It’s Time For Color Construction Documents

How long has it been since you saw rows and rows of giant rolls of 30×42 sheets bound up in butcher paper, waiting for the Fed Ex guy to come and pick them up (and try to not break his back)? Every time a job was put out to bid, I remember the admin staff filling up half their office with drawings. Now? Doesn’t happen anymore. I don’t think it’s a shock that the amount of large format printing has dropped drastically over the years. You will still see physical drawings on a job site, but even the amount of those has dropped as well.

With faster data speeds, local governments accepting digital signatures, and better review tools out there like BlueBeam, everyone is just using PDFs. It’s faster, cheaper, and way easier on your back.

So why do we insist on limiting the amount and clarity of information we put into our drawings because of an issue that might not really be an issue anymore? Ask anyone why we still do black and white CDs, and the answer will most likely be “color is so expensive”. Color is definitely more expensive than black and white plotting. But there are two factors here to consider: 1) as discussed above, we just aren’t printing as much as we used to so printing budgets should be dropping anyway and 2) the cost difference between a black and white versus a color line drawing has been dropping as well. Part of this depends on the hardware your repro firm has, but many of them are starting to purchase exclusively color hardware. It might just be time for a real conversation with them about what the actual costs are.

It probably seems odd that I am writing about this. I’m 100% in with Revit. I love the software, I love its potential, and I love the benefit that the industry is going to gain by embracing the model. But I also like to solve problems, and this is a big one that I have seen in the industry for years.

What is the first thing many contractors do when they look at an RCP? They highlight every light fixture. How much time could be saved if this is what they already looked like? And now we know one hasn’t been missed.

Find all the lights
Find all the lights
NOW find all the lights
NOW find all the lights

I’m sure everyone’s seen those photos of construction issues floating around the web, the ones where they cut the concrete to match the call-out tag or the renovation cloud. It would be much easier to distinguish between tags and work if all the annotation was in a single color, say blue.


And how about demo drawings? Sometimes it’s hard to distinguish what is being demo’ed and what stays around. Let’s make all demo in red, and all existing in green.


Piping folks have been distinguishing things in color for years. Some local authorities are requiring their permit drawings in color, making fire rating very easy to tell apart. It should be obvious how much easier to read CDs would be if we just added a tiny amount of color.

There are some issues to work past. We need to get some consistency, we need to take into account people who experience color deficiencies, and we need to figure out why Revit won’t let us set some categories projection patterns (I’m looking at you, ducts) but these seem like easy things to get past, and I think the benefits we will see from this are huge.

10 thoughts on “It’s Time For Color Construction Documents

  1. Kat Smith says:

    Hi Jason – love these ideas. Especially the “demo” vs. “existing”. I once asked our Construction Administration staff why we didn’t do colour drawings – yes, “expensive” was one of the reason (I guess if you have a 400 page, A0 size document, and you need 5 copies of it, that can get pricey….) and the other argument was “It’s not a legal document if it’s in black and white”.

    Have you heard of this second argument before? It seems pretty weak to me, and I can’t find anything on the internet to back up this ‘it’s not a legal document if it’s in colour’ nonsense.

    I imagine that the cost of a colour document would be recouped easily in a very short amount of time – the drawings are so much clearer that I imagine the amount of contractor questions and RFIs would go down significantly, which would save a lot of time for both parties. I can’t wait for colour documents to be the new norm!

  2. Jason Kunkel says:

    I have never heard that argument about color not being legal… I wonder if that was an urban legend that was passed down as fact? That seems so out there to me, but now of course I need to start poking around document submission guidelines to see! And like I stated, I know of at least one county that requires color for their permit drawings, so it’s legal somewhere… I hope…

  3. lirva11 says:

    Before my venture into tech writing, I had a friend who had a small printing shop and was obsessed with blue prints and white prints for drawings. I remember that, at the time, he made a big deal about the difference and the very specific media requirement demanded by professionals using them. It is understandable that they are specified in certain environments and that introduction of color could be an issue. To me, it is just an old school argument against improving usability although cost is considerable. Who would want to improve ease-of-use anyway? If you want to research what you would be up against–under the theme of continual improvement–I would start looking at societies and institutions like IEEE, ISO, SDE, architect associations,…..not just in your own country either. Big project.
    No doubt about it though, the judicious introduction of color is long coming. Just think, color on an architectural drawing for the different utilities, structural elements, etc. ?

  4. da3dalusdesigns says:

    I’ve noticed that most conversations on this topic cite the process of printing paper CDs in color. That’s not even necessary. Due to expense, I rarely consider mass color printing, but it’s amazing how hard it is for some people (contractors) to comprehend that you can print color PDFs in black-and-white! As long as the symbology and color tones are carefully selected (a process of testing your BIM template), black-and-white prints are still perfectly readable and accurate, but the color views are just BETTER, for all the reasons you noted above. So, you CAN print the occasional color set, or just a few critical color sheets, and of course, there’s iPads and laptops. Better yet, many of my larger contractors have been setting up large-screen LCD TV’s (48″) on the job site, hooked up to a small computer, typically housed in a specially modified gang box encased in plexiglass. The subs love it!

  5. Pascal Jansen says:

    ARC Document Solutions has been printing CDs for decades and understand the need for physical documents is decreasing. We embrace and push technology got the AEC and we are now already printing CDs in color for our customers. We’re ready for color.

  6. Pascal Jansen says:

    ARC Document Solutions has been printing CDs for decades and understands the need for physical documents is decreasing. We embrace and push technology for our AEC customers and we are now already printing CDs in color for them. We’re ready for color.

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