Microstation or Revit..what to choose?

maya mcdifference

So my office is starting to dabble in the world of BIM but we're not quite sure what software to use. A lot of firms of our caliber use Microstation at the moment, but we already own licenses of Revit.

Does anyone have strong preferences for one program over the other? If so, why?

Feb 19, 10 11:50 am

I prefer revit... But I think it depends what you want to do... How large is your office and what kind of projects do you do? Large project teams? Or single or two person teams?

With either of these, I think if you are going to be working on large projects with teams of people, you will probably need a cad/bin manager to set up work standards and facilitate work sharing and standards...

In microstation, the drawings are all separate files. Even your 3d models are separate files from which drawings are cut, "extracted" which is a bit of a clunky process... None of that happens automatically, one person might get into the 3d model file and then after making a change, runs an extraction which is almost like printing the 2d cad drawing off the 3d work and it updates the other 2d files etc. The advantage of this, for working in teams is, since drawings are separate files with references like xrefs etc, people can work in separate files and just need to talk to each other if they need to get into a drawing... In a way though, to me, this isn't real Parametric modelling, it's just maybe one step removed from CAD... The way alot of firms use it, the majority of people at the office don't work well enough to take advantage of the BIM capabilities, they don't get that in depth so it is really more just a glorified cad that takes more time than it offers benefits... Maybe some avid microstation fans can weigh in and argue it's merits but to me, it's not really that different from cad...

Revit, the whole bim model exists for the most part in a single file... all of your drawing sheets even... They are almost like layout spaces in cad... Drawings are simply views of the model so things happen more seamlessly... Everything updates automatically... You move a wall in plan and it is updating the section automatically...The way multiple people work on the same project then is, well at least when I worked on it, you have "the master" file... And every time somebody opened it, normally you would never work off the master, but you open it up as a local copy and work...basically the local copy is a fully identical copy of the current master but running on you own computer or rdp server... If you want to save your changes to the master, you would click "save to master"... Even though everybody is working on seperate local copies of the model, they are however linked, and it will tell you if you try to edit something that somebody else is working on that so it doesn't give you permission to mess with same model element as somebody else... In revit, things are much slicker, everything is parametric and I think more authentically BIM than microstation... It's a big database in the background...

Revit works because it was developed asa parametric modeller from ground up... It was designed for the purpose... Microstation was a 2d cad software that evolved to 3d modeller, that evolved BIM capabilities later with triforma and then bentley architecture, so there are also IMHO alot of redundancies in the tools that can actually make it a little confusing for many people working on it... I think where bentley really excels and where they are really more cutting edge is in advanced parametric software like generative components but to me, that's not really useful in day to day work...

Anyway my 2 cents... I would use revit... Also being autodesk it works well with autocad if you already have autocad... If you have microstation you wouldn't need autocad...

Feb 19, 10 1:38 pm  · 

I think with revit you will see the benefits of learning it more immediately... You will be able pick it up more quickly and run with it and be able to do things you can't already do with autocad right away... With microstation, you will not be see the benefits right away, it will be like learning another redundant cad software first, and then learning a 3d modeller, and then learning vim, and it is not a seamless transition, a big waste of time and energy if you ask me... Revit is seamless, and you can still use your autocad details and content if you want to xref as a an underlay or drop them onto drawing sheets... So your autocad skills don't go to waste... I'm assuming of from the way your question was presented that you already use cad? If you already use microstation for drafting then that us different...

Feb 19, 10 1:54 pm  · 

Er... vim=bim... Sorry typos...

Feb 19, 10 1:56 pm  · 

Microstation has the benefit of being compatible with the US DoD requirements (very mysterious requirements). There are firms that have completed projects in Revit, believing that they were complying with the BIM stipulations and then have had to either reproduce the documents themselves or contract out the reproduction of the drawings in 2D Microstation.

Many firms I deal with who use Microstation do so for this reason.

I work with many mega global offices who use Revit... not sure what your caliber might be if similar firms are using Microstation. It is definitely the minority of the two as far as market share, and most firms that I have encountered who are utilizing Microstation have a majority of their fees coming from engineering work.

I concur with brink on functionality issues, Revit is a far more practical (and rapidly developing) platform.

