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Week #13 – Aligning and Placing Elements
13-2. Using the Ruler and Shift Key Constraints

ArchiCAD Training (Best Practices Lesson 13-2)

This 17 minute lesson looks at the use of the Ruler and the mouse constraints that are available by holding down the Shift key.

The Ruler was introduced as a new feature in ArchiCAD 13. When you click the Ruler icon in the Toolbar, two visual scales appear at the top and left side of your working window, which show distances from the current user origin. You may move the user origin using the Edit Origin icon in the Toolbar, so your onscreen measurements relate to a useful location in your drawing.

You may quickly create Guide Lines parallel to the axes by dragging the mouse from the Ruler. This can facilitate placing elements aligned with existing geometry. In addition, when you right-click on the Ruler, the pop-up menu gives you an option to extend lines from the cursor as you move around onscreen, which can make it somewhat easier to inspect placement relationships between onscreen elements (e.g. are these two elements in line with each other?).

Ruler Guide Lines disappear after a drawing or editing operation is completed, just like all other Guide Lines. To create “lasting” guides for construction and drafting purposes, one may draw standard lines and place them on a layer that is visible in certain Layer Combinations and Views, but turned off in the main Construction Documentation layer combinations and views. Graphisoft’s templates provide a “No-Plot” layer for this purpose, although the layer name and function is arbitrary (i.e. you CAN print out a drawing with these lines, they are only prevented from output by being turned off in a particular layer combination), and is only effective when controlled properly by the layer combinations.

The Shift key is one of the most basic controls provided in ArchiCAD for alignment purposes. Holding down the Shift key while moving the mouse during an editing or drafting operation will constrain the mouse movement to a line along a known angle such as the nearest axis. However, there are many nuances and subtleties in the ways that the Shift constraints are actually interpreted and can be used that many users are unaware of or at least do not fully comprehend.

The most obvious principle is that the Shift key will “jump” the cursor to the nearest known angle. The angles that are recognized will vary depending on the context, but usually include the main axis lines (this is controlled by the Options menu > Work Environment > Mouse Constraints). When stretching an end point of an element such as a wall or line, the existing angle of the element will also be recognized and snappable; in the case of a polygon element such as a slab, this is extended to include sensitivity to both adjacent line segments.

There is another more subtle (yet ultimately primary) principle for the mouse constraints which is much less understood by many users. There is an Edit Origin which is shown by the small “x” shown while the Shift key is held down during the operation. This is chosen by ArchiCAD based on proximity at the moment the Shift key is depressed, and may be the node point that one is adjusting, or the other end of a wall or line, or either of the two adjacent node points in the case of a polygon. After the Edit Origin is determined by ArchiCAD, THEN the angle is chosen based on the “known” angles that the context provides. This is difficult to comprehend by reading these words, but is amply demonstrated in this video lesson.

A final principle is that there are three Cursor Snap Variants available for the dotted line that extends from the constrained vector line to the mouse position. The most common one is Perpendicular, and it works beautifully for operations that are on one of the primary X or Y axes, which is the most common usage. However, when constraining a line that is going on an angle relative to these axes, the Vertical or Horizontal options are very useful. These may be invoked using the popup menu that is part of the Window menu > Palettes > Control Box > Cursor Snap Variants button, or by using the letter “q” as a keyboard shortcut (which allows cycling through these variations).

Please post your comments and questions below.


Thank you for visiting the Best Practices Course website. The video lessons are available for members only. If you are an active member and would like to watch the ArchiCAD training video on this page, please login to the website. If you are not currently a member, please visit the following pages for more information and to sign up for the Best Practices Course, the QuickStart Course or for the Best Practices ArchiCAD Coaching Program. Eric Bobrow, Creator of the Best Practices Course
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ArchiCAD Training: Using the Ruler and Shift Key Constraints

Let us know how you feel... (5 comments so far)

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  1. JohnGilchrist
    5 years ago

    “Cursor Snap Variants” damn that’s subtle, and well hidden, but certainly useful. The Q works perfectly, but the pallet itself does not work for me.

    • Eric Bobrow
      5 years ago

      John –

      Glad you found it useful!

      When you say the palette doesn’t work for you, what do you mean? Is the option greyed out? It will stay greyed out until you are in the middle of a drawing or editing operation and you have the shift key held down (constraining the mouse) – then the button will light up, and you can move your mouse over to it and switch the options. Of course, if you remember the Q shortcut, that’s quicker and easier.


  2. JohnDunham
    5 years ago

    Ruler guide lines and ‘Shift Q’… I never knew! Nor the subtleties of the Shift key. Good stuff!

    • Eric Bobrow
      5 years ago

      Yep, this is not obvious, and you can live without it… however it’s fun when you know the shortcuts!

  3. Chris Ellis
    5 years ago


    Yet more good tools I did not know about. I especially liked being able to drag guide lines down from the ruler.
    Thanks !

    Chris Ellis, Cape Cod, MA