Graphic Standards

Bob Borson —  October 21, 2013 — 109 Comments

How an architect draws is a reflection of many things – you can frequently tell the priorities of a firm just by looking at the quality of their drawings. I didn’t say the content of their drawings – and this isn’t just semantics – it speaks to the culture of the firm. For the purposes of today’s article, I am going to assume that all architectural drawings are correct and serve their purpose of conveying intent, scope and quantity.

But that’s not really the entire story is it?

modern stair construction drawing and detail

When I graduated from architecture school in 199[mumble-mumble], computers were not that prevalent. Some of the larger production commercial firms had the resources to buy “CAD Stations” and dedicate substantial office space to server rooms complete with NASA-looking tape storage systems, but most firms were still drawing things by hand. This was where I really learned how to draw but before you old folks say “that’s right!” and you younger folks look at this as old-timers syndrome, I’m not saying that we drew better, I’m just saying it was different. I used 3 or 4  different lead holders with leads of varying degrees of hard/soft to them. I consciously endeavored to add profile lines, hatching, foreground and background indicators in place. You could look at the hand drawn construction drawings and frequently tell who had drawn what sheets and what details. It was art to me … I thought these drawings were beautiful and I didn’t want other people working on my sheets, adding their sloppy pencil work to the magic I had created. It was a big deal to me 20 years ago and even though we don’t draw by hand any more, it’s still a big deal to me.

Bridge Wall Section - construction drawing

Ever since I left the last big firm I worked for (RTKL 97-98), every office I have worked for, I’ve changed the graphic standards in that office. Every. Single. One. May not seem like a big deal to you but I’m in my 5th office since that time. In fact, the firm where I currently work as a principal is one of those 5 offices (I worked there 2001 – 2003) and I put the drafting standards in place then … and now that we are in Revit, I am once again making changes. Your first assumption might be that I can’t hold down a job – observant but not true. Your second assumption might be that I am some technically minded CAD jockey … zzzzzzttt!! Wrong again. I make the changes where I go because I make it a point to care about how our drawings are perceived by the people who read them. Not only do properly delineated drawings read better, they convey a sense of what it took to create them.

KHouse Modern Graphic Standards Starting Point

Click to Enlarge

Since moving over to my “new” old firm, we have started to make adjustments to the standards that they were using in Revit. As I asked more and more questions, I discovered that most of what was in place was simply the standards that came out of the box as provided by Revit. As a result, we have been going piece by piece (at times) through the drawings and evaluating how the drawings look and if they convey the information we are striving for … do they look hand drawn?

Of course not, but that’s the graphic bar we are reaching for. This is all about the pen weight and graphic semantics –

Does it make sense?

Is it intuitive?

Can you tell what is being cut through?

What’s closer and what’s further away?

Can you tell a center line from a section line?

Is this a setback line or a property line?

The list goes on and on and if you used what came right out of the box, you might be factually correct but there’s no office culture conveyed in the drawings. This means making custom graphic keys … it might be a giant pain but it’s worth the time and energy.

The drawing shown in the image above was slightly beyond out of the box – I didn’t decide to document this process until we had already made some changes. You can see that the pen weight isn’t very good, the graphic drawing keys are too light and in some cases, it’s almost like they don’t exist.

KHouse Modern Graphic Standards Floor Plan

click to enlarge

The above graphic is the next iteration of standards – not quite there but significantly further along in its development. Pen weights are falling into place, fonts sizes are hierarchically appropriate, the balance of light and dark coming into balance. One side effect to having the graphics and pen weights in balance, is that you can incorporate more information into a single drawing and still have the document be legible

KHouse Modern Graphic Standards Reflected Ceiling Plan

click to enlarge

We are still working on designing the symbols we are using in our reflected ceiling plans. Wherever possible, we use a symbol that is the actual light fixture being used (although there is a down side to doing that should the fixture type get changed). The logic behind showing the actual fixture is to coordinate the other items that might be in close proximity – particularly useful when there are fans and sconces involved.

Sometimes people get moving so fast that they fail to think about which way the doors is swinging and as a result, we like to show doors swings in our reflected ceiling plans. This is another level of coordination to doors don’t cover light switches or hit wall sconces.

There is also the matter of how we draw our walls. New construction – which is the entirety of the images I have shown today – are shown hatched and shaded. For exterior walls, we shade the interior stud cavity, leave the air space empty, and hatch the exterior masonry.

We also like to dimension to the finished face of the walls rather than the face of the stud or the centerline of the stud. I have seen all three at various stages of my career but everywhere I’ve ever worked has dimensioned to the finished face. I can understand that you would dimension to the face or centerline of the stud for the benefit of the framers, but since so much of what we design to is the interior face clear dimension, we don’t dimension to the stud.

