Doctors need a stethoscope, chefs can’t work without a set of sharp knives, a lawyer requires a sturdy briefcase, and an architect a good set of drawing tools.
Regardless of what profession you’re in, there is almost always a set of important tools that one could absolutely not do without.
In this article we provide you with a comprehensive breakdown of all the architecture drawing tools you will ever need throughout both your academic and professional lives.
For those that don’t know, architectural drawing (also known as drafting) essentially means translating an idea into a precise set plans, sections, and elevations. Without which, it would be impossible for any project to be communicated and successfully reach completion.
These drawings can be used to communicate the key details (such as dimensions, boundaries, placement of objects, etc.) of a building that is to be constructed, through technical/construction drawings, and can be created either digitally or manually.
Each requires it’s own separate set of tools that are all thoroughly discussed below…
What are architecture drawing tools?
Drawing tools, as the name suggests, are the tools required to create a technical drawing from scratch. As mentioned above, technical drawings and their accuracy are synonymous with the smooth running of any construction project, and it is important to choose the correct drafting equipment to ensure their precision.
There are some obvious tools that everyone is aware of, such as pens, pencils, sharpeners, and erasers. But we often neglect the numerous tools utilized during the creation of these drawings, the tools to measure, align and highlight, and these are as important to the process as the pens or pencils.
Drafting tools not only help us in illustrating these construction drawings but due to their ease of use, they make the whole process much faster and more efficient.
Ever since architecture became a properly licensed profession in the 18th century, various tools have been introduced to make drafting easier. Of course, it is quite easy to get confused when facing the numerous kinds and versions of these tools.
And so for your ease, we have listed below a detailed profile of the essential architectural equipment that you might need.
The basic drawing and drafting tools
This section covers the essential tools one might require during manual drafting. These tools are useful for all architects but are especially important for students starting their academic journey.
As a new architectural student, you will be first taught how to manually draft all your drawings before being introduced to other digital means such as AutoCAD.
Nowadays, most people opt to create their technical drawings digitally, but still usually start with a manual drawing that serves as the basis for the finished product.
The humble drawing Board
A drawing board is usually a flat wooden board of around 40 x 25 inches (sizes vary) and is an essential tool for any architect while manually drafting. Most drawing boards come with an attached parallel bar that makes alignment and drawing very convenient for its users.
There are many different versions of these that you could choose from, depending on your preferred size and accessories.
It is understood that manual drafting is done on sheets of paper, and while the size of these sheets may vary, more often than not the final draft is presented on sheets of A1 (roughly 23 x 33 inches in size).
A flat, smooth surface of suitable is absolutely imperative to draw cleanly on these sheets, which is why investing in a good drawing board might be a suitable option for architects.
Wooden and mechanical pencils
A pencil may be to an architect what a spatula is to a cook. Of course, a pencil seems a simple and negligible thing but more often than not, we all have a preferred type and brand that we use frequently.
Faber-Castell graphite wooden pencils for example have been a household name for quite a while now and are highly reliable for sketching.
Wooden pencils have been used for centuries but might not necessarily be the best choice for architects due to the requirement of having a consistent line weight, as they can quickly lose their edge, and causes an unwanted variance in line weight.
Hence, a mechanical pencil might be the better option when drafting.
Fineliners and technical pens
Whether to sketch out the initial details or darken and finalize pencil-drawn lines, pens are imperative to the completion of a technical drawing. There are two types of pens most commonly utilized, lining pens (also called fineliners) and technical pens. Many times these terms are used interchangeably but there is a slight distinction.
Fineliners have fiber needle-point tips that use water-based ink. Most of the time these fineliners are non-refillable and come in various needlepoint sizes. Fineline markers are also used to poché (fill with color to signify the cut plane) the walls in a plan.
Technical pens on the other hand are specialized equipment designed specifically for architects, draftsmen, and engineers. These pens are refillable and are used to draft technical drawings by many professional firms. Staedtler and Rotring are two of the most famous brands that produce these pens.
Eraser and sharpener
Once again, something that seems quite trivial but can actually have a huge impact on the conciseness and clarity of your technical drawing. Investing in a good-quality eraser might save you the hassle of dealing with leftover line marks and can help evade any damage to your drafting sheet.
A good mechanical sharpener is equally as important since it will save not only your graphite from being wasted but also your time. However, if you opt for a mechanical pencil, you can completely avoid having to use any sharpeners at all.
One of the most important tools for manual drafting, a T-Square is a T-shaped ruler with a working edge that is available in various sizes (10 inches, 24 inches, 30 inches, etc.). The size here signifies the length of the measuring part, also called the “blade”.
It is primarily used as a guide to draft horizontal lines on your technical drawing. While a T-Scale is not used to draw diagonal or vertical lines, it does assist in maintaining their alignment.
For those drawing boards that have a built-in parallel bar, a T-square is not required.
As mentioned above, a t-square is used to draft horizontal lines but does not allow us to draw at an angle or vertically. For this purpose, most people use an adjustable triangle. These are the same transparent triangles that most people have been familiarized with in their primary math class but are much larger in size.
Once aligned with the parallel bar or a T-Square, the adjustable triangles allow us to draw at different angles. They are generally made of transparent plastic, with two types commonly available and used.
The first one has 90-45-45 degree angles at each of its 3 sides (it is used to draw vertical lines at 90 degrees) while the other one has 30- 60- 90 degree angles. Many versions of this triangle include a locking nut which allows one to draw at multiple angles without moving the entire triangle.
Even if one has created a linear plan with straight lines, there may be many components in the plans and sections that would require a curved line to depict them e.g. a swinging door.
While a curve can be drawn by freehand it will not be accurate, and in a technical drawing with little room for inaccuracy, a compass can prove to be an important asset for any architect.
A compass is a relatively simple tool that most are familiar with, however, many architects choose superior companies for their compasses (such as Staedtler). A higher quality compass might support a push-button mechanism as well as extra apparatus that allows you to also attach technical pens.
As is apparent from the above-mentioned tools, measurement and alignment are crucial parts of drafting. One of the most basic yet useful tools in this regard is a simple ruler.
Most architects possess rulers of various types and sizes. The longest generally measures up to one meter, called a meter rule. With the advent of time, the materiality of these rulers has also changed. Once wooden rulers were used, now metal and plastics are more commonplace.
These rulers can either have straight edges or grooved edges (which are more convenient to use with lining and technical pens)
Along with a regular ruler, a scale ruler is another crucial drafting tool. Also referred to as an “Architectural scale”, a scale ruler is a triple-sided scale. Each of these three sides has different scale units along it and is identified by a different color. Generally, the imperial scales present on these scales are 1, ½, ¾,⅜,⅛, ¼, and 3/32, 3/16, etc.
Due to the inbuilt scales present on the ruler, it becomes incredibly convenient for the draftsman to decode and draw in that scale. Every architect, whether they choose to draft digitally or manually, requires a scale ruler and their work heavily relies on it. Nowadays most of these scales are made of aluminum or plastic.
A french curve is especially important for those architects who tend to work with organic forms.
They are usually made of transparent plastic in order to not cover the rest of the drawing while in use. Many people opt for silicone french curves which are flexible tools that one can bend in various shapes to achieve their desired curve.
A protractor is once again one of those materials that we are all quite familiar with. It is a semi-circular, transparent tool used to measure and mark angles in degrees.
Architects tend to opt for a bevel protractor that has a built-in scale and allows you to draw and measure lines at different angles without much hassle.
Drafting templates come in various sizes and have various shapes or “templates” engraved in them. The shape of these templates is generally a square or rectangle that combines multiple geometric shapes and symbols within itself. The templates include basic shapes such as squares, circles, triangles, etc. in multiple sizes but can also include other shapes such as an arrow, stars, polygons, etc.
These templates make it easier to draw similar shapes repetitively and provide more accuracy while doing so. There are architectural templates available on sites such as amazon that provide several furniture layouts at specific scales.
These templates make it much easier and faster to draft interior details.
As the name suggests, a paper trimmer is an adjustable tool that allows you to cut sheets of paper. While architects rely on this tool as a substitute for scissors, it is useful for anyone who might be working with a lot of paper and helps in a lot of DIY projects as well.
Some people choose paper cutters and rulers over a paper trimmer and while there is no obligation to use a paper trimmer, it is a safer way to cut paper, and hence it might prove to be a good investment.
Other drawing and drafting materials
Having covered the basics, there are a few more materials that can make your manual drafting workflow easier and smoother.
While it is possible to draft technical drawings on any type of paper, it is advisable to use specialist drafting paper. This is a unique archival-quality paper that allows drawings to remain intact for prolonged periods of time and leaves minimal smudging and streak lines.
