HighDesign CAD project with sheets and layouts.

Using sheets, layouts and viewports

A typical project is usually made of many different drawings that range from site studies to structural grids, from floor plans to sections and elevations. All these drawings must then be presented in a conventional form through layouts that will be printed or published as PDF. HighDesign Pro provides an easy way of managing the drafting and publishing process of a project through the use of drafting sheets, callouts and details, layouts and viewports. Let’s see how to use them efficiently.

A project in HighDesign R6 using the direct layout method.
Direct layout with transparent sheets.

Direct Layouts with Transparent Sheets

Until the release of version R5, HighDesign Pro included one kind of sheet, what is now called “Drafting Sheet”. A sheet could show a page size frame that, combined with transparency and own drawing scale of the sheets, allowed you to compose the drawings in a layout directly in a true What-You-See-Is-What-You-Get style. The process, which we’ll call “direct layout” is simple: create a base sheet and define its page size frame, title, etc; on top of that sheet, add the other sheets, each with its own drawing conveniently located to match the frame of the base sheet. This is still possible today, and in fact one can simply continue working that way if it suits his needs.
This approach has its benefits:

  • It is fast and allows you to control the layout at any moment.
  • It is easy to manage in simpler projects.
  • It allows you to have a presentable layout at any stage of the design process.
  • It removes the need to draw everything on the same “model space”, which is so 1980’s vintage (and inefficient).

However, it also has some disadvantages:

  • To show two different views of the same drawing you’d have to duplicate the drawing.
  • It does not allow to show only a part of a drawing.
  • Modifying a layout and adding or removing drawings could prove more laborious than it should be.
  • The published drawing cannot be transformed by scaling and rotating.
  • The appearance of the published drawings cannot be changed easily.

A project using drafting sheets, details and layouts in HighDesign R6.
An architecture project in HighDesign R6 using drafting sheets, details and layouts.

Specialized Sheets, Callouts and Viewports

With the release of R5 in 2019, and with the enhancements in R6, HighDesign Pro adds specialized sheet types, namely Drafting sheets, Details and Layouts. Drafting sheets are those that contain the main design: plans, sections, elevations, notes, etc. You can use drafting sheets with transparency or isolated from each other, and place the drawing one on top of the other as in floor plans without worrying about their relative position. To create a detail, simply define a callout area and work on the specialized Detail sheet. Once you are ready to show one or more drawings, you can create a layout sheet where you compose “viewports”, that is, frames that show the actual drawing taken from a drafting or detail sheet. The main advantages of specialized sheets are:

  • They allow you to separate the design process from the presentation thus giving you more freedom to experiment with different solutions.
  • You do not have to worry about the position of each drawing. Using viewports, you can compose the layout freely.
  • The drawings placed on the layouts can show different colors from those on the drafting sheet. Using the Filter option of the Viewport, this allows for example to work on a dark background with light colors, which is easier on the eyes, or to use different “construction” and “presentation” colors.
  • Viewports on layouts can show the same drawing at different scales and orientations.
  • Layouts offer title blocks with automatic content, frame, grid, and can be published in batch to create Layout books.
  • It is a workflow that integrates better with BIM processes.

Drafting sheets

Drafting sheets are where your design is created. You are completely free to organize them as you need, set scale and units and define the origin point. You can place any kind of drawing object, from pictures to symbols, text notes and dimensions, and building elements like walls and windows.

When working with drafting sheets, you can define their display mode: all transparent, “dim others”, or “Hide Others”, that is, the current sheet is opaque and the others are hidden. When working fully with specialized sheets, this latter mode is the most useful because it allows you to focus on the current drawing and encourages the most efficient use of sheets. When the Hide Others mode is active, each sheet stores its view and zoom so that when you switch from, say, “Ground Floor” to “Site Plan” and back, the view center and zoom will change to those last used on that sheet.

Sheet display options in the Project Browser of HighDesign R6.

Detail Sheets

Details are drawings extracted from a drafting sheet where you can increase the scale and add more elements. To create a detail:

  1. In a drawing sheet, use the Detail Area to define the rectangular area over the part that you want to isolate.
  2. Select the detail area, click the pop-up triangle on its title and choose “New Detail by Selected Area”.
  3. Define the Detail sheet options in the dialog and click OK.
Create a new Detail sheet by the selected area.

The new sheet is a Detail sheet: its use is to hold the details extracted from the drawing which usually contain more information, are at a larger scale and contain more text notes.

Tip: when a detail area is linked to a detail sheet, it adds a "bubble" (that you can move around to your convenience) with two labels, the top with the Detail sheet number and the bottom with the Layout number where that detail is inserted. Click either label to jump to the referenced sheet.
Detail area callout linked to a detail sheet.

We’ll come back to talk about details more, well, in detail, later. At this time, it will be enough to add that you do not need to create details in order to insert viewports into the layouts. Details and viewports are two separate items that do not require each other.


Layouts are where the drawings made on the drafting sheets and details are composed and viewed in order to be printed or published. A layout sheets is always at a 1:1 scale and can contain graphic objects since you can use all the drafting and annotation tools to add elements to the layout.

Most properties of a layout are defined via the Object Info panel: Name and units, sheet ID, title block, display options and information that can be shown on the title block.

Layout information panel.

You add a drawing to a layout via the Viewport tool. On the lower hand corner of the viewport, click the floating button to add a new viewport. Alternatively, use the Create Viewport item of the Project menu. A viewport can also be created directly from a selected detail area using the New Viewport by Selected Area in a similar manner as that used to create details.

A selected viewport in HighDesign R6.
The viewport on the right uses the Interpolated Monochromatic filter.

One prominent and time-saving feature of layouts are title blocks. Title blocks in HighDesign are special symbols with attributes that you can store in your own library for re-use across projects. You create a new title block by using the Project > Title Block > New Title Block command.

When you create a new title block, you are prompted to define the reference page size that it will be used for. If your studio standards do not always require full-width or full-height title blocks, a good practice would be to select the minimum page size you are going to use in your projects and create a smaller title block that will fit in larger paper sizes.

As title blocks are symbols with attributes, you can draw it any shape and size you like, add graphics such as your logo or signature, leave space for custom text notes and define the fields that will be filled automatically with project and sheet information values. Project-wide data, such as firm, addresses, client, etc. are defined in Project Settings > Information. Values of the current layout, such as layout ID, issue date, etc. are defined in the Project Info panel.

A title block with information automatically collected from the Project Information and the Layout Info panels in HighDesign R6.
A title block with information automatically collected from the Project Information and the Layout Info panels.

You don’t need to create a title block for each sheet and in fact, the system is designed to encourage re-use of title blocks through the libraries.

As a general introduction, that will be enough for the moment. In other posts we’ll look with more detail into the single features of every sheet type.

HighDesign R6 is the alternative CAD and architectural design software for Mac, both Intel and M1 chips, and for Windows 10. For more info and to download free trial, visit https://www.ilexsoft.com/index.html

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