Modeling Custom 3D Objects

Reference Number: KB-00761 Last Updated: 08-14-2014 01:47 PM

The information in this article applies to:

   Chief Architect Premier or Chief Architect Interiors or Chief Architect Lite   


I need an object that isn't in any of the symbol libraries. Is it possible to create it using the tools available in Chief Architect?    


    Chief Architect has a series of drawing and editing tools that enable us to create a variety of custom 3D objects. We can also take advantage of the ability to create Architectural Blocks, which group multiple sub-objects together into a single object   that can be added to the library.

    In this article, we will take you through a series of tutorials for creating various objects. Your objective should be to apply these lessons, not to learn how to create these specific objects, but more generally to learn how to use the tools available   in Chief Architect to model objects that you want in your designs. Be creative.  

    If there is an object that you want to use in a plan, first look in the Library Browser to see if it already exists*. If after browsing the library and performing a Library Search, no appropriate symbol was found, then consider which tools you will   need to use to create the object in Chief Architect. You can combine tools as well. For example, you might have an object that combines polyline solids with molding polylines.  

    There are additional content resources available on our website:

    This includes bonus libraries, which will install directly into the Library Browser, as well as links to third parties. Some of these might offer 3D symbol downloads in ­DWG, ­DXF or OBJ format, that you can import using the Create Symbol Wizard.

    Also, from time to time we might release new products for sale which will provide content additions to your program's library. These can be found here:

    Once you have finished modeling your creation, you can create an architectural block that groups the separate objects into a single item. If you wish, you can add the block to the library. As you become more familiar with these techniques for creating custom 3D objects and library content, you will likely find increasingly creative ways to employ them. You can use these tools to make highly designed architectural elements, trim details,   or any number of miscellaneous objects that add that perfect finishing touch to your renderings.  



    Soffits are very quick and easy to use. They can be especially useful because they bump against walls, floor and ceiling surfaces, or other soffits rather than pass through them. Another valuable characteristic of soffits  is that their vertical positioning is measured relative to the floor height of the room they are in. In addition, molding profiles can be easily applied to soffits on the Moldings panel of the  ­Soffit Specification dialog.

    The Soffit is a member of the Cabinet Tools family. To place a soffit, click the Cabinet Tools parent button, then the Soffit button, and then click in the plan to place your soffit. Soffits will initially appear in the form of a 24 inch wide box. You can move, resize or rotate it in plan view by clicking to select it and then manipulating the various handles. You can also resize and reposition in any 3D view, vector or render, and cross section/elevation views.

    Further editing of soffits can be done in the Soffit Specification dialog, where you can set their dimensions and height above the floor and you can even ­slope them. To access the Soffit Specification dialog, click on a soffit  to select it, and then click the Open Object button on the Edit tool bar.

    Think of the soffit as a basic building block. While their intended purpose is to fill the area above wall cabinets, they can be used to create trey ceilings, steps, wall accents, or any object that can be represented as a series  of boxes.  



    Slabs can be used as a generic box tool, much like soffits. Unlike soffits, they can only be drawn in floor plan view. Where they become more valuable, however, is when you need something that is not rectangular.

    In this example, we will draw a ­slab with a rounded edge to serve as the foundation for a fountain.We will pull the fountain from the library.  

    To create a fountain using slabs

    1. To begin,place a slab by selecting Build> Structure> Slab  from the menu.      

    2. Next click and drag in the plan to draw a rectangular slab.        

    3. Select the slab and click the Open Object   edit button. On the General panel of the Slab Specification dialog:       
      • Set both the Top Height and Thickness fields to 24.            
      • This will create a slab that rests on the floor height 0 and extends up to a top height of 24" above the floor.        
      • Click OK to close the dialog and apply the change.        
    5. Select Library> Library Browser  from the menu.    
      • Browse to Chief Architect Bonus Catalogs> Landscaping Accents> Water Features> Fountain 1 
        If you do not have this Bonus Catalog installed please visit our 3D Library

      • Click to place the fountain into the plan on top of the slab.
    7. Click the Select Objects  button and double-click on the fountain fixture.    
    8. On the General panel of the Fixture Specification dialog, set the Floor to Bottom to 24.    

    Here is an example of a 3D object created with these techniques:

    Fountain created using slabs and library objects


    Polyline Solids

    Polyline solids are similar to slabs, except that they can also be drawn in cross section/elevation views. This opens up many possibilities. The example of the fountain foundation above could have been drawn just as easily using  the ­Polyline Solid tool instead of the Slab tool.

    But what if we wanted to make a uniquely-shaped wall mirror? Enter Polyline Solids.

    In a different plan, we'll use the Cross Section/Elevation  tool to create a view of the surface of a wall. Similar to how we created the slab earlier using the Slab tool, we could use the Polyline Solid tool to draw a rectangular polyline solid; but this time, we will use the Line tool to begin with a plain polyline.  

    To create a polyline solid

    1. Click the CAD Mode  button to toggle to the CAD tools.    
    3. Click the Line Tools  button and click to draw our polyline one line segment at a time. You can, of course, use arcs as well as lines. The end of the last line you draw must connect to the start of the first line, because  polyline solids can only be created from closed polylines.    
    5. Once you have drawn your closed polyline, select it and then click the Convert Polyline  button on the Edit tool bar.    
    7. In the Convert Polyline dialog box, a series of radio buttons show you what objects we can convert the polyline to. Because we are in a cross section/elevation view, we have two options for our closed polyline, "3D Molding Polyline" and "Polyline Solid."    
      If the "Polyline Solid" option is not available,your polyline is not closed. In this case, click Cancel to return to the view and correct the problem.    
    9. Click the button besidePolyline Solid, then click OK. The Polyline Solid Specification dialog box appears for our new object.    
    11. On the General panel, we can set the thickness. We will change it to 1/2 inch, which will be the thickness of our wall-mounted mirror.    
    13. Lastly, go to the Materials panel and choose an appropriate material (a good one to use can be found in the library under Materials> Misc> Mirror, then click OK.    

    Here is an example that was created using a polyline solid. Later we will add a frame:


    A few words on positioning polyline solids

    When we created a polyline solid out of our mirror polyline, it was automatically positioned against the wall because there were no other objects in front of the wall. When you draw polyline solids in cross section/elevation view, and  there are many other objects in the area, the polyline solid might not position itself in front of the wall but against another object. Alternatively, if you draw the polyline solid on the outside where there is no wall, it might  be placed close to the foreground of the camera.

    In any case, it is very often necessary to position the polyline solid in the floor plan view as well as the cross section/elevation view. The following tutorial demonstrates this technique.


    To cut a hole out of a polyline solid

    What if we need an object with a shape that cannot be defined by a single polyline-something with a hole in it? To do this, we draw a second polyline solid to cut a hole out of the original one. We will demonstrate this by making a pair of bookends. These instructions will also demonstrate how to accurately position polyline solids in all three dimensions, as well as how to create an architectural block.


    We have a room with a desk, and on it (alongside the Books symbol we retrieved from the library) we want to place our bookends. Each bookend will be composed of two pieces: an L-shaped support piece, and a decorative shape.

    1. We will use the Cross Section/Elevation  tool to create a view looking toward our desk.    
    3. Select CAD> Polyline Solid  and click and drag to draw a box more or less 6 inches square.    
    5. Using any number of CAD editing tools that you wish to employ, mold the polyline into an L-shape suitable for the base of a bookend. In this example, we will make both parts of the "L" 5/8 of an inch.    
    7. Double-click on the polyline solid and in the Polyline Solid Specification dialog, go to the General panel and set Thickness to 4 inches then click OK.    
    8. For our second polyline solid, the decorative piece, let's switch to CAD mode (CAD> CAD Mode On  ) and draw a closed polyline. In the illustrated example, we chose to create a circular polyline out of two arcs.    
    10. Select your new polyline, click the Convert Polyline  button, and then convert it to a polyline solid.    
    12. On the General panel of the Polyline Solid Specification dialog, set the thickness to 1 1/2 inches.    
    14. To create the hole, use the CAD tools again to draw a polyline inside the other one.    
    16. Select the new polyline and, just like before, convert it to a polyline solid using the Convert Polyline  tool.    
    18. In the Polyline Solid Specification dialog,check the box beside Hole in Polyline Solid and click OK.    
    The concept of cutting holes in polyline solids works the same way for slabs. In the Slab Specification dialog, there is a Hole in Slab check box. Additionally, there is a Slab Hole  button that you can use to draw slabs with the Hole in Slab property already checked.

    This is a good time to create our second bookend. We could draw it again from scratch, but there are CAD editing tools that will save us a lot of time.

    1. Since we drew the right-side bookend first, draw a vertical cad line somewhere to the left of it.

    2. Select one of the polyline solids, and then on the Edit tool bar click the Reflect About Object  button and then the Copy/Paste  button.

