Architecture DetailLast week I wrote about rethinking what elevations created in ArchiCAD could look like. Today I want to expand those ideas to details (and also plans, sections, etc.). In preparation for my talks at Architecture Boston Expo and EcoBuild in Washington, D.C., I revisited a detail I worked on many years ago. Here is the original:

In addition to focusing on the technical value of the detail, plenty of time was spent tweaking line weights, hatch patterns, text and arrow alignments, etc. It’s a pretty detail. And since all the graphic qualities are part of my template, I really didn’t spend much extra time making it enjoyable to look at. But what is the value of that beauty? Or more to the point, does that beauty add enough to the legibility of the detail? Could it go farther?

We’ve had VGA monitors since 1987

Architectural Detail

Here’s the same detail after I colorized it.

It’s not even worth asking the rhetorical question about which is more legible. Instead, let’s ask why we haven’t been doing our details in color for years and years? Adding color to details used to be prohibitively time consuming, expensive and complex. Printing costs were painful and before that blue print machines where monochromatic. But we no longer reproduce drawings using ammonia, and color printers are ubiquitous. Furthermore there are some other trends which support this shift to color documents (which I’ll talk about in Boston and Washington, D.C.).

Even CGA is better than Monochrome

Master Complex Profile

Til Breton’s Master Complex Profile again: notice all the color?

Of course the big questions are how to achieve rainbow colored details in ArchiCAD and how to do this in a way that further supports BIM. We have a clue to both answers in the post about Complex Profiles from early October 2012.

Each material type has pen numbers assigned to it. So all concrete has a designated foreground and background pen number. Same with wood, metal, insulation, etc. This logic of material type (not ArchiCAD element type) having corresponding pen numbers allows two things. The first, which we’ll talk about another time, is to change any fill pattern between empty, solid, and a specific vectorial hatch. The second is to switch between specific colors and black and white. Most of us have been using a variant of this trick since ArchiCAD 10: drafting in color, but having a printing Pen Set that is mostly black and white. It’s easy to make the mental leap to a Pen Set that allows you to produce quality black and white details, and also toggle on colors for increased legibility when necessary. This is not an either/or proposition. I think it’s important to develop your details to function in both color and black and white. There will always be

Pen Sets

Now here’s a snapshot of Til’s chart explaining one aspect of one part of his pen sets.

instances where things get copied down to black and white, and from an accessibility stand point, you want a color blind coworker or worker on site to still be able to access the information. With a smart template you can have both color and black and white.

Water, Wind, and Warmth

Jumping to color details might be a huge leap for you today. To do it well, it will take a large overhaul of your Pen Sets. Large enough that I have yet to tackle it for myself; my illustration involved an augmentation of my current template. So what are some baby steps? Air barriers, vapor barriers, and insulation are critical aspects of most, if not all building details. Consider adding color to those elements to start. Then you just have to add 3 or 4 new pens to your template. A black and white detail with blue lines for vapor barriers, red lines for air barriers, and yellow for insulation is immensely useful. I know of at least one local Minnesota firm using ArchiCAD that has been doing this for years. They are Passiv House Experts, so it comes as no surprise that they’ve tweaked their details to make this critical information extra legible.

Extra-dimensional BIM

In discussions of BIM, we all like to claim extra Ds. It’s not a 3D model, it’s 4D or a 5D or a 18D model. Here’s a graphic that sums it all up. I like to think of those extra dimensions in BIM like the extra dimensions postulated by String Theory. We readily see the traditional three dimensions. And the 4th isn’t too hard to access thanks to awesome add-ons like BIMx. But everything beyond that is wrapped up, compacted, and a little tricky to access. Even defining what those dimensions are isn’t straight forward. I think of each ‘dimension’ as another layer of data, another cross section of information in your BIM just waiting to be shared. Adding color to your details will increase legibility and bring out extra dimensions to your documentation.

Are you exploiting Pen Sets in ArchiCAD? Here’s a series of posts I wrote on Shoegnome almost two years ago talking about my theories and thoughts on Pen Sets. I need to write some more because my personal Pen Sets continue to evolve and those articles really just hint at a VERY powerful function within ArchiCAD.


  1. Patrick

    I would love to do color details, and often print sketch images during C.A. using details or 3d documents in color for clarity (and to get attention drawn to specific areas). But it would cost over $40 to print a single detail sheet in full color. and they don’t give discounts for how much color is on the sheet (a solid red sheet would cost the same as a sheet with a single color detail). Until print costs come down, I don’t know that its worth the time to do all (or any) details in full color. That detail looks pretty bad ass with the color hatch backgrounds though…

  2. Jared Banks

    Patrick, so I know you and I have been talking about this elsewhere, but now that I’m finally home and can respond here, I wanted to add some thoughts for anyone who’s not following our conversation on my facebook page…

    Yeah cost is a huge issue. Though I found for the last few years I was at SALA we just did all our printing in house. But those were 5-20 page sets and only a few copies total. In that scenario color printing is reasonable. And I believe the firm I mentioned above just prints in-house as well.

    But another option would be to print color details on 8.5 x 11 sheets. Then that should be much cheaper.

    Of course this also just hints at the rethinking of why we are printing and if there’s a better way. Like we were discussing elsewhere when we have larger tablets or digital paper or some other cool tech, then we can just stop printing altogether.

  3. Scott Graham

    At the small Design-Build firm i used to work for, we did all our drafting in color because we had a color 24″ plotter, and our drawing sets were smaller with only a few sets to print per project. It was a simple WYSIWYG CAD system (quaint to me in hindsight). Color on plans helped to add extra legibility and more layers of info per drawing, but details were still (colored) line-based (no color shading though).

    Outside of residential drawings, I can’t see a cost-efficient argument for changing over to a color format as of yet.

    In regards to color detailing, it seems to me that there’s a simple way to have your cake and eat it too.

    The first requirement would be to create a section of pens in your pen sets for your material colors. Primarily, these pens would serve as your Background Pens only, that way you can color your fills, while still maintaining control over your hatch line weights.

    Second, the MVO Fill settings allow for a global change of all background fill pens to Transparent(0) or Windows Background (-1). Pairing this ability as a special “B/W Detailing” MVO along with an all-black pen set would provide an easy method for switching a color detail like yours above to a black and white copy free from the color shading.

  4. Jared Banks

    Scott. Yup! I’ll have to do a blog post about the pen set function. It’s not something I’ve implemented, but I know Til Breton has been doing this for a long time. So I’ll get some more info and share.

  5. Tiophelus Ashipala

    Hi, i guess you guys are better at archicad then anyone else. I have recently switched from chief architect to archicad only to come across one thing i cant figure out yet, metal sheets i just can’t find them in archicad can you guys please help me out.

    • Jared Banks

      Can you please clarify what you mean? If you need a metal Building Material, that’s easy to make. If you need a specific profile, create it using a Complex Profile. If you need the correct colors in 3D, you’ll need to create/revise a Surface.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *