Graphic Standards – Part 2

October 28, 2013 — 71 Comments

Last week we took a look at an article about “architectural graphic standards” … and I kicked that article off by stating how an architect draws is a reflection of many things … that you can frequently tell the priorities of a firm just by looking at theย qualityย of their drawings.

I stand by that comment and think that clean and easy to read architectural drawings do more than just make me feel good about my artistic side, they help convey information to the people you are creating the drawings for in the first place. I take a great deal of pride in how my drawings look and this it isn’t just me patting myself on the back, this is due to the feedback I have received from contractors and clients on how easy my drawings are to read and to navigate.

Based on the amount of feedback I received on last weeks article, I thought I would build upon the information presented previously and try to show some different types of drawings and explain some of the conscious decisions I have made that make my drawings look the way they do.

And for all of you who hate the chisel fonts I use in my drawings, there isn’t an argument you can make that will convince me that Arial Narrow (or some other clean and easy to read font) would be a better choice. I hand-lettered for years prior to the dawn of computer drafting and I quite like they way architectural drawings look like they have an architectural font. You are free to pursue your own path.

Lets start with Interior Elevations

Interior Elevations - Architectural Graphics Standards

I like my interior elevations to be at 3/8″ – 1′-0″ scale. I am aware that this isn’t a scale that is easily used in the field when the contractor is trying to lay down his measuring tape on the drawings to determine what the dimension should be on something that I didn’t dimension. I don’t particularly care for the contractor and his trades scaling directly off my drawings – if there’s a dimension they need and can’t figure it out from the information I’ve provided, they can use another tool other than their scale to get the answer – the phone. I am more than happy to provide any dimensions someone may want, all you have to do is ask.

Now let’s turn towards Wall Sections

Architectural Graphics Standards - Wall Section with redlines

Wall sections are ALWAYS scaled at 3/4″ = 1′-0″ … I can’t think of a time in the 21 years I’ve been drawing them that this wasn’t the case. As you can see from the example I’ve provided, I am a big fan of profile lines and hatch specific materials indicated in the drawings.

Moving on to Details

Wood Siding Vent Detail - Architectural Graphics Standards

Details might actually be the most fun thing for me to draw. I happen to believe that it is at this level – the 3″ = 1′-0″ scale – where all truly magnificent buildings are made. In the detail I shown immediately above, there is a custom brake metal flashing detail I designed that protects and closes off the end grain of the wood siding that wraps the house. A few years ago I had the good fortune to be present when this particular house was on a home tour – the number of people I saw taking pictures of this little detail was surprising. Mies van der Rohe was right when he said “God is in the details.”

Continuing on with Details

Window Details - Architectural Graphics Standards

Just for the record, I don’t detail my headers like the one shown above in detail 17 … that’s a nasty wood thermal break at this point. I’ve shown this many window details because I wanted to point out that these drawings (look at the numbers) are actually stacked vertically above one another in the drawing set. The sill (detail 2) and the header (detail 17) align with one another and in between are the two variations of jamb details. These sorts of details are very profile line heavy and we make it a point to be very specific with our material hatches. Can you imagine a builder set containing window details? Of course not …

We draw every window and door detail so that we can show how materials transition, how trim work resolves, and most importantly, it makes it absolutely clear where in the plane of the wall we want the window set. Nothing says builder home quicker than windows set out to the face of the exterior wall material.

Well, maybe half-moon windows says builder home a bit faster …

Finally, a look at Partition Typesย (click to enlarge) –

Architectural Graphic Standards - Partition TypesIt is not that uncommon for us to have at least 15 to 20 wall types. Between exterior and interior walls, 2×4 and 2×6 frame construction, they add up pretty quick. All of our plans reference the wall types and our dimensionsย are typically to the finished face of the wall and to the center of the door and window openings.