Feb 19, 10 2:00 pm  · 

USACoE requires Microstation because it's free for them. We are sinking a ton of time into Microstation and it's becoming a pain. Far less intuitive. And Revit is more of a ground up piece of software as opposed to Microstation, whose BIM capability is more of an add-on.

Our adventures in Revit seem to have been a lot smoother and it seems as though the demand out there is mostly for Revit.

...aaand I just read bRink's post... well said, he/she's got it all there.

Feb 19, 10 2:22 pm  · 


Is your shop using Microstation V8i (MS) or Bentley Architecture? I'm also trying hard to convince our office to jump on the BIM bandwagon. Since we have studs that can make MS sing so the natural progression is Bentley Architecture. Plus we do Army Corps jobs too, so sticking with MS.

You will also need to get your consultants on board with BIM too.

Feb 19, 10 2:46 pm  · 

One thing I would say for Microstation is though: it tries to be everything in one package... drafting, 3D modelling and rendering, and BIM... The problem is though, it does none of these things as well as an equivalent autodesk software, and really, why do I need to always be using the same piece of software to do a completely different task, but in a clunkier way?

I actually like microstation for 3D modelling better than autocad 3D, and it is better than revit for "dumb geometry" modelling than revit... Revit being more of a BIM modeller... But then, if I really wanted to do pure 3D modelling and rendering, I would rather use 3D studio max or sketchup with vray...

Also, although I said revit is not a standard *solids and surfaces* type of 3D modeller (it is a bim modeller), you can do most everything with a revit model... you could, cut sections off it in views, you can render, you can do simply hidden line "sketchup looking" drawings (views of the model) like axon's or perspectives from it, with shadows if you want and drop them live onto sheets (which are automatically updated as your design changes), you can animate, do walkthroughs, etc... you schedules automatically update, all detail and sheet references, etc... So *almost anything you can do in microstation 3D you can do in revit, but the modelling technique and tools are just different since it is building objects as families and smart components that have parameters etc...

What this means however is that when you model, you are not drawing dumb geometry in 3D, you are drawing with walls in the plan view, and it is automatically extruding that wall in 3D, etc... everything is real component that has real construction info and parameters associated with it that link to data in the database... It sounds complicated but it actually works alot more intuitively and in a more user friendly way than it sounds... The software does most of the grunt work for you, so it has smarts built in...

Revit is not a great 3D *design* tool however IMHO but that is not what it is made for... You can design in it, but it is intended to provide more intelligent 3D objects and BIM capabilities rather than quick 3D sketches... Also I think microstation isn't really a design sketch tool either... It's not that quick for doing 3D sketches... While Microstation is a pretty robust, okay 3D modeller and has some rendering capabilities, it works best as a *solid modeller* (similar to autocad 3D but a bit nicer) vs. a *surface modeller* like 3D studio (which is also autodesk) or sketchup (which has some quick, nice, push and pull capabilities that you could use to explore a quick detail or something)... So for 3D conceptual design and quick exploration I would prefer to use 3D studio or sketchup...

If I were to start my own office, I would choose:

-3d studio or sketchup w/ vray

Feb 19, 10 2:58 pm  · 

also something that drives me crazy with microstation is:

there are really like *4 steps* to get a quick 3D output you can print out or email to somebody... i don't mean renderings with lighting and materials etc. which would take way too much time if you just want to quickly draw something and talk about it, but simply to get to a simple looking hidden line view of your 3D model...

it outputs hidden line drawings as *2D CAD drawings basically... you basically get 2D cad line work of the flattened 3D view on your screen... You then need to either bring it into illustrator to make it look not just like a bunch of thin wireframe cad lines and actually have some 3D legibility with varying lineweights, or take that same 3D view and underlay a rendered raster image of that same view under the line work in order to see something half decent looking that might show some shading etc... By contrast, revit or sketchup, you are more or less working in hidden line... what you see on your screen already looks half decent as a drawing, and you can just output it by printing and it will give you something that looks decent enough to talk about...

Feb 19, 10 3:08 pm  · 


Feb 19, 10 3:42 pm  · 

I worked at a firm for two years that used Microstation -- didn't really get a whole lot out of it except for headaches.

