# Soft Plot vs. Vectorworks

#### ScaredOfHeightsLD

##### Active Member
Let me begin by saying I'm not trying to start a war here. I'll set up the debate, I have been a base level vectorworks user for about two years, using basic lighting plot funtions so I don't have to hand draft. I have been very happy with the results but my main complaint is the difficulty with adding accesories and fixture information to the plot. Now enter Soft Plot. I was at the USITT Stage Expo this weekend and got a demo on the new version of Softplot, which seemed to solve all of my issues with vectorworks except one, it runs on PC (note, not looking for a mac vs. PC war here). So my questions for you all are, Which is your favorite and why? Is it worth it for me to get a new intel mac to run Soft Plot or will I wind up running into the problems I have with vectorworks? Any information you can offer up would be greatly appreciated.
Thanks!
-Mike

#### soundlight

##### Well-Known Member
Softplot and VectorWorks are really in two different worlds when it comes to lighting. VectorWorks is a full-on rendering program, with ability to create complex scenic elements, mechanical assemblies, and architectural drawings. It's used alot in other CAD fields as well as lighting, but the lighting version basically runs a second set of scripts in the program to make all of the lighting stuff come together.

Softplot, on the other hand, is much less of a rendering program and much more of a plotting program. It's much more of a plotting program because it's easier to do basic plotting and set up attributes as well as import other symbols (hey - symbols are one of stage research's big things, so they flaunt this in the program). It's also much more of a light plotting program because it's the easiest thing in the world to add any accessory you want. You can also set up DMX'ing for accessories such as rotators and scrollers, and all of the accessories have their own symbol. IMO, this is the best feature of Softplot that no other lighting program can really match for the price. It's much less of a rendering program because it does not allow you to create full-on shaded renderings with lights on. It does show you a basic 3D view if you get the Softplot 3D version, but the standard version has no 3D visualization or rendering. The gel color renderings are also noticeably off in softplot from the plots that I've seen that have the basic 3D "renderings" with them.

And to introduce another player, WYSIWYG is a rather nice package, but it's really, really pricey to get the full rendering version. There is WYSIWYG report, which is much more like softplot in terms of features, and then there's WYSIWYG (the full package), which is alot like Vectorworks in its rendering capabilities.

I made alot of comparisons there that will be torn apart by the hard-line WYSIWYG, VectorWorks, and Softplot fans, but I really see benefits and drawbacks to each program.

#### SteveB

##### Well-Known Member
Softplot and VectorWorks are really in two different worlds when it comes to lighting. VectorWorks is a full-on rendering program, with ability to create complex scenic elements, mechanical assemblies, and architectural drawings. It's used alot in other CAD fields as well as lighting, but the lighting version basically runs a second set of scripts in the program to make all of the lighting stuff come together.
Softplot, on the other hand, is much less of a rendering program and much more of a plotting program. It's much more of a plotting program because it's easier to do basic plotting and set up attributes as well as import other symbols (hey - symbols are one of stage research's big things, so they flaunt this in the program). It's also much more of a light plotting program because it's the easiest thing in the world to add any accessory you want. You can also set up DMX'ing for accessories such as rotators and scrollers, and all of the accessories have their own symbol. IMO, this is the best feature of Softplot that no other lighting program can really match for the price. It's much less of a rendering program because it does not allow you to create full-on shaded renderings with lights on. It does show you a basic 3D view if you get the Softplot 3D version, but the standard version has no 3D visualization or rendering. The gel color renderings are also noticeably off in softplot from the plots that I've seen that have the basic 3D "renderings" with them.
And to introduce another player, WYSIWYG is a rather nice package, but it's really, really pricey to get the full rendering version. There is WYSIWYG report, which is much more like softplot in terms of features, and then there's WYSIWYG (the full package), which is alot like Vectorworks in its rendering capabilities.
I made alot of comparisons there that will be torn apart by the hard-line WYSIWYG, VectorWorks, and Softplot fans, but I really see benefits and drawbacks to each program.
Thus coming from a dedicated VW and Lightwright user:

Very good advice here from Soundlight and I would only add that Vectorworks is very widely used in the professional end of the spectrum, but is also usually paired with Lightwright to achieve decent paperwork ( a pricy package). If you have little need to share documents with other users across platform types, then Softplot may be exactly what you need.

One thing to check is did they ever fix the multi circuit instrument issues, which were all screwed up last I checked.

SB

#### jfitzpat

##### Member
I think that the core question is, what are you primarily trying to do?

As I mentioned in another thread, I love Capture (www.capturesweden.com), which has no 3D ray trace rendering at all, but does have above average live visualization features.

