10 ESSENTIAL Tips for Drafting Like a Pro (Q&A #3)

Got an email from Sheena, a fresh applicant in my beloved college org. She has a concern that I’m sure many freshmen in architecture school have: how to combat the woes of manual drafting. Go on girl, take the floor. 

Good day Kuya Aldo! I'm Sheena, an ASA-APP who got your autograph last Hiyas :) But who I am doesn't matter (I'm a freshie who never took manual drafting and art classes before entering UP arki tho).
My problem is, my class for Arch 1 was either free cut, an off-topic discussion, or a lecture of a lesson for the nth time, so I still suck at drafting (especially lettering) and I still don't know how to construct floor plans and elevations and sections. I have only 7 Arch 1 meetings left.
I don't know what to do. I've considered reading books but I don't know what book to start with. P.S. I was so happy when I found about this website! I immediately saved all the articles to my Pocket and I make it a point to read at least one article everyday :D

Hi Sheena! Of course who you are matters. Many thanks for the heartwarming e-mail. I’m flattered that you really appreciate the entries. I’m committed to providing even more helpful content over the years. 🙂 Muchas gracias. 

Now, getting over to your concerns. Ah yes, manual drafting. Every little Archi freshman’s best friend, or worst enemy. If you read the About Page then you already know which among the two it was for me.

I, like you, struggled with cluelessness when I was in my first year Arch 1 subject. There were certain things I wish I really knew right of the bat. It would have saved me a lot of time in the dark, and prevented mistakes that made my end work look like poop.

For today, I’d like to share them with you. I’ll say early on that all the tips and tricks in the world will pale in comparison to the benefits of constant practice. Your professor can only go so far in teaching you as well.

But don’t worry. Everyone struggles in trying to draft faster and better at the start. You can’t really rush it unless you put yourself through a drafting esquisse every single day… but why would you?

If you want to read drafting books, then that’s great. Personally though, I don’t think they’re really necessary. By my experience, the lessons below are the only ones you generally need to point you in the right direction. However, if you want specifics and the finer points of drafting artistry, then you don’t need to look much further than your everyday Architectural Graphic Standards.

But really, here are the only principles you need to know to be able to produce great drafting work, up until the thesis level. I apologize that my diagrams will be in CAD form. I haven’t owned a t-square in years (in your higher years you’ll be using mostly graphic or white paper, freehand, and computer software).

(This post is mostly a tutorial for sheet construction and general drafting quality, and they are universal: applicable to both manual and computer drafting (with the exception of number 2). With regards to your query on an in-depth guide in extracting plans and sections according to proper standards, I think it’s better if I devote another post to focus on that in the future. Hope that’s alright with you.)

1. Plan out your sheets before even drawing a single dark line.

(c) Aldo Mayoralgo
(c) Aldo Mayoralgo

The quality of your lines might be impeccable and your penmanship may look computerized, but if your work is cramped or not thoughtfully laid out, then your entire sheet will look messy.

So, the first key principle is to plan out your sheets. You can’t just wing it and layout as you go, or else you might have a stretched out floor plan, followed by a smushed up elevation in a corner.

List down all the drawings you have to produce, group related ones together, and plan out how many sheets you’ll need.

Then try and lightly mark out the maximum dimensions of each graphic on your sheets. If your lot is 15 x 20 meters and you’re doing a site development plan, see if the lot extents fit on your paper with the scale you want. If you can determine it will fit well, then center your drawing. 

For sheets with multiple drawings (like the one above, it’s good to divide the sheet into four quadrants and adjust from there.

On these kinds of sheets, don’t forget to allocate extra space at the top and sides for grid bubbles, dimensions, and call-outs, as well as at the bottom for titles.

Once you’ve mapped out how the sheet will be divided and centered, you can continue with your work knowing it will look neat in the end.

There’s nothing quite like seeing a pristinely organized and executed plan on paper. It’s the first mark of professional caliber work.

2. T-Square for Horizontals, Triangles for Verticals.

Unless you would bet your life that the x and y sides of your table are perfectly perpendicular, then it isn’t a good idea to use your T-square for vertical lines (especially long ones).

It’s good practice to only have one edge as your reference. Naturally for things like margins on huge paper this can be hard to do. So in these cases, go ahead and use your t-square for the final lines. Just make sure you derive and measure the guidelines accurately.

3. Draw your guidelines first, and then work the thicknesses around the center-lines, or within the exterior lines.

There’s a saying when you make models – “Measure twice, cut once“. The same principle applies to drafting. You want your light guidelines to nip potential dimension errors in the bud right from the earliest drawing stages.

