Things to Remember as a Revit Beginner

May 4th, 2012

When you first start using Autodesk® Revit®, it seems easy. Pick the wall tool, draw a wall by picking two points, pick the door tool, place the door, then go see it in 3D. Wow!  There are little things you’ll want to know. For example, you want to know how far the door is from the wall. Well, the temporary dimension you see when placing it tells you, so no more step 1. Now place the door, step 2, and move it 6 inches away from the wall. When you switched from the wall tool to the door tool, you didn’t change layers—you didn’t even think about it. Is Ortho on or off? How about snap? No more of that.

But as you continue and stop playing with your simple 3D house, you start working on a real project. The aforementioned “little” things aren’t a thought anymore, but other little things are. Seasoned Revit users have learned to cope, and now you can, too.

The first project is a frustrating one because, as a new Revit user, you will be learning the program as you are working on your project. Even if you come prepared with great training, you’ll quickly find that when you use Revit on a real project, not everything will work like it did in your training sessions. On a real project, with real deadlines attached, you might not have time to work through how to do things correctly, or have the time to make a family work at all. You’ll turn to detail lines or detail components and filled regions to make things work. The Annotate tab will house your “go to” tools.

There will be many lessons learned in this initial project. At this point I suggest you sit down with the team and review what you couldn’t do, what you still need to figure out, where you “cheated,” and all the little things that caused frustration. I recommend gathering the team at the end of milestone submittals, because if you wait until the end of the project you’ll likely forget many of the little things you couldn’t figure out.

By reviewing, and documenting, these lessons learned a few times throughout the project, you’ll be able to help the next new team by showing them what to expect and how to avoid obstacles.

In this article, I will share some simple things that can help you be more efficient while you are still learning the software. For example, when I was new to Revit and on my first project, I created too many section views. For every area I needed to look at, I created a view. First lesson learned—don’t create section views just because you can. Now, I create a few, move them around as needed, delete them once I’m done, and create a new one when necessary.

Terminology

As with any new software, there are new terms to learn. For example, where there were once cell and block, there are now families, components, type, instance, load—all new terms when working in Revit.

Don’t compare a Revit family with something similar in another program. Learn to use these terms correctly so when you have to ask an experienced Revit user a question you’ll be using appropriate terms.

Remember that component and family are similar, but not the same.  Family is the broad term while component is specific to families you actually create.  Remember that walls, roofs, ceilings, floors, and stairs are not components; rather, they are families.

You’ll need to understand Parameters and learn the difference between type parameter and instance parameter. For example, changing a type parameter changes more than the one family you selected, while changing the instance parameter changes only the family you selected. An easy way to remember which parameter is instance is by looking at your properties dialog. You’ll have this docked and you’ll see that it changes often depending on what you are doing. When you select the element, the properties dialog will show the instance parameters.  To see the type parameters, you have to take one more step: select the Edit Type button. Once you do this, you are editing more than one element.

Options Bar

If you expect a certain tool to work a certain way or perform a function and find that it doesn’t, it could be because you aren’t checking your options.
Many tools in Revit have multiple options, meaning there are different ways to use the tool. This is especially true for the Modify tools. For example, Scale allows you to scale graphically by choosing two points, or numerically.

Another example is the Rotate tool. You can make a copy of an object as you rotate it (see Figure 1). If you aren’t paying attention to the Options bar, however, you’ll add a step by copying the element then rotating it.

Figure 1: Options bar when rotating a wall.

Contextual Tab

If you see a green tab, you are in a command.  Let’s say you begin a roof or ceiling and then switch to the Home tab to find everything “grayed out” (see Figure 2). That happened because you forgot to cancel.  So whenever you see a green tab, remember to go back and cancel or finish what you started before you move on.

Figure 2: Home tab, when ceiling tool is initiated.

There are other times when you are placing a component that isn’t specifically hosted. Here, too, you have options. When you try to place a component and find it won’t go where you want it or you can’t see it, remember to check your Contextual tab (see Figure 3). You may have to change to Workplane.

Figure 3: Contextual tab, when placing a generic face-based component.

Tab Key and Space Bar

When placing elements, you’ll find the tab key and space bar on your keyboard very helpful.  The space bar allows you to flip or cycle through different placement angles before you place the element. For example, when modeling a wall, if you have the location line set to exterior and where you start the wall needs to be mirrored, hit the space bar and the wall flips.  When placing a desk, if you need to rotate it, hit the space bar and the rotation begins, typically every 90 degrees. Depending on where your cursor is, it will also rotate every 45 degrees.

Keyboard Shortcuts

Another lesson you’ll definitely want to learn concerns keyboard shortcuts. These are very simple to use: two keys, no Enter.  You can set them to your liking and the tooltip (see Figure 4) that appears when you hover tells you what the shortcut is. Using keyboard shortcuts is a smart way to use Revit.

Figure 4: My favorite, not a Revit default: XX for “close hidden windows.”

Quick Access Toolbar

Quick access to tools you use frequently will save you a lot of time. For example, why go to the Annotate tab every time you want to use the dimension and tag tools when they are readily available on the Quick Access Toolbar (QAT)? The great thing about the QAT is you can customize it. If there’s a tool you use often, but not often enough to have a keyboard shortcut, place it in the QAT by right-clicking over it, as shown in Figure 5.

Figure 5: Right-clicking brings up the option to add to the QAT. In this image, you’ll see that I have already added the Change Type to my QAT. I don’t have to go to the Properties palette to find it; I stay near the ribbon.

Right-Clicking

Different modes will bring different commands, or shortcuts, when you use the right-click menu.
For example, in the project browser, you can place a family without having to scroll through all the families listed in the Components tool (see Figure 6).  Also, if you need to place an element such as a door, you don’t want to go to the ribbon and select copy. Instead, you can select the door, right-click, and Create Similar (see Figure 7).

Figure 6: By right-clicking over the family type you can Create Instance and place a component.

Figure 7: Create Similar by right-clicking after selecting an element.

Communication

When using Revit, you’ll begin to communicate more with your coworkers. In an environment when you are the sole user of a file and nobody else is responsible for it, you don’t really need to communicate with someone else on the team until you’re done. You can finish a whole floor plan, detail sheet, and so on without ever talking to anyone. There may be files referenced in that others are editing, but it will not change the work you are doing. 

But in Revit, there are relationships among objects that require you to communicate. You may not be able to finish the detail of that column cover if the column furring isn’t modeled correctly yet.  If the walls representing the column furring are Generic, and not set to an office standard wall type, you will have to ask what the column furring wall will be in order to detail it.

More frequent communication is the one change that many new Revit users don’t anticipate. The end result is that you’ll come to know your teammates a little better.  This is a good thing.

The more you use Revit, the more lessons you’ll learn. You’ll discover other shortcuts and efficiencies along the way. I hope this article makes a few initial Revit frustrations go away.

Elisa de Dios is BIM Manager/Production Coordinator and Associate for AC Martin, Los Angeles, CA. In her 15+ years in architecture, Elisa has done projects for healthcare, retail, food service, and K-12 schools. She enjoys drafting, space planning, and being a Job Captain and Construction Administrator.  Elisa has helped develop standards for different architectural firms, and self-employed contractors. At AC Martin she implements, trains, and supports staff with BIM technology.  She helps lead the Digital Practice Committee to keep up to date with current technologies in the industry. She also enjoys keeping up with other industries similar to architecture and sharing her new discoveries with coworkers.

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