Week #14 – Navigation and Drafting Power Tips
14-5. Managing the 3D Window: Showing What You Need, How You Want to See It

ArchiCAD Training (Best Practices Lesson 14-5)

This 29 minute lesson goes over basic and advanced options for controlling and managing the ArchiCAD 3D Window, choosing what you see, how you want to see it, and navigating in 3D efficiently.

You can choose what you want to see in the 3D Window by any of several methods. The most basic is by the Layer Combination, which is typically set by activating a View. This turns on specific layers, so different categories of elements are shown. The layer combination used in a Plan view for construction documents or during the design process is not necessarily the right one for looking at or working on the 3D model, so it is likely that one will need to change the layer combination for the 3D window.

Using the 3D Window icon in the Toolbar or using the keyboard shortcut F3 will bring up the ArchiCAD 3D Window with the last used viewing style and position, showing the currently visible layers. One may draw a marquee and Right-Click in empty space (i.e. not pointing at and selecting any element) and choose Show Selection/Marquee in 3D, in which case the model within that enclosed area will be seen, either for elements visible in the current story (thin marquee) or for elements on any story (thick marquee).

Other variations include:

  • Right-clicking and choosing Show All in 3D, which will bring up all elements on all visible layers regardless of story
  • Selecting elements directly (with the Arrow tool and/or by Shift-clicking or Right-clicking) and using the Show Selection/Marquee in 3D command, in which case one only gets the selected elements showing in 3D
  • Right-clicking and choosing Show Stored Selection/Marquee in 3D, which will bring up the last marquee area or selected elements, regardless of what is currently selected or whether there is an active marquee
  • One may also select elements while in the 3D window and use the Show Selection/Marquee in 3D, in which case only the selected elements will remain showing; this is useful for isolating specific parts of the model to work on details
  • The Quick Layers palette (available from the Window menu > Palette submenu) allows manipulation of layer visibility on the fly, with Undo capabilities; this can be extremely useful to isolate categories of elements to work on specific areas of the model in either 3D or on Plan

In ArchiCAD there are two main projection options, Axonometric and Perspective. These may be selected using the popup menu next to the 3D Window icon in the Toolbar, or with keyboard shortcuts listed on that popup menu.

The Orbit navigation method will spin around the current center of view. This may be activated using the Orbit icon button in the navigation area at the bottom left of the 3D window, or using the letter “O”. While Orbiting, one may not edit the model; to finish the Orbit mode, one may click the Orbit icon button again, or type “O” or hit the Escape key.

ArchiCAD TIP: A very convenient shortcut to “orbit on the fly” is to hold down the mouse-wheel button (also known as the middle mouse button) to get the “Pan” hand, and at the same time to press down the Shift key on the keyboard. The cursor will change to show the Orbit icon, and one may drag the mouse around to orbit the model. Release the mouse button and Shift key when ready, and you will find that you are able to immediately edit or draw.

The orientation angle may be seen in the Navigator Preview window, which may be brought up using the icon second from the left at the bottom of the 3D Window. In Axonometric view, the orientation may also be controlled by dragging the small camera icon around the circular path shown in the Preview window. One may also use a popup menu to select specific preset styles of Axonometry, including Top, Isometric, and Side (Elevation) views. One may also set the Axo view to directly face a surface (typically creating an Elevation style view) with the View menu > 3D Navigation Extras > Look To Perpendicular of Clicked Surface command.

When in Perspective, the Preview window will show the camera position (where you are looking from) and the target point. You may move these with the mouse, and the 3D window will quickly update. Conversely, if you orbit, zoom in or out using the mouse wheel, pan using the mouse wheel, or use the Explore method for “walking through” the model, you will see the Preview window update to show the active camera and target locations.

If the current camera position is located outside the Preview window, one may bring it back inside by Shift-clicking and dragging the mouse. To reposition the target point, one may grab it with the mouse, but if it is off-screen, one may Option-click or ALT-click and drag the mouse inside the Preview window.

One may also set the target point using the View menu > 3D Navigation Extras > Look To command. This is particularly useful in controlling the center of an Orbit operation, since it will keep the view facing this point of interest.

While in perspective, ArchiCAD offers an Explore mode, which may be activated using the Explore icon (a small human figure) in the navigation area at the bottom of the 3D window. The Information dialog explains the main options for moving through or around the model. Once one confirms the dialog, mouse movements shift the focus or target, while keyboard commands adjust the walking or camera position or speed. One cannot edit or draw while in Explore mode; to exit this mode, click the mouse or hit the Escape key.

ArchiCAD TIP: While the Explore mode is useful for certain types of study and presentation, I prefer navigating (whether in perspective or axo modes) using the mouse wheel to Pan around and adding the Shift-key to Orbit on the fly. Usually I can get where I want more quickly, and resume editing or drawing immediately.

Please post your comments and questions below.


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ArchiCAD Training: Managing the 3D Window: Showing What You Need, How You Want to See It

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  1. Avatar photo
    12 years ago

    Found a whole lot of stuff here I did not know about – the 3d prevue pane especially – highly recommended I will watch this again!

  2. EltonAnderson
    12 years ago

    Excellent shortcuts presented for viewing 3D images, creating Views and Layouts. Camera operations were also very useful – different for an ArchiCad user of 10 years!

  3. Anthony Foran
    12 years ago


    I am receiving your weekly lessons via email but I cannot download any videos..there does not seem to be a “donwload” link associated with any of the lessons. Is this just my system or am I doing something wrong??

    Alos I have received the first 2 DVD’s up to Week 9 but nothing after. Could you please advise when the next DVD will be arriving.

    Many thanks
    Anthony Foran

    • Eric Bobrow
      12 years ago

      Anthony –

      You should see a blue DOWNLOAD button in the bottom right corner of each video, and may right-click this button and choose Save Linked File As or Save Target As or a similar command to download the video (the name of this command varies with each web browser). If you are not seeing this blue button, please try a different browser – as far as I know it should show up in all browsers, but perhaps there is something different on your system.

      You may also visit the Course Download page and will see download links for each lesson that has been produced to date. Use the Right-click command as described above.

      I am just finishing up Week 14 (as you can see) and will start immediately into Week 15. When that is done (hopefully within the next week or 10 days) I will start producing Disk 3, which will have Weeks 10 – 15.

      I will announce to everyone through my regular email when this next DVD is being shipped out. At this point, I’m guessing that this disk may ship about 3 weeks from now (allowing for the time it takes for the master to be produced and tested). It is sent via air mail, so depending on where you are, you may have it about one month from now (given that it’s March 12 today, that would be mid-April). I regret that it’s taken this long, but I’ve been working to make sure that each lesson is as good and complete as possible.


  4. Avatar photo
    12 years ago

    Two things, Eric. One of the early 3D views in this lesson shows a grid under the model complete with grid line bubbles and identification. How do you do this? Then how do you show the grid itself in a 3D image under the mesh? I use AC12. Is this feature available in 12, or did it come along in a later version?

    • Eric Bobrow
      12 years ago

      Bob –

      There is a Grid Element tool that was introduced in ArchiCAD 11 as a “Goodie” (something you could download from Graphisoft for free, but not included in the basic installation) and I think they started including it in ArchiCAD 12. You’ll find the Grid tool in the “More” group of tools, and also you may insert entire grid systems using the Design menu > Grid System command.

      If you don’t see the Grid tool, there are two possibilities – either it’s not installed (as in AC11) and you need to download it by going to the Help menu and selecting ArchiCAD Goodies or ArchiCAD Downloads (they changed the name at a certain point); or it’s already installed but you may have a Work Environment that is set based on a previous version of ArchiCAD (when the Grid tool was not included) – in which case you may need to go to the Options menu > Work Environment > Tool Schemes and activate the Standard scheme that includes the Grid tool, or add the Grid tool manually using the Work Environment > Toolbox dialog.

      These Grid Elements are special objects that have an option / parameter for being visible in 3D as well as in Sections and Elevations. All views are coordinated, so if you move a grid bubble on the plan, it will adjust in the other views accordingly.

      The grid plane that shows under the 3D view is a new feature introduced in ArchiCAD 15. It is called the Editing Plane, and it will adjust based on the elevation setting of the active tool; in certain cases it may actually move to be vertical or on an angle, depending on what element you are editing. It may be turned on and off using the View menu > 3D View Mode > Editing Plane Display command.


      • Avatar photo
        12 years ago

        Thanks, Eric. I found the Grid tool okay, but I’ll have to wait until I get AC15 to work with the Editing Plane. Keep up the good work. I appreciate your prompt replies, too. Each lesson generates both confidence and questions. I try to minimize my questions of you, and it’s great to be able revisit previous lessons for a refresher. Having a command of a procedure on one day is no assurance I will have it ten days from now when I need it again!