Thoughts on the printing of garden design plans.

The “hand draw vs CAD” discussion has largely been replaced in forums like this by questions surrounding the type of software to use for designing gardens. Arguments about this will rumble on for the foreseeable future: is AutoCAD too hard to learn? Is Vectorworks better than TurboCAD? Is there a place for 3D visualisation? Will clients pay for it and will landscapers understand it? Unfortunately there are still some who feel that software originally designed for amateur use is adequate for technical drawings.

Eventually however, thoughts will move on to the printing of CAD plans and other documents for clients, contractors and other interested parties; this posting is intended to anticipate this and allow a debate for the benefit of those just starting out with CAD.

My first attempts to teach myself CAD involved downloading freeware DOS programs over twenty years ago. I am embarrassed to confess my efforts were printed on an A4 dot matrix printer and pretty dreadful they were.

I was eventually persuaded to pay for my programs and to print them we used an 8-pen plotter. Clients loved it: pens were picked up and lines and other shapes drawn just as I had entered them in the program. Backwards and forwards the arm would go, changing pen colour after returning the old pen to its place at the side of the plotter, which looked for all the world like a conventional drawing board. Years later I was still using it at shows where it attracted large crowds.

When even good old CAD programs dropped DOS and discovered Windows, both my software and printers were changed. Now I could insert and print colour photographs and text with the drawing but I still thought A3 paper sheets were ideal until one day I was asked to design a series of gardens around the local manor house. I still think the design was not bad, but on A3 it was presented at an unreadable scale. I tried printing on several sheets but the client was unimpressed and I lost the contract to someone designing by hand onto serious pieces of paper.

The next day I started researching large format printers. The cheapest A0 colour plotter I could find was the HP Designjet 450C, which, like the Designjet 500PS which I bought second hand several years later, we still own and use. No doubt Hewlett-Packard would not approve but their plotters just keep slogging on! For A3 work (more on this later) I have an HP Deskjet 9800, which I also use for A4 letter writing, labels and other office printing tasks.

While both of my large format printers (Plotters) are obsolete now, newer models are readily available. They are not cheap but as I indicated earlier, I would not be without one for professional presentation of my designs. For those whose output is not great – and there are a large number of designers working on only a few gardens each year – many print companies will take your CAD file on disc or flash card and print the drawing for you. This solution is less flexible but cost effective for such designers.

When considering the paper size and type to use, my old 450 will only work with rolls of paper, which it cuts to size at the end of the printing process. The 500 however, will take a range of media, both sheets and rolls, in a huge selection of sizes. Flexibility is a good thing, in my experience.

Since upgrading to large format sizes all those years ago, clients have always received their design on A1 or larger paper. Landscapers appreciate this size for an overview, but I find they are often delighted to have a series of details on A3, which I encapsulate in a plastic for them. These sheets can be taken out in all weathers without fear of damage. Planting plans are especially appreciated this way, with the drawing on one side and the plant list on the other. Similarly, I often put the textual specification on the reverse side of layout plans and other technical drawings to assist them during construction. If the design calls for irregular curves requiring large numbers of offset dimensions on the plan I will sometimes print on graph paper to make setting out easier for the contractor.

A design can be wonderful on the computer screen but clients and contractors need carefully thought out physical drawings. Clients’ plans will be enhanced with photographs and sketches while those for the contractor will feature many more measurements and technical details. Having your own large format printers will allow you to plot your drawings to perfection in your own studio.


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