FInally – because I get asked about it ALL THE TIME … the fonts we use for our drawings are architect.shx for the majority of our text and archititl.shx for our drawing titles. All of our text is generally scaled so that it plots out at 3/32″ tall – the only exception is equipment labels (sized slightly smaller) and room names (sized slightly larger).

Working on the graphic standards is always a lengthy process of trial and error. In most cases it not’s just about the output of the drafting software, it’s also about how you draw the things that convey the information. Depending on how this post is received, I might prepare some follow up posts where I’ll focus in on some specific items (symbols, legends, title sheets, etc.). If this is of some interest, please let me know what sort of information you might like me to show.


Bob Borson signature

even better

  • Heidi

    Just beautiful drawings. I too way back in the day drew artistic and by hand in both pen and ink and in pencil. I still love pencils. However I bought a new designjet t120 plotter and upgraded to autocad 2014 and would love to have my cad drawings look as great as yours. Now if you have gone to all this work to create the pen assignments I was wondering if you would be willing to sell the file. Yes it would be so worth it to many to have a nice file to start with then to put the hours into it. I am semi retire and wish to use more time designing than setting up CAD. Is that a possibility? Love love your drawing as they are thought out the old artistic way of great presentation. Thank you very much for sharing!! Yes please sell me your pen files:-).Heidi

  • John Keiser

    The artistry of cad should reflect the artistry of hand drawn to the point that it can. Kudos for making that attempt. But it’s a shame the construction companies don’t care…they just want relevant information.

  • Henry Castro

    Hey Bob..Sir. Great article, its a big help as I try to bring clarity and standards to my work. I want to ask you: What’s the difference between Arch.Details and Construction Details..are they use interchangeably (vs. Structural Details)?

    • Bob Borson

      In my mind there is little difference. Someone could probably successfully argue that architectural details show intent and that construction details (which in this case would be shop drawings) show a much higher level of detail.

      This might be true when designing some really intrinsic, large scale projects but for most of our projects, I develop all the construction details as part of my set with just a few items supplemented by shop drawings.

  • fran

    Thanks for your article, Bob. I love your style.
    I am a fan of the architectural font and always have been. I now work in a large A/E firm and even though the architects set the graphic standards, it has been agreed upon that we use Arial for our text so the architectural and engineering sheets look the same. The engineers will not use the architectural font.
    Do you have an opinion on that? Is it better for the drawing sheets to look the same?

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  • NO NO NO

    maybe a entirely book

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  • Jason Tyler

    Good article. Nice of you to do in your “free” time. I wasn’t examining for grammar errors but found one. When you say “their disgusting” talking about the arrows.

  • JL Abrego

    What is the font in your drawings? Looks GREAT!

    • JL Abrego


    • Bob Borson

      Thanks – it’s architxt.ttf

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  • Andres Erazo

    Bob, I wanted to ask you: What is a good book to keep on my desk as a reference for graphic standards? Is there an option to graphic standards by Ramsey. I hear the 11th edition is useless

    • Bob Borson

      I don’t know – I have many books laying about my space and whenever they include drawings I seem to try and internalize how they look to see if it might be applicable to what I’m doing. Most of my drawing technique was formed by Francis Ching’s books and the ‘Art of Star Wars’ books (seriously- they are beautiful and full of amazing drawings)

  • christianfekete

    Great topic for discussion. I have always been very interested in the quality architecture drawings and renderings. I agree with Bob that hand drawing was an art and that you could tell who drew it (what about the time it took though and the corrections with the shaving blade!). Now they all look the same and you can;t tell if the information is well organized anymore. I think the computer made things worse. Line weights and writing quality is dull. Even perspectives are flat unless the architect really cares. I especially do not like the pseudo hand writing from Autocad. I’d rather read an Helvetica font or REAL hand writing. As far as section lines etc I find it difficult to tell on a screen what the end product will be. I guess I miss the .25, .35, .18 hand drawings.. Nostalgia

  • Karon

    I too started with mylar and plastic lead and drawings were a work of art, you would always admire someones printing and line weights

    With todays changing ecomony and everyone trying to out bid each other for jobs we also have to focus on the bottom dollar and how to get a set of drawings done that yes look good and contain all the required info. to build. With modern technolgy and the use of various computer programs that aren’t always so user friendly when it comes to making drawing graphically appealing, it can make that part of the job very time comsuming.

    It would be nice to use the architecural font for drawings but it is a memory hog sim. to arial font when at least used in autocadd. Maybe for small jobs it works but for larger jobs it slows you down. Same with certain hatch patterns. If you took into consideration how much time it takes per day to regenerate and save a drawing in whatever computer program you are using you might be surprised to see how much time that it takes and if you have a slower computer it makes it even worse. I know if I am setting in front of my computer waiting for something to redisplay I am not a happy camper. Also today issuing out paper is slowly going by the way side and eveyone is asking for a PDF version or some other from of computer file, so this brings a whole new side to graphic standards.