And now for a little secret – most of these drawings (unlike last week’s drawings) were done in regular Autocad rather than Revit. Part of the reason I am showing/ sharing these drawings with you is that these are the drawings I am using when showing the people in our office who are helping me set up or drafting standards in Revit. I am showing them what I want, and together, we are figuring out how to make the changes to what came out of the proverbial software drafting box. Anyone who has taken on the chore of adjusting the graphic standards for their own office knows that this is a slow and laborious process. I don’t have a staff member who is dedicated to working on making these modifications – the changes happen slowly and typically only when the opportunity presents itself to make the change. The list of items we are reviewing and adjusting include everything I’ve shown to date, but it also includes legends, notes, key symbols, dimension graphics (and standards) title block layout, etc. and etc.

Hopefully if you are going through this process yourself, you have a good attitude about it and don’t see it as a chore … something that simply has to get done. Like I said in the beginning, how your drawings look is a reflection of the culture of a firm. If you don’t care what the drawings look like, why would anyone else? I want my drawings to look like they took time to produce because guess what? They did.


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  • Ann Henry

    Your drawings are drawn exactly the way they are supposed to be drawn. I am so frustrated by designers/architects who don’t understand the purpose of interior elevations especially. I consider these coordination drawings that bring together all elements of an interior-dimensions, finishes, fixtures, switches/devices, casework, millwork. Beautiful work that you do. Mine look just like that. I’m an interior designer.

    • Thanks Ann – I really take pride in the quality of our drawings but I will admit that it’s getting harder and harder to spend the time to illustrate this level of information with the time we have to get the task done. Maybe that’s just something I am expecting.

  • What font you use?

  • Michael J. Long

    When talking about scale, and you say you don’t care about the contractor and trades to figure out 3/8 scale seems a little stuck up to me.

    • If saying that I don’t want contractors and subs to scale off my drawings, and that I will provide them with any dimension they want – that all they have to do is ask – makes me stuck up, then consider me stuck up.

      Did you know that I have never given a contractor an incorrect dimension when asked? The number of times a contractor or sub tries to guess and scale off the drawing and get it wrong is a majority of the time.

  • Pingback: Graphic Standards for Architectural Cabinetry | Life of an Architect()

  • Roger Anderson

    Hello Bob,
    I love looking at and learning from others Architectural drawings. Here is a question: When creating our wall legends, exterior walls are describe from outside to inside while interior walls are generally left-to-right and/or top-to-bottom (at least initially). Is there a particular reason, in your example that you did the masonry wall out to in and the stucco wall broke?

    • In my mind, I normally try and aim for consistency – orient the partitions in the same manner and describe the assembly in the same manner regardless of the fact it is an exterior vs. an interior wall.

  • Tim

    As an architect myself and involved heavily in the construction side of the industry, I’m frustrated that they spend too much time making thier drawings look pretty as opposed to constructible. The notion that the artistic craft depicts where thier priorities lie is concerning, and so true. Enough with detailing the hell out of assemblies that will inevitably be redesigned and submitted on by subcontractors. You’re wasting your time and your clients money. Seriously, it’s embarrassing some of the mistakes that are made in the effort to make drawings look good. This isn’t to say there’s not a time and a place for this artistic application at all.

    • Who says you can’t have both? Good drawings and not knowing how to detail don’t really have anything to do with one another and I think it’s a stretch to suggest that there is so much time dedicated to the graphics that it is taking away from the time spent learning to properly detail.

      I can’t really argue with you that there is time spent trying to detail out some assembly that will only be reworked by the responsible subcontractor. In my experience, there are times when the architect doesn’t detail the bejeebers out of a detail only to have a change order submitted and then find themselves in an indefensible position. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

  • Ross Millaney

    Hi Bob,

    Thank you very much for these posts on graphics. They’ve been a great read. I’m also setting up our practice’s Revit lineweights and must admit I’ve spent a lot of time studying these posts and analysing your drawings, they’re the best example out their!

