing the symbol so that it utilizes bolder graphic elements, by editing the “Label Legend” to use new, larger and bolder containers for Channels and Dimmers, new “containers” behind the color and focus notation and utilizing a more prominent and larger font, and also, by making sure that the instruments are “stacked’ above the batten symbols (which are also edited to utilize more bold graphic elements in the 2-D view) the Vectorworks Spotlight Light Plot can become much easier to “read”.  The difference can be seen at right.



To do this, first locate the symbol of the instrument in the Resource Browser palate.  If you are modifying a document that already has instruments in it, you will find those symbols by navigating to the  file name under the files drop-down menu at the top of the “Resource Browser” palate window and selecting “top level” in the “Resources” drop-down menu.  Scroll down the window at the bottom of the palate until you find a symbol that you want to edit.   The ETC Source 4  90° Symbol Plug-In is selected in the window above.

ResourceBrowser90DegDuplicateBefore you edit the instrument symbol, it is safest to make a duplicate of it so that you can edit the copy and leave the original symbol in place.  Do this by clicking on the “arrow down” icon opposite the label “Resources” and another drop-down menu launches.  Choose “Duplicate” in order to make a copy of it.  Rename the symbol.  In this example, I chose to rename it “Etc Source 4 90° BOLD”.

ResourceBrowser90DegBOLDEditOnce you have the duplicate renamed, select it and click on the arrow down symbol opposite the label “Resources” again.  This time choose “Edit”. This action opens the Edit Symbol radio-button window.  The default radio-button selection is “Select a part to edit: 2D Component”.  Select “Edit” to continue.


This opens the Edit Symbol Window. This window shows the editable portions on the 2-D part of the instrument symbol.  Select the symbol and examine the Attributes Palate.  It shows important information about the symbol:  the fill type and color   (probably Solid White), the line color (Probably solid black).  In the example, EditSymbolWindowWithExit AttributesPalatte.03below that it  indicates that the lines in this drawing are drawn with a line weight of .03.  This is a very fine line.  Select .25  for a much bolder line.  If you have “Zoom line Thickness” selected in Vectorworks/ Preferences/ Display you will see the immediate results of your changes.

If  instead of selecting the 90° symbol, you had selected the ETC Source 4 50° symbol (or 36°, or 26°, or 19°) instead, you might be surprised that this process does NOT work.  Although you change the line thickness, and it appears to have changed in the “Attributes” window, the line thickness does not appear to change.  This is because these instrument symbols all use another symbol, the “ETC Source 4 Body” symbol nested within.   The “ETC Source 4 Body” symbol will also be found in the “Resource Browser”.  In order to change The 50 °, 36°, or 26°, or 19° symbols (and, perhaps others), you must change the “ETC Source 4 Body” symbol.  The “safest” way to do this, again, is to duplicate the “ETC Source 4 Body” symbol, renaming the duplicate.  I use “ETC Source 4 Body BOLD” and edit that as described above.  Then you need to open  the 50°, 36°,  26°, and 19° symbols, deleting the ‘ETC Source 4 Body” symbol from those files and substituting the “ETC Source 4 Body BOLD”

ObjectInfoPalatteOld90SymbolUse this same process to embolden any other lighting symbols that you intend to use in the light plot.  Remember to use the “BOLD” versions of the symbols when placing new symbols on the light plot.  Symbols that are already on the plot can be changed by selecting them and typing the new symbol name into the “Symbol Name” box in the “Object Info” palette.  If you do not get the new symbol name precisely right, the symbol is likely to not be visible on the plot, while the fixture remains and invisible entity on the drawing, tracking through as a fixture on the paperwork.ReplaceInstruments90With90BOLD  A more sure way to change an existing symbol to a new, bold one is to  use the Spotlight/ Replace Instrument command.   Exchange all the original instrument symbols of a certain type for your newly created bold versions. In the example to the left all ‘Etc Source 4 90°’ symbols will be exchanged for the “Etc Sources 4 90° BOLD” symbols.  Alternatively, you could select any symbol on the plot that you wish to embolden and use the same Spotlight/ Replace instrument command selecting the “Replace Selected Instruments” radio button and “clicking” “OK”.

Next time maybe we will continue by editing “Containers” and creating a couple new ones, and by using the “Lable Legend Manager” and creating some custom “Label Legends”.

Meanwhile, that’s enough for now! Have fun!  But be safe!




One Response to “Vectorworks Tips: Emphasizing Light Symbols and Information in Lightplots”

  1. Great advice and a terrific set of instructions. I echo often echo the comments that Steve and William give about line weight and such during the Portfolio Review at LDI.

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