3D Documents: Are They Used on 100% of Your Projects?

3D Documents: Are They Used on 100% of Your Projects?

Here are the two Sketch Renderings that changed the way I handle documentation.


click on the image to a larger view

Back in 2007 when I switched from ArchiCAD 9 to ArchiCAD 11, I started to explore the Sketch Rendering Engine. I very quickly fell for the Koh-I-Noor settings. Eventually I refined my images by using 11_Tech_Pencil and turning down all the noise settings to zero. It made a nice black and white hidden line rendering. Almost all of my projects had one or two black and white Sketch Renderings on the coversheet. I knew I made the right decision after the first client meeting that involved one of these sets. Sitting in the client’s kitchen, the lead architect and I discussed the design. We spent a decent amount of time flipping through all the plans, sections, elevations, and details. Once we had finished our overview, the client started asking questions. I don’t remember who flipped back to the cover sheet with its two Sketch Renderings, but once that happened, the set hardly opened again. By the end of the meeting, those two renderings were covered with notes, marks, and revisions. Trace paper was put on top of them and design ideas were furiously scribbled. The final design of the project (which won some local awards) was definitely improved as a result of the ability we had to collectively sit around the table and scribble on top of those 3D views.

That’s good and all, but I still had issues with the renderings. They took forever to create and just as long to update, especially if the resolution was cranked up. And since I lean towards perfectionism, the resolution was always high. The thing about Sketch Renderings is that they can fuzz up a design. Lines aren’t straight, details are a little hard to pick up, etc. This is great for early phases. The sketch renderings allow the client, or a boss, to look at the design and not get hung up on the unresolved areas. It’s a beautiful option to help hide some of the unresolved ‘I’ in an early BIM. But that also becomes a liability later on.

I love 3D Documents.

ArchiCAD BIMWhen I jumped from ArchiCAD 11 to ArchiCAD 14, I started playing around with ArchiCAD’s 3D Document. I almost immediately stopped using the Sketch Rendering Engine for my cover sheets and exclusively used the 3D Document to create my black and white hidden line perspectives. It’s very easy to set everything to a uniform thin pen, turn off materials, and tweak the darkness of shadows (I suggest a 25% fill with a black fill pen). The lines are cleaner, the shadows are crisper, I can add some lines or fills fairly easily if I need to do some cheating, and it’s still linked to the model. And perhaps just as importantly, the view regenerates much, much faster than the sketch rendering engine. The sketch rendering engine is excellent and I hope to investigate all its other uses (watch for an upcoming blog post on the topic), but for speed, legibility, and ability to add other information to the view, the 3D Document can’t be beat.

Simple black and white 3D views on cover sheets are just the beginning. Once you’re comfortable doing those, it’s a short step to adding these views throughout your drawing set. Start small. There’s a place for disruptive change and also for incremental steps. Begin with adding these types of drawings to your documents and you’ll be amazed at what comes next. Want to learn a little more about how to make 3D Documents? Check out these videos.



If you set up your 3D document views on your cover sheet very early on in your design process (say once massing is figured out), you’ll have continuously evolving images always ready to print out. At first they might be too ugly to share with someone not deeply involved in the work, but I’m confident that from the first print they’ll be ready for trace paper and sketching.


Another benefit of putting 3D views on your cover sheets? Look again at my Sketch Renderings and then at the 2nd and 3rd images on this link. Notice a striking resemblance between the images and the final professional photography? Setting up these iconic images in your construction documents gets you thinking about final photography from very early in the design process.