Week #13 – Aligning and Placing Elements
13-4. Uses of Virtual Trace for Model Views, Layouts and 2D Drawings

ArchiCAD Training (Best Practices Lesson 13-4)

This 33 minute lesson shows a variety of applications of Virtual Trace for coordinating elements in model views, layouts and 2D drawings. In addition, important tips are shared about several potential issues, and some advanced options are considered.

Virtual Trace is a versatile resource that has so many ways that it can be used. 3D model elements may be aligned and coordinated between plan views from distinct stories or with different layers or other settings. In addition, plans may be reviewed in conjunction with elevations and sections, which may also be viewed in relationship to each other.

Using a Layout as reference, drawings can be adjusted to fit better or work around other drawings. Drawings from one Layout can be placed in alignment with related drawings on other Layouts to facilitate comparison on a light table.

ArchiCAD provides a built-in system of referencing 2D drawings such as Details or Worksheets (for wall sections or enlarged plans) to their Source View (often a Section or a Plan View). This allows the user to see the project or model context while working on the drawing, and coordinate with any changes to the source view.

2D drawings may be imported into Worksheets and used as a reference for tracing and building the model. Examples of this include building a site model based on a survey DWG, creating the actual building model by tracing a set of drawings imported from an as-built or design set created in another CAD program. In addition, consultant drawings may be placed into a Worksheet then compared and analyzed in relation to the current model for coordination purposes.


There are a few instances in which Virtual Trace can cause performance issues. In large projects, referencing a View with different Dimension Preferences and/or Model View Options will cause ArchiCAD to do extra work (since it has to prepare the View using rather different options) and in certain cases may cause subtle or dramatic slow-downs in 2D redraw. If this occurs, use Views with similar settings, or use the Story Below, Story Above or Previous Story options in the Reference menu (which will always show these stories with the currently active settings), or simply turn off Virtual Trace when it is not necessary to have it visible.

The option to for transparent Fills, which is found in the lower right of the Trace and Reference palette, may cause confusion at times. With this option activated, if you draw a new Fill you will find that may not appear the way you expect; likewise, existing fills will also be displayed differently.

A few other minor issues are described in this lesson, including difficulty in selection and displacement of special snap points when elements in the reference overlap ones in the active window.


The lesson finishes with an examination of the use of Virtual Trace with Interactive Legends as used in MasterTemplate. Since it is possible to eye-drop elements from the reference, this may be used to obtain quick access to favorite settings. In the simple case, this may be a Worksheet or other dedicated viewpoint with frequently used elements arranged in a convenient manner.

To facilitate Interactive Legends that contain 3D elements such as walls, windows, doors, roofs, slabs etc., a blank Worksheet is set up with a Trace Reference to a special Plan view of these 3D elements. Visibility of these 3D elements is managed by setting them up as part of a Hotlinked Module (HLM), and turning on and off the Master Layer of the HLM with standard Layer Combinations.

Please post your comments and questions below.


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ArchiCAD Training: Uses of Virtual Trace for Model Views, Layouts and 2D Drawings

Let us know how you feel... (4 comments so far)

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  1. ChristopherEllis
    12 years ago

    Many great tips, as usual.
    I especially liked the use of the layout as a trace. Not only can it make the sheets look more consistent and professional, I’ve often gone back and forth tweaking the plans to make them fit and look better on the sheets. The layout as a trace dramatically streamlines this process.

    Using a worksheet with a DWG is great for getting started with a new project when electronic plans exist. You could use this with scanned, hand drawn plans, too, I’d think.

    I’ve often used another story for these DWGs, but your tip would seem to slow down the computer a lot less, since it is not “on” all the time as with my method.

    Thanks !
    Chris Ellis, Cape Cod, MA USA

    • Eric Bobrow
      12 years ago

      Chris –

      Thanks for your feedback. I appreciate how you share the specifics of how you expect to use the new ideas and techniques from the lesson. (And yes, you can bring in scanned, hand-drawn plans too – they would work the same way, although like PDF’s, you can’t snap to the linework, only use it as a visual reference.)

      I don’t think that there is any speed benefit from the use of Worksheets as opposed to extra “dummy” stories, but it is a cleaner organizational structure, particularly if you use Clone Folders to make views for the various Plan drawing types (the extra stories show up in each of these clones). And conceptually, I like the separation of Worksheets being for 2D information, and the various stories being used for the 3D model plus annotation.


  2. Avatar photo
    12 years ago

    Is there any harm in leaving trace references “on” all the time? Specifically, I like the idea of having a detail’s source section in the background. If, as a project develops, something changes but you forget to update the detail, having the source still visible would offer an obvious prompt to do the update. Would doing this sort of thing slow down the computer or anything?

    • Eric Bobrow
      12 years ago

      Scott –
      There’s no real problem with keeping the trace reference on, except that sometimes it makes it harder to select elements in the active view. Try it for a while, and see how it feels. You can always turn off the reference if you feel it is slowing you down in any way.