Architectural Redlines – Intern 101

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Since I have spent the majority of my architecture career as a so-called Architectural Intern, I am starting a new series on YA called Intern 101—basic lessons that I learned the hard way in my early years of working in architecture firms.

This episode of Intern 101 is all about redlines.

Architectural Redlines

What the Hell Are Redlines?

Redlines are architectural drawings that have been printed, reviewed, and marked up with errors, changes, and revisions. The markups are typically done in red ink to make them easier to find, hence the name Redlines.

As a set of construction drawings moves from a schematic design into the creation of construction drawings that a builder will use, printing out the drawings at 50% (usually on 11 x 17 sheets of paper) and full size (24 x 36 sheets or larger) is necessary to ensure quality control.

When drawing in CAD, the line weights (thicknesses of the line), shading, patterns, and other elements are usually color coded. The thickness of a line shown on a computer is often very different than the reality of a printed line. There is also a level of translation between each printer. The gray shading on one printer will usually be very different than the gray shading on another printer. So frequently printing PDF files on paper to do quality control makes excellent sense.

I personally print out as much as I need to, and sometimes that’s a lot. By printing so much, it actually allows me to work faster and be much more thorough, ensuring that a potential error is not made. The cost of the paper is always much cheaper and significantly more sustainable than dealing with an error on a construction site.

Everyone has different preferences, but when I work on a set of construction drawings, I love to mark up my own work on printed-out sets. It’s nice to back away from the computer screen and see the work on paper as it starts to move closer to what the contractor will need to build it. Some people use various kinds of software and draw all over PDF files in red. No matter how you do it, you’re still arriving at a drawing with markups in red.

“Picking Up Redlines…”

…Is a term used when someone marks up a set of drawings with all the errors, changes, and revisions in red ink. Then they explain all the changes that need to be made on the drawings to another person (who typically has a lower pay rate, let’s be honest), and that person will go into the drafting software to make all the changes.

Picking up redlines is a fantastic way for an architectural intern to really tap into the knowledge, experience, and expertise of more senior level members in the firm. Honestly, being the drafter for other, more experienced architects was one of the most important parts of my education. A ton of learning takes place around design, how put a building together.

Creating Construction Drawings Is An Art.

Putting together a clear, concise, and thorough set of construction documents for a contractor to build from is a skill and an art form. Anyone who does this work has their own systems, theories, and philosophies about how to put together a set of drawings.

The real power of picking up redlines is doing this job with many different people and tapping into the collective knowledge of the office. Everyone at the office has different experience and a different area of expertise. A good attitude to have as an Intern is: Knowing there is valuable knowledge you can learn from every single person at the office and being open to learning something from everyone.

Dont Get Lost!

When picking up redlines its really easy to forget the changes that you have made as you move through the markups. Especially if you do not complete all the redlines in one sitting. The very best way to keep track of the work that has been done is to use a highlighter and mark off each redline mark that has been picked up or completed.


Redline your own drawings before you ask someone else to.

There are 2 important concepts you need to understand if you are spending many hours drafting:

  1. The drawings will never be perfect. You can work on a set of drawings for 143,567 hours, and there will always be more you can add.
  1. When you are working on a drawing and putting a lot of thought and energy into it, you can become very blind to a blatantly obvious error. You just don’t see it because you have been staring at the same drawing for too long.

When I first started working in offices, I used to work really hard on drawings, print them and then hand them right to my supervisor without reviewing them first. He would find the most obvious errors that I couldn’t see it on the screen but it was blatent once it was printed. For a long time, I used to feel really sheepish because my drawings had sloppy errors on them.

At some point, I got sick of this stupid concept being a distraction and making me repeatedly look like a fool.

So I started to get very obsessive about making it a habit to always check my own drawings before I handed them to my boss to review.   By doing this, it showed that I took the time to review my own work and I felt better about catching that spelling mistake, before the boss did.

Every Boss will be appreciative of seeing your layer of redlines before they add theirs.

About the author

Michael Riscica

Michael Riscica is a Licensed Architect who lives in beautiful Portland, Oregon, with his Labrador Retriever. He is passionate about helping Young Architects change the world. In his free time, Michael likes to take very long bicycle rides across America. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Linked In.

    Michael Riscica - July 3, 2015

    YES! Thank you for your comment Jonathan. I completely forgot about mentioning the highlighter. I went back and revised my post to include it. Your the best!

      Randy - June 22, 2016

      We don’t use highlighters, but we use yellow and green colored pencils. The green is for the architect to check and scratch off after checking the yellow highlighted stuff.

Samantha - July 6, 2015

Thanks for this awesome post! Just started interning and “picking up redlines” at my firm!

Jordan - July 13, 2015

Some very great tips for those doing internships this summer. It’s important to understand what the industry is like when getting into it as an intern. Thanks for sharing!

Eli - September 7, 2015

The part about checking your own work was spot on. I still find myself making (in hindsight) really obvious mistakes and then getting chastised for it. It’s comforting that I’m not the only one…I just hate being made to feel stupid all the time, and I find myself spending a lot of extra hours combing over even schematic drawings just to avoid getting raked over the coals. :/

    Michael Riscica - September 7, 2015

    No, its not you.

    The person checking the drawing has an advantage over you because they haven’t been looking at the same drawing for hours. Try to see it as a good thing because over time you will really start to shape how you draw and the only REAL way to learn this stuff is to make mistakes. LOTS OF THEM!

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