    Maybe it’s beyond the technical scope of this article but if you don’t mind please could you give me some pointers here (I’m trying to match the contrast you’ve achieve)

    Do you simply set up 5 Revit lineweights?

    ie @ 1:100 or 1/8″:1′:
    1. Hatch = .05mm // .002″ (all hatches projected and cut)

    2. Light = .05mm // .002″ (all projected lineweights and annotations)

    3. Medium = .15mm // .006″ (all cut non-architecture, furniture etc)

    4. Heavy = .25mm // .01″ (all cut hosted elements, windows, doors etc)

    5. Wide = .35mm // .014″ (all cut Hosting elements, walls, roofs etc)

    Many thanks,


    • Jason Altman

      I too am interested in the process that you went through. This seems to be an ongoing thing with Revit, and just when you think you have found a good path you come across an article like this and it totally changes your perspective. Thank you Bob for this. Great article

    • Dennis O’Kelly

      Would also be curious as to how you setup your linetypes and lineweights. If you ned up writing another one of these.

      Love these articles, very much appreciated!

  • Arturo Escalona Escobar


    • Arturo Salazar

      La fuente(letra) que usa es architxt.ttf

  • Anna Eisbar

    Graphically what i do diferently is not make a bold general outline but draw in bold the most important structural elements, and in lighter the lesser important ones.
    For bathroom plans i use extremely stylised fixture drawings because i don’t want to change the drawing if the fixture changes ๐Ÿ™‚
    For detail drawings i try always to group the annotations and make only vertical or horizontal aarrow lines, never diagonally as this makes the whole drawing too busy.
    I also make sure every separate element is clearly visible for itself. On some of your drawings it’s hard to know where exactly the waterproof sheet ends, for example.
    Otherwise….. why put the vapor barrier on the cold side of the insulation? Someone likes condensation water ? ๐Ÿ™‚

    • mjuttech

      FYI-In hot climates the vapor barrier goes to the cold side of the insulation.

  • Wildlobo71

    Great comments, I agree with many, have own opinions (disagreements) about others. Our office calls the bold profile lines around elements “shrink wrap”. I also agree with leave section information out of elevations (such as the profile line around the millwork, but show nothing of it) and vice-versa, don’t elevate past the section cut unless it’s something directly relating to the section cut (a relationship, or something…)

    One thing I do differently is I don’t include exterior walls in a partition schedule. They will be elevated and detailed in a wall section, typically. Partitions, in my mind, are interior only – and are put together by one trade, whereas an exterior wall is several trades. Just one peccadillo.

    • Hadn’t ever really thought about the exterior wall section marker like you explained – makes perfect sense. That would be an easy thing to do considering how through our drawings are but some might not cut as many sections – maybe just the minimum and it would be easier to key the remaining exterior wall types.

      good comment

  • Great illustrations, Bob. You and I come from the same school/age of thinking on just about everything. Although I’m with the poster below on fonts.

    I’d be curious to hear your opinion on the “fractions” discussion some time. You know… modules, centerlines vs edge (property) lines, material vs order, drawing ceiling grid widths, corner bead swellings, masonry unit plus joint, etc. I think it is a larger conversation about what architects really do, expression and meaning beyond simple technique.

  • joggle

    just a couple of cold bridges in them details!

  • Xiaosheng Wu

    Hi bob
    Your post is great, and I start writing my own blog because of that.

    So… What do you think is the most important element in a student’s portfolio?


  • Eric Whiting

    Great post – Having started with hand drawing all my CD’s back in the
    80’s, I also appreciate your letter choice and attention to line
    weights. Great looking drawings, and very readable, but of course I have
    a couple comments.

    1. I agree with other folks that BIM, such as
    Revit have improved a lot of this and made it automatic….and I like
    curved leaders too if organized appropriately.

    2. This is a big
    one: I rarely ever dimension to finishes on plans, or to wall centers.
    This is because of order of operations. Example: contractors put the
    studs up first, so having those dimensions constant across one string
    (outside to left face of studs all the way through, then outside face)
    makes it easy for him to lay out in field with what is there at the time
    of construction.

    The other reason for avoiding dimensions to
    finishes is because of their often variable nature…stucco, clapboard,
    board and batten, etc….all these finishes have varying thickness so
    giving a dimension to the nearest 1/8″ has little or no value.

    Unless there are specific “CLR” ….sorry, “clear” dimensions necessary
    to maintain, and requires specific attention from the contractor to
    verify in the field, I’d rather not leave the math with a fat pencil on
    plywood to a minimum.

