This document was prepared in response to the Archicad-Talk question of when to use the Figure Tool rather than the Drawing Tool.
The Drawing and Figure tools are Archicad features that allow the user to deal with drawings and images. Even though those tools might sound similar, they can be used for different purposes. The following chart shows their usage differences.
What it inserts
Archicad views (internal or external), external drawings (DWG, DXF, DWF, DGN, PDF, HPGL, PMK, PLT, EMF, WMF, images, etc.) Optionally, inserts a drawing title on Layouts only.
A subset of those things that the Drawing Tool can insert: photo/image files on Windows and Mac. On macOS X only, the Figure Tool can also place PDF (converted automatically to the bitmapped image by the tool)
The practical advantage over other tools?
Tool of choice in general
Can distort the image in x or y dimension if required to make image scale more accurately (although scaling is completely visual. macOS X can only display (auto-converted) PDF with transparent background.
Where it inserts
Archicad views can only be inserted onto a Layout; other drawings can be inserted into any model view or Layout
Any model view or Layout
How it inserts
Choice of a live link, or embedded copy
An embedded copy
Insertion via Tool
Click in model view or layout and the dialog appears to select the source
Open the button in the Figure Tool Settings dialog
Insertion via command
File > External Content > Place External Drawing
Drag and Drop in Layout
Default settings of Drawing Tool provide initial drawing settings and title for all non-image files
Any image-format file (jpeg, png, etc) will drop as a Figure
Drag and Drop in the plan, section, etc. (model views)
Default settings of Drawing Tool provide initial drawing settings for all non-image files (but, no title)
The default settings of Figure Tool provide initial image settings
Can choose which page of a multi-page PDF to insert
Only macOS X supports PDF insertion with the Figure Tool: only the first page of a multi-page PDF is inserted
Can crop drawing/image to a polygon. (Actually creating a polygonal cropping viewport in which the drawing can be panned.)
Frame / Border
Optional drawing/image frame (border) with selected line style and pen around cropping polygon
Drawings are scalable vectors if from a scalable source (vector PDF, dwg, Archicad view, etc)
Anything inserted is a non-scalable bitmap – if the image is enlarged, you will see pixelation
Proportional scaling only. Note that for Archicad views, scaling should not typically be done with the tool, but by creating an appropriately scaled view
Proportional scaling only if the shift key is held; otherwise, images may be distorted in either the X or Y axis
Not available for PDF. Checkbox to enable transparency for images and drawings.
Info on actual pixels in the image available in Tool?
Can you save content in different formats?
Can change the color of the content?
Content placed with the Drawing Tool is all itemized in the Drawing Manager. Only content placed on Layouts is listed in a drawing-based Project Index schedule though.
Images placed with the Figure Tool do not appear in any schedule.
Thanks to David Maudlin and Link Ellis for their contributions.