However, what is a good balance of visualization, basic 3D cad, plotting and reporting for me, isn't nec. right for you. Obviously, we think a lot of folks have similiar needs, since we strive to get Capture to our users at a very aggressive price ($399 as an add on,$300 when bundled). But you should still really look at your needs, not mine, or even my guess at yours.

Really demanding documentation needs? Maybe WYSIWYG or SoftPlot is the right ticket. Repeatedly collaborating with a particular set designer, perhaps Vectorworks will rapidly pay for itself in time and energy saved.

I guess what I am saying (and remenber, I'm even biased) is that personal testimonials are going to vary based on personal taste AND personal need. Try to take a good look at your needs/wants, prioritize them, and try the various packages before making an investment.

Good Luck,
-jjf

#### gafftaper

##### Senior Team
Senior Team
Fight Leukemia
Trying not to hijack... just asking some more questions on the topic as I'm debating the same software issues.

So I'm a college T.D. The Black Box theater will be completed in about 6 months. I'm basically going to be designing everything for myself and whatever students come along to work with me. So I'm not worried about building a 3d model of the set and then building a light show around it so I can show it to myself. The director I work with will be happy with a white paper model or maybe a Sketchup design. I'm mostly worried about just printing out good scale designs to build from and a plot and paperwork that makes sense to hang.

I'm getting a Strand Palette that comes with a version of WYG built in. However I've read in another thread that this is a sort of stripped down version that isn't all that great. (Anybody know how true that is?) I was thinking about VW to go with WYG. But the more I read about VW it doesn't sound like it's the greatest program for doing set designs on.

It seems to me that the V.W. and WYG combo is really a great mix for when you need to present a full 3D visualization of the set and it's lights to someone else. It also seems like it gets even more important the more intelligent gear you have. Is that a fair summary of those products? It sounds like in a Large theater operation a set designer draws up something in CAD, it gets' merged together in V.W. with lights and off to WYG for demonstration purposes... is that right? or is it more V.W. OR WYG for demonstration purposes?

From what I've read it sounds like AutoCAD is the preferred software for basic set design purposes. I've owned an old version of Softplot and it was great for simply laying out everything in a plot, tracking your instrument inventory, and printing everything out in one neat stack. It sounds like for my purposes the combo of CAD and Softplot... along with Sketchup for a quick drawing... is a better fit. Any advice is appreciated.

#### icewolf08

##### CBMod
CB Mods
As it has been stated previously, VectorWorks is basically a lighting industry standard. For the most part, where I work, designers are either sending me VW files or hand drafted plots. It is actually kind of funny because every designer that has sent a hand drawn plot has warned me first, but that is neither here nor there.

What issues are you having with accessories and adding information to your plot? I have always found VW to be fairly intuitive in how it functions and how you add to the plot. Sure, label legends can be a hassle the first time you set them up, but you can carry them from one document to the next so once you se up legends that work you don't have to worry about it. The other thing that makes label legends easier to deal with, and your plot easier to read is to set every instrument at right angles to the hanging position (perpendicular or parallel).

As a master electrician, working with the plot on stage I prefer not to have too much information on the plot. I don't want to see address/channel information for accessories on the plot, it is just extra clutter, and that is what paperwork is for. I like to see a symbol for tophats, barn doors, templates, TwinSpins, etc., but that is all. I would imagine that unless you are using a whole lot it is just as easy to pop the symbol on the plot and just add it to your paperwork manually as opposed to adding them as their own units so that they export to LightWright.

#### SteveB

##### Well-Known Member
I'm getting a Strand Palette that comes with a version of WYG built in. However I've read in another thread that this is a sort of stripped down version that isn't all that great. (Anybody know how true that is?) I was thinking about VW to go with WYG. But the more I read about VW it doesn't sound like it's the greatest program for doing set designs on.
It seems to me that the V.W. and WYG combo is really a great mix for when you need to present a full 3D visualization of the set and it's lights to someone else. It also seems like it gets even more important the more intelligent gear you have. Is that a fair summary of those products? It sounds like in a Large theater operation a set designer draws up something in CAD, it gets' merged together in V.W. with lights and off to WYG for demonstration purposes... is that right? or is it more V.W. OR WYG for demonstration purposes?
From what I've read it sounds like AutoCAD is the preferred software for basic set design purposes. I've owned an old version of Softplot and it was great for simply laying out everything in a plot, tracking your instrument inventory, and printing everything out in one neat stack. It sounds like for my purposes the combo of CAD and Softplot... along with Sketchup for a quick drawing... is a better fit. Any advice is appreciated.
In essence, Vectorwork to WYG conversions are very problematic, mostly due to the very different methods the 2 programs use to deal with objects. So I really would not plan on this happening, unless you want to essentially become the industry expert on the methods. This has been an occasional subject on the WYG forum on the LightNetwork, and I do not recall anyone getting regular and good conversions. Pretty much everything I've read on the subject leads me to believe that you would be better off spending your time learning how to do 3d in VW (which is very robust), or in WYG - IF you need it for the lighting as well. If just set work, then VW is a superior CAD program of the 2.

