Vectorworks Spotlight Tutorial For Beginners

Vectorworks Spotlighting Lighting Plan CAD Detail

A series of video tutorials on using Vectorworks Spotlight to draw a simple theatre plan with lighting equipment and fixtures data. Produced for beginners, by a beginner.

OK, so when I first took my very first year of Theatre Production students through CAD and Vectorworks so that they can complete their second lighting project – a small lighting design, communicated using VW.  I had used many different CAD and design packages, 3D CGI software and specialised tools such as Cast Software’s WYSIWYG. But not Vectorworks.

My task was to learn Vectorworks in order to be able to teach it to Year 1 students and also help more advanced students with their drawings.  You might know, being able to get stuff to happen by fiddling with menus is a world away from being able to teach it to others.  And having a history in other software, I found many aspects of VW hard to learn – mostly because things didn’t “do what I expected”, relative to other packages.

Learning complex CAD software can be confusing, and it’s often useful to be able to revisit things you tried out in training sessions sometime in the future.  So, I created a set of videos based on the very basics of Vectorworks in 2D that a beginner needs to get through before they can move on.  Here is the series of six, using VW 2010, for the readers of On Stage Lighting to enjoy(?!) if CAD floats yer boat, please excuse the streaming head cold I had when recording them.

Disclaimer: As previously mentioned, I do not have a history of using Vectorworks and these tutorials are created by me, a new user with years of lighting design experience but about 12 hours flying time on Vectorworks.  Bear this in mind.  I probably do not have the answer to any VW questions you might have and if you are looking for a document based tutorial from someone who is experienced with Vectorworks Spotlight, I highly recommend the series by Kent Goetz at Cornell including Drafting The Light Plot. With all that in mind, enjoy….

UPDATE to disclaimer!! I’ve since taught hundreds of people to use Vectorworks Spotlight over many years. I have left the original content above for fun and to remind me that we all start somewhere!

Note: If you reading this via email or in your RSS feed reader it’s likely that you can’t see the embedded videos – just pop over to the site and they are all here waiting for ya…

Spotlight Tutorial 1 – Interface and Document Setup

This tutorial covers the Vectorworks interface, setting out the workspace and the basics of starting a document including page set up and scale.

Spotlight Tutorial 2 – Drawing and Accuracy

This video covers drawing using dimensions and snaps to produce your CAD drawing with accuracy.

Spotlight Tutorial 3 – Drawing Shapes

This video looks at drawing different shapes, the building blocks of CAD, and some ways to create more complex objects. We also take a brief look at Layers and Classes, ready for next time.

Spotlight Tutorial 4 – Creating A Theatre Drawing

This tutorial starts to use our new found skills in Vectorworks to draw a basic theatre plan and looks at some new ways to create complex shapes using Add Surface and Trim Surface.

Spotlight Tutorial 5 – Adding Lighting Positions and Fixtures

Using the Vectorworks library to add stage lighting instruments to rigging positions. Using symbols and entering fixture data.

Spotlight Tutorial 6 – Working With Data And Printing

This video looks at the basics of data extraction in Vectorworks Spotlight and a simple way to print your drawing. Last in the series.

The Very Basics of Vectorworks Spotlight

These videos cover some of the very basics of Spotlight. Vectorworks is a complex and powerful package and some tools and workflow have been simplified or missed out in order to get a beginner started. If you want to learn how to take more advantage of VW, make sure that you investigate the Spotlight toolset, drawing in 3D and integrating with the lighting design data tool – Lightwright.

If you have any questions, you can put them in the comments section and perhaps a VW god will answer your prayers. If you are experieced Vectorworks user, why not share your best tip for absolute beginners…..? Looking forward to reading your ideas and learning a few things myself. See you next time.

  1. Paul Smith

    Hi Rob:

    I finally managed to find some time to sit down and work through all of those tutorials. I’ve made more progress in a few hours with your videos than with all the written tutorials i’ve been using.

    Many many thanks for the hard work that you’ve put into them, A great resource.



  2. LF

    Hi, I’m really interested in watching these screencasts, but I’m finding that playing them back online is difficult, due to rubbish buffering and net speeds.

    Any chance of a downloadable version for playback?


  3. Jake Forbes

    Just finished your series of videos. They are great and were very helpful in getting me started in vectorworks. Great Job

  4. DP

    I’m having trouble viewing these. I click on play, and then I get an error message in the playback window (I think it’s a Java issue). Any chance I you could post the video files for download? I can’t even get to the point that you mentioned aboved for download.

  5. Joe Keat

    Hi Rob,
    Thanks for a wicked tutorial!!
    I now feel a lot more confident using Vectorworks. Are there any more of your tutorials?

    Many Thanks, Joe.

