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Symbols for Lighting Fixtures Showing in Plan

November 6, 2012 Filed under: General,Revit Families,Revit Family Editor Posted by Jose Fandos

Back in 2010 I was asked to create a face-based lighting fixture that, when placed on a wall, would display a symbol in plan view. “No problem,” I thought, and happily set out to work on it. Little did I know that it couldn’t be done. Had I “known,” I might not have even tried. But as it turns out, it was possible after all.

The Issue

If you have a face-based lighting fixture family with a nested annotation, you will see the annotation in a project’s plan view when you place the lighting fixture in a ceiling, but not if you place it onto a wall.

It seems to be something that people would like to be able to do, yet, apparently, cannot in Revit. A quick search in Google will show that this is an old wish.

The issue lies within the chosen Revit family category. In certain family categories, a face-based family will display the option Maintain Annotation Orientation.

When checked, this option allows the nested annotation to rotate so that it shows both ways – when the family is placed vertically or horizontally, e.g. on a wall or in a ceiling. Lighting Devices, Fire Alarm Devices and Electrical Fixtures are examples of family categories that have the Maintain Annotation Orientation option. In other family categories, like Generic Models, Lighting Fixtures or Specialty Equipment, that same option isn’t available. In the latter categories, a nested annotation will display in a project’s plan view only if the family is placed on a horizontal plane, like a ceiling.

The images below show the two annotations nested within two families. The first family is set as a Lighting Device and has the option Maintain Annotation Orientation checked. The annotation then displays without a problem in plan view when the family is placed onto a wall. The second family is set as a Lighting Fixture. As such, there is no annotation orientation option.

The result is that when placed onto a wall, the annotation fails to display in plan view. The annotation will still display in plan view if we place the Lighting Fixture on a ceiling, but that’s not what we are after here.

While you could, for example, create a detail item to serve as the annotation when the family is placed on a wall, you would lose the automatic scaling afforded by a symbol created as a generic annotation.

Alternatively, you could change the Revit category in order to display the Maintain Annotation Orientation option. You could switch from Lighting Fixtures to Lighting Devices, for example, but we then lose access to other category specific features that we might require.

The Solution

The method described next works around the limitation of not having the Maintain Annotation Orientation in some Revit family categories. It allows the exit sign family shown above – faced-based light fixture – to display a symbol when viewed in plan.

In order to see the symbol in plan view, the nested annotation needs to be placed in a plane perpendicular to the plan view when the host family (Lighting Fixture) is placed in a project. And to do that, we need the nested annotation to be placed within the Lighting Fixture family as shown on the right in the image below. Unfortunately, Revit only allows for placing the nested symbol as shown on the left.

We will route around this limitation by first inserting the annotation family into another face-based family, and using this intermediary face-based family to place the annotation the way we want into the final Lighting Fixture.

The only key requirement for the intermediary family (aside from being face-based), is that it needs to be set as shared for the symbol to display in the project. With that done, now the family does what we want when placed in a project. Also note that, when placing the intermediary family into the Lighting Fixture family, you can’t see the annotation. But fear not, the force – sorry, the reference planes of the intermediary family will be there with you.

From here you can develop on top of this method to have a family that displays one symbol when hosted on a wall and another one when hosted on a ceiling (e.g. a camera), choose to allow your symbols to be tagged, and so on.


  1. 7 November 2012 2:19 pm Andrei Bejenaru

    So once again the nested families saved our souls. Great post, I’ll try this detailed tutorial as soon as I decide to use hosted families. All the families I place in the MEP model aren’t hosted. If we take the example of the exit lighting fixture, this family has 2 nested familes: the one that includes the geometry of the ligthting fixture placed on a reference line and the other, the annotation symbol placed horizontaly. The reference line gets a rotation parameter that helps place the family in horizontal or vertical and this way the annotation family is always horizontal.

  2. 8 November 2012 8:15 am Maria

    This is well put together. Thanks for sharing. :)

  3. 8 November 2012 3:23 pm Jacob Farley

    Excellent, thanks for sharing, this is how I have been doing my Electrical Families. Nice to get confirmation that I am on the right track.

  4. 9 November 2012 8:05 am Ekko Nap

    posted a link on

    It’s a must read.

  5. 10 November 2012 10:00 am REVIT Czar

    There is another way to create that family. Simply create on the “Front” elevation view the symbology on a “Symbolic Line” set rather than a detailline. From there you just make the visability of the 3D model unviewable from the Plan view. Then you will have the linework in plan view and the 3d everywhere else.

  6. 11 November 2012 5:51 am Jose Fandos

    @REVIT Czar, symbolic or model lines won’t automatically scale with other symbols, as mentioned in the post. You won’t be able to create solid areas, like in the symbol used in the example. I hope that clears it.

