I love Vectoworks. I've recently upgraded to 2008, and am still learning all the changes that were made. Some are very helpful.
I am a self employed sub-contractor, doing mainly millwork design and "engineering" of designs by others, as well as occasionally helping out an architectural firm, etc. What I provide for my clients varies from 2D shop drawings, to 3D renderings. I first learned cad using MiniCAD4 (minicad later became vectorworks) on a recommendation from a friend who works for Predock in New Mexico. I had to switch over to AutoCAD for many years. When I went on my own I went right back to VW 11, though I still have to work in autocad on occasion. I have done fairly complicated 3D models in both AutoCAD and Vectorworks.
I have not used other cad programs, nor have I had the need to get into other rendering programs. So I can only compare to AutoCAD.
Some of the things I find are huge advantages are:
Edit-ability of objects. ie - a rectangle stays a rectangle - its size can be changed by simpling click on a grip point in the object window from which you want to make the change, and then simply typing in a mathematical formula you need to use to change the size, like: +7/16"-32mm+(2*.125)
VW does the calculations including those needed to convert different units. Polygons and poly-lines are almost as easy. You can set VW to give you grips at each point as well as mid points of an object allowing for a side of an object to be adjusted in one move rather than 2.
Incorporated worksheets. You can create database/spreadsheets right in the drawing file. These sheets can be set up to pull and use information from objects in the drawing - Door/Window schedules, and counts might be the most common use. I have set them up to keep track of all the different parts required to - build a wine cellar, kitchen cabinets, etc. The sheets can be placed as objects in either a design (model) layer, or on a sheet layer.
Vector Script - a PASCAL based programming language that vectorwoks provides - allowing custom tool and menu command creation. This not only allows you to create your own tools, but many other uses create tools which can be found on the web, sometimes free, sometimes for sale, which can be big time savers.
3D - compared to autoCAD...well there is no comparison. Creating and editing in 3D is virtually as easy working in 2D. My only comment here would be that I occasionally get error messages that a certain object can't be created. This, I believe, is VW's way of keeping the file stable. I usually can find a small problem in the objects I'm working from, or I find a different way to create it.
The renderworks program works seamlessly with vectorworks. It gives the ability to create your own textures or import others. A lot of control over lighting, etc.
I'll upload a few images to maybe help show some of VW and Rendorworks abilities. None of these show much of the lighting capabilities.
The big news with Vectorworks 2009, just announced, is the adoption of the Siemens PLM Software Inc.'s Parasolid modeling kernel. This article interviews Nemetschek NA CTO, Dr. Biplab Sarkar about this issue, the adoption of Parasolid over other kernels such as Spatial's ACIS. This means Vectorworks 2009 and Bentley's BIM software are the only two architectural CAD/BIM programs with Parasolid, which appears to be the world's leading industrial strength kernel.
I've used Vectorworks since the early 1990's when it was Minicad, primarily as a 2d cad platform for my architecture business. I don't think there's a better program, as far as "bang-for-your-buck" goes, when it comes to 2d architectural drafting. Vectorworks 3d interface is getting better and beter with each version, but my clients don't usually require a lot of 3d drawings, so I haven't really explored it's full potential. If you're looking for a full-service cad platform with great 3d/rendering capabilities, try the much more expensive Archicad, but I've been very happy with the Vectorworks platform.
I've also used and taught VW since the MiniCAD days, in a college-level theatre program. We had a severe space crunch to made the leap - by tossing our drafting tables - into computer-based instruction and design.
The program is very easy to get non-users up to speed with CAD rather quickly. For my professional theatre and opera designs I found that I could focus on the design, not the software, and sail through most of my design projects unencumbered by the software.
However, Renderworks (up to 2008) is challenging and I have the greatest respect for those who can get beautiful renderings from it.
For 3D renderings, I build a great deal in VW, then export to Strata 3D, which has a more robust rendering engine, and better texture control. The Radiosity rendering is very realistic, and Strata in general is easy to use, though a touch limited with some functions like UV mapping, and boolean functions.
I therefore find some of the modeling tools in VW priceless, and would not attempt some shapes in Strata. So, in my workflow, and with associates who contribute to my work, there is often a discussion about which portions of the model are made in which software.
Hi, I too have used Vectorworks for many years (from MiniCad 1). It is in my opinion a great application, not that we have a lot of choice on the Mac platform. 2009 still has a few issues, on my machine Mac OS 10.5.7; 2x3ghz Quad core intel with 10gb ram and Nvidia Quadro FX 4500 graphic card it is unstable. It crashes taking down my entire system, no one from VW has been able or perhaps even bothered to comment. Prior to this VW has been rock solid, and I would recommend it. I expect given VW's track record that a service pack to remedy this will be available soon. However don't be sucked in by the BIM hype - it is not a BIM application, for that level you need ArchiCad, but as we do, we have developed our own work around which enables us to work directly in 3d and extract 2d drawings from the core model - it is just isn't as seemless as a fully fledged BIM environment. For high quality renderings we go out to C4D and there is a direct export plugin which is fantastic. To render textures etc within VW you need Renderworks. We prefer C4D because of all of the additional tool sets for animations and special effects available in C4D. For presentations of drawings VW is excellent, and you can generate sketch effect drawings very easily within the application. It is a very easy and intuitive app to learn and I find new staff cross train from other apps very quickly.
I use Vectorworks all the time, and I write manuals for it (so I'm biased). I can tell you that my clients are using Vectorworks and getting really good results using it. They work in 2D and 3D. When they work in 3D, they can use the 3D model to create plans, sections and elevations, and they can use Vectorworks for costing, scheduling.