    3. Click on the vertical CAD line and a mirrored duplicate of our original polyline solid appears on the left.

    4. Repeat this for the other polyline solid using the same vertical CAD line.

    Now we need to position our new objects. We can see in the cross section/elevation view if our polylines are in the right location vertically off the floor, and from left to right; but depth-wise, are our bookends sitting on the desk where we want them or are they up against the wall?

    1. Let's close this view and return to our floor plan. We don't see any new objects on the desk, but if we look against the wall, we see four boxes. These boxes are our polyline solids.

    2. Zoom  in on them. We see that in each bookend, the decorative piece is not centered on the base.

    3. We will have to switch to CAD mode to select the smaller polyline solid and move it into position.

    4. Next, select one of the polyline solids and then hold down the Shift key on the keyboard as you click on the other to select it as well.

    5. You should now have a group selection, and on the Edit toolbar click the Make CAD Block button  to form an architectural block out of it. Making it an architectural block allows us to move both polyline solids together as though they are one object, which is what we want: it is a bookend.

    6. Do the same thing for the other bookend to center the decorative piece and make an architectural block.

    Now that we have two architectural blocks, we can move our bookends into place over the desk.

    1. If you are still in CAD mode, switch back to architectural mode (CAD> CAD Mode Off ).

    2. Now simply click on the bookends to select these architectural blocks, and drag the move handle to position them over the desk.

    Being architectural blocks, we can now position them in any view including in 3D!

    Other Examples of Polyline Solids

    An arched ­soldier course created with polyline solids

    Gingerbread fachwerk architecture created with polyline solids


    Molding Polylines

    A molding polyline is a profile shape that is extruded along a polyline path. The profile shape can be one that you have drawn, or it can be one that was included with the Chief Architect library. As their name suggests,  molding polylines are great for adding moldings to a room, but the tool is versatile enough to be used for so much more.

    When would we use molding polylines instead of polyline solids? Polyline solids are very useful, but they do have limitations. A polyline solid can be thought of as a shape that is extruded along an axis. Implicitly, the shape of a polyline solid is restricted to a single plane; so if you draw a polyline solid in an elevation, for example, it will look rectangular in plan view and in other elevation views that approach from  a different angle.

    So how would we create a decorative square tapered ­post? With a molding polyline.

    Here is an unsuccessful attempt at creating this with a polyline solid (left) and a better approach using a molding polyline (right):  

    To begin, we'll go into CAD mode if we aren't already and begin drawing a molding profile. The profile should look like half of what we would see if we cut the post down the middle. In this case, we want to draw the right half, and we will do so according to its real-world size.

    The profile might look something like this:


    We have to add this polyline to the library if we want to use it as a molding profile.

    1. Select the polyline, and on the Edit toolbar click the Add to Library  button.    
    3. The Molding will now appear in your User Catalog. In earlier versions it would be in your My Library or User Library.


    4. Rename Molding to something descriptive, perhaps tapered square post  
    6. Click OK when you are done to return to the plan.    
    Note: Not all shapes are suitable for use as molding profiles. The polyline will sometimes need to have a vertical edge in order for it to be usable. This is especially true when using closed polylines, which is not a requirement. If the Moldings and Profiles category is not an option in the Add to Library dialog, then your polyline needs to be augmented. You can read more about this under the subheading Adding a Molding Profile in the Libraries chapter of your reference manual.


    We need to draw a polyline in the plan view for our molding profile to be extruded along. Because of the way we shaped our profile, it will be better to run it on the outside of the molding polyline than the inside, so the molding polyline will be very small.

    1. Draw a 1 inch square polyline where the center of the post will be.        
    3. Select it and click the Convert Polyline  edit button.       
      • In the Convert Polyline dialog, click the radio button beside Molding Polyline and click OK.                
    5. In the Molding Polyline Specification dialog, go to the Moldings panel and click Add New.        
    7. In the Select Library Object dialog:      
      • Browse and locate the molding profile we created earlier.                

      • Select it and click OK to return to the Molding Polyline Specification dialog.         

    8. On the Moldings panel of the Molding Polyline Specification dialog:        
      • Keep the Height and Width at their original values since we drew the profile the correct size in the first place.                
      • Uncheck Inside, because this molding profile needs to be on the outside of the molding polyline.                
      • Go to the General panel to control the vertical position of the object.                
      • Click OK to close the dialog and finish converting your polyline into a Molding Polyline.                

    We could be done at this point, as we now have a tapered square post that we can see in all 3D views. We can also easily replicate it to draw a series of posts. However, we are going to go a little further and create an architectural block out of it.


    Making it an architectural block gives us two benefits:

    • We can use any camera view to move the object around and easily position it.        

    • The 3D object can be added to the library for use in future plans.        

    You'll recall from the polyline solid bookend tutorial earlier that we needed to multiple-select the two polyline solids in order to make the architectural block. That made sense because each bookend was made up of two polyline solids, and they needed to be one object; but how can we have a multiple selection of our molding polyline, since it is only one object? You can get a multiple selection of a single object quite simply:

    1. Select the molding polyline.        
    3. Hold down the Shift key on the keyboard as you click on the molding polyline a second time.        
    5. You should now be able to click the Make CAD Block  button on the Edit toolbar to form the architectural block.        
    7. Now it can be added to the library. Select the newly formed architectural block and click the Add to Library  button on the Edit toolbar.        
    9. Select the library you want to place it in, then give the object a descriptive name and click OK.        

    Here is what we came up with:    

    What happens when we make the molding polyline circular instead of square? We get a round tapered column:    


    Other Examples of Molding Polylines


    This is a cola bottle created with a custom molding profile and circular molding polyline:    

    This is a swimming pool created with a custom molding profile and a molding polyline. A slab was used at the bottom of the pool to close the gaps left from the molding polyline, and another slab with a slab hole was used to show the area outside  the pool:    



    3D Molding Polylines

    The 3D Molding Polyline tool is much like the normal Molding Polyline tool discussed above, but more flexible. The molding polyline itself must be drawn in plan view, so one advantage of 3D molding polylines is that you can draw them in elevation view and create vertical moldings. Another advantage of 3D molding polylines is that they do not have to be coplanar, meaning that a given edge can go in any direction in all three dimensions.

    What if you wanted to create something similar to the tapered square post we created earlier, but needed it to be sitting on its side? How would you draw piping that traveled up and down and also turned 90 degrees with your walls? You would use 3D molding polylines.

    The following image illustrates three objects; each derived from a similar shape using a polyline solid (left), a molding polyline (center), and a 3D molding polyline (right):  

    Let's add a frame to the wall mirror we created earlier when we demonstrated polyline solids. Return to that plan and create a cross section/elevation view looking at the mirror. We need the polyline for the molding to be the same shape as the mirror, so rather than redraw it; we will take a few shortcuts.

    1. Switch to CAD mode if you are not already in it (CAD> CAD Mode On ).    
    3. Select the polyline solid mirror.    
    5. We want to resize this polyline concentrically, so go to the menu and select CAD> Edit Settings> Concentric .    
    7. Click the Copy/Paste  button on the Edit toolbar.    
    9. Click on one of the diamond-shaped two-way handles at any one of the corners and drag outward to increase the size of the polyline by about 4 inches. Because we clicked the Copy/Paste  button immediately before doing this, we actually have two polyline solids (now of different sizes) overlapping each other.    

      In practice, you will encounter situations where you want a polyline that exactly matches the original and is not resized. If such is the case, instead of dragging one of the resize handles after clicking the Copy/Paste button, locate and click on the move handle(which is the one that turns your mouse pointer into a four-way arrow, or cross), being very careful not to move the mouse when you do this.

    11. Once resized, click the Convert to Plain Polyline  button on the Edit toolbar. This polyline now represents the outside edge of our frame. You will also notice that the original polyline solid is still intact.    
    13. Select the larger polyline,then click the Convert Polyline  edit button.    
      • Choose 3D Molding Polyline.        
      • Click OK to close the Convert Polyline dialog and proceed to the 3D Molding Polyline Specification.        
    15. In the 3D Molding Polyline Specification, go to the Moldings panel and click the Select button.    
    17. In the Select Library Object dialog that appears, choose a molding that might look good as a frame. (At this point you know that you can also draw your own molding profile for use here.)    
      • We will choose the profile Moldings and Profiles> Chair Rail> CA-24.        
      • Click OK when you have made the selection to return to the Moldings panel of the 3D Molding Polyline Specification dialog.        
    18. On the Moldings panel of the 3D Molding Polyline Specification dialog:      
      • Select the To Top radio button.        
      • Change Height to 5 and Width to 2.        
      • Make sure the box beside Inside is checked.        
      • Click OK when you have finished.        

    Now you can apply your desired material to the frame, create an architectural block out of these two pieces (the 3D molding polyline and the polyline solid), and add your framed, wall-mounted mirror to the library.

    Here is what you may have come up with: