Printing and Viewing Blueprints for Bidding

Cabinetmakers discuss the nuts and bolts of working with digital blueprints, including a look at software that helps with takeoffs and estimating. April 19, 2015

How do you handle the printing of contractor supplied blueprint drawings? I get a file, sometimes Dropbox, for a job to bid and then spend $60 to $75 to get them printed so I can bid the job. I usually get the entire set printed in case there is some info I need buried in the pages, but I hate spending the money. I've considered buying a large format printer. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

Forum Responses
(Business and Management Forum)
From contributor S:
I guess if it's all the work you have then it's what you do. I usually just look and press the delete key. I am not willing to guess on what I am biding on. Sometimes I get full pages but only part of the plans so my bid would refer to the pages I have in case there are things on pages I don't have. For the most part contractors trying to pull this are flaky anyway.

From contributor M:
My experience is that if I'm being considered for a job, then I will receive a plan set to bid from. Otherwise you're just providing some free background price noise for the contractor to check the real bids against. My work is all local though, perhaps it's different if you're all over the country. I do, however, have a big monitor, and can do take-offs on the computer for the customers who like to have design conversations by email.

From contributor A:
A decent large format printer is about $1,200. It would be worth it for you after just 20 such bids. On average, how many of the jobs that you bid this way do you win? I'm of the same opinion as Contributor S. If a GC won't spend the money to get me a printed set to bid from, then that tells me they just want another number to give their client to show they've done their due diligence. But I won't be getting the job no matter what number I give them. Is your experience different?

From contributor F:
You could buy large monitors and a PDF markup tool and eliminate the need for paper plus it makes it easy to share the markups, compare plan changes etc. We use Bluebeam Cad Revu. It will also save your Word, Excel and other docs as PDF, as well as printing as PDF. I also use it for filling GC bid forms and adding our scope letter to the bid form. Also Bluebeam scales the PDF and you can export items for adding trim or footage. It has a compare function so I shows the difference between plans whether they bubble them or not.

From contributor T:
If the plans are PDF format I use On-Screen Caliper to measure right on my computer screen. You can scale the caliper to whatever scale you want. It's a free download for straight measuring. If you want angles, etc. it is a small charge. It works great for doing bids.

From Contributor E:
We do print the plans but are selective about the sheets that we send out to have printed (only what we need) and we usually find that a half size set is ample for bidding purposes. No need to output full size sheets from the start. That said - yes, it can be pricey. It used to be very common to have printed sets sent to you for bid but now in this electronic age - almost everything is sent electronically in a PDF format and the cost is now the bidders to cover should sheets need to be printed.

From the original questioner
Many of these bid requests are from repeat contractors and designers. Other requests for bids get screened before I spend the time, which is most important, or money. I have two monitors, but I prefer to look at printed plans. I will check Bluebeam, and Caliper though. Contributor E's comments represent pretty much how I see things these days. Right now, after seeing these valuable comments, I will first try the on screen approach, and if I'm not happy working that way then I'll get the large format printer. I may give a Ledger size printer a try, that's 11x17 and not to scale, but may be adequate. With every new tool I buy I find other uses than expected. The guys in the shop may appreciate ledger size scale cabinet drawings for a change.

From contributor B:
I second getting Bluebeam. At $200-$300 dollars (depending on the package), it's a steal. You can markup/edit the plans anyway you see fit, and measure to scale right on the screen. If you want to get real serious, take a look at real estimating software such as Planswift. If you have Tradesoft products you can estimate right off the digital plans - very cool in my opinion.

From the original questioner
I have Tradesoft ProjectPak, I'll look into it.

From contributor F:
We have a Xerox wide format digital printer/scanner. We used to print jobs we were bidding, now we just print shop drawings. It prints about four 2x3 size sheets a minute, we use 36" rolls, if you do a lot of larger plans then you might want the next size up. It was pricey new but the savings in waiting for inkjets and copies was there. You might be able to find one used at an auction.

From the original questioner
I looked at Bluebeam, Caliper, and Plan Swift. I'm having some trouble seeing the benefit given the way we bid. I run materials and labor with ProjectPak. I could use these to get door sq. ft. but that's about all I can see. What am I missing? I do like the idea of on screen bidding. The printed plans now seem like yesterday.

From contributor B:
Perhaps we should take a deeper look at how you're estimating with ProjectPAK. Are you using products? If you quote me a two door base cabinet, can you pull it out of your library in one shot and resize it, then print it off?

From the original questioner
I do a materials and labor breakdown. I figure door square foot, and all different door styles and materials are in the library. Same with exterior and interior materials, I figure how many sheets each. Then everything else, Lazy Susan, hinges, mouldings, etc. I have Assemblies set up for drawers and roll outs. I have sub-assemblies set up for euro, and frame cabinets that include groups for materials, labor, drawer/roll out assemblies, painting, finishing, delivery and installation. This way I can go in and change materials if a customer want to compare P.G. with cherry, and I can change drawer count, and anything else pretty easily. I never could get in the style of bidding boxes, we are a custom residential shop, high end.

From contributor C:
We have a Lanier 420c MFP at the office we bought used for 3200 and pay the monthly service contract for them to get the headaches- they get them too. After printing on the 11x17 I bought a used plotter for $600 and did fine for a year. I just bought a used Lanier 324 wide format and keep just 36" paper as Contributor F mentioned. We added up inkjet on the 420c and it was a no brainer. Then we added up the cost of ink cartridges and the headaches of the plotter and the wide format became a no brainer too.