4 Color Markups?

4 color markups

This post is in response to another post that I recently read on the Kung Fu Drafter’s blog titled Stand Up for your Markups by Laying Down Some Rules…”. 

Worth it?

I have been involved in the architectural and engineering world for over 25 years and have been on all sides, from hand drafter, designer, CADD drafter and designer, CADD manager, Project Manager and even have done and still do CADD and IT consulting.  I have marked up drawings, drafted markups and reviewed other’s work from someone else’s markups, but until I read this post I had no exposure to the “4 Color System”.   My first thought was that it seems to put a lot of extra work on the person doing the markups, the more I read, the more I saw an “us and them” picture developing.  As the first couple paragraphs stated, the work is done as a partnership – and this requires work from both sides.  I feel for those that endure horrible markups and hope that they can find a way to communicate this frustration without causing additional conflict.  Unfortunately, for those that do endure scribble and hieroglyphics, multiple colors will just make them more colorful.

It has Logic

Using separate markup colors has logic, and I am all about logic, setting a standard is good too because standards combined with automation are in my opinion the best way to create quality and cost-effective output.   I am all about logic – well logic and foresight.  Logic requires thinking about more than a single project or task and foresight allows us to look down the road and see the big picture.   The 4 color markups obviously were created with logic and foresight; although it seems a bit heavy on the designer.  If I were the person marking things up, I would have to keep picking up and putting down various color pens or pencils as I reviewed and marked up the drawing – annoying? Yes.  efficient? Not so much. But I am only one of many.

Agree and Disagree

For this methodology, there are a few things I agree with and a few I don’t.  Black is definitely a bad color for markups for the great reasons given.  Red is a common if not the ‘most common’ color for markups and has kept the pen and marker companies in business for years.  The blue – probably a good idea, as some drafters may not truly understand what they are drawing and will just go ahead and throw it on the drawing – although this may be where experience and training helps.  Drafters should have a decent idea of what they are drawing and be able to notice something out of character.  For me, the red pen has pretty much always worked.  The green pen – I do not see the reason for it at all.  If it needs to be gone, mark through it with a red pen.  The yellow pen confuses me.  Who uses that?  Is this a highlighter that the designer uses to highlight stuff he/she has already reviewed? If so, that’s ok as a checklist for themselves, but I’m not sure how the drafter benefits.

Size Matters

The idea of giving each person a different color highlighter is good for small offices if you can get everyone to stay firm – of course this relates to any standard.  What I have found useful in the past and especially with large drafting departments is that everyone can highlight their work in any color, but when they start their work they write their name on the sheet in the lower right-hand corner and run their highlight color over it.  If this person is out sick or has to pass the work to someone else to complete, the second person writes their name and highlights it in a different color and then uses that color to highlight their completed markups.  This way the designer knows who to go back to if they have questions related to the work or wants to explain something that the drafter misunderstood.  Using this method would work for most firms – unless you have a dozen people working on one redline; you should never run out of highlight colors.  Even with all the color options, there are a few things that the drafter needs to do as well – it is not always the designer’s fault.

As to the statement:

Comments that are poorly written lead to confusion in the drafting room. The wrong word is typed or the wrong size is used and it is nobody’s fault but the person who marked the page up.”

I agree with the first line, but the second one I believe is unfair and inaccurate.  It would be easy to discount mistakes by saying that I could not read your markup, and that is why it is wrong but in reality, I was distracted and not focusing on the markup or in a hurry and did not want to try and think through what the designer was saying.  Maybe I did not want to walk to their desk or call their extension to get clarity – this would be part of the partnership.


Creating good markups ARE the responsibility of the designer whether they are being done by an architect, engineer or an architectural or engineering ‘designer’.   Bringing to their attention or to their bosses attention that they tend to be hard to decipher is the job of the drafters.  Clarifying the markups is the responsibility of both the designer and the drafter not solely the markup originator.  If after years a drafter cannot decipher markups from someone they have been working with or a particular type of work that they have been performing maybe they need to get more knowledge about what it is they are drawing.  The less detail a designer needs to put on a drawing to get the point across the more money and time they save.  The time savings allow them to put more time into more important details.  If the CADD drafters are constantly too new or keep getting moved around before they have a chance to figure out what they are drawing then there are bigger issues in your company then how markups are done.

One Solution

When I run into a clarity issue, I have a personal solution.  I keep three highlighters nearby – Green, Orange and pink.  When I finish something, pick up a red-line etc… I highlight it in Green, if a word, paragraph or line does not immediately make sense, I look at what it relates to, think what it might mean (this is not the first redline I have done) and if I still don’t have a clue I highlight it in Orange and move on.  When I am done, (or think I am) I go back over the markup quickly double-checking that I picked up everything, on large or complex markups I highlighting in pink as I go indicating it was double checked.  I then take the markups to the designer/engineer/architect etc… and go over the orange items.  Once it is clear, I finish up and return the markups along with the final plots to them.  If the person that did the markups is not available and I have other projects or priorities to move on to I have already established an understanding that the orange means I am not clear on something and they get back with me or sometimes pick it up themselves if they can.


Now to be fair, I can see situations where the “4 color” system may come in very handy.  If you are working in a standalone Drafting shop or your markups are sent overseas or out-of-state to drafters, the additional clarity would be helpful (still don’t see the need for Green though).

The statement:

“It’s not always easy for CAD managers to push procedures up the command chain.”

could use its own response post, but for brevity’s sake, let’s just say ‘pushing’ anything ‘up’ is not often successful.  Starting at the top of the department or division and discussing a better way to communicate markups would be best, and one that does not add additional burden to the person doing the markups.  Talk it over and maybe you can offer a solution and get them to believe it was their idea.  Things will go a lot better the more we get away from the “us and them” attitude and maybe even get us back to that partnership originally mentioned.  Yes – I know it is often easier said than done, but not impossible – don’t give up before even trying.  And a final point… Having drafters “Lay Down some Rules” may not the best way to start working on a partnership.

This response post is in no way meant to slight the writer, as it is obvious that the topic came from years of experience and frustration.  We don’t all have to agree on one method of doing anything to make progress; we just need to think through the issues, find a compromise that works best for all sides and work to get it in place.  The information that is shared on the Kung Fu Drafter blog is very informative and is obviously based on a lot of experience – which of course is why I subscribe to it.




  1. Wes,

    Excellent points, all. I very much like the practice of having people sign the sheet and highlight a color through it. That does seem like it would work well in a large office! I can also see many of your points as valid and definitely appreciate your feedback!

    Unfortunately conversations, and thus mentalities, around the dojo do sometimes devolve into us / them scenarios. That is a topic for many posts (possibly a book?) at some later date. Suffice it to day that it is, none the less, not the most productive mindset, but one we fall fall into around KFD. You are 100% correct that production of designs is a partnership. However, for venting purposes and headlines, sometimes a little hyperbole goes a long ways.

    As for the green pen (thought I forgot about that, huh?), it does serve a purpose. I’ve found the green pen in very valuable in mark-ups where the designer often starts to draw one thing and then scratches or crosses it out. Before you know it, the difference between what is to be removed and what is “junk” gets confusing. Enter the green pen to save the day! Now designers can scratch away, to their little heart’s delight, because only items marked in green get removed.

    But in the end, it is more about consistency than any pre-defined system. As long as one party knows and understands what the second party wants then good things happen. It’s when that relationship is new, or there is an lack of experience factor that a “standard” really shines.

    Thanks for giving us food for thought. We shall now go tweet link this post!

    – KFD –

  2. Thanks Curt. I now see your Green Pen need. We use white out pens or correction tape, but I can see where just may have a place in some shops. If you ever start the ‘Us and Them’ book let me know, I am sure we could turn in to a TV mini series. : )

    Thanks for your quick response, and keep up the good work!


  3. WES,

    Great post. The colors are important in any size company but what abou
    t the new age or the future of the industry. It seems its not going to be long before programs such as design review mobile or even design review on the cloud is the standard in how we do markups. I can see how we could change the colors to be the same to match the older way of doing markups but what do you think. Do you think that the future will change the way we do or even look at markup?

    • I believe that the future holds more promise for electronic markup tools and there are many good ones already out there. The colors are usually customizable and will always be a plus for clarity and adoption. The ones that allow referencing in the markup I believe will have the most success. The biggest problem I see with the success of electronic markup software is not the features as much as the mindset. Many of the engineers and architects doing today’s markups still come from the paper age and are not computer savvy – for them it is just more work to learn with little benefit. As the previous generations get replaced by younger, more computer savvy engineers, designers and architects I believe we will see a shift to more electronic markups.


  4. I really like the orange marker for questions since this is where my mistakes usually happen. I go to talk to the designer and miss one of the points I have a question on. You just made my day!

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