Monday, November 26, 2012

Tape Dots and Other Drafting Room Disasters.......
Anyone who has ever spent a lot of time in a drafting room bent over a drawing board is probably all too aware of the amazing number of opportunites for disaster, both self-inflicted and as part of a larger group effort. In today's drafting rooms, disaster is usually digital in nature. Not saving a copy of your drawing before revising it, refusing to comply with the IT department's neanderthal pen maps and "is this a virus?" or "my computer just crashed" are among the more popular and frequently used excuses. But, courtesy of back-up files and flash drives, these wounds are rarely fatal. Annoying, yes, and sometimes funny, but rarely fatal.

However, when most drawings were done by hand, you really spread around the talent pool for genuinely spectacular and occasionally fatal (to the drawing and your job) screwups. Pinbar drafting and vacuum frame / diazo ammonium printing were a rich minefield for drafting room wags and comics. Leaving layers out, printing layers backwards or, best of all, inserting the wrong layers in a drawing AND printing them backwards were the most common and laughable errors. Anyone who ever had to revise six layers of mylar to move one door on a plan probably remembers pinbar drafting and wonders what the hell they ever did to the partners to warrant such punishment. I certainly know I did. But for me, the comedy of self-inflicted drawing disasters really began with tape dots.

All draftsmen know, and some of us love, tape dots. Sticky little suckers and they don't taste that bad either, especially when used as a substitute for nicotine gum. You can stretch a drawing to your Borco tighter than a snare drum and it will still be that way when you come to work the next day assuming, of course, that your office has air-conditioning. Tape dots hate humidity, among other things. I had already been drawing for awhile before I got my first box of tape dots. My father the architect was, as they say, not a big fan. They were expensive and fussy, compared to plain old drafting tape. I, on the other hand, didn't have to pay for my tape dots, so I was an immediate convert. No more avoiding the edges of a drawing because the drafting tape would curl up and snag on my parallel bar. No more fuzzing my pencil lines or smudging my ink work because the drawing wouldn't stay tight and flat. Drafting heaven, right? Not exactly. Tape dots, like so many commodities, are perishable. They don't age well. The older they get, the less they stick. To my drawing board, anyway. The underside of my parallel bar, my triangles or, for that matter, my coffee cup and clothing were another story altogether.

Tape dots do curl. They lose their bite. They are especially fond of graphite and really, really like sharing it with the rest of your drawing. They don't detach easily from anything but mylar and who the hell draws on that anymore? If you draw frequently on something like, say, yellow tracing paper, this can be a bit of a problem. Once they're on your tracing paper, getting them off can be like trying to pull up a piece of plastic laminate from a kitchen counter-top. With your fingernails. Once a tape dot or two has leeched itself to the underside of a parallel bar, well, to the unsuspecting or just plain tired draftsman, the collateral damage to their drawing could be quite disagreeable and, on more than one occasion, terminal. Ever see a blueprint with the ghostly image of what is obviously a piece of Scotch tape starting from a corner and meandering it's way down to the middle of the drawing over some weird, squiggly line? You guessed it. Tape dot disaster, which never really seemed so bad until it happened to your drawing, one you probably liked very much and had spent a lot of time on. Or, even worse, really hated doing and now had to do all over again. In many drafting rooms, the sound of ripping paper followed by a shriek and a litany of really foul four letter words was usually a reliable indication that a tape dot had struck again.

The first time this happened to me, I realized that printing tape dots with the ubitquitous smiley face on them was a really bad idea. The suicide rate for draftsmen would have gone through the roof. I still, believe it or not, love my tape dots but don't need them smirking at me while they help me trash a drawing I'm fond of. They are also wildly inconsistent. One time, in an office I used to work at, I put a large drawing I had done up on the wall with tape dots. I later left the firm and, after a few years, came back for a visit and that drawing..had...not...moved. I know this because the paint behind the drawing was lighter than the adjacent wall surface. Or, who knows, maybe they couldn't get the tape dots off and just painted around the drawing. It wasn't even that great of a drawing. Either way, tape dots do love their drywall.

Finally, tape dots are hardly evil. Like everything else, including draftsmen, they have their strengths and weaknesses. And the weaknesses are easily overcome with one or two simple steps and a small measure of diligence. The obvious solution is to give yourself a few inches of buffer from the final border of your drawing to the edges of your paper, letting the tape dots do their thing and gobble up your corners. Then, as the final step, take your drawing up and trim to your final image size. Even now, every time I tape down a drawing I am reminded of one particular irony. Once, upon being spotted by the head draftsman while I was setting up a drawing with a few extra inches of paper margin to each side to give the tape dots their due, I was upbraided for "wasting money by wasting paper". As if the cost of the paper somehow outweighed the cost of re-doing the drawing when the occasional disaster inevitably struck.

Somewhere, a tape dot is smiling.......

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