  6. Craig Coupe

    Hi Rob, we are in the process of changing from Wysiwyg to a combination of AutoCAD and Vectorworks and i´ve been going insane trying to figure it out. Your tutorials really helped with the basics. I still have a lot of questions but am much further along. Any plans for further tutorials on the subject? As I learn more i´ll share all as i´m finding information online isn´t forthcoming !!! Thanks again

  7. Rob Sayer

    Hi Craig

    Yes, certainly more tutorials on the drawing board (as my students are gaining in confidence with Vectorworks). Have to say that the more time I spend with VW, the less I can be bothered with AutoCAD so you might consider if you really need it. WYSIWYG was really great for lighting planning, less great for draughting but VW is good at the draughting stuff. Some of my students have been experimenting with ESP Vision and Lightwright for those other WYGy type features.

  8. Craig Coupe

    Hi Rob, thanks for your help. That was the problem I created a 2D element to the symbol which stopped the truss disappearing when I converted to a lighting position. However once hybrid you cannot manipulate the symbol in the same way in a 3D space. After using Wysiwyg for a long time this seems quite alien to me. Now trying to figure out how to get fixtures to insert onto the lighting positions at the correct height. Using layer heights as you instructed in the tutorial worked for placing truss but not for placing instruments. Thanks again for your help, and I hope you had a great new year.

  9. Rob Sayer

    Hi Craig

    I totally agree, Vectorworks does has a lot that seems counter-intuitive if you are used to WYSIWYG – as I was too. I guess the thing to remember is that it is a multi-use CAD environment and as such some of the hoops you have to jump through to get what you want seem tiresome.

    Being used to 3DS Max for photo-realistic rendering, I find that side of VW hard going but again, the former is any extremely complex and expensive 3D modelling and animation package. The think that I find good about Vectorwork 3D environment is the simplicity that you can build models quickly and let the software take care of things like vertices and tesselations. It just seems to work. Anything particularly complex, I’d be better going back to MAX to build the mesh before importing it.

    I know what you mean about the weird Z height thing for lanterns. If you hang them on a Light Position, should they, er, just hang? Not sit on the floor.

    Don’t get me started on the orientation of the symbols when you move a focus point…..

    I know a lot of draughtsman who use VW completely in 2D for creating really beautiful and accurate drawings, leaving the 3D guff for others.

  10. sevim

    Thank you for this. A simple way for me to start up on VW.Spotlight after being an AutoCAD user for years. Drafting my first plot on VW thanks to you!

  11. Duck

    Hi, thanks a lot, it’s very useful but i can’t find the the option to download as MP4 in the screencast o matic page. (can’t read the 3rd video properly)
    thks for your help again

  12. Rob Sayer

    Hi Duck, unfortunately the Screencast-o-matic encode process wrecked the screencast so the MP4 version has the same issue anyway. Since I made those, I now use Camtasia which is a lot more robust.

  13. Duck

    Hi Rob, thanks for your answer, i managed to get through it despite the low quality.
    (btw all videos were good except the 3rd)
    had a good look at VW in the last 2 days thanks to you!
    i think i have to admit i will stick to my autocad 2010 (am testing 2012 mac version lately too, but a lot of functions are missing), in which i use my own projectors library with attributes for color, dimmers and so on.
    Once autocad is well configured for your needs, i find it even more simple and precise than VW, but it’s still good to have basics on several softs, so : thanks again!!

  14. A

    Hi Rob,
    I have just finished watching your tutorials and they are really good i have learnt so much. I was just wondering if you had any ideas for 3D lighting simulators so you can see what the lights are going to do in each scene…? Does ESP Vision work well with Vectorworks?

    Thank you

  15. Rob Sayer

    ESP Vision has the native integration with Vectorworks, along with Lightwright for paperwork. This bumps the combined package to more of an “all in one” like Cast Lighting’s WYSIWYG. If you were to use other simulators/visualisers like Capture or Light Converse, a certain amount of importing/recreating needs doing. It all depends on what you need and how you would prefer to work. Sometimes it might be preferred to just creating the drawings in VW and then use the 3D geometry in, for instance, GrandMA 3D for pre-programming of the console.

  16. Rob Sayer

    Ah, I thought that they could be downloaded by anyone. Apologies and thanks for clearing that up. The videos are also available at the On Stage Lighting YouTube channel, where I assume you can use one of the services to rip them if you need to. We aren’t planning on hosting the files for download as they are available online. Thanks for getting touch.

  17. Toby

    Nice tutorials – got me up and running with a basic plot in no time. Any plans for the next stage of being able to point lanterns in the right direction in isometric view – guessing this works with focus points…..also just want to be able to see the area the beam will cover so I can make sure coverage is ok rather than having to go back to hand drawings to confirm calculations on lantern placement.

  18. Rob Sayer

    The truss or pipe must be a Lighting Position. They then should connect automatically as you place the fixtures. If you move the truss and the lights stay where they are, they are not connected. Check that when you select the structure that the Object Info browser says Light Position.

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