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Manipulating Vectors in FreeCAD

Vectors are ubiquitous in FreeCAD, describing point locations and displacements.

from FreeCAD import Vector 
v1 = Vector(1, 2, 3) 
v2 = Vector(4, 5, 6)

creates a vector v1 whose x-, y-, and z-components are 1, 2, 3 , respectively.

The result of adding the two vectors, tip to tail is given by


but much more conveniently by:

v1 + v2

because the + operator has been overloaded, resulting in the vector Vector(5, 7, 9)

We can also subtract vectors, and multiply or divide them by scalars, so we can write:

2*v2 - v1/2

obtaining Vector(7.5, 9, 10.5)

The length of the vector v1 is given by Pythagoras' theorem (in 3D):

import math 
math.sqrt(v1.x * v1.x + v1.y * v1.y + v1.z * v1.z)

or much more conveniently by the builtin method


We can use a vector to represent a direction in space. For this purpose, since the (non-zero!) length of the vector is then immaterial, it is customary to use unit vectors, whose length is 1. (In FreeCAD dialogs for axes, you can use un-normalized directions. The code normalizes them for you.) We can create a unit vector by normalizing any vector in the desired direction:

v1.normalize() # unit vector in the direction of v1

This gives us alternative way of creating vectors. If we'd like, for instance, to create a vector in the direction of v1 with the length of v2, we could use:

v2.Length * v1.normalize()

Dot and cross products of vectors

Other than addition and subtraction, there are other geometrically meaningful ways of combining two vectors.

One is the dot product # or

In terms of components, if v1 = Vector(v1x, v1y, v1z) and v2 = Vector(v2x, v2y, v2z), then = v1x*v2x + v1y*v2y + v1z*v2z Alternatively, this can be shown to be equal to the product of their two lengths with the cosine of the angle between them. It is thus, in some sense, the projection of one vector on the other. It can be used to calculate the angle between the two (non-zero) vectors:

angle = math.acos( * v2.Length))

giving the angle in radians.

this method is built in to FreeCAD as

angle = v1.getAngle(v2)

The cross product of two vectors v1 and v2 creates a third vector, perpendicular to both of them, that is, normal to the plane containing v1 and v2 In component form, v1.cross(v2) = Vector(v1y*v2z - v1z*v2y, v1z*v2x - v1x*v2z, v1x*v2y - v1y*v2x) Its length is given by the product of the lengths of v1 and v2 with the sine of the angle between them. It thus vanishes if v1 and v2 are parallel.

Another way of visualizing this is that the length of v1.cross(v2) is the area of the parallelogram defined by v1 and v2. Note that v1.cross(v2)and v2.cross(v1) have opposite signs, but and equal.

A test to check if, within numerical error, two (non-zero) vectors are parallel could be written:

def isParallel(v1, v2):     
    return (v1.cross(v2)).Length <= 1e-7 * v1.Length *  v2.Length


def isPerpendicular(v1, v2):
    return <= 1e-7 * v1.Length * v2.Length

tests for orthogonality.

These tests both return True if either vector has zero length. If you require False, replace <= with <.


Another operation we might want to perform on a vector is to rotate it. There are many ways to specify a rotation.

-- Rotation object-- four floats (a quaternion)

FreeCAD's internal representation of rotations (a, b, c, d) = a i + b j + c k + d

where d = cos(theta/2), (a,b,c) = sin(theta/2)*unit_vector

represents a rotation of theta about the unit_vector axis. It is unlikely you will need to work with these directly.

-- three floats (yaw, pitch, roll)

Uses Euler Angles. (see below)

-- Vector (rotation axis) and float (rotation angle)

see below

-- two Vectors (two axes)

Rotation(v1, v2)rotates v1 into v2 in the v1 - v2 plane. (There are an infinity of other possible rotation axes)

-- Matrix object -- 16 floats (4x4 matrix)

The 3x3 submatrix in the top-left is the rotation part. The rest represents (unused) translation.

-- 9 floats (3x3 matrix)


-- 3 vectors + optional string

rot = FreeCAD.Rotation(Vector(0,1,0),Vector(-1,0,0),Vector(0,0,1),'ZXY')

For example, rotates x->y, y->-x and z->z . Because of potential numerical error, the target triad may not be exactly orthogonal, the optional string 'ZXY' gives the priority order of the calculation.

Of these, axis and angle is the most commonly used rotation constructor. To rotate v1 around the axis given by v2 by 30 degrees, we would use:

from FreeCAD import Rotation 
rot = Rotation(v2, 30) 
rotVec = rot.multVec(v1)

Note that we input the angle in degrees, but if we query it with rot.Angle we get the internal value in radians.

Successive rotations and Euler Angles


One of the properties of quaternions that makes them so useful is that the product of two quaternions represents the result of succesive rotations to which they correspond. The order matters! The result of two rotations is generally not the same if the rotations are made in the reverse order.

Yaw, pitch and roll through three Euler angles is a decomposition of a general rotation into three successive rotations about coordinate axes. This is commonly used in aerodynamics and rigid body mechanics.

-- First we rotate by the yaw angle about the z-axis.

-- Then pitch up by pitch angle about the new y-axis.

-- Finally, we roll about the new x axis by the roll angle. In FreeCAD

rot = Rotation(10, 20 ,30) # create rotation with yaw =10, pitch = 20 and roll = 30 degrees 
ryaw = Rotation(Vector(0, 0, 1), 10) rpitch = Rotation(Vector(0, 1, 0), 20) 
rroll = Rotation(Vector(0, 0, 1), 30) 
rypr = ryaw.multiply(rpitch.multiply(rroll)) #creating rotation by multiplying quaternions 
rot.isSame(rypr, 1e-15) # True

What is easily confused here is that in above case the successive rotations are about the new rotated axes. If instead, we make successive rotations about the fixed coordinate axes, not following the body, the multiplications are made in the opposite order!

rz = Rotation(Vector(0, 0, 1), 90) 
rx = Rotation(Vector(1, 0 ,0), 90) 
rzx = Rotation(Vector(1, 1, 1), 120) #this is you what you should get if you do rz then rx 
rzx1 = rz.multiply(rx)  # note the opposite order 
rzx.isSame(rzx1, 1e-15) # True  1e-15 is a tolerance that allows for finite precision error

Cube R0.png

 Axis cube prior to rotation.

Cube Rz.png

After rz - 90 degrees around global z axis

Cube Rzx.png

After rzx - 90 degrees around global z axis, followed by 90 degrees around global x-axis.

Note that since rotation axes are stored normalized, rxy.Axis returns Vector(0.57735026919, 0.57735026919, 0.57735026919)) This is likewise the case for thePlacement.Rotation.Axisproperty of a Placement. When you enter an axis into a placement rotation dialog, it need not be normalized. The code replaces your entry with the normalized version.

Note that the rot1.isSame(rot2, tolerance) method tests True if rot1 and rot2 create the same result. For instance, Rotation(Vector(0, 0, 1), 90), Rotation(Vector(0, 0, 1), -270)and Rotation(Vector(0, 0, -1), 270) test True with isSameeven though their Axis and Angleproperties differ, and are stored as created.

slerp (Spherical Linear Interpolation.)

This is a function widely used in animation. Suppose you wanted to smoothly rotate an object from one orientation, rot1 to another, rot2. You would need to create a series of intermediate orientations. rot1.slerp(rot2, 0.3) creates a rotation 30% of the way between the two. As a simple example:

rot1 = Rotation(Vector(0, 0, 1), 30) 
rot2 = Rotation(Vector(0, 0, 1), 80) 
rotbetween = rot1.slerp(rot2, 0.3)  
rotbetween.Angle # pi/4 = 45 degrees = 30 + 0.3*(80 - 30)

This example is simple because rot1 and rot2 happen to have the same axis. Slerp works in the general case. [1]

Offset rotations

Rotation(axis angle) represents rotations about the direction axis through the origin. What if we wish to rotate a point P about an axis offset from the origin by the Vector C? We break our Vector P into the two parts C and P - C. The first part remains fixed, the second rotates, resulting in

rot = Rotation(axis, angle)
newP = C + Rotation.multVec(P -  C)

Some other Vector Methods

Let v, v0, v1, v2 etc. be Vectors

v.distanceToLine(v1, v2)

This returns the perpendicular distance to the extended line passing though v1 in the direction v2

v.distanceToLineSegment(v1, v2)

The name and tooltip are misleading here. This function returns the vector to the closest point on the line segment that extends from v1 and v2. It is along the perpendicular if that meets the line segment, otherwise it is to the nearest endpoint.

v.distanceToPlane(v1, v2)

The plane is defined by v1, any point on it, and v2, the direction of the normal to the plane. The method returns the shortest distance to the plane - positive if v is on the side of the plane pointed to by its normal v2, negative otherwise.