Technical drawings communicate to building contractors and manufacturers how to construct our buildings, consumer products, highways and automobiles. Technical drawing professionals work under the supervision of engineers, architects and designers to transform their ideas and designs into actionable plans. Careers in technical drawing offer average to moderate incomes, with average job prospects.
What Is Technical Drawing?
Construction contractors use technical drawings to build homes, roadways, sewage systems, bridges and power plants. Manufacturers need technical drawings to produce all type of products, from automobile parts to microchips, lighting fixtures to refrigerators.
Technical drawings include blueprints, schematics and diagrams that communicate how to construct a product, device, machine, highway or home. They also include sketches and 2D- and 3D-models that represent the appearance of a completed project.
Technical drawing professionals, called drafters or draftspersons, create the blueprints, schematics and models which manufacturers and contractors use to construct the final building, civil project or product. Drafters work with designers, engineers and architects to translate their ideas and designs into technical drawings.
Technical Drawing Tools
Traditionally, drafters used pencils, pens, rulers, protractors, splines and stencils to draw sketches, blueprints, diagrams and 2D renderings. Today, drafters use computers and special applications to produce their technical graphics and drawings.
Employers look for drafters who have experience using industry standard technical drawing software. The most common technical drawing programs include AutoDesk’s AutoCAD and Revit programs.
AutoCAD is a computer-aided design (CAD) program that enables drafters to create 3D and 2D technical drawings. The program includes tools used to create drawings for electrical, architectural and mechanical designs, including floor plans, pipes, mesh objects, dimensions, circuits and ducts.
Drafters use Revit to create building information modeling (BIM) for architectural, construction and engineering designs. Revit allows drafters to create structural models that show how a product, building or component will look when it is completed. Users can create detailed models of structural components such as elevator systems, building materials and fixtures such as lamps, windows and doors. For instance, with Revit a drafter can create an artist’s rendering of the exterior of a home, complete with automobiles, landscaping and people.
While other technical drawing programs exist in the market, most employers prefer drafters with AutoCAD and Revit training and experience.
Types of Technical Drawing Jobs
Drafters specialize in producing various types of technical drawings. To become proficient in a technical drawing specialty, a drafter must gain years of experience.
Architectural drafters work closely with architects and contractors. They create drawings of buildings, which contractors use to construct the structures. They often create several concept drawings of a building to show to their clients. Once the client and architect agree on a design, the drafter creates technical sketch, before drawing detailed building plans that specify construction features such as dimensions, fixtures, plumbing, electrical wiring and building materials. Many architectural drafters also create 3-dimensional models with BIM programs, which enable the client, architect and contractor to see how the completed building will look.
Architectural drafting requires knowledge of construction standards and building codes. For example, some local building codes restrict a structure’s size or appearance. The drafter must stay abreast of codes and create plans that meet compliance requirements.
Electrical drafters create technical drawings of electrical infrastructure that powers machinery, home appliances and power generators. For example, an electrical drafter might create drawings that map the electrical wiring of a refrigerator, which the manufacturer can use to construct the appliance.
Electrical drafters work with designers and engineers to determine the parts needed to produce a product, along with its manufacturing cost. They must have expert knowledge of circuits and alternating and direct current.
Mechanical drafters create engineering drawings, which manufacturers use to create a product or component. For example, a mechanical drafter might create the manufacturing plans for an automobile engine block.
A mechanical drawing – also called an engineering drawing – must meet the exact scale and dimensions required. Mechanical drafters must have knowledge of manufacturing tolerances such as the strength of materials. They must produce plans that detail features such as surface textures and protective coatings. Typically, mechanical drafters create numerous 3D models that show how a product should appear from all angles.
Civil drafters create construction plans for projects such as bridges, sewage systems, oil pipelines and highways. Along with drawing abilities, a civil drafter must have expert knowledge of functional aspects of a project. For example, a drafter drawing plans for a sewage system must understand the physics of water flow.
Civil drafters create detailed plans, which include exact dimensions of a project, along with the precise materials needed to complete it. They produce construction blueprints, along with 3D models that represent a project’s completed appearance.
Electronics drafters draw schematics of circuits and circuit boards for equipment and devices such stereo equipment and computers. For instance, an electronics drafter might draw the manufacturing plans for a stereo receiver’s circuitry.
Electronics drafters create plans with precise dimensions and details about components manufacturers must use in their construction. They must have knowledge of manufacturing materials, accounting for functional aspects such as heat tolerance in wires and board materials, along with an understanding of electric currents.
Technical Drawing Education
Employers seek drafters who have at least an associate’s degree in technical drafting. Community colleges and technical schools offer technical drawing degree programs, which typically take about two years to complete. Some drafters continue their education at four-year colleges and universities, often pursuing bachelor’s degrees in architecture or engineering.
Some high schools offer drafting courses. Other coursework that can prepare a student for technical drawing career include mathematics, computer graphics, design and computer science.
Community college and technical school drafting programs teach students how to use CAD and BIM programs. Typically, coursework includes multiple applications for CAD technical drawing, in areas such as tool design, building structures, product manufacturing and electronics.
Technical Drawing Licensing and Certification
Technical drawing professionals do not need a license to practice their trade, but many choose to earn certification through the American Design Drafting Association (ADDA) to advance their careers. The ADDA certifies mechanical, architectural and civil drafters through its Professional Certification program.
ADDA certification offers several levels of certification, based on experience. The Association offers Apprentice level certification for high school and vocational school students, as well as entry-level drafters already in the workforce. After working for two years, architectural and mechanical drafters can earn ADDA’s Certified Drafter certificate. Drafters working in civil engineering can earn ADDA’s Certified Design Drafter certificate after working for three to five years. The certification process includes tests and requires renewal every three years.
Technical Drawing Salaries
In 2017, drafters earned a median salary of around $54,000, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The median salary represents the middle of the technical drawing pay scale. High earners made more than $84,000, while drafters at the bottom of the pay scale made around $34,000. According to the BLS survey, electronics and electrical drafters earned the highest salaries, followed by mechanical and architectural drafters.
According to the jobs website Neuvoo, electrical drafters earn $31,000 to $86,000 per year, with an average salary of around $40,000.
A search of architecture drafting jobs on the employment website Glassdoor returns a broad range of salaries. For example, DES Architects + Engineers in Redwood, California, pays its technical drawing staff $50,000 to $76,000 per year, while at Bockholt Landscape Architecture in Park City, Utah, drafters make $40,000 to $60,000.
According to the jobs website ZipRecruiter, electronics drafters make $21,000 to $76,000, with an average salary of around $44,000.
Employment websites do not offer the comprehensive data available from the BLS, but they do provide useful salary information for determining real-time incomes of a variety of drafting careers. Most jobs websites gather their salary data from website users, industry professionals and job postings.
Technical Drawing Job Outlook
According to the BLS, technical drawing jobs should increase by around 7 percent, through 2026. Job opportunities may vary by drafting specialty. Advancements in BIM and CAD technologies might limit opportunities in some areas of the profession. Economic factors typically affect the construction and engineering industries. During economic downturns, positions for drafters may decline.