Jeff’s Wall blw Parapet but Above Transom_Current_NotUsed-Active.2D 02042015

Is it a Layer? A Composite? A Complex Profile? A Fill? A Surface? A Detail? A Worksheet? A file? Who knows. But we can guess which one of our coworkers created it…and when. And we also know it’s a horrible series of naming conventions that you should never, ever allow to exist in any of your files.

How to Name Things in ARCHICAD

The first post I ever wrote on naming conventions in ARCHICAD was back in 2011. I should probably update that post because my views have evolved and it relates to old workflows from a job I have long since left. But it’s still worth a read.

In March 2015, I wrote two articles here on BIM Engine about naming Attributes, specifically Layers and Pen Sets.

Book ending those recent posts were two articles I wrote on my blog focusing on clarity of communication when talking about ARCHICAD and BIM.

Naming matters. How and why we name things what we do affects their utility. When we are talking with others, when we are sending documents to the job site, when we are organizing our templates, when we are adding data to projects, when we are exchanging IFC files. What we call things affects not just the ability to properly communicate with others, but also what we can do with the things we name. The better we name something, the more value we give it.

We have so many things to name in ARCHICAD

Below are some of my thoughts. By no means is it a comprehensive list. I contradict myself in a few places because the goal isn’t to sell you on one grand solution, but to show you the bigger picture. For instance I strive to have my Building Materials, Surfaces, and Fills all named differently, because I want a strict hierarchy and differentiation between Building Materials, Fills, and Surfaces. I know another highly respected ARCHICAD user that will tell you that there should be perfect unity between the three (so you’d have a brick Building Material, Surface, and Fill all named the exact same thing). There are some strong reasons for that avenue. Perhaps that’ll be a future post. Or maybe Nathan will make his case in the comments. The point being, whichever route you go, be intentional.