Drafting paper comes in several colors and may either be plain or have a grid on it . However, if buying a colored (and specially colored grid) paper, make sure to choose a color that has sufficient contrast with the drawing so as to not render it illegible.
There are some drafting papers that include a grid that fades over time so that the drawing can become more readable but not all sheets have this feature.
Tracing paper is a material with low opacity which allows light to pass through it and when placed upon another paper, you can see the details of the sheet below. Tracing sheets are almost completely transparent and are used for layering multiple technical drawings.
For example, placing two plans on tracing sheets on top of each other would allow us to see how the two floors interact.
For rough work, it is advisable to use butter paper instead of tracing sheets as they are much more economical. However, for formal drawing butter paper should not be used.
A tracing tube is essentially a storage device. As an architect or student, you have to continuously shift all your work from home to the office or from home to your classroom. As the sheets are a fragile material, it is very important to safely store and transport them.
For this reason, many architects invest in a tracing tube which is basically a cylindrical tube that allows you to store all your rolled-up sheets safely.
Drafting tape, also called painter’s tape, is an adhesive tape used to tape sheets to any flat surface (drafting board or drafting table). Drafting tape differs from other tapes due to its adhesive quality.
Most tapes utilize some sort of a natural rubber adhesive which is more sticky than the ones used in drafting tapes and can leave some residue or damage the sheets.
Tip: If you have masking tape that is too sticky and might damage your sheets, tear off a strip of the required length and place it on the back of your hand, press lightly once and pull it off. In doing this, the overly adhesive property will be lost and it will be safe enough to use on your sheets.
Digital drafting devices
Manual drafting had been the norm for centuries but coming into the modern age, we had digitalized architecture as much as any other field. And nowadays you barely find any firm that creates its drawings manually.
Manual drafting is kept as a teaching tactic to introduce students to the nuances of architectural drawing and perhaps also a way of connecting to the roots and history of the profession.
Having said that, there are a few devices and equipment that you need when you’re drafting digitally. These devices make it easier to function as a digital draftsman or architect in today’s fast-paced life. A comprehensive overview is provided below.
As we mentioned at the start of the article, before you can formally draft your drawings, it is important to sketch all your ideas out. Currently, many architects use some sort of digital tablet to help them clarify these ideas.
The plus side of digitalizing from the start is that it provides you with a streamlined workflow that is much easier to control and keep track of. It also saves one from the inconvenience of shifting manual drawings to a digital form.
Apple iPad is one of the most reliable devices for architects. iPad Pro supports many softwares such as Photoshop, Procreate and Plan grid which are handy tools for all architects. An iPad with an apple pencil is the perfect accessory for any architect.
It is a tool that will allow you to create, render and edit your sketches and technical drawings with ease.
An iPad is a great option however, there might be some other options such as Microsoft Surface or Xencelab Tablet and Microsoft Surface Pen that can act as suitable alternates.
The choice depends on the architects’ requirements, and budget. It would be advisable to thoroughly research the types of tablets available in the market before investing in one.
Getting a drawing tablet and using it wisely will save hours of work that would have taken to complete the same task on paper.
While many professional architects opt for a PC and monitor, a good laptop allows you to move from one place to another. Any good gaming laptop will work well to support the heavy software that architects use (Lumion Pro, 3ds Max, Rhino, etc.).
The Alienware laptops from Dell, Legion series from Lenovo, and Razer Blade Pro are some reliable laptops for architects. However, before buying a laptop, it is recommended to consult with other professionals or tech enthusiasts that might be able to guide you towards the laptop that might work best for you.
Apart from a laptop, it is a good idea to create a good workstation with an up-to-date PC for all your work needs. A proper workstation such as an iMac, or Dell Precision Towers are a good choice for architects and draftsmen. While a desktop-based workstation can be costlier than a laptop, it makes up for the higher prices by providing better performance and speed.
Contrary to laptops, these workstations allow you to construct a full system according to your requirements. So you can switch out the CPU, internal drives and graphic cards, etc. with those that will work better for you. In this way a desktop-based workstation allows you to have more control over your equipment.
To sum it up
It’s important to not underestimate the importance of good architectural tools whether they are digital or manual. Architecture is a challenging field and we all try to find paths that will make our architectural journey easier and more enjoyable.
The tools and devices mentioned above will not essentially make you a good architect but they will help you in becoming one by streamlining your workflow.