It’s generally a good idea to start by marking out the column grid of your plan, because it will automatically lock in the largest dimensions of your entire drawing.

From there, put in the guidelines of the other elements, such as walls, doors, and fixtures. Essentially, you want to forsee your guidelines to be running along the centerline of your walls, from which you will offset the thickness.

Getting used to the offset wall thickness from center-line method is important, because it locks in your planning reference point. Besides wall thicknesses might change (you might be asked to make your bathroom walls 200 mm thick instead of 150 mm thick). To demonstrate this basic process, let’s go step by step.

Step 1: Put your guidelines, as per how they relate to your column bubbles.

A brief note on column bubbles: Standard convention is to have one axis labelled with numbers, and the other with numbers.

Step 1Step 2: Based on these maximum extents, start to rough in where you know your wall center- lines will be. Already anticipate which ones you will offset on both sides (interior walls) or just on one side (exterior walls). 
Step 2Step 3: Offset the wall thickness guidelines. Notice I made the lower-left-most room a bathroom, and made them thicker accordingly, again, measuring from the center and exterior lines. 
Step 3Step 4: Now you can draw in your dimensions (notice the placement between the graphic and the column bubbles) so you can verify if all the extent measurements are correct thus far. It’s a check and balance.

Step 4

Step 5 onwards: Now that you’re confident that all your broad strokes have been laid out on paper properly, you can go on in detailing your drawing (like laying out the columns below) and everything that follows. You can neaten up a bit if you want, but you may not want to erase your wall center-lines until the latter parts of drafting process.

Step 5

4. Make all your text, bubbles, and annotations a manageable size – and keep them uniform on all drawings.

This is not cool:

Ugly Bubbles

This is much better (click to zoom in):

(c) Aldo Mayoralgo
(c) Aldo Mayoralgo

or this:

(c) Aldo Mayoralgo
(c) Aldo Mayoralgo

You don’t want your drawings and annotations to be enormous, nor do you want them barely legible. You’ll have to find a manageable standard that is just right for you.

For instance, if you were to ask me, I like keep my grid bubbles at a diameter of 11 mm, my call-out text and dimensioning text at 2.5-3 mm high, room labels at 3.5-4 mm high, and drawing labels at 4 to 4.5 mm high.

It’s a bit of trial and error, so see for yourself what you think works (or ask your prof for feedback).

5. Let your drawings breathe. Don’t overcrowd the content.

(c) Aldo Mayoralgo
(c) Aldo Mayoralgo
(c) Aldo Mayoralgo
(c) Aldo Mayoralgo

There is a way you can you can ensure that you won’t run into the trouble of having to squeeze a graphic or two into an awkward location on your sheet – and that’s to plan out your layout from the very beginning. (Remember Step 1?) By the end of your layout process, the content should be snug and not crowded, with elbow room but not wasteful of space.

Now that you’ve determined the little rectangles where you’re going to space out your different drawings on-sheet, make sure that all the stuff which is within those rectangles is also neatly arranged.

There are many, many ways to do it. This is how I personally do it because for most cases, it is neat and manageable.

  • Drawing Labels: At the bottom of each drawing.
  • Column Grid: Farthest out from the drawing, at the top and left of the drawing.
  • Dimensions: Between the column bubbles and drawings, with enough space to place call-outs neatly.
  • Elevation Bubble Call-outs: Far out from the drawing. If there is luxury of space then place it even past the column grid.
  • Room Call-outs and Plan Finish Call-outs: Somewhere easy to see within the room; not overlapping on furniture, preferably in center of space.
  • Leader (arrow) call-outs: One one side of the drawing, not intertwining together to create a mess with each other or with the dimensions.
  • Legends: At a corner that relates to the drawing where it is used.
  • Elevation Level Tags (for Elevs and Sections): Farther out left from the drawing than the elevation dimensions.

Always remember, a neat and clear drawing is a happy drawing. Intertwining annotations and callouts are a no-no and should be avoided. Your plans need to be understood first and foremost, before they are admired.

6. Follow a good hierarchy of line weights and line quality.

(c) Aldo Mayoralgo
(c) Aldo Mayoralgo

The thickness of your lines is supposed to tell you about the nature of what is being drawn. And for architectural working drawings, there are certain standards that are accepted. It is especially important when you analyze sections and plans, so you can already pinpoint which are finishes, openings, or structural elements.


  • Sectioned Structural Members and Section Lines – heaviest. (Columns)
  • Sectioned Walls – 2nd heaviest
  • Floors, Stairs and Ramps – 3rd heaviest
  • Labels, Bubbles, Annotations, Markings, and call-out Text – Up to you. I personally like to keep them somewhere at 3rd to 4th heaviest.
  • Fixtures, Furniture other Semi-permanent items – 4th heaviest. Legible but not dark
  • Windows, Doors, Railings, Lines above and below, Dimension Lines – Light
  • Window and door swings, Finishing textures, other minor hatches – Very light.


  • Sectioned Structural Members and Section Lines – heaviest. (Beams)
  • Sectioned Floors, Stairs and Ramps – 2nd heaviest
  • Sectioned furniture/fixtures, sectioned doors and windows,and non-major sectioned elements like substrates and finish thicknesses – 3rd heaviest. Some prefer to draw sectioned furniture and fixtures as thick as the floors.
  • Labels, Bubbles, Annotations, Markings, and call-out Text – Up to you. I personally like to keep them somewhere at 3rd to 4th heaviest.
  • Fixtures, Furniture other Semi-permanent items – 4th heaviest. Legible but not dark
  • Windows, Doors, Railings, Dimension Lines – Light
  • Window and door swings, Finishing textures, other minor hatches – Very light.

With regards to line quality, the architect’s line is drawn as one, macho and purposeful line that has the same thickness from start to end. It isn’t a series of “travelling” lines with split ends.

Some architects like to put a little blob at the ends of each line segment. It adds character and distinction, but this is personal preference.

End Termination

7. There are many ways to render a wall.

(c) Aldo Mayoralgo
(c) Aldo Mayoralgo

There are a number of different ways to fill-in a wall in your plans. You could just black it out (and use a lot of ink). Or you could hatch them (and use a lot of time). You could also choose to draw the wall construction (like wall studs and CHBs- you’ll learn about them in upper years).

Or, another thing you could try is to and color in your walls with an orange colored pencil, from the back of the paper. It’s an old and lovely practice because it allows the walls to come out clearer when you blueprint them. Try it out and see if your prof will be impressed.

8. The larger your scale is, the more detail you need to provide.

The larger your scale is (1:5 is a lot larger than 1:200), it means that you are zooming-in on whatever you are showing, and so you’ll have to show more detail.

So if you were to section through your house at a 1:200 scale, what you would show of your roof eaves would probably be something like a thick outline that is hatched. If you were to show the same drawing at a 1:5 scale, what you’d show of your roof would have to be something of this sort:

(c) Aldo Mayoralgo
(c) Aldo Mayoralgo

More elements, more textures and hatching (which you can find in graphic standards), and more everything. It’s the same principle with just about all kinds of drawings. If you show a floor plan at 1:200, it’s fine to fill in the walls. Show it at 1:20 and you’ll probably need to show the concrete hollow blocks.

However, the smaller your scale is, the more broad and comprehensive the content that is being presented. So if you’re doing a 1:250 Site Development Plan (like below), make sure that it’s a useful key plan that all the blow-ups will branch out from in the future.

(c) Aldo Mayoralgo
(c) Aldo Mayoralgo

9. For lettering, clarity is more important than artistry.

…. that is, unless you’re old and successful and every sketch you make is worth thousands. Then artistic lettering to really spruce up your sketches would be icing on a very expensive cake.

Lettering is an interesting little animal, because everyone has their own unique penmanship (and you’ll really have to practice and see what works for you). In the case of manual drafting, however, it’s always a good idea to use your t-square to make writing guidelines before you input your words. Crooked text makes you sheets look sloppy and rushed.

Also, a lot of people seem to agree:

Text Guidelines

The norm for architects is to use BLOCK LETTERS in your working drawings. They are just a lot clearer and are the largest letters you can cram into a certain area of space.

Slanted or straight? Whichever is a good balance of clarity and what is natural to you.

If you’re really committed to breaking away from uniform penmanship, then learning chisel point is definitely a nice way to go – though it’s something someone physical like your professor needs to teach you.

10. There’s no escaping it: Practice makes perfect.

The truth is though, (and I know you saw this coming), is that practice will the main determinant at how good you can put to use these principles well.

But don’t worry. 🙂 I get that’s easy to feel overwhelmed and discouraged. But your first battle with your early archi subjects will never determine your success in the course and what follows.

And trust me, you’ll be getting a lot of drafting practice over the years – especially if your construction profs are the type that make you do your plates manually.

That’s it. Don’t be discouraged. You’ll get there. You’ve got this. 🙂

And when all else fails, don’t forget that you have good people to turn to for help.

(c) Josef Egwaras – Circa 2013

Stay hungry, and keep striving.


End SignP.S. Will be following up soon with a post on standards of constructing plans. Stay tuned. 🙂

Do you have a question? Don’t hesitate to ask. 🙂

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