What Controls Revit Visibility? Five Things to Look For.

January 17, 2017

If you work in Revit files for even a small part of your day, learning how to control visibility of elements in your model – be it hiding them or customizing the way they display – is a very important and useful skill. While I wish I could say “it’s simple, just click this button…” sadly that is not the case.

This is because there are several ways that an element can be hidden (or have its graphics customized) in Revit. The subject of visibility control in Revit can be quite extensive.

In this article, I’ll focus specifically on hiding and showing elements in your models, and outline a systematic approach you can follow to find elements that go missing in your Revit projects. (But do keep in mind that much of what we cover would apply to other types of visibility customization as well). 

1. What kind of element is it?

To start your investigation, what kind of element is missing? Before you start your detective work, remember that Revit treats different classes of elements quite differently.

There are several kinds of elements: Model, Datum, View, Detail/Drafting, Annotation, etc. Model elements are the most common, represent real-life objects like walls and floors and show by default in all views.

Detail elements also represent real-life objects like bricks, mortar, flashing and fasteners but appear only in the specific view in which they are created. Annotation is also view-specific and is used to call out important aspects of the model.

Unlike detail elements, annotation responds to the view scale and changes size accordingly. Datum elements (levels and grids) have true physical locations in the model, do appear in multiple views, but specifically only in orthographic views, and like annotation, respond in size to the scale of the view.

So why do we care what kind of element it is? Because each type of element follows slightly different rules when it comes to visibility. 

2. It’s all about the View

With few exceptions, all visibility settings in Revit occur at the view level. So one of the easiest things you can do to find a missing element is open (or create) another view.

If you can see the element in a different view (for model elements, a 3D view is usually a good choice) then you have confirmed that the element exists, which is a good first step. However, sometimes the element will still not appear in other views. There are many reasons why this might be the case. So checking another view is just the first step.

Assuming that the element is visible in the other view, you can use that view to figure out where in the model the element exists. This will help you zoom in on the appropriate area back in the original view.

Next, use the Reveal Hidden Elements icon on the View Control Bar in the original view (it looks like a small lightbulb). Elements that are hidden will appear in a color onscreen as long as the mode is active. You can select and edit hidden elements in this state and you can unhide them. 

3. But what if it’s not the View?

As with most rules, there is an exception to visibility’s occurring at the view level: Worksets. If you are working on a team project (with a central file and local files), then it is possible to hide entire worksets globally. When you close a workset, it will be closed everywhere.

This is really the only time that you can hide things globally and not on a view by view basis. The only other exception to this is the Mass category.

By default, the Mass category is hidden in all views, but there is a toggle button on the Massing and Site tab that lets you temporarily toggle on the visibility of masses in all views. So before you get too far into your troubleshooting, make sure that you are not looking for a Mass element and also consider if the project uses worksets. 

4. Understand your View Extents

As already noted, there are many ways to hide elements in a Revit project. And most methods take place in the active view. However, before we talk about hide by category, hide by element, filters, etc. we should discuss what Revit considers first in any view: its view extents.

In any Revit view you will always be able to limit the display to user-defined extents; resulting in showing just a portion of the model. Understanding how extents work can save you a lot of grief when trying to troubleshoot elements that stubbornly refuse to display in a particular view.

Conceptually it is useful to imagine a three-dimensional box. The dimensions of this box define the extents of the view. If the element falls outside this box, then it will not display, regardless of what other settings may or may not be configured in the view.

So always start with the view’s extents before moving to Visibility/Graphics, Worksets or other settings.

The specifics do vary with each kind of view. For example, in plan views, the vertical dimension of the virtual 3D box is controlled by the View Range settings (Properties palette).

If an element falls outside the view range, it will not display in the plan no matter what. The width and depth control the crop region of the plan. This can be toggled on and off.

Sections and elevations are similar, except that instead of view range, the location of the section or elevation determines the cut and the far clip determines to overall depth. Elements behind the cut will not display under any circumstances. So always understand where a section or elevation is cut.

The height and width determine the crop region and like plans can be toggled on and off. For 3D views, you also have a crop region, but the virtual 3D box we have been discussing actually can be enabled in the view by toggling on the “Section Box” setting. 

5. Each View has its own Visibility Settings

Now we come back to the point we made above. Remember that each view has its own visibility and that this is “by design” in the Revit environment. Imagine it like a room full of security cameras. Each camera shows a different vantage point to the security guard, but each the cameras are looking at the same overall facility.

In a similar way, each Revit view shows a particular vantage point of the model. Within each view, visibility of elements can be controlled in three main ways: by category, by element and by filter. There are also some special case controls as well.

The Visibility/Graphics command (keyboard shortcut: VG) will give you access to most of the visibility options including by category and by filter. To hide an element category, simply uncheck its checkbox. The list if categories in Revit is built-in to the software and you cannot add, rename or delete categories.

However, many categories do have user-editable subcategories, so be sure to expand the category name (small plus sign on the left) and consider those items as well when turning items on and off. The Visibility/Graphics dialog lists categories by overall type such as Model, Annotation and Linked Files. 

The Filters tab works differently than the various category tabs. With filters, a user-defined rule (like a search query) is applied to the view. Think of filter rules like Yes/No questions.

For example, instead of hiding all furniture elements in a particular view, you wish to hide only those from a particular manufacturer. The Filter would ask a question like: “Is your Manufacturer Steelcase?” If the answer is yes, then the filter would apply, otherwise it would be ignored.

So by creating such a filter, you can turn off only those elements in a category that answer “yes” to the question asked. 

Hiding and showing elements by category is generally the preferred first choice method. In cases where you do not want to see the entire category, you can try a filter. In cases where you just want to manually hide a certain selected element, you can do this using the tool on the ribbon or right-click. This gives you direct and immediate control over the visibility of any element in a view, but the process is manual and must be reversed manually as well.

In general, manual element hiding should be done only after other means of hiding have been ruled out. To unhide an element, you can use the Reveal Hidden Elements mode accessed from the lightbulb icon on the View Control Bar.

Other things to consider

We’ve taken a brief look at Revit visibility from a high level and outlined the essential steps you can follow to find missing elements. But there is much more to Revit visibility. Most of the topics above focused on model elements, but as noted at the start, each kind of element has its own unique behaviors.

For example, when it comes to annotation, there is a special crop region called the annotation crop. Annotation that falls outside this annotation crop will not display in the view. Furthermore, since annotation exists only in the view in which it is created, it is typically not hidden, but rather simply deleted when not needed.

So you may search aimlessly for missing annotation thinking it is hidden, when in fact it actually does not exist. 

Sometimes elements cannot be seen simply because they are concealed in 3D space by other elements. This can occur if they are completely inside of another element, of if the particular vantage point of the view does not allow them to be seen behind other elements.

Try changing the view’s display mode to Wireframe in such cases to locate such missing elements. Design Options and Phasing also have their own unique display modes. You can learn more about these topics in the course: “Phasing and Design Options in Revit” here in the library.

As noted above, linked files and worksharing can also present unique visibility challenges. Settings that control the display of elements belonging to links or worksets are also found in Visibility/Graphics. The settings for these elements can sometimes become detailed and nuanced. So troubleshooting them can get tricky.

We have two courses in the library that discuss worksharing which can help give you a good foundation: Revit Worksharing: Users and Revit Worksharing: Management. And be sure to check out our weekly series on Revit called Revit: Tips, Tricks, and Troubleshooting