AECbytes Tips and Tricks Issue
#18 (May 30, 2007)
Optimizing Detail Creation, Referencing and
Cataloging in ArchiCAD: Compiling, Managing and
Integrating Your Own Detail Libraries (Part 3
Principal, Bobrow Consulting Group
In my March
2007 Tips and Tricks article, we looked at
ArchiCAD's Detail Marker Tool
and the basic process of creating a callout and
editing a detail drawing. April's
article explored how to use parametric 2D
object components (from the standard ArchiCAD
library) as well as the free, downloadable Detailer
Template to work on these drawings more
quickly and efficiently. This month, we'll focus
on compiling, managing and integrating your own
libraries of details.
Reusing Your Detail Drawings
After creating a detail drawing for a particular
project, you can reuse it for similar contexts
in other buildings. The simplest way to do this
is to copy it from the original file into your
With your current project open, go to the File
menu and choose Open, and select
the earlier PLN file, making sure to check the
box to Launch a new instance of ArchiCAD.
Navigate to the Details section
of the Project Map, and double-click
to open the detail drawing. It may be better to
locate the detail drawing in your View
Map, and open it from there, to make
sure that the correct layers and scale are active.
Make a note of the drawing scale (e.g. 1 ½"
= 1' - 0"), since you will want to use the
same scale for the detail in your current project.
Switch back to your current building PLN, and
in the Details section of the
Project Map, right-click on the
Details heading or any Detail
drawing in the list, and select New Independent
In the dialog box, name it appropriately and
click OK. Double-click on the
newly created entry in the Details
section to open the blank drawing area. Set the
scale to match the source detail. Paste
in the drawing that you copied from the other
Go to a location where you would like to call
out this detail (e.g., a section, elevation or
plan view). Activate the Detail Drawing
tool by clicking it once in the Toolbox.
In the Info Box or within the
Detail Settings dialog, choose
to create a callout linked to an existing detail
drawing. Browse for the recently created independent
detail and select it. Then place the callout marker
in the section (or elevation, etc.). Your new
callout will link to the copy of the detail you
have brought in from the other project, and can
be accessed by right-clicking on the callout and
choosing Open Detail Drawing.
To link to this detail from another section (or
plan, etc.), you can repeat this procedure.
To place the new detail onto a layout, follow
the usual procedure. You can right-click in the
Detail Drawing window and choose
Save View and Place on
Layout. Alternatively, in separate steps,
with the detail drawing open, go to the View
Map, click the button to Save
Current View, move that View
into your folder of Details in the View
Map (it's a good idea to organize your
Views into folders), then later drag that View
onto a Layout.
You can repeat this whole process any time you
want to reuse a detail from another project. The
copy you paste in is now independent, so it can
be modified if needed to suit the current context,
without affecting the earlier PLN file.
Manufacturers' Details and Other Collections
You can also import manufacturer details in either
DWG or PDF form using a variation of this method.
Simply create the independent detail drawing as
above, then instead of pasting from the other
project, place the detail in the blank window
as a complete Drawing. You may
use the Drawing tool from the
Toolbox, or choose File
menu > External Content >
Place External Drawing. You can
also "drag and drop" one or more drawing
files from a folder of DWG or PDF files, either
into a Detail Window or directly
onto a Layout sheet.
If you bring in a PDF, you cannot modify it easily,
but you can crop it by changing the drawing frame
polygon, or clipping out holes in the drawing
to hide parts that are not relevant. You can then
add text or additional graphics if desired.
If you place a DWG as a Drawing
element and would like to edit it, choose Edit
menu > Reshape > Explode
into Current View and then rework the
linework and text as desired. TIP:
This approach (place as Drawing,
then Explode) has the side benefit
that all the components end up on the same layer
as the Drawing element, rather
than adding multiple layers to your project layer
There are some collections of detail drawings
that are available for purchase. One that BCG
sells is called Details Collection 3000 CD, which
is available as a download or a CD. This set of
3000 drawings is organized by CSI category, and
has a nicely organized PDF file for browsing reduced
size versions of the drawings, as shown below.
The actual detail drawings are stored in DWG format,
and can be dragged and dropped into a Detail
window in ArchiCAD. Their website (http://www.details-details.com)
has full information, and you can download about
300 sample details to see how they look and how
you can import them.