Feb 19, 10 3:43 pm  · 

Revit.... Microstation is a step backwards in my opinion. My little firm worked with a very large firm who used Microstation. They hired us because we used Revit and CAD and they were having so many collaboration and simple DD to CD process issues.


Feb 20, 10 9:30 pm  · 
1  · 

Definitely Revit, because many of our customers are running AutoCAD and cannot open DGN files.

Feb 23, 10 1:18 am  · 

...whatever is easier to do detailing. everything else is just extras.
knowing revit, detailing is quite a handful in the CD phase.

Feb 23, 10 12:53 pm  · 
maya mcdifference

Thanks everyone, in particular bRink, for the comments. I see REVIT wins overall..

Our office has total of about 50, divided among two offices..project teams are usually about 4-8 people. The concern that I have is that we design mostly custom details, and many of the surfaces we model are either curved or non-orthagonal which means there's not much repetition in the designs. I thought that perhaps Microstation would be more ideal for this type of modeling since my pre-conceived associations with Revit is that it's more ideal for large/corporate design where there may be a lot of repetition in details. We are however looking for a very smart program, which contains plans and sections responding to dynamic modelling..we're not going to use this as a design tool.

Any further thoughts?

Feb 23, 10 1:40 pm  · 

We should make a BIM Thread Central.

I have experience with Microstation, but not with BIM capabilities. I always like the 3D modeling interface though, more than any Autodesk product.

As for Revit, my experience has always been that if it is difficult to model in Revit, it'll be difficult to construct. This can be both good and bad. But especially with the conceptual massing tool available now, there are less barriers as to what kind of geometry you can create. With any kind of complex geometry though, it isn't necessarily creating the geometry that is difficult, but at the same time allowing a clean and consistent workflow, correct symbolic or 2D representation and interface with other elements. They can all be managed but consistency within the teams are important. The only other shortfall of Revit that I can think of right now is its inability to handle large models. OK, technically it is the hardware that can't support the software. So either you have to have really good hardware OR you have to manage the size of the model (through sensible splitting/linking/removing redundancy, etc)

Feb 23, 10 3:21 pm  · 

maya mcdifference,

In your team, what is the level of modeling experience? One thing that Microstation offers over Revit is better interoperability between software. You can now (v8i) link Rhino, Sketch-up, 3D studio, and more into the same model without converting. If your team is already to go in other software, those skills can be integrated easily. Revit has a different system of modeling isn't hard, but it is different.

Hands down Revit has better documentation and project management capabilities which makes it ideal for production-heavy offices. Documentation is a snap.

As far as design, Revit's conceptual tools are still limited and feel more like an add-on. They do not even approach the level of sophistication that other modelers offer (Rhino).

I am at an office that recently switched from Bentley to Autodesk... We like Revit's capabilities but our major challenge at the moment standardizing workflow processes. We like designing with other tools and we don't like being limited by a single modeling environment.

Feb 23, 10 5:23 pm  · 

maya mcdifference:

see here, some new features in revit 2010...

That stuff is new to 2010... I have never used those features... But as you can see, you can create forms, and apply custom parametric family components such as structural components to it...

More basically, your *basic wall tool* can draw in a straight line, or it can draw in curves, or shapes etc... So if you are just trying to do curved walls, you just draw it... But generally a wall is assumed to be *vertical*... (I believe... somebody correct me if I'm wrong... I don't think it is possible to tilt a wall...?) Anyway, for the wall tool, I believe the way curves work right now is essentially an *arc* in plan only, not a b-spline for example... When you draw that curved wall, it has a radius to it... That's sort of important for real world construction of that wall anyway because the contractor needs to be able to dimension that wall in order to place it... The curved wall is just like any linear wall, you can assign whatever wall type to that curved wall you want... It's a parametric component... Also, with the wall tool there is an option which is *Pick Faces* which allows you to place the wall by mapping it onto the face of a piece of dumb geometry massing which you either built in Revit, or you imported from sketchup or max or whatever else... I sort of didn't tell the whole truth when I said everything is a parametric component in revit rather than dumb geometry... Most things are parametric components but you can also make dumb geometric masses... It works fine, it's just not it's strength... You can do extrusions or sweeps (basically an extrusion of a profile along a path) among other things, and these can be solids or voids... So, for example you could cut an irregularly shaped void opening in an object, etc... You can also import dumb geometry from 3D studio or sketchup or wherever else... One thing that isn't that well developed with creating walls from faces is, when you modify the geometry of the mass, it doesn't automatically modify the wall... Basically, the tool generated an independent parametric wall object that conforms to the face of teh dumb geometry...