    Thanks for posting!

    • agree with you on all points – we are starting to discuss how we dimension a bit differently her in the office. Now that we are using Revit, I don’t know why we can’t just as easily dimension to the face to the structural wall just as easily.

  • Kurt Flechtner

    This is a very nice illustrated essay. I have struggled similarly to translate the intuitive information present in a hand drawing to the CAD environment. I didn’t always come to the same solutions you did, but I sure understand the process you have been enduring.

    A few years ago, while redlining a set of drawings, I came upon the word “CITY” abbreviated as “CTY.” After remarking “WTF” to myself, I decided to start looking into abbreviations, and the decided the generic abbreviation list on the cover sheet had gotten way out hand. I realized that in the computer environment, abbreviations served very little purpose and set out to eliminate them. “STL” for “STEEL”? “CT” for “CERAMIC TILE”, except when it’s “CER TILE”? I managed to pare down the list to a handful of useful abbreviations and banned the rest. I throw that idea out if you find yourself in the need of another dragon to slay.

    Thanks for the blog, I enjoy the thoughtful posts and equally thoughtful comments they elicit.

    • I am right there with you on the abbreviations – few people I know actually look at that list and while I can appreciate having a list that tells people how words are to be abbreviated, you can always just not abbreviate the word … coordination issue resolved.

  • Kiodour

    Splendid post once more @bobborson:disqus ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Clay G.

    Great job again Bob. I Learn something new every time. I am a digital draftsmen that has usually worked for strictly analog Architects and Designers. So information like this that helps me hone my craft and narrow the gap is always appreciated. I have a couple questions for you and your informed readers if you don’t mind. With 3d programs and visuals becoming the standard, and drawings being viewed digitally a lot more than printed, how has your standards changed? How do you view material textures vs symbolic hatches in architectural elevations and plans? Do you think 2d or 3d details convey the message better than the other? Do you think color has a place in construction documents? These are a few things that seem to come up quite frequently when trying to remain current, and effective. Looking forward to the next project update.

    • Hi Clay,

      My quick thoughts are:

      1. Just now getting into 3D drawings so I don’t have a position formulated

      2. I still prefer symbolic textures in sections but don’t see a problem with material representations on elevations

      3. 3D seems to have certain obvious strengths in explaining a detail so I think that using BIM software will increase the opportunity to show 3D drawings

  • Charles Theobald

    Agree on everything EXCEPT…
    Straight leaders do not differentiate with the “straightness” our buildings…curved leaders against straight lines allow you to see the notes from the materials! Feel the Chisel!

    • The issue I have with curved leaders is that they are frequently abused by over-enthusiastic associates and more times than not, they become a visual assault on my eyeballs. If there was some way to codify how a person should use curved leaders, I would probably reassess my position.

      • Charles Theobald

        …or theirs…

      • Kelsey Kruse

        Agree. Was once forced to use curved leaders on an ongoing set of drawings and eventually got used to them in their context. But they were splines and were a pain to keep simple.

  • Kiran Nayak

    Thank you for this, Bob. I found this immensely helpful! I’m looking forward to seeing more of your drawings.

  • Mark Mc Swain

    Ah, if only more in our trade cleaved to these sorts of standards. Sadly, I’ve almost given up hope that the bulk of “drafters” in the residential side of things would understand the necessity, let alone the efficasy.

  • Mark

    Love the post, learnt a few new things. Thanks
    I was taught very early that drawings should be considered a work of art
    as well as being informative and have taken great pride in producing drawings
    I am proud to put my name to.
    I would love to see how you go about setting out your sheets.

    • we’ll see … I don’t want to whip people with too many posts on a single topic. However, it seems that there are many people interested in sheet layouts.

      • Jason Altman

        I think these topics are great, because they keep us conscious of what we are actually drawing. I would love to see more posts about graphic standards.

  • Kelsey Kruse

    Very nice post as was the last. I am a wee bit older than you but have obsessed about drawings from pencil on Mylar in the late 70s into AutoCAD in the early 90s. Now am starting to work in Revit and -wow – what a challenge. Any tricks from your sources are much appreciated.
    My only comment on the graphics above (here comes my obsessiveness), leaders from notes should come from the middle of the top line when originating from the top left of the note, or the middle of the bottom line when from the right. Like you, I prefer straight line leaders, but I try to avoid dead horizontal leaders, they often can look like a line in the architecture, so straight then break up or down. My two cents. But great stuff!

    • solid comments – I hadn’t ever thought about where the leader should originate when from the right.

      I can also appreciate the dead horizontal leaders … no argument from me there either

      • Kerry Hogue

        correct. leaders from the first word if to the left, and last word if to the right. now an issue we has is that Revit will not allow proper drafting convention. What I have been told. I do not know first hand as I have been promoted past drafting. Dang, i used to love that stuff.

  • Emanuel Avila


  • gayle pickering

    Nice Drawings. Great Post. When i started in the field (1980!) I was lucky enough to work for a firm that prided themselves on great drawings. They taught me to draw details by hand which I still love to do, but have moved on to using the same graphic elements in my CAD drawings. You are right, a good set of detailed drawings is an art and making things clean and easy to read is a big part of it. (as well as getting the details worked out correctly.. ๐Ÿ™‚ Thanks for a great post.

    • Thanks for sharing Gayle – my first real job was in 1989 as a summer intern for a architectural firm (2 people) and both gentlemen had fantastic pencil skills. It might have been the first moment when I realized how amazing informative drawings could actually look.


  • David Bourbon

    You CAN teach an old dog new tricks. Don’t know why I never thought of sloping the shower ceiling! Didn’t see sill pan flashing in your window details!?

    Clean, simple, descriptive details notable for what they omit as well as include. Kudos.

    • What do you mean – there’s pan flashing in my detail (maybe it’s not reading at this scale … the irony)

      We started slightly sloping the shower ceiling once we detailed a steam shower, after that, it just seemed to make sense.

      Cheers – and thanks for the comment

      • davidbourbon

        Sorry. I was referring to the end dams. I just didn’t see them. I like your composition of details and focusing on the key elements.

  • Amy Browne-Minden


    Great post… I am currently working in a small firm that concentrates on commercial work (almost no residential) and am tasked with the first Revit project in our firm. I am a currently trying to make my boss’ graphic standards come to life in Revit and its challenging to say the least!

    Your drawings are very well done and I truly appreciate them as does your GC, I’m sure. Cheers and thanks for this post.. its nice to know I’m not the only one… on either side of the equation!

    • we are both just drops in a sea of people working on getting their graphics right. Architects are many things, pride being one of them

  • J Peter

    I first started learning about CAD in more than 30 years ago and produced my first CAD construction documents in 1985. I first started to learn to letter 50 years ago (in high school) and got pretty good at it (I still am), but I do recognize that CAD is a very different medium than 1000H or polyester film (or even linen). More and more, scale is irrelevant as more and more stuff is published digitally, and more and more, we should be concentrating on legibility across the variety of sizes in which our documents get published. The “hand drafted font” was developed to be legible at the size it was generated at as an alternative to template letters or Leroy (do you know Leroy?). My experience is that legibility begins to be compromized in halfsize reproduction (of course depends on what scale the “original” is in). It is even worse when the operator thinks it is better to do C&LC (a real corruption of the original intent). Arial (or Helvetica) is an very legible font which holds up well under reproduction at verious “scales” and I would prefer it to a seriph font.
    To use the hand font (or a wobbly pen plotter driver) is to cling to the idea that our profession can be defined and evaluated better by how well we draw than the quality of what we draw. Make not mistake, there is a link, but the quality of our drawings should enable us to see the virtual realities that we are modeling in our drawings better.

    • That is a fantastic comment – cheers to you. You might have made the best argument out there as to why the chisel fonts should go away.