Other collections can be found online if you
Google "architectural detail drawings."
Creating a Catalog of Your Details
Once you have amassed a number of details in
many projects, the task of finding and opening
various files to locate just the right detail
may become tedious and inefficient. Creating a
single file, or a few focused on particular types
of construction (wood frame vs. concrete, or residential
vs. commercial, etc.), with a collection of all
your details is an excellent way to optimize your
Create a fresh PLN, and create new Independent
Details in the Project Map.
Make sure each one has an appropriate name, since
this will become the View name
and later the Title when placed
on a Layout. It's a good idea
to create a system for reference IDs, such as
D.RF 01 for Roof Detail 1, D.WL 12 for Wall Detail
Go through each of your projects and locate details
that may be reusable. For each one, open the detail,
activate the Arrow tool, choose
Edit menu > Select
All, then Copy. Go back
to the detail catalog PLN, create a new Independent
Detail (or locate one you have
created but not filled), open it up, make sure
the scale is set appropriately, then Paste.
Repeat until you're done, at least for the time
For each detail in your catalog file, you will
need to create a View with the
appropriate scale, Model View Options
and dimensioning settings, etc. The name of the
detail in the Project Map will
become the name in your View Map.
To simplify layer management, place all drawing
elements onto the ArchiCAD layer so they are always
visible whenever the detail is placed.
If you use a custom Pen Set
for a detail drawing in the source project, you
will want to use the same Pen Set
in your catalog file. You can copy Pen Sets from
one PLN to another using Options
menu > Element Attributes
> Attribute Manager.
In ArchiCAD 10, Pen Sets are
part of the Drawing Settings
on Layout sheets, to ensure they
always appear and print with the correct, specific
pen weights and colors. In ArchiCAD 11, this capability
is expanded and View Settings
record Pen Set information as
well, so that what you see when looking at the
View is exactly how it will output
from the Layout (WYSIWYG). If
you use more than one Pen Set, be sure your View
Settings have the correct Pen
Set, both in the catalog and later in
your active project.
It's a good idea to create separate folders within
the View Map for different categories:
Wall Details, Roof Details, Foundation Details,
etc. You can also create folders for projects
(and make duplicate Views if
you wish) to allow details to be grouped by the
project for which they were originally created.
Each detail, of course, can be at a different
Once you have this catalog PLN created, you can
find your details more easily: there is only one
file to open. You can browse your drawings quickly
using the Navigator Preview,
as shown below. Open the desired folder in the
View Map and click on one entry
after another until you find what you need. Then
simply double-click to open the drawing, select
all, Copy, then go back to your
current project detail window and Paste.
Printed and PDF Reference Catalogs
In your catalog, you can create Layouts
and place your collected details. These can be
organized in any way you wish, on any size paper.
You might do this on full size architectural sheets
(24" x 36", etc.) or on letter size
paper, or both. If you use smaller sheets, you
can place the details smaller than actual scale
(perhaps at half-size) so that you can fit more
drawings onto the sheet.
You can show the drawing reference ID
along with the Title so the drawings
will be quicker to locate in the View
Map. The catalog can be printed or saved
as a PDF and browsed onscreen.
Referencing the Catalog Externally
In ArchiCAD 10 and later, you can place Drawings
on your Layouts as an external
reference. Using the Project Organizer,
Browse and open or select the
Detail Catalog PLN on the left
side, and locate the desired View
from its View Map. Drag the View
into the Layout on the right
side of the Organizer, or simply
drag that View directly onto
the Layout sheet.
This has the advantage of being quicker and simpler
than opening each Detail in the
catalog and copying, and creating Independent
Details in your project and pasting,
then placing onto the Layout.
One benefit and/or caution is that the detail
is linked to the catalog, and will update if the
detail in the catalog PLN is updated. Of course,
you cannot right-click on the callout to open
the detail for editing, since it is external.
There is a limitation to this approach in ArchiCAD
10 that is removed in ArchiCAD 11: the drawing
reference in the detail callout (e.g., drawing
6 on sheet A-401) will not be automatic. In version
10, these references are only possible when the
callout is linked to a detail drawing inside
the same project that has been placed onto a Layout.
