“I would love it if there’s something obvious I’m missing and I am forced to write a retraction of this post!”

-Jared Banks, from my post on using Building Materials to balance the quality of 2D and 3D output

This post won’t go live within one week of me writing the above sentence, but what follows was sure written within that time frame. There is a discussion on the ArchiCAD LinkedIn group about my original. Nathan Hildebrandt and Daniel Lindahl (among others) made some great comments. Nathan is a fast rising ArchiCAD Champion. Watch out for him. He understands our beloved program and is doing some really cool things with ArchiCAD, such as not using the Text tool on any drawings. Seriously. One of his goals is to only use the Label tool and pull all the text from the elements. He’s been writing some great stuff for me over on Shoegnome. You need to check his theories out. Anyways, I digress (as is all too typical of me). Daniel is actually the hero of this story (I just wanted to give Nathan a plug). Daniel commented that essentially the problem I had was cultural. Let me just quote him:

“Is this (bold cut line) standard American practice? I have seen this in some architectural magazines from the US, and it always looks odd to me. To my mind, sections should show all cut members, including those concealed within the envelope, with a SLIGHTLY bolder outline, reserving the thin lines for stuff in elevation or fill patterns. But then that is what I have got used to seeing throughout my career.”

After that Daniel went on to say “Maybe it’s a matter of drafting culture, or possibly even design culture.” I sat up straight after this. Exactly. My problems were all cultural and my own fault. I spend so much of my time trying to get architects to wake up from their self-contrived burdens and here I was doing it too. I had found solution after solution and never just said “%$%!@# this. I’m going to think of the answer from the ArchiCAD perspective”.

ArchiCADDaniel’s solution to have all cut elements with a slightly bolder outline works great. I did a quick mock-up of my example detail to share with everyone (see right).

This solution does everything I was struggling to do in my last post: automatic, pretty 2D and perfect 3D. All it took was to treat both 2D and 3D equally, rather than preferencing one aspect of 2D over everything else—which is what I was doing by always trying to get lineweights to work perfectly. So there we have it. Everything is automatic. Everything is awesome. Daniel’s solution is a great reminder to not slavishly apply traditional drafting solutions to more advanced tools. Yes we can force ArchiCAD to mimic what we are used to, but what if we embrace the power of what ArchiCAD can do? This thinking can lead us to making equally beautiful or even more beautiful drawings than were possible in the past. And just as importantly, we can make drawings that are MORE legible than ever possible before (cough, cough, BIMx Docs, cough, cough).

ArchiCADDaniel got me thinking about other ways to improve our documentation and solve this problem of merging Building Materials and Junctions with our drawing logic. Another answer is of course color. I actually discussed this back in late 2012 in my post about Adding Legibility to Details. You should read that post because it talks about other issues, but here’s an image of the detail I discuss (see right).

Looking at that detail, not only is solid and void obvious, so too is basic material choices. You don’t need to understand standard hatch patterns or read the notes to tell what’s concrete, wood, or brick. But, I’m going to step away from color. Our 3D sections can provide all the color we need for now. And I might argue that so much color in a 1/4″ section could be distracting. I think there’s a lot of value for a larger scale detail, but I’m not there yet for my building sections. Let’s check back sometime around New Years Day 2016. Maybe by then I’ll need to write yet another retraction. I like retractions because it means I’m evolving.

ArchiCADIgnoring the full color option, if I look again at Daniel’s solution, I have two complaints. I could see finding the right cut line thickness to be a delicate operation. Too thin and it doesn’t read. Too thick and all the fine detail gets smushed together as lines merge. But that’s manageable right? It’s just a matter of spending some time playing the high/low game to find the best fit. But if I’m being super critical, I could see that what is cut and what isn’t could still be a bit confusing. Imagine looking at the full building section: if the cut assembly isn’t very detailed, it could be less than obvious what is inside and what is outside. To be honest this is also an issue with relying on lineweights. To the untrained eye, there could be doubt. With a 1/4″ section one of the most important pieces of information we are trying to graphically communicate is solid and void. Whatever solution we find to handle legibility of information should also enhance the differences between solid and void. So here’s my solution: tone.

