Redlining Drawings Digitally

In a traditional architectural office collaboration requires most or all the following: computer, printer, scanner, a pen or pencil and a phone or close proximity to your team. We use the Surface Book to combine these items into one very mobile tool. This post discusses how we take advantage of the Surface Book’s power, portability and flexibility in the quality control phase of our workflow by redlining  drawings digitally.

Digital Quality Control

Leveraging the Surface Book for digital quality control means all relevant documents are with you at all times. Even on a simple project this eliminates all of the preparation that would be necessary to review the project away from the office. This does mean that if you’re not completely digital with your workflow, you must be diligent about digitizing your processes that require printed documents. Personally, I have reviewed drawings this way at my desk, my dining room table, on the couch and on an airplane. I’ve even reviewed drawings while riding around in a car for a week with a client in Florida visiting multiple project sites.


Drawboard: We are currently using a program mentioned in previous posts called Drawboard to review our drawings. Compared to other PDF editors Drawboard is responsive with little to no lag. I dove deeper into the topic of responsiveness in a previous post3. In order to have one file for all comments, we use color coding to keep track of who made comments and who has addressed comments. There are multiple ways to utilize color coding such as assigning a color to a user, to a role or by creating a color key on the cover sheet of every set of drawings. I won’t dive into it, but they all have their benefits and pitfalls. A limitation of Drawboard is that it does not allow for simultaneous editing, however there are a few ways to address simultaneous review. One is to prohibit simultaneous reviews and require that all reviews are performed in succession which is rarely practical. Another is for each reviewer to create their own file to make comments. The issue with multiple files is that it creates additional coordination if reviewers provide different methods of addressing an item in their comments. It also wastes time if reviewers are both marking up the same items, and for that reason, potentially miss the same items. Drawboard does allow comments to be exported from one document and import into another. I have done this in the past, but inevitably comments will overlap. (It can be useful to import comments from previous reviews into the revised set as a way to verify what items have been addressed.) Reviewers using the same color also creates issues as there is no way to change the color of a comment once it is made.

Bullclip: Recently we discovered a second offering from Drawboard called Bullclip that looks promising based on our experience with Drawboard. They claim it is built from the ground up for the construction industry for this purpose and allows multiple people to simultaneously review drawings and each other’s comments in real time. This allows the reviewers to collaborate the same way whether they are opposite sides of the table or the country. Comments can be made on public or private layers. Comments can be viewed as they are, isolated by user/layer or color coded by layer/user making it easier to determine who made each comment. This eliminates the need for the complex procedures necessary in Drawboard and problems that can arise. There are native Bullclip apps for Windows 10 and iOS as well as a web-based version for commenting on devices using other operating systems. Bullclip also has tools for commenting on devices whether they are touch enabled or not. They are currently working on a new feature called “hot-spots.” These are to remain in place as the document is updated over the course of the project to maintain awareness of items to be addressed.

As I said, we have not had the opportunity to try Bullclip yet, but plan to take advantage of their trial period in the near future. Once we have, I intend to revisit their claims in another post or in the comments below depending on how the trial pans out. The additional features Bullclip provides do come at a price. At the time of this post it costs $35/user/month. It will depend on the number of users, but ultimately this should more than offset the time saved by users making comments and by those addressing the comments.

As you can see, the Surface Book is a powerful tool to help you collaborate with consultants and clients. It is not the only option and with the appropriate software, you can coordinate with clients and consultants digitally across all types of devices. The Surface Book is a premium device, however, and there are other devices at lower price points as well. I will discuss those in the final blog post of this series. These articles are written from my point of view as an architect, however these tools can apply to any business in the construction industry, design and beyond.