    I guess what I am trying to say is yes graphic standards are a very imporant part of drawings but it is finding the right balance to what works to get the information across to the contractor, what looks good and getting a job done on time

  • Rob Kuhn

    I’ve been preaching this for most of my professional career, and I started my career around the same time. The thing that drives me bug-nutty crazy is when firms hatch the _existing_ walls AND the new walls. This makes new work all but indiscernible from the existing conditions, and removes all hierarchy from the first few drawings in & therefore the entire set.

    I also use rather old SHX files for my fonts, but am close to changing to TTF files for the majority of text on my drawings. I really should switch, as I have found suitable replacements & it (probably) won’t have that much of an impact on my daily drafting.

    Perhaps that will be a New Year’s resolution. :-)

    • Rob Kuhn

      Also? Window tags _in plan??_ For shame, Bob. Those go on the exterior elevations. :-)

      • Bob Borson

        no way -

      • John Keiser

        I disagree…they need to be in both places. I now work for a window company and you can’t believe the architectural drawings we’re given for shop drawing take-offs. Especially when they don’t elevate every window wall. Worse when they only send plans and elevations and expect us to scale window sizes. I”ve worked over 25 years in architectural offices and these are firms claiming AIA affiliation.

  • Kane DuPont

    I really enjoyed reading this article. I found a whole new appreciation for manual drafting and line weights in the last year of my undergrad (Construction Managment). Going into the class I thought it was ridiculous that we were stepping backwards. At this point I had several years of Cad experience from high school and several years in college with some 3D modeling mixed in. I was even trying to learn about BIM as it was going to be the next big thing. Haha. My instructor was pretty hardcore and intense, but it paid off. By the end of the semester my drafting and penmanship was light years from where I began. I still enjoy getting out my lead holders and tools to sketch new product ideas.

    Also, I would love to see more project photos on Instagram if possible.


    • Bob Borson


      As soon as I start managing a project under construction, I’ll definitely post more construction photos. All my jobs are currently in SD, DD, or CD – since I changed jobs, I reset my workload path.

  • Chris Carrigan

    I’m in the process of reworking our graphic standards. This is my third update of the standards and found your post inspiring. In your second floor plan image, you mention making the window tags non-directional. What do you mean by that?

    Also, what is your take on elevation tags used in section and elevations. I noticed that your tags extend to the item being identified in section. Do you do the same for the elevation? We have been dimensioning the tags rather than listing the elevation, which eliminates the field math. I have also been battling a trend in our office that incorrectly puts the elevation tag to the inside [toward the drawing] rather than the outside as you show it.

    • Bob Borson

      non directional simply means a shape (like a circle) that does not need to be rotated based on its orientation to the plan (like a rectangle).

      The tags we use in section (building and wall) extend to show the location where the section is taken – elevation tags fit on the page wherever we can place them. I don’t understand your comment on dimensioning tags …

  • Hanan Mamdouh

    i want to ask if there is a refrence to bild a graphic standards for my firm, i am latly upgraded to be the section head and need to leave my touch

  • Bob

    I’m here to defend the hand drawn looking fonts. I like them. I understand a lot of firms use Arial, which isn’t bad, but the ones that use Romans…that I don’t understand. It’s one of the worst when it prints. I do work for Disney in Orlando and their standard is Simplex. That was a surprise coming from such a creative entity.

    • Robert Moore

      I will also defend the hand drawn looking font. It says REAL ARCHITECT. FLW would cry to see arial.

    • Rob Kuhn

      We spend so much time making our CAD drawings look like they were hand-drawn, that not an architectural font is a bit of a waste of time.

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  • Norman Alston

    My approach is much the same as yours….except for one thing. I do not understand and have NEVER understood the fascination of using electronic fonts that look like hand drawn. That, to me, is……insincere. Out of context. Disingenuous. Even if it does look better. My choice is Arial MT Condensed, aka “sucky”, just a little narrower.

    • Bob Borson

      while I suppose if you’re going to go with “sucky”, narrow is best.

      I suppose all the chisel font fans out there are on other sites because nobody seems to be defending me :(

      • Ted

        I too stand behind the hand font… always have and always will… architxt is my favorite.

  • Chedin

    Perhaps my favorite drawing is the one in which the text aligns. (I believe your second image.) I abhor drawings like the first one with text everywhere around the drawings! They look sloppy and tell me someone did not put enough thought or time in to their work and therefore I assume I will find mistakes abound.
    I was working on Revit trying to get the line weights and standards set up for my last project and it was a struggle. We never did get it as good as we wanted.
    Good luck with your endeavors!

    • Bob Borson

      We typically align notes in details, wall sections, elevations, etc. but not on plans. The notes are typically all over the place because the house is all over the place and the idea of having a leader line that stretches across half the house just so it can be aligned seems like a bad idea. Long leader lines seem to accidentally turn into construction lines.

      • Rob Kuhn

        Actually, I am a big fan of long leader & dimension lines. You will clear the drawing content for hatches & placing room room names, wall tage, equipment tags, etc.

  • Colin Brown

    Bob. Great article as per usual. A article on layer management would be useful. Be interesting to see how others set up their layers. Just a thought. Your blog is the now part of my daily digest.

  • nbc

    To whom do you bill the time spend on this never ending endeavor?

    • Bob Borson

      to “personal growth, satisfaction and development”

      He’s terrible at paying his bill

      • nbc

        I’ve never seen a principal drive office graphic standards outside of a 1 or 2 person shop. Their time is too valuable. Usually it’s the “new guy” with 2-5 years of experience looking for a way put his fingerprints on a firm. Then when he leaves in a few years, someone else is hired and does the same thing . . .

        Try tracking time spent “fixing” CAD standards in your office. It will make you cry if you and all your people are honest about it. A mentor of mine once told me, “Reinvent the wheel on your own time.”

        • Bob Borson

          I track all my time on all things – I spent more time writing this post than I have giving the folks working on the graphic standards direction.

          As long as my time is at least 50% billable, I am in the clear to pursue any endeavor I choose: blogging, charity, AIA volunteer – whatever contents my heart.

          • Robert Moore

            I thought the “Donate” button on the right paid for this endeavor. Maybe it should cost $10 to comment.

          • Bob Borson

            It’s the loneliest button on this site – I should probably remove the coding

  • Erik

    Bob, a new favorite post of yours for me right here.
    I can appreciate the time and effort that it takes to make drawings look exceptional. Quickly drawn plans with no thought to clarity are ugly and confusing to the trades. It does require a consistent set of rules to make everything legible and clean. Thanks for the time it took to put this together and for all the great details shown in the post.

    • Bob Borson

      My pleasure – I am trying to assemble a “Part 2″ to address some of the items I didn’t cover. These sorts of posts take lone to put together because they get scrutinized at an ungodly level.

  • Mark Mc Swain

    Ah, Graphic Standards. So elegant, so simple–what should it look like? What it would look like in real life. Only with complications, loke those Dimensions being on their own Layer, and that Red layer color stands out just fine on a screen–just not so much on a print.
    While on the topic of dimensions, my prefere3nce has been, and remains, to dimension correctly. If framing dimensions are meant, then none of this “4” ” wall business–it’s 3 1/2 pr 3 5/8, you have to choose. Further, no dimensioning to “imaginary” things–like a centerline of a non-removed wall in renovation work.
    Really, it takes no ,more time to do these things correctly; but it takes rather a large amout of time to correct if done wrongly.

  • Mhicheil

    Thanks for sharing. I miss drafting on the board and getting graphite on my light colored clothes. So maybe there is a plus to CAD related drawings. The ball really falls when the structural engineer gets the CAD file from the architect and they just scrub items and add “stuff.” Maybe it is the lack of having an artistic bone within. I should know, I am a structural engineer. When I have done my share of drafting I have tried to spruce things up, but they layers of info for those involved and nothing more.

  • Dru Schwyhart

    Thanks for sharing again Bob–another informative post that isn’t afraid to “get into the weeds” of the process!!

    So, speaking on new walls versus existing…maybe you could help us settle a bet within our office. ; ] how do you like to indicate your existing walls if the new ones are solid fill? Our Interiors department loves to have all “existing” walls depicted as solid black or solid gray fill, but most of the architectural staff believes this makes the existing conditions look too bold and therefore mistakenly important or part of our scope [which it might not be].

    I personally like the diagonal hatch for existing and solid for new, but then again most of my projects are either ground-up new builds or involve new exterior walls. There is a big debate in our office about what is the “correct” approach, but we are finding more often that it varies on the type of job or scope.

    • Bob Borson

      We leave existing construction as un-hatched and new construction as hatched. We don’t want the existing stuff to be visually more dominate than the new stuff.

      There has been some internal conversations that existing work be slightly “ghosted” to further increase the clarity that it is either “existing” or “not in scope”.

      • Jason Wagner

        My $0.02. I love the look of ghosted existing conditions on a remodel or reno project. it helps keep the remainder of the new work from competing with what is going on in the existing conditions. I have worked with many firms that insist on infilling all the existing walls solid. I could care less either way as long as its ghosted IMO. Big thick black walls look great in parti diagrams. not so much on construction documents.

        • Rob Kuhn

          This is a great idea – especially since I usually issue a couple of existing conditions sheets at the front of the set. “Ghosting” these on the CD’s would be quite easy.

          I would also suggest putting people to death when they start hatching existing & new construction. :-)

  • Pedro

    Fantastic post. Any chance of you posting a process of the settings you’re changing in REVIT? Do you save these to a default template you start every job as?

    • Bob Borson

      We’ll see. Since I am not the one actually making the changes (I design and direct the changes to be made) I may or may not do such a practical post.

      Yes, every time we make a revision, it gets saved as the default so that all drawings start off with the latest standards up to date in the system.

  • Josey Shaw

    Hi Bob. I’ve been reading your blog for about a year now and I really enjoy it. I just started grad school at Wash U in St. Louis and all throughout my undergrad I have drawn everything by hand. I have made it a goal for myself to become proficient with computer drafting…so I can be more useful to any future employers. I currently TA drawing I for undergrad freshmen and I find myself defending drawing all the time to other students, colleagues and even some former professors. I often reread the posts you have written regarding sketching, drafting, etc.

    Ironically I have hand drawn so far for my studio work in grad school (and been encouraged), but I’m happy to say I have a digital model and I enjoy experimenting with different rendering ideas too. As a student, I find it enjoyable at a review to see a nice combination of digital and analog media. I think a lot of discussion comes from the analog stuff.

    • Bob Borson

      if nothing else, even if people disagree, or they are coming at a topic without specific practical knowledge, the analog can be a jumping off point for some dialog. In the end, everyone has to set their own bar and standards.

  • rap31264 .

    I’m just like you and so is my employer. He takes pride of the drawings that go out of his office since his name is on them. When I first got here 25 years ago, he told me 3 things how to “draw”.

    1. Clarity….Don’t draw objects all over each other. Make sure the drawings could be read.

    2. Consistency…Whatever you do on one sheet, do it on the others. Lineweights, spelling, etc.

    3. The amount of information needed in a set of plans. He told me to draw how much information that I would need to build whatever we were designing. If I couldn’t understand how to build it, someone else wouldn’t either.

    • Bob Borson

      Those are all spot on directions. Sometimes to make my point (and possibly because I am a jerk) when talking to a younger associate, I will close my eyes, wave my index finger in a circle over my head and then bring it down on the drawings. I then open my eyes, look at where my finger is and ask the associate “what am I pointing at? If it isn’t labeled, how would the contractor know what it is?”

      • Liz O’Sullivan

        “How would the contractor know what it is?” is the most important question!

        The end user of our work is the contractor.

        I think that question should be up there with “Does it make sense?” and “Is it intuitive?”

        • Bob Borson

          yes – the contractor is our friend and should be considered when the drawings are being prepared

  • mgb1arch

    Great topic, Bob. Like you, I cannot stress the importance of good graphics enough. In my experience, with every change in design/drafting technology comes a new round of challenges to maintaining high graphic standards. Sometimes the challenges belong to the technology and sometimes to the humans using the technology. I am in the process of moving to Revit as well and some of the unchangeable items really make my face hurt, but this is hardly unique. My first summer job in an architect’s office was in ’84 where the firm had recently moved from vellum to overlay drafting. I watched one of the staff architects spend what I considered an insane amount of time testing different ways to poche on mylar. I didn’t get it at the time but I have felt his pain many times since then. By the way, what did you decide on the Revit arrowheads?

    • Bob Borson

      For the Revit arrowheads, right now we changed them to be ‘heavy end 1/8″‘, it was the closest thing I could find to an architectural tag. I custom made the arrowheads at the last few firm, an arrow that had a chisel look to it which I really liked. We have someone on staff who seems to be quite adept at making modifications to the system so when she has a break (every now and then) she spends a few minutes trying to address the latest quirk I have identified.

  • Andrew Cesarz

    Thanks for the interesting read! I’m beginning a studio project which involves generating a set of detail drawings among a small group of people, so establishing a basic set of graphic standards will save a lot of time and headaches when pulling everything together.

    • Bob Borson

      Thanks – have fun with the process!

  • Ann

    I too still love unrolling a set of drawings fresh from the printer for all the reasons you have so elliquently pointed out in your article. I fought against moving to AutoCAD from hand drafting, like you, each sheet was a work of art to me. But, having maintained that aesthic & attention to graphic presentation with my CAD drawings, crisp ink lines, proper lines weights & hatch patterns charm me everytime. While at the printer, I have a hard time not unrolling other architects drawings that are waiting for pick-up to peek at their graphics. If left alone, I always peek.

    • Bob Borson

      I have a good friend who is one of the better residential contractors in town and he and I frequently talk about drawings – specifically what other architects are doing and how their drawings read. He will frequently let me take a look at them.

      It’s amazing that the architects who fall more readily under the label as “designers” frequently have much more beautifully drawn and controlled looking drawings. I don’t think this is an accident.

      • Ann


  • Hatch it

    I’m someone relatively new to the architectural field (specifically architectural technologies). Where would you recommend I look for further reading on this topic? Websites and books especially.

    • Bob Borson

      No ideas – I can’t recall ever seeing something as specific as what we are discussing here today

      • Hatch it

        That seems surprising. An architect I once worked under went to a school with a class specifically focused on graphics standards.

        • nathan

          Ching is still considered somewhat of a standard is he not?

          • Bob Borson

            Ching is definitely the standard in my world but I didn’t think the question was looking for delineation techniques for hand drawing. Maybe I mis-read the question??

          • nathan

            Very good! I guess I spoke before engaging my brain. Or did my brain say Ching because your cad work has managed to soak up some of that style?

  • Bob Swinburne

    My drawings are probably so far from the norm at this point that I couldn’t work for someone else. I started customizing when I was both the designer and the builder trying to read my own drawings. I started using and printing in colors because my drawing sets are not huge and I usually do all the printing myself on my HP500. And nowadays, I send things out in .pdf format. For instance electrical is red, casework is brown. Although I follow fairly traditional standards with regard to line weights. I also use fills and transparencies a lot due to the clarity they can lend to a drawing. For instance a semi transparent plan underlay for the electrical plan. Ariel because it is simple and compact. Much of my drafting training was from the mid-eighties when I did ink and overlay pin registration type drafting for a civil engineering firm.

  • Terry Freitas

    This has been a Pet Peeve of mine for some years. I think the reason that so many CAD drawings don’t look the way we “old timers” (did I just say that?) like them to is that the new CAD Jockeys never had to do much if any hand drafting and thus never experienced the difference between an H4 (basically a nail) and an HB or F lead type. They aren’t as familiar with lineweights as we are and thus don’t see the need for them. Too often I hear “that’s how the software creates it”, but that doesn’t make it right. The drawings need to be Clear to the person reading them, so when there is very little difference in lineweights it make it harder to read the drawing. I just had my annual review and was told that “I tend to put a little too much detail in my drawings, but they look very nice.” I told them “you know how when you pick up an old blueprint ( meaning 1950’s or so) and comment how nice they looked back then, that’s what I want people to say when they see my drawings”. I still follow the office standards, but you can always tell my drawings from the younger staff. You’ve hit on a touchy subject – sure to make for some entertaining comments! FYI, I’ve been using CAD programs since 1984 and have seen a lot of changes – some good, and some not so much!

    • Bob Borson

      I keep wondering with the advancements in CAD that there wouldn’t be a better system designed into the out-of-the-box standards. Now with BIM, it would seem to me that one way to really separate yourself from the herd is to figure out a way to make the application (or the assignment) of line weights a much simpler thing.

      • Terry Freitas

        The problem I’ve found with BIM (we use ArchiCAD) is that now that we’re working with a 3D Model you can view the building from anywhere, so the program doesn’t know how to apply pen weights for the appropriate distance that you are from an object. You’re left with assigning standards to objects, like when an object is cut thru, use XX pen and when viewed in plan use XX pen etc. The result is if its not cut thru it get a standard pen weight – hard to account for all situations. With Elevations for example, the only setting that we can set is anything viewed beyond a certain distance can be a single pen weight, like a light grey for objects beyond say 30 feet away. It helps, but when you have a few jogs in the bldg. you typically have to draw 2D linework over certain portions to make them appear Closer than the others. As soon as you draw 2D linework it sort of negates the BIM model. Now you’ll need to remember to revise those 2D lines if the bldg. changes. Nothing is perfect – its the perception of perfect that we try to create.

  • Ed

    Thanks for the post Bob. I started my career before CAD came along and have always hated the lack of character CAD gives to drawings. If you can find a way for Revit to extend each line beyond a corner intersection the way we did in hand drawing I’d like to hear it. Looking forward to hearing the rest of the story.

  • Cathy S

    thanks, Bob. i loved hand drafting, and still try to bring my CAD drawings up to that standard! i’m looking for your next article on titleblocks. it’s amazing to me that so many of us designers use almost the same titleblock (myself included) – what does your firm do, and how do you break out of the box?

    • Bob Borson

      you’ll just have to wait for that post!

  • Mikheil

    Bob,I’m just curious, what was your preference when you work in AutoCAD to put dimensions and notes in paper space or in model space? I’he done both ways and each has it advantage, what it your opinion. Also, I was surprised to see wiring in your RCP drawing. I always show switches and wiring in a separate lighting plan and receptacles in a power plan. RCP should show only fixtures and other equipment that are located on the ceiling.

    • Bob Borson

      I don’t like notes in paper space – I want them “married to the drawing.

      I don’t like wasting paper and having separate drawings for light fixtures/controls and electrical is a waste, especially since it’s the same guy running the wire.

      • T. Dustin Hauck

        We like to do a separate RCP and Elect. plan. The RCP shows all ceiling information, including the lights on the ceiling. But it is noted that elect. on the RCP is for reference only, see elect. plan for electrical information. The Elect. plan shows all elect. on one plan, wall, floor, ceiling, hovering, etc. We simply XRef in the elect. plan into the RCP and freeze all but the ceiling fixtures layer.

        • Brandon Smith

          I’m going to join in T. Dustin’s comment. In our commercial work (where RCPs are highly complex because of dropped ceilings and the myriad of other systems involved), electrical (ie: outlets, data, cable, etc.) had its own page for simplicity. Otherwise it was one big jumbled mess. But I do agree with you that the notes, dimensions, etc. were always in model space (though our rev-clouds were in paper space) so that everything was all in the same space.

  • Lisa M Smith

    Great primer on drawings Bob. Putting one’s personal “stamp” on a drawing by changing the rules happens too often and not a good idea. Drawings (an architect’s drawings for construction purposes) need to be readable and digestible by all, which is the point of standards. When people veer to far from this it does leave room for interpretation. And yes, the dotted line for the door swing is so important – so switches & outlets aren’t placed behind the door. Good drawings & standards leave less room for error.

    • Bob Borson

      Personal stamps are only okay in that they are typically the primer for improvement, I just don’t want people to freelance on the drawing standards that ARE in place.

      Glad the dashed door swing makes sense to others.

  • Tom Hurst

    Great post….couldn’t agree more about the importance of well crafted set of drawings, especially attention to lineweights. I’ve been having an ongoing debate with colleagues about true type fonts vs. hand-drawn looking (architxt.shx) fonts. I’m not a big fan of the fake hand drawn ones. The argument used to be that you could hand write a note on it after it was printed if you needed to but that never really happens. You obviously don’t like Arial but I personally think the true type fonts are more clear at smaller scale and more appropriate with today’s technology.

    • Bob Borson

      I like the hand-drawn looking fonts for two reasons:
      1. People known that an architect did these rather than an engineer, and
      2. Since most of our work is residential, our clients respond to the nostalgia of the architectural fonts (as do I)

      As a side comment, if the drawings are reproduced or printed out at a scale where the text isn’t legible, the detail within the drawings probably isn’t legible either.

  • MarvinOne

    I imagine this article will generate a lot of comments. I appreciate your attention to graphic standards as I haven’t seen that in several places where I’ve worked (5 firms in 7 years by the way, you think you can’t hold down a job?!!). While I don’t agree with a couple of items in particular, overall I appreciate you taking on this subject. It seems when it comes to drawing notations, that’s where I see a lot of architects start to get a little touchy about what they do and don’t like! Which is much preferred to the ones that just don’t care.

    • Bob Borson

      I am sure to get some comments that make my face hurt but that’s okay. I didn’t agree with dashing in the doors in the RCP until it was explained to me why this would be better – and I agreed. This has now become one of my own standards. If someone has a better idea, I welcome the opportunity for them to share it with me.

      • gt

        Hi Bob, great post.
        I have been changing graphic standards in every company I’ve worked as well. A proud moment was overhearing two colleagues discussing a drawing of mine, “this looks like something ouf of a text book”…
        So I strongly disagree with the graphics you’re showing, especially the fake “nostalgic” font – to my eye it looks tacky, like a letter written in Gothic or garamond on a computer screen, same with the 90° arrowheads, based on a set square, when it was quicker to do so…(been there as well). I also would never shade the new work, as this eliminates exactly the detail we’re trying to convey, whereas the make-up of an existing wall is relatively unimportant. And lastly (actually there’s a lot more…), the RCP you’re showing tells me that all your doors are full height, same as the windows… by all means leave the door swings in there, but lift your cutting plane to be effectively at ceiling level. Walls that go through the ceiling have fat cut lines, walls that stop at the ceiling thin outlines and walls that stop below are dashed…
        Please don’t take it as a personal attack, I enjoy your work on the blog. Just happen to disagree with these graphics (to say nothing of the imperial measuments… :))

        • Bob Borson

          No worries – I’ve said loads of times on here that I don’t mind if you disagree with me.

          For every 1 comment I’ve received that said they hated this font, I’ve got a hundred that say they like it – doesn’t matter either way, I like my drawings to look like an architect drew them, not an engineer, and the font selection is one of the ways I make that distinction. We’ll just agree to disagree.

          As far as your RCP comment goes, it seems that your comment is a commercially driven standards comment rather than a residential comment – 99.99% of all my walls go up to the ceiling and stop at structure.

