How To Read Blueprints

How To Read Blueprints

As a contractor, you’ll likely come across blueprints regularly, regardless if you specialize in new construction or remodeling. For some types of contractors, they are an integral part of the job. For others, such as painting contractors, blueprints are useful tools that can help you estimate projects. Though it is a skill that is much too complex to be fully covered in one article, we’re here to walk you through the basics of how to read blueprints.

Our focus here will be blueprint reading for painting contractors. However, the information presented is useful for contractors of any type.

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The Importance of Blueprint Reading

For contractors, the ability to read blueprints is an essential skill needed to accurately calculate takeoffs— the estimation of materials needed to complete a given project. Takeoffs need to be specific in order to give clients an accurate estimate of a project cost, meaning that just “eyeballing it” won’t do. Being able to effectively interpret building layouts gives you the ability to know how much material a project calls for.

Blueprint Basics

Plan Sheets

If all aspects of building such as walls, electrical, mechanical, plumbing, and more, were situated on the same sheet of paper, things would get a little hard to read. Because of this, contractors use plan sheets. These refer to drawings of specific aspects of a construction. The most common plan sheets include:

  • Civil sheets: Civil sheets contain information about grading, pathways, parking lots, and more.
  • Landscaping Sheets: These show features like fencing or bollards.
  • Architectural Sheets: These display the layout and arrangement of spaces within a building. Architectural sheets are almost always the main focus for painters.
  • Electrical Sheets: Electrical sheets show equipment, lighting and power, telephone, grounding, and more.
  • Mechanical Sheets: Mechanical sheets is where you will generally find information for HVAC, ducting, and fire protection systems.
  • Plumbing Sheets: If there are pipes, you will find those detailed here.
  • Structural Sheets: Larger projects have separate sheets describing the structure of the building. Features like AESS or “architecturally exposed structural steel” will be found in these sheets.

The cover page of a plan set will contain general information. The index will tell you which sheet number to turn to when looking for any given detail.

Cover Page

Demolition Plans

The A sheets will contain specifics as to what demolition will occur, if you are dealing with a remodel or addition. These are details where walls, ceilings, doors and such are being removed. You will usually have areas of ceilings or intersecting walls that will require patching and painting.

Floor Plans

The floor plan shows what changes will be made to the structure after the demolition phase and where new walls are to be constructed. From this type of plan, you will see an overhead view of what the floor area will look like after the improvement or construction is completed.

Floor Plans

Take a look at the floor plan pictured above. This shows the placement of walls, columns, fixtures, cabinets, partitions and doors.

For painters, there are a number of ways to take off your surface measurements from plan sheets. One option is to utilize an on-screen takeoff tool, such as eTakeoff. Handheld tools such a Scale Master can be used if you’re doing your takeoff from a printed set of plans.

Once you have linear feet of your wall, you can usually find the heights on the reflected ceiling plan, interior elevation sheets, or on the building sectional views. You can get your door and frame count from the door schedule if one is provided. If one is not included, you can take your count from the floor plans.

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Detail Symbols

Notice the detail symbols on the above floor plan and the following reflected ceiling plan. They are typically represented by a circle, sometimes with an arrowhead configuration attached or with lines extending to the area of the drawing to which they pertain.

The circles direct you to sheets with enlarged details, also known as cut sheets. The tags with the arrowheads will reference detailed elevation views. Oftentimes, a line bisects the circle with numbers and/or letters in each of the hemispheres. The bottom half will normally indicate the number of the plan sheet where the detail is located and the top will tell you what detail number to refer to on that page. It is critical that you take notice of these notations, as they will provide important information.

Reflected Ceiling Plans

From this view, you can determine how much of each material will be used in constructing the various ceiling areas.

You will also notice a detail symbol (mentioned above). The bottom half contains the sheet number A410 where you will find details pertaining to the soffit area over the cafe. The dark line extending from the detail symbol to the soffit area indicates exactly which area on the plan that the detail refers to. In the top half of the symbol, you will see the number 9. This tells you that if you turn to sheet A410 and look for detail number 9, you will find an enlarged depiction of the area in question.

Following the reflected ceiling plan below, you will see that detail sheet excerpt with information about the soffit construction, areas that receive paint (P-1) and the detail showing the wood crown molding.

Ceiling Plan

9 / A410


Interior Elevation Plan

In addition to giving you precise measurements of wall areas, door and frame counts, molding and baseboard footages, an elevations plan gives you a broader concept of how the whole project goes together which can help you formulate your plan of attack for the project by pointing out unforeseen problems and solutions.

Door Schedules

The material (Mat’l) column of a door schedule tells you what the door or frame is constructed of and the finish column tells you whether it paints or not.


Finish Schedules

Room finish schedules give you the necessary data for required finishes at the floors, base, walls and ceilings. Reading from the left to right, you’ll see the room number, name, finishes for the walls and the ceilings. Beneath that is a legend that explains what the various finish codes mean.

Worksheet 2


This is hardly an exhaustive discourse on plan sheets, but it should give you an idea of what to look for. And if it’s a little confusing at first, don’t worry. Learning how to read blueprints isn’t always something that comes natural. But like the saying goes, practice makes perfect!

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