But for the most part, Revit is basically intended to build virtual building components out of primarily all modular parametric components... Most of the time, each wall type, each piece of existing family (basically all objects) are *designed* by somebody... That is, they are programmed objects that are parametric which can be placed in your model and the smarts is already built in, because somebody has programmed in that smarts... But once you reach a level of proficiency with the software, you can start creating your own *families* (your own custom components like a new wall type for example)...

Custom families basically fall into two categories:

1. "in place" families which are like "one offs"... These are sort of exceptions to the regular families or objects you can just drop in... If you want to make a unique object... Again these are dumb geometry objects, but you can make them belong to a family category like a wall for example... This is probably how I would do a very unusual complex curved wall... You can create curved masses as extrusions or sweeps... and completely dumb geometry I believe (did this a while back modelling a tilting wall) is that these in place families can still be made to belong to particular categories of objects like: walls... So your sweep can be catergorized as a wall which would allow you to drop windows or doors in it... Window and door families automatically know that they are embedded in walls, that they are located in a wall in reference to the centerline or face or whatever... and they automatically punch openings (based on how they were programmed, which includes a *void extrusion* that is parametric basically... Since families are little programmed parts that you can drop into your model and tweak *instance parameters* (unique to each placement of that object) or *type parameters* (which are common to all of those objects of that family type), your window in your complex curved wall can be dragger around and arranged on the wall, copied, deleted, etc.... Basically windows will follow the wall, punch the opening, in plan view have the correct 2D notation, etc... You could also make that window a custom window as a custom family...

2. custom families (like your own custom wall type or mullion type, or window type, or door type, piece of furniture, etc.) that can be placed in your model any time you want, and YOU PROGRAM THE PARAMETERS AND OPERATIONS FOR THAT FAMILY... This basically means you are making your own custom parametric 3D objects which you can drop into any model any time... It's a data driven object... So for example, you could, with some saviness design your own little parametric window type that has a certain property... Say a punched louvered window box or whatever... Or a custom piece of parametric furniture or whatever else... You design that parametric object to have parameters for height, width, frame thickness, frame depth etc... Basically whatever you want the little programmable object to do, you just need to figure out how to make it... It can be difficult to master making these well however and alot of people don't know how to do these, takes some learning...

a basic tutorial for making your own simple custom family:
pretty basic, but you can see the idea... imagine that... based on this kind of method, you could design basically any custom parametric object with a form, assign parameters you want to make a custom object that you can reuse over and over... basically made a programmable object which you can drop into your model...

You can download custom families other people have made here:
I would be careful however if you download custom families from there however... They might not have been made properly... It's possible that the guy who made it didn't build it properly so things like certain parameters might not work the way they were supposed to...

there's also a forum on which might be able to answer some of your questions...

Feb 23, 10 10:12 pm  · 

Actually Im not sure what other developments gave been made in revit 2010... I've only worked on a project up to revit 9... It might be that in 2010 the pick face feature for creating walls had been improved...

Feb 23, 10 10:27 pm  · 

But one other thing regarding revit is... autodesk is dumping a TON of money into its development... So, even with its limitations, you can be sure that it is going to be improving with each new release... That first video I posted above is a relatively new thing, the sort of push and pull geometry features similar to say sketchup...

When I first learned revit, it was revit 7 and my instructor was an architect (graduated from MIT) who was at the time working for autodesk in development... So they are employing not just computer programmers but architects these days, developing aspects of the program which would be most relevant to architecture... Same is true for bentley too... The thing about revit though is I feel that it has the most promise because it is already well designed from the ground up based on real working process, documentation, etc. based on how architects really work day to day... It's a nice program...

Originally, Revit was its own company... I forget the name of the company, but it was only later acquired by autodesk, which is maybe why it has developed fully independently from things like autocad... Autodesk later developed alot of the compatibility with things like 3D studio (which was also acquired by autodesk) and autocad... I believe maya is also now owned by autodesk... Crazy, they are gobbling up the best companies... They're like the new microsoft in 3D and AEC software...