In the image above, all cut elements have a tone—a light gray—and the same thin lineweight. In my example there is absolutely no confusion. It is obvious what is cut and what isn’t, what is solid and what is void. We don’t need to do any work arounds or cheats. Everything is automatic.

If you look at the colored image above you might notice something. The lineweights don’t add much. In fact I think it’d be more legible if all the lineweights were the same. Actually I bet it’d be best to have the lineweights as thin as possible. It’s so funny, with all my previous solutions lineweights were always the problem. And I spent so much time trying to solve everything else. But once I focused on the real issue, two great solutions appeared (three if you include full color). And in fact, I wonder if there’s an ultimate solution that combines Daniel’s recommendations and mine. It’d look like this:

ArchiCADWhat do you think? Now that you’ve seen six ways (technically seven if you add in full color drawings) to integrate 2D and 3D views with building materials and automatic junctions with little to no additional 2D fixes, which solution are you going to use? I’m going with tone or tone plus unified slightly bold unified cut lines. I haven’t decided which. Oh and you might be wondering how exactly I created my toned detail in a manner that doesn’t mess up other drawings. I’m working on a few posts and other surprises that will answer your questions on that completely. March is going to be a fun month.


Read James Murray’s great post from 2006: Beauty is Third. He’s spot on correct. But with a little effort when we create our templates (which all my solutions in these posts require) we can focus on accuracy and completeness with the result being beauty. I’m all about finding solutions that give us everything. No need to compromise; not when we can actually automate our way to bigger, better, and faster.

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  1. Chuck Kottka

    I like the look of your shaded details, no doubt. And I should have waited at least a day, out of respect, to shoot a hole in it. However, I have a concern that this will be difficult to print legibly. Alas, paper still exists in our world, and oddly enough, as plotting of construction documents has decreased significantly, the quality and control has also seemed to decrease. I work with several printers/service bureaus, and their equipment all gives me different results. Linework is always pretty good, but once you introduce half-tones or grays, it gets really inconsistent. If we were printing everything in-house, I could find that perfect gray. But right now, we either send prints out or give PDFs to contractors to print for themselves, and often they are printed as half-sized sets. Half-tones often disappear, or get patchy, or come our too dark, or muddy the lines within the fill. This is not too big of a deal for single materials (like just the drywall), or simple geometric elements (like roof crickets), but it could really damage a whole detail. That being said, I do like using extensive hatch or dotted fills to create the illusion of half-tone, which seems to work better amongst plotters than solid gray fills (but then they don’t look as good on the screen!). I also agree that we should be moving toward full-color.

    • Jared Banks

      Chuck yes. That is the big scary hole in my proposition. There is a huge difference between good printers, average printers, and what most people use. It’s tough. If the contractor is essentially going to be using a printout that looks like it has been faxed a dozen times does any of our graphic worrying matter at all? Should we just use one line weight and 18 pt font? 🙂 Probably. This is one of those struggles that we face as we have to deal with these log jams of less savvy partners.

      Back in Minnesota I had a lot of fights with printers. I used an amazing one that could print every tone and grayscale perfectly. Then in early 2008 they closed up shop before facing the depths of the Great Recession. I miss them so much. I eventually found other printshops that could do okay work, but no one ever came close to those original guys. I also noticed that at some point everyone’s prints got worse because of what I guess was a new plotter or driver or something. It was very weird. For residential I just tried to print in house…

      Fortunately my pen sets allow everything to go back to white and just use Daniel’s solution. I’m hoping I can pull off the tone because I really like it, but if not, I’ll be happy with a quick pen set update and just the unified line weight solution.

      In the end, best to aim for glory rather than give up early? Maybe. Thank you for the comments and pointing out the biggest danger of this solution. It’s not insurmountable, but might take a little back and forth and trying new print shops.

  2. Nathan Hildebrandt

    Jared all it took was a little banter and 12 months got condensed down to under a week. It is simply looking at things differently and accepting change.

    Pen Sets are a powerful thing. That might be my AC18 focus behind AC17 scheduling and attribute management.

  3. Jared Banks

    Nathan when you are ready to revamp your Pen Sets, we’ll have LOTS to talk about; as if we don’t already.


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