Those Zones Make Sense

What to think about when naming Stuff in ARCHICAD

  1. Who is it being named for? Is whatever you are naming being named for your own benefit? For your coworkers? For your bosses? Employees? Consultants and collaborators? Your clients? The Contractor? The general public? ARCHICAD masters? ARCHICAD beginners?
  2. Why is it being named? Is there one primary reason for deciding what the name is? Are there secondary reasons? Do they conflict?
  3. Will the name show up in a schedule or label? My preference is to create Attributes based on what I want to see in Schedules and Labels. This can mean both creating Attributes based on how I want to segregate information in a schedule (by Layer, Story, Building Material, etc.) and by what linked text I want to appear. Think about the difference between Surfaces named Clear, Clear Glass, and Glass. What makes the most sense for your Surfaces? I create Surfaces for Clear, Tempered, Wire, etc., which I assign to the glass in a door/window Object, and then show in the schedule (I’ve recorded a video about the scheduling process). I prefer this solution because it means all my glass can be updated in the schedule and is uniform throughout the project. I know if I update Clear or Frosted or Wire, all the elements (including their visual display) throughout the project will be updated as well. It’s a global Attribute change. I want my schedules to have a column for glass, and then the type of glass listed. I don’t want to have each field also include the word ‘glass’ in it. And I don’t want to manually type in the text.
  4. Can you use simpler language? The more you assume the name of the thing (Attribute or Element) will show up somewhere else, the higher the probability you’ll make that happen. Think about naming stuff the same thing you’d refer to it outside of ARCHICAD. If you’re going to be talking to the contractor about Wall Type 1 and Wall Type 2, make sure that’s in the name of the Composite.Wall Types
  5. Will it confuse or conflict? Be cognizant of alignments. They can be both very good and very bad. If you have a Layer Combination for plans and a Model View Option for plans, have their names align (ei, both called Plans), but also be wary of creating identical names. Sometimes it’s okay when you want perfect alignment, other times it can get confusing and misleading. Do the things named the same serve the identical purpose? Such as a Building Material and Surface and Complex Profile all named the same thing for scheduling purposes? Or should there be a difference because a Surface is not the same thing as a Building Material? Think about a Fill named Glass, a Surface named Glass, and a Building Material named Glass. Does that make your template stronger? Does it provide you with some benefit? Or does it add unnecessary complexity? Does it confuse your coworkers? Does the purity of it breakdown when only 2 out of the 3 make sense to have? I’m not trying to sway you one way or another, just asking about the concept.
  6. Will the name of your Attribute (or element or view) make sense to someone who doesn’t have the luxury of having you explain it? Gyp. Bd. is something you can expect everyone to understand. But does W1 mean Window 1, Wall 1, Work 1? If that matters, then be careful. Likewise, name your Sections, Elevations, and other source markers something clear and to the point. These names will show up in your documentation, so make sure they are obvious and linked all the way from the Project Map to the View Map to the Layout Book. Short cuts in naming don’t save time.
  7. How clear are your names? My new pen set names follow a clear logic. What are the differences? Hatching on/off, Fills color/gray, line weights on/off. So that’s the naming convention. If they were different in some other manner, I’d change the labeling to match that. For instance: based on a generic scale system. Not 1/16″=1′-0″, 1/4″= 1′-0″, 3″=1′-0″, but small scale, medium scale, and large scale—because the large scale is good for a range of scales, not just 3″=1′-0″. Of course I can see flaws in that. So perhaps if you like scales in your pen sets use greater than and less than in the names.Names Cut Off
  8. Are you considering how much of the name you’ll see in drop down menus and dialog boxes? One of the downsides to long fully written names is that they don’t always show up in the buttons, drop down menus, and various boxes. You’ll get the name cut off (though it’ll show fully when you click on the button, etc.). This can mean that if you have four or five Attributes that all start with the same beginning text, they might look the same at first glance. For instance, if all your Pen Sets or Layer Combinations start with the same words, they’ll be indistinguishable. One more reason to be careful with unnecessary prefixes.
  9. Are you suffering from abbreviation overkill? Naming Attributes is about utility. Abbreviations are often a trap and are open to misinterpretation. Furthermore, they rarely look good in a note or schedule. Are you certain this composite name is legible: W1 – Fnd cnc + std gp bd ovr rgd & ppr? Would you put that in a note to be read on site? If your naming conventions look like they belong in some cliched teenager’s text messages, then you are probably doing it wrong.
  10. Is your name or your company name in it? Your name should never be part of an Attribute or anything else in ARCHICAD. Solid Line_Jared. No! 25% Fill_Jared. The horror! ShoegnomeArchitects-Wall_layer. I will cry. If you need to claim ownership of an Attribute you created, then there is something amiss. If you need to let your coworkers know that a certain Attribute is what they should be using, adding the company name means there’s a systematic failure within your overall naming concept, and template. It is redundant and unnecessary. It is a waste. Oh wait. Except if you’re building IFC property sets. Then  your company name is actually really valuable there—since it will be part of what gets exported to other programs and signifies that these properties are unique to your business. (FYI- “Pset_” without anything before it shows that it’s a standard IFC property set as defined by ISO16739:2013, so you do want to create differentiation). For more on IFC and property sets, you know where to go. For even more on interoperability, go here. So in fact sometimes there are instances when your company name is a piece of legitimate data that belongs (see question 1: who is this for). But most likely it shouldn’t be there. Nor should your own name.IFC Scheme Properties need names too
  11. Are you adding time related data? Don’t, unless it’s related to actual 4D processes. New, old, current, 06062015, active, and similar tags should never be used in a file name, Attribute, or anything else. They are always wrong. Now if you were adding names like Phase I or Phase II, Winter, Reused, or something else that had some connection to the actual project schedule, then yeah, that’s cool.
  12. Do you want to group things in a special way? Certain additional characters (if it won’t show up in a schedule) can be great for grouping things, especially Attributes. Alphabetical order is sometimes overbearing. Can’t Text and Dimensions both start with the same letter? Dext? Or Timensions? I know the old CAD convention is to use A- or S- or Anno- in front of Layers, but I find that clunky. It suffers from excessive abbreviation, is the equivalent of starting every Layer with your name or your company’s name, and doesn’t really solve the problem. Why does the architect need to remember all his layers are A-? I know, I know, national CAD standards. If you need to label your Layers with A- or Anno-, consider using the Layer Extension for that. (Quick Tip: when creating a new Layer, adding a period will switch the text after the period to be the Layer Extension). Read about a smarter way to name Attributes that focuses on clarity and list-based organization.
  13. Will your naming logic reinforce a grander concept? If your template is built for a specific goal, how can your naming conventions support that?