      PS – I do know, and have actually used a Leroy lettering set. I think they are considered “vintage” on eBay

  • Jim

    Bob, those look just like the details we produced by hand in school and when we started in the biz in the age of the dinosaurs. We used a T-square and a triangle to produce the verticals in our fonts so that they were vertical. We also used lettering templates.
    Many of my classmates from that age can still letter that way and can detail with the best computer you can find. Those classmates went on to run some of the great firms like CRS, HOK, Gensler, Perkins and Will, PSP and a few lesser know firms. For those folks who still detail by hand, Frank the Architect is a good font that works in Word as well. You might also recommend Building Construction Illustrated by Ching for anyone who was to see more. My copy is still on the shelf above my desk even though I have not done a drawing in more years that most of your readers have been around. Thanks for carrying on the traditions.

    • Thanks Jim,

      I remember all those hand lettering exercises … ouch (cramped hand). Every week we had to turn in a 24″x36″ sheet of lettering to our freshman graphics TA until he was convinced you had mastered the technique. Some people got through it faster than others, I think I was somewhere in the middle.

      I also have the Ching book (all of them I think) and they sit on the shelf in my work space as well – Ching is how I learned the proper way to create profile lines. That guy should wins Gold Medal considering the number of architects he single handedly shaped through his books.

  • Joakin Perez

    Hello & good morning Bob, great obsetvations, nedless to say drawings look way sharper this way, what kind of font do you use by the way, I’ve been lookig for it all over the place.

    • Thanks – I appreciate that.

      The font is “Architxt”

  • Boggs

    Bob, thanks for the tutorial for dimensioning. It is amazing to me how many people working in an architecture firm do not know how to properly notate a drawing. I learned the fundamentals of drafting in high school and recommend that everyone take a class in it sometime during there education.

    • I have been thinking about putting together a proper tutorial on dimensioning. The issue has come up a few times in my current office from the younger interns and I might be able to share what I put together for them.

      • Mojo

        Bob, I have a dimensioning lunch ‘n learn session that I composed (Powerpoint) for my previous employer. I’d be happy to present to your staff, if you’re interested.

  • Bryce Engstrom

    Very nice details Bob. I particularly like the greyed fill patterns. But, I can’t resist a Beavis-esque comment- “He-heh, he said line of garde, he-heh”. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    • Glad to hear you liked the greyed fill patterns … and as far as “garde” goes, are you sure? I mean, it’s not like I have the ability to fix something like that ๐Ÿ˜‰


  • patrick barry

    Always enjoy your posts, almost always “learn” something new from you, even though we’re about the same age (I’m a “little” older!); I do, however, and will continue to dimensions walls to the centerline of stud just like Ching and Wiley taught me years ago!
    PS- I use MR HAND (chisel) font in Archicad (residential)…
    Take care,

    • I’ve only known a few people who have dimensions to the center of walls – and I will freely acknowledge that dimensioning this way would probably make things considerably easier on the framer. In the regard, wouldn’t dimensioning to the face of the stud be that much easier for the framer?

      • Bryce Engstrom

        Having spent many years framing, yes, PLEASE always dimension to face of stud. Thank you.

      • 03306028

        I prefer the term “seasoned.” ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • MarvinOne

    Bob – I graduated in 2006 and didn’t really get any drawing standards such as these taught during school. I rely on the professionals I’ve worked for to teach me. But unfortunately, that hasn’t always happened. Most of them don’t think about them as detailed as you and therefore, that’s how I approach it. You’re doing a great job teaching by going over these items and making me rethink how I’ve been drawing. I know enough to have a couple of minor things different than you, and know that’s ok! But you’ve got some really good points to at least take in to consideration. Thanks again.

    • Don’t worry – I didn’t learn them in school either (better things to learn in school). Most of these are pieces I’ve picked up along the way from different people and from looking at old architectural drawings (which I love to do).

      Thanks for the kind words and the comment

  • Kerry Hogue

    you have hit the nail on the head with your standards. some of the things we do (we don’t normally do sticks and bricks) a bit different of course, and the rules you established are just good basic drafting 101.

    • Thanks Kerry – this is the mostly the way I was taught years ago when I graduated rom college and we hand-drafted. While I think we are better off working electronically now, I still miss the way my drawings used to look when I had drawn them and I think all my efforts here are to graphically get as close as possible to create that same level of graphics.