Digital Dowload vs Hard Copy

3 Jul

“Thank you for calling BPI, Jim speaking. How may I help you?”

Hi, this is <Customer> from <Company>. Do you have the plans for the <Project Name> project, and how much are they?”

We do have those plans, a hard copy set is <$X.00> with an additional <$X.00> for shipping, or a digital download is available for <$X.00> directly from the website.”

Does this sound familiar? Have you received a call similar to this, or have you made a call similar to this, perhaps to BPI? If so, you’re not alone.

The AEC industry, much like the music, TV, and book/magazine publishing industries is changing. When I started in this industry, digital printing was cutting edge; diazo printing was still the bread and butter. Digital files were asked for occasionally, typically by the architect or owner for their records, but most every project was distributed via hard copy sets. Now, digital copies of project files are regularly requested.

So, when faced with the option of digital or hard copy, which do you choose? Let’s take a look at each.

Hard copy plans are typically easier to read, browse through, show to others, and file with other documents. Hard copy plans are still accepted by municipalities as “archival.” Field notes can be easily added to a hard copy document and shown to all to whom the notes apply, as long as those individuals are in the field with the marked up set. Hard copy plans can typically handle weather conditions such as wind, rain, and snow that may have negative effects on digital media readers/laptops.

However, hard copy documents take up room. Lots of room. Large plans, ‘E’ size drawings, can be a beast to work with, especially in a close-quartered job trailer. Hard copy plans allow only one user to have possession of the document at a time. Hard copy plans are not conducive to collaboration unless all invested parties are looking at the same sheet at the same time. Hard copy plans may require hours or days to obtain, depending on availability of plans and if the plans need to be printed and shipped.

Digital plans are far easier to transport. Laptops, flash drives, even the memory card in your cell phone can be used to store and transport files. Digital plans can be emailed to many users at one time, thus allowing for collaboration across multiple platforms, such as GoToMeeting, Skype, or conference calls, with each person looking at the file at the same time. Digital files can easily be copied and stored off-site. Should something happen to the device holding the digital files, a backup can easily and readily be made available in short order. Digital files can be opened and reviewed on laptops, digital media readers, even smart phones. Digital media can typically be downloaded directly from the site that hosts the plans within minutes rather than longer timeframes associated with hard copy plans. Digital media is more environmentally friendly than hard copy paper prints. Most of the time, a digital set of plans will cost less than a hard copy set of plans. Digital plans are conducive to quickly estimating, utilizing online estimating softwares such as PlanSwift.

Digital files are not, however, the easiest to markup. Markups typically require third party software, as opposed to a simple pen or pencil. However, with the advancements in online collaboration tools (AutoDesk Design Review, Adobe Acrobat, etc.), the learning curve has been drastically reduced. Typically, if one collaborator has a file open and is marking up the file, other users cannot access the file in “real-time,” or they can access only an older, possibly out-of-date, version of the file. If weather conditions in the field are detrimental to the device displaying the files, the device may malfunction and be useless. The same can be said of the power requirements of the digital media device.

This list is by no means complete, but as can be seen, there are benefits and drawbacks to both forms of media. Ultimately, the choice is yours, and will need to be determined based on your company’s ability to download and print files in-house or have the plans printed and picked up or shipped. So, the next time you place or receive a call for a set of drawings and a project manual, remember to ask, “Hard copy or digital?”


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