On Land

Environment Information
At Rill Architects we run ArchiCAD on Mac OS X. If you work at Rill, this is your stuff. If you don't, but you work in ArchiCAD, you may find something interesting. Anybody else, I don't know.

Standard pens updated for Archicad 19.

The only substantive change since 2007 is that we've dropped pen 170 for structural posts on the story below. This was an ugly hack that's no longer needed since we can use Library Globals to control display of those elements.

That's a very small change, but I wanted it to be clear that these standards are still current. I updated the graphic. I have strong opinions about pen -1.

Pen table in model...layout...

Typical Rows

Most work is done using the typical rows. The first pen is thinnest, at 0.04mm. Each sucessive pen is slightly thicker, up to 0.4 mm for the fifth.

For typical rows, the pens ending in the same number are the same weight. 11, 21, 31, 41, etc. are all the same, and they all turn black in layouts, where you can't tell them apart. Use the colors to differentiate parts of the model. Within the colors, set the line weight. Be consistent in what colors you use for different purposes. These are my habits:

Walls: Black (10s)
Roofs: Cyan (80s)
Doors & Windows: Blue-gray (160s)
Soffits & Ceilings: Orange (60s)
Panel walls: Yellow (110s)
Counters: Purple (120s)
Stairs: Brown (20s)
3D stairs, decks, terraces: Dark Red (50s)
Appliances, fixtures, misc objects: Green (30s)
Main crown: Pink (70s)
Structure elements: Olive Green (140s)

When using the same color for different types of elements, make sure the types are spatially and conceptually separate. You can use your roof color for trim, but if you used it for ceilings it would get confusing.

For trim elements, use a different color for each type. I make the main crown pink and the baseboard dark red. If there's a chair or picture rail, I'll use cyan. This makes it easier to tell them apart when they're all stacked together.

We also use the colors to tell the sections and elevations apart:

Exterior elevations: 123 (purple)
Long sections: 33 (green)
Cross sections 63 (orange)
Interior elevations: 83 (cyan)
Wall sections: 43 (blue)
Sometimes you have to cut a section just to generate a detail; I use pen 53 (dark red) for those.

Many CAD standards use color to represent output line weight. This is a help to drafting but is useless for model building. The most important issue for us is maintaining order and telling what is what. By using matching colors for the plan, section, and fill pattern pens, an element will be recognizable from any point of view.

Fill patterns in section (brick, stone,etc) should have pen 11 (or 21, 31, 41,...). A very fine fill might go one notch heavier. Composite separators that aren't set to 'hide' should have pen 12 (or 22, 32, 42,...). Edges in plan, such as counters and stair treads can use 12 or 13 (23, 33, 43,...). Weight 15 (25,35,45,...) is used for cut elements in plan and section. I didn't forget 14 (24,34,44,...), it's used for the cut pen on elements that are either thin, curvy, or small, which makes the 15 weight appear heavy.

Some rows have more pens defined. These are dedicated pens for a specific purpose - more on this in a minute. In the future, we will likely find more applications for dedicated pens, and these will be defined in the currently unused parts of the typical rows. In the meantime, the unused pens are beige, and we don't use them.

The First 10

Ideally, we want to leave the first ten pens alone, because they are used in Archicad library objects. If we use those objects, they need to look right without us fiddling with all the pen settings every time.

That said, we do use few of the first ten, for no better reason than we always have. Since one of the goals is to minimize disruption, I'm not going to place the whole row off-limits for an abstract reason.

• We do not use pen #1. It has a section cut weight, but elements should use the cut pen from their own rows. And it shouldn't be used for anything else. Every once in a while, it will turn up as a default in a weird place (schedules, grids), and it's always too heavy.

• We use pen #2 (gray) for structural slabs in plan. Framing decks are black, and I like to be able to tell which is which. These elements never show in output plans, so the weight isn't an issue. (Structural slabs use 11 and 15 in section.)

• We use pens #6 & #7 for dimension witness lines and ticks respectively. The weights are customized for this purpose. If you customize a dimension text, change the pen to #5. I wish this could happen automatically.

• We use #7 for text. Again, it's just tradition at this point. Note that weight doesn't matter with respect to text.

• We use pen #10 for drafting help.


Pens 91-100, 111-120, 131-140, 151-160, 171-180. A full grayscale range in 2% increments.

White Pens

Pens 20, 40, 60, and 80 are all white in layouts. I use 20 for junk sections. (Important: If a junk section becomes non-junk for some reason, change the pen.) Pen 60 is a special heavy weight for creating dashed lines using a diagonal fill. I use 80 for white masking fills. Use these pens for anything you want to see but not be distracted by, or anything that needs to not print but you want to see in the model environment.

Pen 10 is, again, drafting help.

For white white, use pen 91, and no other. And, never change the color of pen 91. The whiteness of 91 is deeply embedded in Archicad culture. Most (all?) US library parts with white in their symbols use this pen, because it's a given that no one will change its color. Other white pens, you can't be sure.

Pen 19 is white for compatibility with international library parts, should you ever come across one. You can ignore it otherwise.

The 180s row are the 'whiteout' pens. They match the weights of a typical row, so you can draw a white (invisible) line over an unwanted model line.

Dedicated Pens

Pen sets mean that we can use pens to control some display behaviors that are difficult or impossible any other way. In order to have that control, we need to be very consistent in the use of pens we want to switch around.

A 'dedicated pen' is a pen you must use for a certain condition, and you must not use it for anything else.

There are two reasons we would want a dedicated pen:

You need a heavier pen than those in the typical rows. This doesn't happen often. That's why the rows are shorter. We just don't need 25 super heavy pens. The special heavy pens are:

• 36: For the section cut pen of the grade mesh. This line should be heavier than the general cut weight, but you only need one pen to draw it.

• 16, 17, 18. General-use heavy pens for unforeseen circumstances. 0.6mm, 0.8mm, 1.0mm respectively.

Visibility control. Usually, turning a gray or black pen white. Examples: Poche in wall sections, Grade fill except in wall sections, surface hatches in site plans.

Here's a table of the dedicated pens as it stands now:

For What's the deal
Dimension Lines Non-standard weight
Dimension Ticks Non-standard weight. Can be used for text.
Non-printing drawing help Red in model, white (invisible) in output
Cut pen of architectural walls Can be grayed for backgrounds
Default white of AC international libraries White in all sets
Marked distant area elements Gray in model, black hairline in output
Cut line of grade mesh Extra Heavy
Fill pen of grade mesh White in all model/output except black in wall section
Poche background Gray in all model/output except white in wall section
Poche background for multistory Blue in all model, gray in output except white in wall section
Primary white pen; Default white of AC US libraries White in all sets
Surface hatch pen: Cover fills, material hatching Thin gray in all sets except 'White Cover Fills'

About Pen 255

You would probably never use pen 255 on purpose - there are lots of open pens before it. It's black in the table instead of anonymous beige so in case you use it by accident, you get black output instead of nearly invisible output. How can you use it by accident? By typing a number larger than 255 into a pen field. If you mean 32 but type 322, the number will revert to 255. Now despite the mistake you will still get output. Its weight is medium.

Special Background Pens, Featuring Evil

The last two pens don't appear in every pen selector and can't be modified by the user. They are dedicated to fill backgrounds. If you put any normal pen as a fill background, the fill will be opaque (assuming model view options are set that way). We typically use pen #91 (white) for this. To have the fill background transparent, use pen 0, also shown as Ø.

The other one, pen -1, should not exist. From this you can deduce that you should never use it. This pen makes the fill background the same color as the window background. I have never encountered an appropriate use for this feature.

One of the reasons we use a beige window background is so we can use white for fill backgrounds, which is their output color, while still being able to see them. White is something (but invisible) while the window background is nothing. If the masking matches the background, you can't tell the nothings from the invisibles. So I really recommend a non-white background, though Archicad is white out of the box. (Not black either, that's perverse.)

Pen -1 undoes this advantage, without telling the user. Here's nothing, it's beige. Here's something invisible, it's white. Oh, now here's a beige thing that's something invisible. WHY?

All pen -1 does is hide elements' invisibility from the user. There is no case for this, ever. It has no effect on output, unless you count the greater risk of errors from working in a defective environment.

Unfortunately, while you must never use this pen, you do have to deal with it. Because the only thing worse that having this pen at all is making it the default for the background of every 2D symbol in the Archicad library.

Here, let me make it look like there is nothing under this object

So when you use these parts, you have to change that pen to #91. Where Archicad parts are saved as favorites, this is already done.