Feb 23, 10 10:40 pm  · 

tuna: regarding detailing... I actually think detailing in revit is pretty nice... it just takes a little getting used to...

the key being: knowing what to detail as a 3D BIM object, and what to detail on a "drafting view"... The nice thing about revit is, there are *drafting components* (basically 2D families) for most things... (in section or in elevation) Like for example, steel shapes... You can drop in any steel shape from a list of predrawn families... Placing say a channel or an angle or W or whatever into your detail and it will have the correct dimensions, etc... Also other detail components for things like a 5/8" gwb or metal decking (cut in either direction) or whatever you are dropping in... So, you aren't just drawing every little piece from lines and hatching things like in autocad but you are actually "building it" even when you are drafting a view in 2D... Actually the detail components not only can be placed easier than drawing it, but keep the file simpler which makes it more managable a file size than if you drew every line independently so it's a bit of an adjustment but you should really be drafting details using the detail components...

There are also 3D families for things useful in details as well... for example structural things like open web joists, etc.

There's also (for details): you can xref in DWGs... So if somebody from your team is much faster at drafting with autocad, they can draft up 2D details in autocad, or you can reuse a generic autocad detail and xref it into a drafting view and simply place it on a revit sheet... then bug to that autocad detail by bugging to the drafting view and the bug will automatically update with the correct sheet reference data etc... So if you change the placement on a sheet, the detail reference is linked and automatically updates...

Feb 23, 10 11:00 pm  · 

Robert Aish, Director of Research at Bentley Inc and father of Generative Components (GC) technology, joined Autodesk's Building Solutions division back in 2007, taking helm the Building Solutions division. As any consolation you have a Microstation guy help leading the development of Revit.

Feb 24, 10 3:54 am  · 

100% Revit.

Feb 24, 10 8:47 am  · 

Depends where you want to work. If you are in Europe (in particular london) then you definitely want to learn microstation. If you are in the States then you should learn revit,

Feb 24, 10 6:57 pm  · 
maya mcdifference

Great bRink - I will take a look at these specific features and tutorials this weekend, thanks!

nmiller - this 'interoperability' between Microstation and Rhino sounds interesting..right now the office is pretty well adept with 3d modeling in Rhino so I will have to further investigate this possibility. Does anyone know any specifics of the interoperability between Rhino and Revit? I know you can import Rhino models into Revit, but how easy is it to apply constraints to geometry from Rhino in Revit?

rev1 - I'm not quite sure that it's this simple. Last time I checked (and things may have changed), U.S. offices like Polshek and Morphosis use Microstation..we are also a U.S.-based office but we also work in China and Europe. Rather than basing my decision based on location, we're more interested in the future of technology, representation and integration that either software has to offer.

Feb 25, 10 2:12 pm  · 

re: rhino to revit, here is an informative site developed by HOK:

That site actually has some useful info there on a number of different topics... I'm not sure what new features are in revit 2010, the conceptual design tools have been updated quite a bit...

Feb 25, 10 2:31 pm  · 

more here:

Feb 25, 10 2:35 pm  · 

I agree that you should base your decision on many factors, however if you are using microstation in London you will find that most of your consultants IE. Structure, MEP etc will also use the microstation software and visa versa with revit in the USA.........this I have found is extremely beneficial when running a smooth project and therefore is an important factor.

Feb 25, 10 4:03 pm  · 

re: microstation

I think where a firm like morphosis may be taking advantage of a platform like microstation is with *generative components* which is another software developed by bentley...

i'm not an expert, but generative components is an interesting and powerful software, but i think it is not so much useful for the average firm, will require some expertise from a couple people in your office to really take advantage of...

what generative components does is: develop parametric forms (or building objects) based on relationships... Sounds similar to revit but it is actually at a much more primary and conceptual level... In GC you basically work from the ground up, and there are three interfaces to your model that you are working in simultaneously:

1. your 3D model,
2. a *symbolic model* (that represents the objects, variables, and functions, relationships in your model),
3. a script editor (whenever you place something or are modelling in the 3D or symbolic model, it is writing out the programming scripts in the background, you can go in and actually work in the script instead if you are more of a programmer)

So you are literally modelling in 3D, and programming that smart geometry at the same time... Its sort of like a software development suite for 3D modelling geometry... It sounds alot more boring than it is... From the bit that I've played with it, it is not really tedious like heavy software programming, etc. it's actually kind of a slick piece of software interface... Fun to play with... In that you are modelling based on the *symbolic model* which is like a diagrammatic (a flow chart) representation of your 3D model including the relationships between elements, any functions or variables tying the objects together...

You can, for example, build a smart 3D object, attach control points for variables, or define relationships between parts, etc. so that there are rules for how the thing behaves, and then generate a sort of changable 3D form based on the relationships you've developed... Interesting for playing with form... And then you could output that form for fabrications (or have a function that automatically spits out a fabrication layout for that form)

So, you could quickly output organic and parametrically changing versions of your form and automatically generate fabrication layouts based on your manipulations...

So I think it is not so much directly useful for everyday architecture... It's quite powerful but requires a high learning curve, but would be interesting if you could master it for things like organic forms creation, conceptual design and digital fabrication... I suspect that a firm like Morphosis might be using microstation for this reason... for generative components capabilities... If you are intending to do alot of complex geometry and digital fabrications, you might want to look into generative components, although I think you really need somebody dedicated to mastering it for your office, or to hire somebody with some expertise and experience to teach people I think...

Revit is not quite there yet, but there are some new developments in conceptual tools from what I've seen in the 2010 release... I suspect that as it develops, what Revit will incorporate from Generative Components will be more at a "user friendly" level if that makes sense... The nature of the software tends towards the practical application for most offices rather than theoretical models... They tend to try to build in the smarts for you... To foresee what tools will be useful to architects as they implement them, whereas Generative Components has unlimited possibilities, but is more like letting the architect play software developer to do whatever they like... (in addition to software modules that have been developed in advance)... GC is far more powerful, but not immediately practical and useful right away without significant research and learning curve...

Feb 25, 10 4:06 pm  · 

Not sure... Maybe there is alot more to it, and maybe it is easier to pick up than I think... I've only maybe spent a week working with it...

As I said I'm no expert in GC, maybe some other people who have worked in offices like Gehry or who do alot of digital fabrication can weigh in, or correct me if I am missing something... I never used it day to day in work...

Microstations however is *not generative components*, it is just the CAD platform that GC is compatible with since GC was developed by bentley...

Feb 25, 10 4:14 pm  · 

Thought I would chime in since GC has come up...

I am not too sure about the latest versions, but I used to use GC quite a bit for various design tasks when Microstation was our primary package (pre-2009). It is certainly powerful for complex geometry and the way one works between the 3D model and the scripting environment (transaction file) is quite interesting. I did find it to be quite buggy when I last used it. I was also not too impressed with how it was integrated with the rest of Microstation... as a plug-in it seemed very 'standalone'.

On the Rhino/Revit note:

I have since adopted Rhino-Grasshopper to replace my GC-esque tasks and am looking at various non-standard ways to work between Grasshopper and Revit (using the 2010 API)... you can find a simple example here:

Feb 28, 10 11:24 pm  · 

I’ve been using CAD for decades. All sorts of systems and am quite familiar with Bentley BIM and Autodesk Revit as well as vanilla Microstation and AutoCAD. Have modeled in all sorts of modelers – about everything in existence. I really like Microstation and Bentley BIM because of the following:
- Rich, Robust Modeler
- Parametric Modeler (Feature Solids,  PCS, GC, Grasshopper add-on, etc.)
- v8i’s Capability to Generate Live Sections
- Model Size and Complexity
- Ability to Create Unique BIM Objects
- Number and Diversity of Discipline Packages
- Rich Discipline Functionality (within each package)
- Numerical Analysis Capabilities (5+ structural, 2+ Energy Sims, etc.)
- Database Capabilities
- Workflow
- Programmability with VB (Did I mention I love VB) (Well I gotta admit like Auto LISP too.)


Aug 23, 11 5:26 pm  · 



i quit at a firm once because they were stuck in microstation....

Aug 24, 11 12:14 pm  · 

microstation is probably the worst program ever

Aug 25, 11 2:32 pm  · 

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