Revit Structure Basics You Never Learned

May 10th, 2012

When composing an article directed toward a beginner, one must first define what comprises a “beginner.”  Literally speaking, a beginner is someone who is just starting to learn and acquire skills in a particular activity.  However, it is unlikely that the reader is truly a novice because one might assume a beginner would choose to read a tutorial or “help” documentation, and not AUGIWorld.  In fact, the reader is probably more likely to be someone who is training the beginners in his or her company. 

With that in mind, this article will focus on tools, commands, and settings that are relatively basic, but may not be covered in a Level One training course or in help menus.  These items may be the ones that Autodesk® Revit® users learn by stumbling upon them, so it follows that they are probably forgotten when Revit is taught.  The goal of this article is twofold: teach some obscure topics and remind the reader of said topics so that he or she will remember to teach them to beginners.

The Filter Button

When multiple items are selected, it is a common practice to use the Filter option that appears on the ribbon’s Modify/Multi-Select Contextual tab only when multiple items are selected. This is shown in Figure 1.  Alternately, one might use a keyboard shortcut such as “FF” to activate the filter.  One may have even noticed that there is a tiny filter symbol at the bottom right of the screen, on the Status Bar (see Figure 2).  What is lesser known is that clicking on this symbol will activate the filter command. 

Figure 1: The Filter command.

Figure 2: The Filter button.

The Magical Space Bar

No, inserting spaces between words in text is not the magical function of the space bar.  When inserting a component, new users tend to place the component somewhere in their workspace and then will alter said component to their liking.  These alterations often include rotating the element.  What the beginner doesn’t know—and often takes a long time to learn—is that hitting the space bar before placing the component will rotate it.  Furthermore, if hovering over another element in the view, the space bar will cause the component to orient to the same direction. Pressing the space bar again will then rotate the component 90 degrees from that direction.  This is illustrated in Figure 3.  Finally, if hovering over an intersection, the element will rotate only 45 degrees instead of 90.

Figure 3: Orient to another element.

In addition to rotating a component prior to placement, the space bar can also be used to rotate or flip elements (or multiple elements) that are already placed.  Using the space bar to rotate after placing a component can be a little troublesome because the base of the rotation is the insertion point of the component, so rotating in this manner may require more moving and aligning.  The flipping works with any element that has a flip control (the two little blue arrows that appear when an element is selected).  For example, select a wall, or several walls, and use the space bar to toggle the walls interior/exterior sides.

Another application of the space bar concerns elements that use the offset option.  While sketching an element with an offset option, the space bar will toggle the direction of the offset (see Figure 4).

Figure 4: Toggle the offset direction with the space bar.

Finally, when doing anything—from drawing a line to changing a dimension—the space bar can also be used in place of the feet and inches symbol.  So instead of typing 5’4”, for example, simply type 5 4 and the result will be the same.  Using the dash key also works in the same manner as the space bar (5-4), which is useful because the dash is one of the keys on the number pad.  Please note, however, that the dash approach only works between feet and inches; a space is still required between whole and fractional inches (i.e., 5-4 ½ works, but 5-4-1/2 does not).

Tab, Tab, Tab

“Press tab” is likely one of the phrases beginner Reviteers get tired of hearing.  It is common knowledge that the tab key can be used to cycle through elements to enable the selection of a specific element in a congested area.  What is lesser known, or at least lesser used, is that pressing shift + tab will cycle through the elements in the opposite direction.  Knowing this small tip would prevent this very familiar occurrence: “Tab, tab, tab, tab, tab… shoot! I skipped the element I wanted….tab, tab, tab, tab….”

Just in case it has not been said enough, the following is a list of some of the useful applications for the tab button: cycle through elements in a congested area; instead of just one segment, select a chain of walls or lines; select only a segment of chain of walls (select the first one and then press tab while hovering over the last desired segment); instead of one at a time, select connected beams all at once; cycle through snap locations (end point, intersection, and so on).

That’s Not the Dimension I Wanted

When selecting an element, beginners are taught that the little blue dimensions that appear are temporary dimensions.  Unfortunately the temporary dimensions do not always show dimensions between the elements we would like.  To change this, grab the little blue dot and drag it to change the witness line.  This is shown in Figure 5.  In addition, for some elements such as walls and columns, clicking on the grip will cause the dimension to cycle from face, to centerline, to the other face.

Figure 5: Modify temporary dimensions.

Here are two bonus tips about temporary dimensions. First, in the graphics tab of the Revit options in the application menu (the big R), the size and opacity of the temporary dimension text can be edited.  If it is too small or is being obscured, simply change the options (see Figure 6).

Figure 6: Edit temporary dimension text appearance.

The second bonus tip is that the default locations of temporary dimensions can be changed under Manage Tab: Additional Settings: Temporary Dimensions (see Figure 7).  This is useful if a user would prefer always to dimension wall faces and/or opening widths instead of their centerlines.

Figure 7: Temporary dimension properties.

Pick Lines

It’s a good idea to remind beginners about the Pick Lines option.  Instead of drawing a line, wall, grid line, etc., between two points, select the Pick Line and then select another line, grid, element, etc., to create the desired element.  Add an offset to the pick lines (on the options bar), and very quickly create elements, such as grid lines, with accurate spacing.  This is illustrated in Figure 8. 

Figure 8: Pick Lines and offsets.

A Quick Way to See That in 3D

Models routinely become large or complex over the life of a project, and consequently a Revit user will occasionally want to isolate, in 3D, a certain area of the model or a particular group of elements.  The novice Revit user will then begin the tedious task of hiding elements to achieve the desired view.  Of course numerous options are available to quicken this process, such as toggling the visibility of different categories of elements, temporarily hiding/isolating elements in view, applying ghosted settings, manually adjusting section boxes, and perhaps even filters and/or worksets. This approach will eventually work; however, the task of isolating a particular section of a model can be quickly achieved by using the Orient to View command, which is found by right-clicking on the View Cube, shown in Figure 9.  Figure 10 shows a floor that has been isolated via the Orient to View command. 

Figure 9: Orient to View command.

Figure 10: Orient to View to see one floor.

The way this command works is to adjust the section box such that it mimics the view range and the crop region of the selected view.  To return to seeing the entire 3D model, either turn off the section box in the view properties, or manually stretch it back.

Where is the OSNAP Button?

If a new Revit user is an AutoCAD veteran, one piece of good news is that the object snaps are greatly similar from one program to the other; it is just a matter of learning what snap options are available in Revit, where to find all of them, and when they are particularly useful.  Tutorial literature likely points out the snaps options dialog box, found on the Manage tab, which provides much useful information. 

What a newer user might not know, or might forget to use, are the two-key shortcuts for snaps and the snaps overrides.  To use a particular snap, type its two-key shortcut while drawing an element (the shortcuts are shown in parentheses in the aforementioned dialog box).  For a particularly useful application of the two-key snap shortcuts, try using the snap centers shortcut to rotate about the base point of an element with a very large radius.  To temporarily turn snaps on or off, right click while drawing an element to find the snaps override options.  These tools are well known for users of other programs, but are often forgotten when working in Revit.

The Elusive Create Similar

Until Revit 2010, the only easily accessible location to activate the Create Similar command was in the right-click context menu after a single element is selected. Revit beginners probably didn’t even know the command existed.  Create Similar is now available on the Modify Tab, shown in Figure 11, but remains grayed out until a single element is selected.  The inquisitive Revit novice may have discovered this command’s function by hovering over it and reading the tooltip, but others don’t know it exists. 

Figure 11: Create Similar on the ribbon.

The Create Similar command activates whatever command is necessary to create a new instance to match the type of an existing element.  For example, selecting a wall and clicking Create Similar activates the wall command and sets the type of the wall to match the one selected; and then the user may then draw another wall instance. 

This command is particularly useful for several reasons.  It matches an element’s type without the user having to know that type and without having to navigate through the (occasionally long) Type Selector looking for something specific.  One may just copy elements to achieve a similar outcome, but then the user is left modifying, moving, and altering the new instance after it is placed.  Also note that copying will not only copy the desired element, but also any hosted elements. For example, copying a wall will also copy all of the doors and windows in that wall. 

While extremely useful, the Create Similar command is not without its flaws.  It only matches type properties, not instance properties—or at least not all instance properties—so, for example, it will create a wall of the same type, but not of the same height.  Strangely, however, it will match location line settings, which is an instance property. 


The items discussed above are just a handful of the Revit Structure basics a beginner may not learn right away, but having this knowledge would affect a beginner’s speed and productivity.  So many excellent tips and tricks are omitted from basic Revit training, so hopefully this article brought to light some of those topics, or at the very least provided a reminder of topics to discuss with beginners.
Some of these topics, along with many more, have been or will be discussed on my blog, which can be found at

Desirée (Dezi) Mackey, PE, is a structural engineer with Martin/Martin Inc. in Denver, CO.  She serves as treasurer and on the board of directors of AUGI. In addition, she is a board member of the Denver Revit Users Group and has spoken at Autodesk University and Revit Technology Conference.  Dezi and her husband, Brian Mackey, own BD Mackey Consulting, a BIM consulting firm.  Dezi can be reached via email at or on twitter @TheRevitGeeksWife.

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