In ArchiCAD 10, you may use the Custom
settings for the drawing number and sheet number,
and enter them yourself. This is not much of a
problem on standard detail sheets that are consistent
from project to project, since these drawings
will be in the same position on the same page.
Happily, this limitation is removed in ArchiCAD
11, which allows a call-out to reference any placed
Drawing in the Layout
set. From the Info Palette or
the Detail Marker Settings
dialog, choose Linked marker.
In the Define Marker Reference
dialog box, select from the upper popup to refer
to The selected drawing. Then
browse for the appropriate drawing (it must already
have been placed on a Layout)
from the list.
Your call-outs will always be up to date, and
you can view the detail drawing by right-clicking
the callout and choosing Go to Drawing.
In a larger office, the detail catalog can be
set up as a Teamwork file (PLP).
The CAD Manager or lead detailer is allowed to
modify the catalog, but other users may only be
given permission to read and reference (or copy)
Organizing Details on Floor Plan Stories
Another way to create and browse detail drawings
in a catalog is to compile them on Stories
(in addition to Detail windows).
This offers one advantage: you can use the Wall
tool to create the graphic fills for composite
walls. In the Detail window,
the Wall tool is not available,
so representing a composite wall section from
scratch takes a little more time, using a series
of individual rectangular fills.
Another benefit is that with the details arrayed
on a floor plan, you can scan many details at
the same time to pick one out by eye. You can
also Drag a Copy
of any detail to instantly create a variation.
It is possible to create a View
for each detail on a story: zoom in carefully
to show only the desired area, then save the active
Zoom in the View Settings.
These Views can then be organized within the catalog
View Map. You can browse details
by name, double-click to view, then zoom out to
compare similar details nearby on the same story.
However, it is not advisable to place
these zoomed and cropped floor plan Views
as drawings on Layout sheets,
since rebuilding each detail drawing (making sure
they are up to date) will take much longer. This
is because the entire story, with many detail
drawings, is read each time for every placed drawing.
It's best to maintain a copy of the details in
separate Detail windows using
the method described earlier, and place simple
(uncropped) Views of those Detail
windows on the Layouts.
NOTE: if you create
a detail on the Floor Plan to
take advantage of using Walls
for some of the graphics, then later want to paste
the drawing into a Detail Window,
one extra step is needed in version 10. You must
Explode the Walls
(Edit menu > Reshape
> Explode into Current View)
to convert them into 2D graphics before copying,
otherwise they will not paste into the Detail
Window. In version 11, this is unnecessary
since wall and other construction elements are
converted to 2D graphics automatically when the
drawing is pasted into the Detail Window.
Each story can include many details, which might
be grouped into categories (e.g., roof details).
Details of different scales should be placed on
different stories, so that their text and markers
are sized properly. Each story will have a particular
scale (e.g., 1 ½" = 1' - 0",
etc.) and the drawings can be placed freely, or
arranged on a grid.
Detailer Template in the Catalog
The detail catalog can also be a place to create
new details. The Detailer Template
system described in the previous
article of this series can be integrated into
the catalog PLN so that all the tools are available
to quickly create details from scratch, as variations
of earlier details, or from graphics copied from
Instructions for how to add the template modules
(e.g., wood, steel, masonry, etc.) into a PLN
(which could be a project file, a project template,
or a detail catalog) are included in the Detailer
Manual pdf file.
The tools in ArchiCAD for creating, managing
and cataloging detail drawings are powerful, elegant
and simple to use-once you know what's possible.
Use the Detail tool, the 2D pre-made
library parts, the Detailer template,
and compile your own catalogs of details. Your
projects will be well-detailed, without any wasted
Thanks to Scott Bulmer for sharing his detail
catalog file (a work in progress) for use in training
and making screenshots for this article. Thanks
to Richard Morrison and Erika Epstein for sharing
similar files and brainstorming with me on best
practices for creating office standard collections
of detail drawings.
About the Author
Eric Bobrow, Principal of Archicad reseller
Consulting Group (BCG), has been using Archicad
and training architects since 1989. BCG is a Graphisoft
Platinum VAR based in Los Angeles and San Rafael
CA that has ranked as one of the top 5 U.S. resellers
every year since 1997. He can be contacted at
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