    @Ekko Nap Thanks for posting a link!
    @Andrei Thanks! Glad you liked the post. You can do this as well with a reference line, as you suggest. You can save some file size with with a reference line, but you will require interaction from the person using the family. The method described here “just works” 😉 Having said that, the reference line method has other useful uses, like when you want to rotate a symbol (like a camera symbol).

  7. 15 November 2012 8:31 am GMcDowellJr

    This method also works to get the annotations to show up on sloped surfaces (like a sloped ceiling) by attaching the face based annotation to a reference line whose parametric angle equals the angle of the slope.

    The only downside to this method is the annotation family, now being treated as a model element, schedules along with whatever category you’ve assigned it to.

  8. 16 November 2012 12:21 am Jose Fandos

    @GMcDowellJr Yes, though as mentioned to Andrei, there is the need to edit the properties of the family within the project (to enter the slope’s angle). It is unfortunate that a reporting parameter couldn’t be used to read this information directly from the project. The double counting is something that needs to be dealt with. There are a number of ways to do so, but I don’t have any links to point to right now.

  9. 19 November 2012 9:12 pm dmalagon

    what if I need to keep the color of the symbol to its correspondent system is there any way to do so??

  10. 20 November 2012 12:17 am Jose Fandos

    @dmalagon Have you tried using filters?

  11. 20 November 2012 6:41 pm dmalagon

    You are absolutely right Jose, I just realized I had missed my fixtures in the filtering criteria, reason why it was displaying my fixtures black instead of the system color. Thanks for your piece of advice.

    Something else I found, make sure you select the appropriate family type for your intermediate face based family or your symbol might not show what is expected!!

  12. 21 November 2012 9:56 am Heather

    Quick question for you, as this is similar to something I’m working on. I am setting up families of certain types of equipment that should never be mirrored because the door swings are always in a certain orientation. Is there a way to set up the family so that you can *never* mirror the family when it’s inserted into the model?

  13. 22 November 2012 3:38 am Martijn van der Kooij


    I’m trying to do this using the Revit 2012 API. But When I try to insert the intermediate family with “this.Doc.FamilyCreate.NewFamilyInstance” method with the view “Front” . Then I get a “Only a 2D family can be placed on a specific view.” error.
    I’m I wrong when i think that the insertion in the view is a key point in this? Or should I use one of the other NewFamilyInstance methods?

  14. 3 December 2012 5:22 am Jose Fandos

    @dmalagon Glad it helped. @heather Not that I can think of right now. @Martijn The intermediate family, being face-based, can be placed on a face that’s perpendicular to the plan view, but you would have to check in ADN for how to go about it.

    @Andrei, a correction to my previous comment, yes, you can place the intermediate family onto a reference line, but the symbol by itself wouldn’t work.

  15. 16 December 2012 9:29 pm Bill Knittle

    Awesome workaround. The only thing that I would recommend is setting the intermediate Family Category to Light Fixture for use in MEP projects. The Mechanical, Electrical, and Plumbing settings for a View’s Discipline parameter will halftone the intermediate family when set to the Generic Model category. As mentioned in a previous comment, you have to add criteria to the intermediate family to Filter them out in a Light Fixture Schedule. I simply added the value “Symbol” to the Type Comments and set my Schedule to Filter by Type Comments>does not equal>Symbol.

  16. 18 December 2012 4:00 pm Chris Lenden Barnes

    It worked for me, but now my ‘Clearance Zone’ element around my Distribution Switchboard now has one side greyed out solid instead of the transparrent one that was there prior to applying this fix.

  17. 18 December 2012 6:47 pm Chris Lenden Barnes

    Oops! Sorry I had section box cutting through my clearance space. So all is good now. I am starting to fix up all my face based families now. Thanks for this tip.

  18. 18 December 2012 7:02 pm Chris Lenden Barnes

    If you apply the same keynote coding to both the Intermediary family and the Model family then apply a description you have only one item show up in your scheduling, but your count will show 2 items. (Just hide your count from view and your schedule is perfect).

  19. 18 December 2012 8:15 pm Chris Lenden Barnes

    When applying this method to a family with multiple family types, I noticed that the symbol moves frm side to side (similar to an off set command). Any one else managed to fix this?

  20. 30 December 2012 4:09 pm James

    I knew it was possible, but I just could not figure it out.

  21. 2 August 2013 7:39 am Dom

    I’ve been having this problem today and googled my way to this blog.

    Your solution works for me. The only issue I have is that my annotation symbol is now greyed out when brought into the project. Can this be fixed so it shows black like all my other symbols?

