Why Learn Manual Drafting in 2022?

9 minute read

from above of ethnic scientist exploring details of aircraft using magnifier

Not too long ago, it was possible to graduate from interior design school without learning a computer drafting program like AutoDesk Revit, 3DS Max or SketchUp.

What were students and professionals using in the field instead?

Hand-drawn and rendered technical and construction drawings, of course!

The Industry is Digital

There is absolutely no reason to learn manual drafting for a job in interior design 2022. The industry has fully transitioned over to the use of computer aided design in architectural design offices.

However, as someone who learned manual drafting as well as computer drafting, I would like to share a little about the virtues to learning traditional drafting as well as computer drafting.

Let’s start by talking about when and how computer drafting first became a thing.

The Introduction of Computer Drafting

computer computer keyboard contemporary display
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Between Two Worlds

Like every other industry over the last 30 years, computers have had a slow and steady rate of adoption in the field of interior design.

Computers were actually introduced to the interior design and architecture professions as far back as the 1980s. It would be a long time before the use of CAD (Computer Generated Design) software would become standard practice, however.

Some early adopters were wise to see where technology was headed and embrace it.

Others, who had been working with physically drawn technical and construction drawings for decades, couldn’t imagine a design world without hand-drafted drawings.

What’s the Difference?

So, what are the biggest differences between computer drafted plans and those created by hand? The biggest difference between manual drafting and CAD drafting lies in the time it takes to produce drawings.

Before we jump into this in detail, let’s begin with looking at some basic drafting questions, such as what drafting and manual drafting actually are.

What is Drafting in Interior Design?

Image credit: Wikipedia


Drafting is the drawing up of plans for a design, to be used by construction professionals. These plans may be drawn by urban planners, engineers, architects, landscapers or interior designers.

Drafted plans may be created for entire buildings, for individual rooms for even for furniture within the room. Separate plans are created for floors, walls (elevations) or ceilings, as well as for building systems and lighting.

Drafting can be done by hand, or with the help of computer software.

In either case, the plans must be accurate and drawn to scale.

The interior designer or other professional will need to do careful and thorough measuring of the building (site survey)before committing pen to paper.

Scale Drawing

“Scale” means that it is drawn to a precise measurement, which is either reduced or enlarged from its original size.

The proportions of the original and the scale “copy” should remain identical. The object is thus exactly 100 times bigger or smaller than its real world size.

As an example, at 1/100 scale, one meter (or 1000 millimeters) might be represented as 10 centimeters (100 millimeters).

What is Manual Drafting?

Here is an example of an early manual drawing I did in design school, using a manual drafting board with a T-square.

What Line Weights Mean

Fine = Set up and Detail

Guide lines and measurement lines are drawn in a ‘thinner’ or ‘finer’ line weight.

Here, I drew the first outlines of the drawing with a mechanical pencil (not seen in the final drawing), followed by a 0.1 technical pen.

Heavy = Major (Architectural) Features

The heavier, more “dominant” lines in the drawing are very deliberate, as well.

They represent major architectural features (in this case both exterior ‘retaining’ walls and interior ‘partition’ walls) were drawn over with a 0.5 pen.

The difference between line thickness is called “line weight“, and there are general rules that the drafts person must follow.

Besides fine and heavy thicknesses, there is also medium weight. An average of three line weights is used in most drawings.

Drafting is an Art Form

Image Credit: Arch daily

Reading the Lines

Possibly one of the most beautiful thing about construction drawings is that nothing is done arbitrarily.

Every line and every notation means something.

Drafters who hone their craft long enough even go on to develop their own individually recognizable drafting style.

Good drafting, while technical, is an art form in its own right.

What Professions Use Manual or CAD Drafting?

engineers looking at blueprint

Manual drafting was once the standard in many industries besides interior design.

It has been used in pattern making for machine parts in industrial design as well as product design.

Traditional drafting was used by design engineers for building automobiles and airplanes, and by architects for planning buildings.

Engineers use drafting for systems and structures.

Even fashion design uses a drafting process for creating patterns.

While most industries have moved to CAD, the benefits of manual technical drawing are still valid.

What is CAD Drafting?

CAD is short for “computer-aided design”. Instead of starting from scratch every time, the computer does a lot of the heavy lifting for you.

Type in the dimensions and the computer creates the lines for you. Drag, pull, snap and group. It’s all intuitive and immediate.

Ready, Set, Draft

In a virtual design space everything is set up for you.

You don’t need to set up your horizon line and vanishing points. You simply model in three dimensions, while viewing the scale model from any vantage point.

When you want to create a two dimensional plan, you simply view from above and export an orthographic plan view of your design.

