doing blueprints and get some plans

We often get telephone calls literally asking questions like “do you do blueprints” or “how much for some plans.” Another favorite is “can you draw it up?”

This line of inquiry is largely related to residential work but occasionally comes up on a commercial project. Now, I have had many reactions to these calls and I must admit the general ignorance on the public’s part to what architects do frustrates me. However, I suppose part of that is somehow our fault as architects; maybe it’s entirely our fault.

So it inspired me to write a series of posts to address some of these questions.

Let’s start with “do you do blueprints?” I hope one can divine the answer to “can you draw it up” from the overall context.

One may not wish to be corrected, but the term “blueprint” is an archaic term occasionally still used by laypersons to describe technical construction drawings (also called working drawings, construction drawings or prints). It originated because of the “blue” drawings made by a development process of copying an original drawing made on translucent paper onto chemically treated paper. Light was passed through the translucent paper onto the copy paper. The chemical turned blue leaving white lines where the ink or pencil blocked the light.

A later process developed in the 1940’s was the reverse with a white background and blue lines developed with ammonia (often referred to as a “diazo” print). At my first job for an architect, there were many a day where I got a headache from being in the print room with the ammonia smell developing prints. I don’t miss that.

We now refer to these technical drawings as “prints” or simply as drawings, construction drawings or construction documents. To be very precise they are part of the “contract documents” between the owner and contractor. Nevertheless, the reference to technical drawings or the preparation of documents used for construction is a part of an architect’s typical service; however, it is a result of a design process. Yes, we can ultimately provide our clients with construction drawings for a project, but first, we must talk about the design no matter how simple. An architect cannot jump to technical drawings without knowing the “what” or more importantly, the “why” of the building design. If you’re wondering, if we “drew up” what was given to us, 10 out of 10 times it would not work.

drafting tools

Another related question is “can I get some plans” or “how much for a set of plans?” Again, architects offer a service, not a product so even quoting a fee is dependent on the many questions that arise in defining the service needed and design requested.

Architects review each project as a unique condition specifically to determine the degree of service needed or requested by each client. If someone is looking just for a set of drawings to get a building permit (i.e. similar to stock house plans) without really caring about the design process, then they are misunderstanding the difference between purchasing a set of drawings as a product and hiring an architect for their service. An architect’s service is a systematic process through which the architect endeavors to achieve the client’s construction goals within their budget regardless of the size or complexity of the project.

The production of contract documents or construction drawings is an important component of an architect’s service. It is where the art meets the technical. But that part of the process cannot be performed separately from a design process with the same successful results. Construction documents are a detailed and organized set of drawings and specifications that record countless decisions made and information gathered through a (thorough) design process between the client and the architect. In some ways leaping directly into construction drawings would be like a doctor providing a prescription or treatment plan without doing the diagnosis.

Yes architects can provide the necessary documents for your project whether it is a commercial or residential project. Now quoting a specific fee requires a bit more information. We will have a few questions first.

We’re good at questions.

doing blueprints and get some plans

10 thoughts on “doing blueprints and get some plans

  1. Richard W.C. Balkins, Building Designer says:


    Very good article. I am a building designer and I do the same thing. I produce construction documents at the end of the design process. It is why it is called “building design service” or in the case of the person designing the building being an architect, it be called “architectural service”.

    I don’t do the old blueprinting process that is a cyanotype printmaking process. In those days, it was before the advent of xerographic copiers (aka Xerox copiers). Today’s technology makes that process more a novelty. As for why they chose cyanotype versus a number of other printmaking processes in the say is white lines on blue background works well for indoor and outdoor environment due to not being too glossy that bright sunlight reflecting on bright white paper tends to blind you. Hence, why reading black text outdoor in bright direct sunlight might be too hard to read. Especially with the brighter white paper that is available today. Now, we can see color paper used that is slightly pastel yellow, or green or cyan color. The ideal is for readability in construction environment. White lines also appears well in dark environment but today’s printers generally don’t come with white ink.

    Blueprints is now largely an informal term used to technical documents we called construction documents. (Reinforcing for readers). First and foremost, I produce construction documents as part of building design service. I produce and make copies for the permit review and the builders. The client does not get the construction documents but what is known as an “As-built” set that is performed after the work is done. I may produce an “As-built” set of an existing building before a remodel or addition is made and a final As-Built at the end. The reason for this is the one done before is to document what is. when we begin. Then I produce a final set at the end for what it is at the completion of project.

    As-Built sets would take into consideration change-orders and so on. If it is built exactly to the construction documents without reasonably measurable deviation then I would produce an additional copy of the construction documents. The builders usually gets copies and at the end, I will collect the permit copy and any additional copies made deal with it. Since construction documents are copyrighted material that is owned by the Architect or Building Designer NOT the client, clients aren’t buying a commodity but a service and does not hold any ownership to the design. Construction documents are INSTRUMENTS OF SERVICE. Unless otherwise, granted by license or an outright transfer of the copyright ownership is made by written contract, I retain full ownership of the design.

    Retaining control on these matters are important part of keeping control over liability exposure. If you let a client do whatever they want with it, it can expose you to a number of liability issues that can be very costly.

    Clients should be fully aware that an Architect or Building Designer are NOT employees of the client but contracted by the client. Therefore, works performed are not “works for hire” as you don’t really hire an architect or building designer but contract. Hiring is a term used to mean EMPLOYING. Hiring is another word for employing. Employing means an employment relationship.

    This is a lengthy response but also to be informative in nature for those who are not Architects of building designers.

  2. Roxanne Button AIA says:

    Thanks for the article, Lee. I find a similar lack of knowledge with commercial clients. One client has come back to us a year after we last met and claims that I didn’t “draw what we wanted” the last time, with the idea that he won’t have to pay our fee (still unpaid, btw) if he didn’t like what he got. The fact that I spent hours with him to get the plans exactly as he said he wanted them seems to have slipped his memory. Educating clients is a huge priority, in my opinion. They don’t seem to understand how much work we put into their projects, and the value that our time has. This has everything to do with your statement that we offer a service, not a product. And that service comes at an hourly rate!

    1. Thanks for lending your opinion and support. I’ve had to respond to the questions from my past three posts so often, I thought I’d answer them once and for all and point people to them in the future.

  3. Roland Arriaga says:

    I often tell prospective client that I do blueprints, yellowprints, redprints, all kind of color prints. I find it quite offensive to be bombarded by such ignorance from prospective clients. With the internet and information at your fingertips, any client can reasonable inform themselves and learn about what an architect does, how he performs his work, and the process of building. When I have to go through such pain and suffering of finding the patience to teach a client about what I do and explain the value of my services and how a “piece of paper”, worth thousands $$$$ of dollars, can help a contractor build his building, then my fees will reflect it. Tire kickers and price shoppers get sticker shock and generally end up going to Joe Blow Architects whose fees are on the very low end and whose perceived value is that of a WalMart neighborhood store where inexperienced architects come off the shelf for a dime-a-dozen. Physicians and attorneys’ perceived value is pretty much the same across the board. So why can’t architects work together to do the same? We work our butts off just like they do and put in long hours sacrificing family life for the sake of shaping humanity.

  4. I really like how you talked about the architect’s purpose being to make the project work within the budget. Architects have a tough job of carefully planning out blueprints that work for the client’s specifications while not emptying their wallet. I would definitely hire an architect if I needed to construct a building efficiently.

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