  22. 2 August 2013 8:00 am Jose Fandos

    Dom, have you checked the visibility or discipline settings for the view? In the example here the symbol appears black, so it shouldn’t be an issue with the method itself.

  23. 5 August 2013 2:18 am Dom


    The family is a wall light created as a lighting fixture. It is loaded into a plan with view discipline set as Electrical. Under the VG lighting fixtures category I have the a drop down which includes my light family. This is checked as visable but all I cannot change the Projection, Cut or Halftone as they are greyed out and not able to be altered.

    All other lighting fixtures in this plan are showing black just not this one.

  24. 9 August 2013 7:40 pm Nathan Mulder

    Thanks for the post. I haven’t modified electrical families for awhile and last I knew making ‘Lighting Fixtures’ as ‘Lighting Devices’ was the only workaround. I am going to look into this, though I am concerned about the nested family getting scheduled.

    However, my central question is that I have a face based wall downlight with a single nested annotation symbol that works and is categorized as a ‘Lighting Fixture’. But, I have a face based exit sign that I turned into a ‘Lighting Device’ in order to get my nested annotation symbol to display properly. The only difference between the two families that I can tell is that the wall downlight was created as you might expect in the real world: the extrusion is vertical (top of 3d view is plan view). However, the exit sign has the extrusion ‘top’ as the face the sign is placed on (back and front are ‘top’ and ‘bottom’). I sort of inherited these families so I am not sure where they came from.

    Thanks for any input you can give. I can provide a link to the families if need be.

  25. 11 February 2014 2:33 pm Steven Kruyne

    “Your solution works for me. The only issue I have is that my annotation symbol is now greyed out when brought into the project. Can this be fixed so it shows black like all my other symbols?”

    Dom, I know this is about half a year late, but I ran into this problem today. I found out the “Intermediate Face Based Family” needs to be also placed on the Lighting Fixture Category. So both the Intermediate and Lighting Fixture Family (Steps 2 and 3 on the flow chart in the example above) need to be put on the Lighting Fixture Category.

    Hopefully this helps someone the hours of trouble I had today with it!

  26. 24 April 2014 1:45 pm Randy Youngberg

    Many thanks for this posting. It helped me solve a problem that I wasted way too much time on.

  27. 1 August 2014 4:00 am edgar

    Hi there.

    Merging up a couple of ideas I figured out another possibility:

    If you start your lighting fixture family from the wall hosted template you can place your symbol perfectly and your vertical fixture symbol appear in your plan views, but if you are working with links or you need a face hosted family then you can use the copy/monitor trick that I found here:

    The main idea is that you can convert a wall hosted family into a face hosted just copying the linked family with the copy command from the copy/monitor option in the collaborate tab.

    Hope it helps, It saved my day, actualy!!

  28. 24 January 2015 10:52 am Kamil

    Using the way described in the post are you able to scale the symbol in plan view? I mean this solution works for drawing scale 1:100, but it doesnt work for scale 1:50 (the symbol is two times smaller than it should be for the scale 1:50)

  29. 25 January 2015 7:05 am Jose Fandos

    Hi Kamil, the symbol shouldn’t scale. That is intentional. The symbol is built so that on paper always measures, let’s say, 3 mm x 3 mm. At a scale of 1:100 that symbol will appear bigger in relation to the background than if the scale is set to 1:50. The symbol, though, will always measure 3 mm x 3 mm on paper. This might be confusing if you only look at the screen or print what is meant for, let’s say, A0 paper size on A3 paper size and look at the latter to test. I hope that helps.

  30. 8 February 2015 8:15 pm Sloan

    Not sure how I’m just now coming across this great trick! (Admittedly, I gave up on having my cake and eating it too with exit signs…)

    One thing I’ve noticed is that this doesn’t seem to work in 2015 if your View Discipline is set to Architectural…it must be set to Coordination, Mechanical, Electrical, or Plumbing.

    I’ve never delved too much into view disciplines, is there any particular reason as an arch-only office to have all our views set to Coordination? Doesn’t seem to me like it matters ultimately, but I was curious …

    Either way, thanks for the great tip!

  31. 8 September 2015 2:17 pm JeffA

    Not sure if anyone is monitoring this, but does anyone know if there is a way to make the annotation (the lighting device family nesting the annotation) un-select-able in a project view?

  32. 25 September 2015 6:41 am Jose Fandos

    Jeff, the reason the intermediary family is selectable is because it is set as “Shared”. And that is a requirement for this to work. With that said, selecting it will initially select the host family, allowing you to copy and place somewhere else. Clicking on the Tab key while hovering over the host family will allow selecting the intermediary family, but that wouldn’t be the default action.

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