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Here is a good essay about how to effectively use line thicknesses to convey information in drawings:
I wish the programmers at AutoDesk (AutoCAD is the product) had understood the importance of lineweights back in the 90's. They seem to now, but for years it was practically impossible to do drawings as well as an average hand drafter could, because the tools were so poor.
It reminds me of typography, which went way down hill when computers came on the scene. Now, typography is making a strong comeback. I hope the same thing happens for drawing.
-- David Person (email)
Excellent inspiration fodder for any graphic designer. Thanks!
To add, it is interesting to browse archived patent drawings and watch them slowly go down hill until the introduction of better 3d and vector programs of late.
Some of the patent drawings from the eighties are just hideous. Most of the problems with these are due to lack of line elegance.
Software is definately bringing back drafting excellence as a required skill. It's so good to see isn't it!
Another thread here shows some accidental line thickness. In this graphic, thickness is an accident of data density. This is probably the most interesting pure line graphic I've ever seen: http://www.americanscientist.org/template/AssetDetailNoFrame?assetId=21953
In my own work, line color, and thickness are incredibly important to me. I will change a thickness or color and tint many, many times before deciding on a final set. For example, this graphic uses 1px and two px lines, as well as varying color and tint: http://www.pixelplay.org/jeff/sparkline/
-- Jeffrey Berg (email)
I think AutoCad practically destroyed the craft of architectural drawing as its use in schools created a generation of architects who had not learned how to draw. There was a pretty obvious disconnect between the act of drawing and the graphic you were creating in the earlier versions where the graphic was represented on screen with all equal line-weights and different colors on different layers representing different thickness lines. Once in this relationship with the graphic most did not bother to assign different line-weights except maybe for the sheet border. Other CAD software oriented more towards technical illustration led to work that was much better. This software PowerCadd which has been around almost as long as AutoCad shows much more illustrative work by its users at this site: http://www.engsw.com/Drawings/DrawingRoom.html. Some entries are much better than others, but most contrast to the flat even line-work I associate with bad CAD work. Even here though you can see many users suffer under the same standards imposed on the whole discipline by the limitations of AutoCad, even though they could do so much better with their tools! There is an excellent entry for patent drawings btw. (this site was not loading at the time of my post but hopefully their server troubles will be fixed by the time you read this.)
Another interesting piece of software is brought to mind by the essay referenced above. A 3d modeling/sketching application which handles line-weights as described in the essay on the fly via OpenGl: http://www.sketch3d.com/. This can produce wonderful graphics.
[link updated March 2005]
-- Greg La Vardera (email)
>>Software is definately bringing back drafting excellence as a required skill. It's so good to see isn't it!
I agree. I've taught AutoCAD to undergraduate students of architecture for the past seven years and I've been pleased to see the software evolve toward greater support of "drafting excellence" during this time.
More generally, I believe that AutoCAD is a forceful and rich medium for organizing information within the discipline of architecture. This effectiveness is not limited to "drafting", but generally includes the software's ability to superimpose information from multiple sources in support of an architect's need to judge the effect of changes to an evolving design.
See my course material at
and an informal unpublished paper at
in which I briefly discuss specific uses of AutoCAD as an information-organizing medium.
Mike Christenson, Department of Architecture, University of Minnesota
-- Mike Christenson (email)
"I think AutoCad practically destroyed the craft of architectural drawing as its use in schools created a generation of architects who had not learned how to draw. "
Interesting observation. I see a similar situation occurring today with the advent and proliferation of GIS (Geographic Information Systems) software and a concurrent lack of basic cartographic skills. An emphasis on computer science or software engineering in the field of mapping has resulted in a real decline in the quality of digital maps (or an increase in the quantity of poorly designed maps).
-- David Medeiros (email)
The original link for this thread seems broken. I suspect that the document it linked to can now be found at
but maybe David Person can confirm this.
-- Sean Garrett-Roe (email)
In AutoCad's defense, you have always been able to adjust line weights, albeit not intuitively. You simply set the line weights in plot styles - different weights for different pens. This was based on the very old technology of plotting with actual pens - different pens had different colors and weights, and you set up the style accordingly. Our office has been doing this for at least 15 years (as long as I have worked here), and I know the capability has existed longer than that. As is the case for any program or technology, you do need to understand the program you are using, what it can and can't do - or maybe how to cheat a bit to make it do what you want.
-- Scott (email)
I recently upgraded to AutoCAD LT 2004 from LT 98 (not by choice) and I am trying to "tweak" my plots to match the lineweights I used in LT 98. I started out hand-drafting and acclimated to AutoCAD years ago. I found the old style of setting lineweights to match pen colors helpful and easy to use. I am trying to get more depth to my drawings with varied lineweights but don't truly understand how to do this effectively in the newer versions. I do alot of pdf creation for email, etc. and would like any input to help me get a better looking drawing.
-- michael (email)