Reviews Have Architects Seeing Red

4 Apr, 2007 By: Scott MacKenzie

In the world of redlining and reviewing CAD drawings without CAD software, the choices abound.

This month I'm going to talk about redline/review software and tell you what some architects and engineers have to say about it. Electronic redlining and reviewing software for CAD has been around for a while, but it has not caught on as well as I would have expected. Well, until recently, anyway.

When I first saw someone pitch the marking up of a CAD file with something other than the native CAD program, I was intrigued. I saw how easy it was to add simple redline instructions to the drawing file. The concept is based on the use of inexpensive software to graphically communicate design revisions, i.e., create markups. These files could then be viewed with software available for free to anyone.

This was cool, I thought. Any designer without good CAD skills could use this tool. It would remove the tedium of faxing 8 1/2"X11" sheets or mailing full size markup drawings to CAD operators in inconvenient locations.

Over the past several years, I have not seen a whole lot of electronic redlining going on. But the use of PDF files for review has been very popular (DWF, not so much).

That Was Then; This Is Now

Designers have to be comfortable using computer software to communicate. The older generation of architects and engineers can be indifferent, hesitant or intimidated by the whole concept of electronic markups.

In this era of virtual building design and documentation, the software we use to produce the 3D information model is not as easy to master as 2D CAD was. No longer is it a mere electronic drawing tool; it's a whole new paradigm. Sorry, the last thing I want to get into is another rant about BIM psychology. But I think designers are farther removed from the skill set needed to produce construction documents from start to finish than they were five or six years ago.

As a side note, one thing I have experienced in my 19 years of working with architects and engineers is that engineers are more likely than architects to grasp the validity of a new tool. Of course there are exceptions (settle down), but I have found engineers to be more objective about new technology. Architects, especially those of the older generation, like what they like and don't want to upset the flow of chi. I know a prominent designer/architect who does most of his designing through verbal instruction, as opposed to actually taking the time to produce a clean markup by hand. He is what I call a "hands-off" kind of guy. But I digress.


The two main file formats used for redlining and reviewing CAD/BIM drawings are DWF and PDF. Whether you prefer using the PDF or DWF file format to redline/review drawings, you will be served well. Either can be opened and reviewed with free software. PDF, of course, is a standard file format that is used globally across all industries, so many people in the AEC industry already use it. DWF is not quite as popular. It is a child of Autodesk and CAD specific, but other non-Autodesk CAD and BIM applications can create DWF files too.

Stuart Lewis, AIA, LEED associate with HOK, says "I like to use Adobe Acrobat Professional to review documents and do it regularly. The drawing tools aren't all that great but the annotation tools are. It is also convenient to have a single app to review specs and consultant/vendor drawings as well as our CAD drawings."

Harvey Phelps, president of Virtual Building Logistics, says the use of redline/review software is standard practice in his business "when applicable." His company is using it on a 10m-square-foot casino and resort. "Eight design teams and the two construction managers are giving us feedback through the tool. Because all we do is BIM, having the ability to bring 3D redlines in or just viewing the models for the design team to redline has made turnaround faster."

Let Them Edit DWF!

Autodesk has recently removed the price tag from its DWF editing software Autodesk Design Review 2007 in preparation for the new 2008 free version. Now anyone can legally use Design Review for free. This is a great relief to me and other CAD managers. Even though it wasn't too expensive to buy Design Review, it was a hassle keeping up with stand-alone licenses.

Colin Black, EIT, LEED AP, mechanical staff engineer with CUH2A Architecture Engineering Planning, said, "Electronic redlining is great for general comments. But for senior engineers who don't even know 2D AutoCAD, [they think] it's useless because it would be faster to draw their lines by hand and then scan it to make it electronic.

"The real power of Design Review comes in the ability to review, not mark up. For big projects, with over 200 sheets, some files take a few minutes to open, and if you just want to check something on it, it's much faster to open the set in Design Review. Design Review is also really great for group review sessions. By projecting the set on a wall, a whole team of people can review it. Only four or so people can comfortably review a single printed set of drawings."

Until recently, you could not create PDF files from AutoCAD without third-party software. AutoCAD 2007 and 2008 are now equipped to turn DWG into DWF. CAD managers have to wrestle with third-party PDF-creator applications for earlier versions of AutoCAD. If you've been waiting for a good reason to upgrade your AutoCAD, this may be it.

The need to purchase enough licenses to keep the team productive in creating PDF files can create a battle with management personnel, who think they are saving money by buying only one. "Just install it on the shared computer so everyone can use it," is their rationale.

Saving money by not purchasing enough licenses for this situation is like jumping over dollars to save pennies. Who the heck wants to go to the shared office computer to send out a few PDF files? Not to mention the hassle of logging into a computer for the first time and dealing with users who think the only way to open a program is with a desktop icon. They have to get someone from IT to show them how to find and use the tool. Then you have to set up the correct AutoCAD profile so the user can operate within the office environment.

Everyone in CAD production who is expected to print drawings in AutoCAD should have the ability to create PDF files of any size. They will be asked to create PDF files of their project at the last minute. The cheap, free and easy PDF writers out there fall short when it comes to printing 24"X36" and 30"X42" size drawings. You need to invest in a good application such as one of the choices listed below.

Lost in Translation

There is, however, one cause for concern. The more we rely on computers to do redlines, the farther removed we get from the printed product. The young architects and engineers I see coming out of school today seem to have less respect for the printed construction document. They don't have a good foundation in manual drafting, compared to us older folks. Every firm needs to have a member who enforces good graphics standards and consistency in the drawing set.

James F. Riley, AIA, LEED AP, principal with CUH2A Architecture Engineering Planning, when asked about using electronic redlining said, "I still rely on hard-copy and ink pens. I find this more satisfying because I can see more about the relationships between sheets in the set. Also, the whole WYSIWYG thing does not apply. We frequently see things [on the computer] that somehow do not print."


Below are listed a few select redline/review packages. The first three offer server-based solutions. The server-based approach makes the most sense to me for medium to large offices. It gives everyone access to the software from their own computers and licensing is easier.

AutoVue Professional -- has a long track record
Bluebeam Revu -- a good solid product
DWGSee DWG Viewer Pro -- I have not used, but it looks good.

Other view/markup applications:
CADwizz MaxxV3 -- the name is so cool I had to include it
View Companion -- inexpensive and great for converting to other graphic file formats
View Cafe -- notable mention.

If you have any opinions on these programs or others, please send me an e-mail and tell me all about it. My list includes the programs I have actually used and programs that look good from the outside. I would love to get some feedback while I look at these programs in more detail. Next month I will share what I have learned. Have fun.

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