Multi-Disciplinary Plotting Made Easy

image Plotting is a topic so simple in theory, but yet so difficult in practice. Looking no further than my own firm, I can attest for the difficulties users encounter while plotting. Prior to standardizing the plotting process within my firm; a typical week of support contained 2-3 requests about plotting. Today those requests have been all but eliminated, with only 1 or 2 every couple months. But I need not sell you on the idea of standardization; we all know that saves us in the long run. Instead what I’d like to discuss is the added complexities of plotting within a multi-disciplinary firm.

We have the super-firms out there, with Architectural, MEP, Structural, and maybe even Civil out there, but in that mix is also smaller firms. Maybe you work in a smaller MEP or Civil/Survey firm. Regardless the firm size, the challenge is the same, referencing another department’s work and plotting it is flat out difficult. Doing this typically means going through some sort of rogue procedure just to make the plan look good.

While there is some credit to be given in making plans look good, doing so in a non-standardized way is never a good thing. But when your Mechanical department needs to draw proposed duct work Green and your Plumbing department also needs to use Green for proposed piping, what is one to do? Well the long-time answer to such a riddle is, if you need to show it in your plan set, reference it and override the color to something that looks good in your plan set. And with that Bob ‘makes it look good’ by changing things to color 130, and Joe ‘makes it look good’ on another project by changing things to color 85.

If that describes the way your firm references work between departments you’re likely saying something like “well yes that’s a pretty cruddy way doing things, but what else are we to do?”

My answer to that is a lesser-known plotting option introduced in AutoCAD 2000 called Style Based Plotting. I’m assuming everyone is familiar with the concept of the defacto standard of Color Based Plotting. In essence we have a pen table in the form of a CTB file that says Color Green plots slightly bolder than Yellow, and Yellow plots slightly bolder than Red. However you have your CTB configured, the point here is a change in color translates to a change in the way a drawing plots.

Conversely, with Style Based Plotting (STB), color doesn’t matter. Think about it, do you spend more time drafting your plans or printing your plans? In all likelihood you spend more time drafting your plans not printing them. So why is it we assign colors based on what “looks good” when plotting, and not what is intuitive to us when drafting? Using CTB files we really are enslaved to the way drawings look when plotted, not what intuition tells us. On the other hand using STB files we can have the best of both worlds.

Perhaps my plumbing department wants to show their proposed water pipes Blue. Well additionally my Mechanical department wants to show their cold water lines Blue. Both want to use Blue, but both also need Blue to plot differently. With a CTB file, that’s a problem, with STB files it’s no problem whatsoever. This is because with CTB files Color controls the display of my layer in my drawing, and also the way it’s plotted. With STB files I have a second property called “Plot Style”. Thus Color only affects the appearance of layers within a drawing, whereas the Plot Style is what determines how a given layer will plot.

With CTB files we’re limited to the standard 255 AutoCAD colors. STB files on the other hand have no real limit. You define their names affording you the ability to assign logical names like “thin” and “bold”. The Starbuck drinkers out there may prefer to name their plot styles something like “tall”, “grande”, and “venti“. Whatever the case, you choose the way your plot styles are named. But still, in-and-of-itself doesn’t help with the need to share drawings between departments.

image With a little smoke & mirrors style based plotting can be configured to make sharing drawings between departments a breeze. For instance in a MEP firm, you could create a series of plot styles for your Mechanical Department, another series for Electrical, and yet another for Plumbing. Any Mechanical entities would consequently use a Mechanical plot style, say M-Venti. Plumbing would assign the “P-Venti” plot style to their layers.

In addition to having a series of plot styles for M, E, & P, you would also have corresponding STB files. One would use the Mechanical.stb when plotting a Mechanical plan. Within that STB file, all of your electrical and plumbing plot styles would be configured to plot out screened. This effectively translates to each department being able to reference each other’s work, and more importantly not having to make any changes to ‘make it look right’. Now not only is referencing work easier, it takes less time, and both Bob and Joe’s plans are consistent.

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  • Eric

    Wow, it sounds like this is exactly what I was looking for.
    Short history:
    Worked at an Arch. firm using MicroStation exclusively. Now I work for a multi-disciplinary firm as the “IT Guy/CAD Manager. We are using both ACAD and MicroStation. I have been given the major task of bringing together 5 disciplines under the “same” standards.

    So, I know what you mean when you say people will just change the ctb to meet their needs. And before long, you have 30-some-odd different ctb files floating in CAD space. Do you have any suggestions as to how I would best organize this process? I want to see our ACAD and MS work better together. But I want to be able to do it with the least amount of trouble/change. I do think the stb is the way to go, I just don’t know where to start.

  • Eric

    Wow, it sounds like this is exactly what I was looking for.
    Short history:
    Worked at an Arch. firm using MicroStation exclusively. Now I work for a multi-disciplinary firm as the “IT Guy/CAD Manager. We are using both ACAD and MicroStation. I have been given the major task of bringing together 5 disciplines under the “same” standards.

    So, I know what you mean when you say people will just change the ctb to meet their needs. And before long, you have 30-some-odd different ctb files floating in CAD space. Do you have any suggestions as to how I would best organize this process? I want to see our ACAD and MS work better together. But I want to be able to do it with the least amount of trouble/change. I do think the stb is the way to go, I just don’t know where to start.

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  • Joshua Rebennack

    We use STBs at my office. They kick a**! :-)

    One thing not mentioned in this are post was using layer states with STBs. Once you get the hang of doing that, the ability to plot drawings that look radically different just with a button push is awesome.

    Also, for those Civil 3D (and I assume Architectural Desktop) users, STBs and styles take some getting used to. You need to make sure you layer out all the parts of that style you want to plot differently. Remember, color will not do this.

  • Joshua Rebennack

    We use STBs at my office. They kick a**! :-)

    One thing not mentioned in this are post was using layer states with STBs. Once you get the hang of doing that, the ability to plot drawings that look radically different just with a button push is awesome.

    Also, for those Civil 3D (and I assume Architectural Desktop) users, STBs and styles take some getting used to. You need to make sure you layer out all the parts of that style you want to plot differently. Remember, color will not do this.

  • http://www.thecadgeek.com Donnie Gladfelter

    Zane – The number of firms using STB’s is still small, but more and more firms seem to be warming up to the idea. No less, you bring up some good points. We opted to have both grayscale & lineweight controlled by the plot style. That was more to make our transition from CTB to STB easier. To that end we did opt not to have a color standard, instead we allow our users to switch between a number of color schemes.

  • http://thecadgeek.com/ Donnie Gladfelter

    Zane – The number of firms using STB’s is still small, but more and more firms seem to be warming up to the idea. No less, you bring up some good points. We opted to have both grayscale & lineweight controlled by the plot style. That was more to make our transition from CTB to STB easier. To that end we did opt not to have a color standard, instead we allow our users to switch between a number of color schemes.

  • zane

    Great article, I am glad to see someone else using plot styles. It seems most firms are still using ctb plotting. I have something to add. I have standards set for plotstyles, but the plotstyle only controls the color of the output plot. The styles I have setup include color, black or(mono) and different gray scales. Line thicknesses are controlled by the element or layer lineweights. I have had success with this setup. When I want a layer grayscale or color I just change the layer plotstyle properties and the color displayed on the screen is not affected. Colors can then be associated to the design data not the plot output. Also by using lineweights and not ctb plottting, files seem to translate better between Microstation and Autocad.

  • zane

    Great article, I am glad to see someone else using plot styles. It seems most firms are still using ctb plotting. I have something to add. I have standards set for plotstyles, but the plotstyle only controls the color of the output plot. The styles I have setup include color, black or(mono) and different gray scales. Line thicknesses are controlled by the element or layer lineweights. I have had success with this setup. When I want a layer grayscale or color I just change the layer plotstyle properties and the color displayed on the screen is not affected. Colors can then be associated to the design data not the plot output. Also by using lineweights and not ctb plottting, files seem to translate better between Microstation and Autocad.