What do you say? What have I missed? How do you decide what to name things in ARCHICAD?

Clear and to the pointSome Bonus Thoughts from other previous and future articles:

  1. Be wary of special characters. I briefly used ●●●●● in my Layer names. But ●●●●● turns into ????? when attributes are exported or imported from an .aat file. That means the name needs to be manually fixed each time you import it to a new file. Any symbols that can’t make the round trip via .aat file should be removed and banished.
  2. Speaking of naming things, don’t be lazy with your Element IDs. You know all those times you check SEOs and ARCHICAD tells you Wall01 is the operator of S02? That’s a waste of your brain space. If S02 is actually the main roof, name it that. Or ANYTHING better than the default name. Imagine the time savings. I’ll do a full post on Element IDs sometime soon, hopefully.
  3. My goal in this post is to help frame your decision making process, not convince you to copy my solutions. Read Chuck Kottka’s comment in my Layer Theory post. He makes some very strong and clear arguments for a traditional CAD layering system of X-XXXX-XXXX.

Are you following Graphisoft North America on Twitter? Click Here to keep track of all the latest ArchiCAD News in North America (and beyond). Naming things in ARCHICAD but seem like a no-brainer, but it’s not. Done right it will make your work better. Done poorly it will waste time and hinder your ability to add value to your projects.


  1. Patrick May

    Good point on special characters, for so many reasons (at least 7 reasons to avoid them everywhere, just off the top of my head)

  2. Nathan Hildebrandt

    This is a great topic to bring up because there are so many things to consider when it comes to naming things. The first thing is to identify if there are any standards that need to be complied with regarding the way that things are named. That takes precedence. Then you have to think through what information can be used internally and externally and the naming for those attributes need to be 100% meaningful in every potential output that you can get from them. Most of the areas covered in this post are internal use attributes but the critical things to have a strong naming structure for is
    1. Layers (these go out in IFC and in dwg)
    2. BMAT (this data can be used in smart labelling of elements and exports in IFC)
    3. Surfaces (this data can be used in smart labelling of elements and exports in IFC)
    4. Composites (this data can be used in smart labelling of elements and exports in IFC)
    5. Complex Profiles (this data can be used in smart labelling of elements and exports in IFC)
    6. Element ID (this data can be used in smart labelling of elements and exports in IFC)

    If you don’t have good structure of the data above you will send out Cr#p and your data isn’t structured in a way that is useful to others and renders it useless. In the coming month or so there will be something interesting to share that will help people get better outcomes to problems like the ones you mention above Jared.


  3. John Muller

    At the risk of making design enemies, I always hated the CSI format for layering. (Spec books are a bete noire for me also — they’re the first thing to get lost.)
    I did a number of homes without making a complicated Byzantine procedure out of layering and they’re fine — they are still standing!
    Paraphrasing the guy who designed the 1961 Lincoln –simpler is always better.

  4. Roderick Anderson

    Hi Jared, great post, as always. I’ve been looking online through a small tidbit of information regarding naming. It may be something you wrote some time back, but not sure so I’ll ask anyway.

    In one of the recent versions of Archicad, may have been on version 20 or 21 (not sure) there was a new feature where you could name a composite say: “W01: Stud Wall 4″ w/insulation” and with a label it would pick up only the W01 and be able to use that to simply label wall types.

    I know that we could now do the same via properties, but this seems to be a bit more convenient, since it is tied directly to the composite name, and not requiring an extra setup step. Do you recall anything about this?

    • Jared Banks

      You’re thinking of expressions for ARCHICAD properties, which were introduced in ARCHICAD 22.


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