          Since we do new construction and addition/renovation, we like to have the new work shown more boldly than what’s existing. As a result, we hatch our new walls and don’t hatch existing to remain/ NIC.


          • gt

            So I’m effectively a 1%er… nothing new there.

            Yes, you’re right that my work is mostly non-residential and I’m sure that’s the reason I disapprove of the ‘homey’ looking fonts and arrows.
            But I wholeheartedly agree that every drawing has to look fantastic, balanced and clear to everyone concerned. (If only the guys on site looked at the drawings…)

            It would be an interesting experiment to keep the content of your drawings as they are and only change the fonts/dimensions/arrows etc. If it’s still OK, then it’s right.

            Looking forward to Part II


  • Robert M. Longo, AIA

    So true Bob, too often drawings reflect the software and not the individual. If you can tell what program was used to generate a drawing that’s not a good sign. You need to make the drawings your own and not be a slave to what comes “out of the box.”

    • Bob Borson

      spot on and very succinctly describe. Very nice!

  • Keith

    Good post Bob… a pet-peeve of mine is that wall section tags should always have a ‘tail’ to complete them.

    It’s true that in the field well prepared and laid out drawings do convey a sense of care to the contractors.

    Oh yeah, I want a nap room also ;-)

    • Bob Borson

      “Nap Room” – also known as “the space under my desk”

  • Kerry Hogue

    well I don’t mumble when mentioning that I graduated in 1976. I am proud of my experience and I grew up on the boards producing construction documents. Graphics standards were, and still are, important to the documents. One of the principals of my first firm after graduating told me that documents have to be crystal clear because the guy in the field using them has a sixth grade education, is dealing with wind blowing, up in the air, and doesn’t need to try and figure out what you mean on the drawings. That was great advice to make me aware of the importance of clear and readable documents. Which also includes organization and having things easy to find.

    • Bob Borson

      those are all great reasons. I would add that the graphics can convey some intent beyond what the verbiage could simply because not everyone reading the drawings speaks the language in which the notes are written.

  • Tim Barber

    I, who graduated in 197(mumble-mumble)9, have always considered CAD an electronic pencil. When I see the colors on my screen, I see line weights. Therefore I could draw with only 3 colors, 2B, HB, & 2H. I have seen many a “construction document” that I have wanted to frame and hang up on the wall, especially the “true” old blue prints. They are things of beauty.

    • Bob Borson

      When I first set up the CAD standards many years ago, I also assigned pen weights to colors and we used 7 colors total when drawing elevations and details – hatch, light, medium, heavy, profile, text, and dimension. I too looked at the screen and could tell how things would plot out. Things in BIM are a little different and so I am having to rethink how we go about this process.

  • Faithful reader

    As always, I appreciate your point and in this case, specifically, your efforts to improve the quality of drawings. However, I wonder what how well your technicians respect the comments on the drawings when they are contain grammatical errors and misspellings? “to light” instead of “too light” “their better now” instead of “they’re better” etc. Your intent is to ensure that details are excellent and clear; the same applies to language.

    • Bob Borson

      fair enough comment here even though I don’t think it is as applicable as you might think. You would be hard pressed to find the typos I create in these posts in my construction drawings. I tend to write these posts in my spare time at night while doing other things (like watching TV) and when I am working, it’s all I’m doing. In addition, I would venture a guess that 80% of the people reading my construction drawings don’tr speak English as a first language and the nuances you are identifying here are lost.

      • Brandon Smith

        When I was in hiring mode as a practicing designer I used to have one big rule: typos and you were relegated to the library. Why? Because one transposed number in a specification on the RCP could result in the ordering of 300 of the wrong light fixture on a high dollar commercial project. And I couldn’t hang with that kind of in-attention to detail. Actually I was probably more scared than anything.

        Still haven’t gotten over that even though, like you, most of those reading my construction documents do not have a grasp of the English language (I’m in San Diego where we have a lot of cross border laborers).

  • Lee Calisti, AIA

    yes, we are cut from the same cloth (that sounds weird in our current culture)

    • Bob Borson

      but I understand exactly what you mean.


      • Lee Calisti, AIA

        My drawings are greatly influenced by former manual drafting methods. I use “Frank the Architect” TrueType font. It looks good and (ahem) it was free. Sometimes the PDF maker has trouble with special characters like @, # and the like. I teach my students the same values.

  • fractaldesign

    Great article, a follow up on line weights and custom symbols in Revit would be fantastic.
    Also if you could go more in to depth on “balance” and strategies how best to achieve this would be much appreciated.

    • Bob Borson

      Thanks – I will let you know how things develop. We still have a lot of work to do and as we move further along I will put together another more specific update.