You can create plans and elevations from any angle, and export them as perspective drawings or as plans.

Example of drafting from SketchUp

The image above is one of the first CAD models I ever attempted using SketchUp Pro for an interior design school project, a ‘universal’ design-friendly kitchen.

The dashed lines you see are my set up lines, marking the heights and widths of the tiles in the kitchen and the positions of openings and built in fittings.

The circle on the ground represents the average radius of a turn in a wheelchair.

Manual vs. CAD Drafting

instruments prepared for measurements in house

I read a fair bit about architecture, and a lot of experts are saying that architects graduating schools today don’t know how to draw any more.

Of course they can produce perfectly accurate and even flawless design drawings using CAD.

What has been lost, however, is that immediacy of being able to sketch out an idea, a rough perspective or a floor plan and visualize on the spot or ‘on the fly’.

It seems students just aren’t using pencil and paper any more.

Manual Drawing is More Visceral

I think about manual drafting the way I think about sketching with pencil vs. sketching on an iPad using Procreate.

You might be able to skip a grade and go straight to computer art, but if you don’t ever try your hand at the manual, viceral experience of working with real texture and put pen to paper, you might miss out on a formative experience.

If you take designing seriously, learn how to work between mediums, such as pen and paper, mouse and screen or pen and tablet.

Switching Mediums Makes You Smarter

woman in red long sleeve writing on chalk board

When you go between designing methods you engage a learning process called “cross-learning”. Cross learning allows for bridging between concepts and even disciplines by the human brain.

Like the baby that needs to learn to crawl before walking, doing at least one manual drafting project is a valuable experience for any draftsperson.

How CAD Saves Time

It has to be said that for creating iterations of designs, making changes to designs and quickly creating alternate views of designs, CAD comes out the winner.

Being able to change material or color at the push of a button saves designers a lot of time at the drafting board.

My Experience Learning Manual Drafting

close up of a cable car
Photo by Karol D on Pexels.com

I can’t take all of the credit for learning manual drafting. It was actually a mandatory part of my design course.

Manual Drafting

Drafting was the third major subject for us, after material studies and the history of interior design. My school was so old school that CAD drawings only became required for projects in about 2016.

SketchUp Pro

At that point I was pretty glad that I taught myself how to use Sketchup, because other students had to take an extra-curricular CAD course at extra cost.

Learning manual drafting was, along with the construction unit, the toughest part of my interior design course.

I probably don’t have to tell you that at the end of the day, it was also easily the most gratifying of my academic accomplishments, because it truly challenged me.

How Manual Drafting Makes You a Better Designer

A Personal Story

When I reached the end of my course and had to produce my final project, I found myself in a predicament.

At this point in time, I was working a full time downtown from 8:30 to almost 18:00 every day and had a two hour commute each day to and from work on top of that.

The only time I had to work my exams was somehow using my cell phone for research on my commute, using pen and paper working out design problems during my lunch break, and then few hours in the evening at my PC.

Forced to Work Between Mediums Pays Off

At first I lamented and totally hated that I didn’t have my computer during my lunch break. The result was that I had to use grid paper, a straight ruler and triangular ruler to mimic a simple T-square.

It was my only option.

When I sent in my preliminary project, part of my finals, I received the go ahead from the faculty to proceed with the final.

They said that my hand written drawings and sketch book notes were some of the most thorough they had seen in the school’s history.

What I Learned About Using Manual and CAD Together

I had to laugh at myself and the apparent absurdity of the situation.

Necessity really is the ‘mother of invention’.

I solved a lot of problems going between paper and CAD, two dimensions and three. When I produced that final project, I really did feel that I knew the project inside and out.

What’s more, I feel like I got the full design student experience.

How to Learn Manual Drafting

If you’re interested in architectural and interior design drafting, here are some resources for learning online.

Drafting Board

Drafting for Woodworkers, Woodworking University

CCAC Architecture & Drafting Professional Certificate



an architect making designs and layouts

I hope that if you’ve never considered drafting by hand that I’ve encouraged you to consider it.

Begin with Manual and then Move into CAD

If you have been limited to computer only, try starting with pencil and paper in the earlier phases and then move to CAD as the project progresses.

If you’ve never used CAD and are you’re worried about going from manual to CAD, you’ll be happy to know if I did it, you can as well.

It comes down to learning new software tools, but if you understand drafting with pen and paper, you will intuitively “get” much of the CAD as you go along.

I hope that you enjoy your journey as a designer, drafting by hand as well as with CAD!

If you’re interested in what designer’s learn in school, check out the post below.


Designer, writer & educator living in East Asia since 2001

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