What does work is Vectorworks to Lightwright 3 or 4, then down to LW v2, and then to Wyg/Emphasis of Channel to Dimmer patch information, but even that little trick took me a couple of days to figure out. Part of this process allows the importing of fixtures and positions into WYG, where you then have to manually place the groups of instruments and positions. Assuming you spent the time to build up a 3d theater, complete with positions at correct heights, you can then run vizualization (you also need to Focus the plot !).

You also need to find out what version of WYG you get/have with the Strand software. WYG has all sorts of limitations with anything but the most expensive levels. As example, I got WYG version 15 Perform Console Edition with my Emphasis system last summer. I was thrilled as Perform is the highest level. I was all ready to dump 20 years of Lightwright and 3 years of Vectorworks experience and simply use WYG. Except the CE version won't allow printing !. And I was not going to pay Cast for a full blown upgrade and get caught in their swamp of paying for upgrades that are essentially bug fixes, especially when Emphasis only works with WYG version 15 (another story).

As to AutoCAD vs. VW for shop work ?. I suspect this is going to change as more and more college theater dept's continue to teach VW/LW for lighting, with the scene shops simply using the same software (that's happening where I work). VW is a generally cheaper then AutoCAD, in most versions, or at least (IMO) gets you more features for the money. I also suspect that the reason shops have used A-Cad as it's what was available, way back when, when VW was Mini-Cad and Mac only.

Steve Bailey
Brooklyn College

#### gafftaper

##### Senior Team
Senior Team
Fight Leukemia
Just got an e-mail back from my Strand Rep about what is included in my system package. Sounds like I'm getting the same shaft... uh deal. "You will get a CD that has WYSIWYG Perform Console Edition on it. Perform CE is a FULL version with the exception that it doesn't support printing functions."

Well what good is it then?!?!? Sigh.

Looks like I'll be investing in other lighting software. So I'm still a little unclear about the V.W. and L.W. connection... as others have been in this thread. Does this sound like a good synopsis. You draft the set and create your light plot in V.W. then L.W. is designed to essentially plug in and interpret the plot to create all of your paperwork data. Do I need L.W. to print a basic light plot from V.W. or is that part of V.W. Still A little unclear on how the two programs are integrated and how they are separate.

#### soundlight

##### Well-Known Member
VW prints plots just fine. It can do renderings. It can save TIFF layers. It can do all sorts of fun things. LW is just a program to create paperwork, not plots. It'll do patch sheets, hookup lists, accessory and gel lists, etc. It's an awesome program for this, and fills in where VW lacks. VW is good at plotting, set design, and visualization, but the Spotlight package is just a set of scripts that allows you to implement lighting. It's an add-on set of scripts, not built into the program, and this is why it can't do paperwork as well. I'm not saying that VW can't do paperwork, because I've never tried, because we have LW, and LW does paperwork alot better than anything else.

#### SteveB

##### Well-Known Member
VW prints plots just fine. It can do renderings. It can save TIFF layers. It can do all sorts of fun things. LW is just a program to create paperwork, not plots. It'll do patch sheets, hookup lists, accessory and gel lists, etc. It's an awesome program for this, and fills in where VW lacks. VW is good at plotting, set design, and visualization, but the Spotlight package is just a set of scripts that allows you to implement lighting. It's an add-on set of scripts, not built into the program, and this is why it can't do paperwork as well. I'm not saying that VW can't do paperwork, because I've never tried, because we have LW, and LW does paperwork alot better than anything else.
What soundlight says is mostly true, except that VW does do assorted worksheets and can create Channel Hookups, Instrument Schedules, color schedules, etc... They tend not to get used a lot, as VW is generally considered a poor paperwork generator. Lightwright has very good interface with VW and is a far superior paperwork program.

The work method I use is as follows:

- Draw the theater ground plan, 2d or 3d as desired, save as a template for future use.

- Import or create the set. Usually in a separate layer from the theater ground plan and any follow on Lighting plot. Do whatever 3d work you desire to visualize the set. I have zero 3d experience, nor do I design scenery, so this process is not detailed.

- Open a new layer, or import to a separate layer, a 2d version of the ground plan to a new drawing called Light Plot, which might well be based on the original template of the theater ground plan. I usually have the entire plot on a single layer, but may put title boxes, keys, etc... on a different layer on a different scale. Think of layers as separate velum sheet pages, that can either be hidden on screen, greyed out, or fully visible. This applies to printing as well. Thus it's possible to have elements of the ground plan, but not the entire set detail, visible on a separate layer in a greyed out view - still partially visible, but not overwhelming the light plan. Very useful.

- Create the light plot. Note that VW requires that after you place a symbol on the drawing - be it a 40ft. line in 10 weight as a position, or an object as a fixture symbol (S4/36 degree), you then need to Create Lighting Instrument, or Create Position, or Create Multi-Circuit Instrument. This Creation for Units and Multi-Circuit units tells VW to add a code for ea. fixture, called a Unique ID Number. This number is sent to LW with the export and is what LW sees and uses to match up units when information about that unit - Color, Channel, etc... is changed/modified in LW.

- My method is after assigning label legends to all units, as well as assigning units to positions and numbering all units, is to only include on the plot (at this stage) the type of fixture, position, general focus (which way it points), possibly the color, and a Use - which on my plots goes above the color and is an abbreviated version of purpose that is readable on the plot (so I know what the fixture does). I do not assign purpose, channel, dimmer or anything else at this point. What info. you want adjacent to a lighting unit is designated in the Label Legend(s) you create, I.E. a circle around the channel number (called a container), the text style and size, where it sits next to a light, etc.... I have 20 -30 Label Legends for all types of different fixtures hanging in all different positions. They can be bulk or individually imported from drawing to drawing, so you do not need to re-create the wheel.

- Using the VW Spotlight Export Instrument Data command, clicking on Lightwright and adding a check next to User Field 1 (which for me is Use), I export to LW

- Import data into LW, using the Import command. It should have every fixture created in VW, with correct unit numbering and positions, fixture type, etc... (You can view the Unique ID numbers in LW - only now they're called External ID numbers, to verify that the fixtures imported properly. Without matching ID's you are dead in the water.) Since I use a standard terminology between all VW plots and LW paperwork, I can merge a master set of LW data that gives me color frame info, dimming system, instrument types and wattages, etc...

- I then sort by position (having already done a Position order - I.E. 1 Cove, 2 Cove, 3 Cove, Box Left, etc...), giving a Purpose to every fixture. I then sort by Purpose, which gives me the channel order, I then enter channels and color. LW is very, very good at allowing sorting by multiple fields to make the entry process fast. As example, I can sort by " R21" and "1 thu 4 Electric", which would give me all my Amber backlight. I then give them all the purpose "Amb Bax". I then do the same for the R26's, and R80's. Then I sort just 1 Electric and do a Append in the purpose column called "DS", which adds the text "DS" after "Amb Bax" to read Amb Bax DS", as well as the "Red Bax" and the "Blue Bax". In short order I have a complete purpose list, which if sorted, becomes the channel order. Adding color becomes simple as well. This is where LW really shines, the ability to quickly sort and add information.

- After the hookup is complete, I then Export back and Import into VW. Both LW and VW have automated functions for all this, which makes it a 2 or 3 button process.

- I then refresh the plot, and all is complete.

- LW can then export a color order (which I sort out in a Word file) as well an ASCII Patch file, to send the Channel to Dimmer patch to the console, and can then print any sort of schedule you desire.

- My Vectorworks plans include a master set of drawings for my FOH positions. I can import the LW file to create a set of Hanging Cards for the electricians to use when loading color into FOH positions. It even counts how many of what cuts per position.

- If it's a new plot, I can also cut and paste the VW positions into a drawing that becomes a Hanging Card for the overhead electrics, using Flip Horizontal and Flip Vertical to get the fixture oriented correctly to the drawing as the electricians stand onstage.

- Note that it also veru easy to Add units after all this has taken place, as you can simply add into VW, and export ONLY the new additions to LW, which will merge in new units into the master file.

Etc.....

FWIW, the issue you ran up against with WYSIWYG Perform Console Edition, as well as many, many issues I read about with Cast's pricing and upgrade policies, made m eessentially abandon WYG as a tool, except for the required use in Emphasis.

Steve Bailey
Brooklyn College

#### gafftaper

##### Senior Team
Senior Team
Fight Leukemia
Thanks Steve, Outstanding Post... bordering on "Ship quality" for detail!! I'm saving that one for later.

#### ScaredOfHeightsLD

##### Active Member
Thanks everyone for your help. I think i'm going to stick with VW for now. Is suits my needs for basic plotting. However, I'm interested in learning more about the rendering functions so I think that will be my next step...