After spending $1k or more on a set of house plans, you might be interested in backing them up. While some architectural firms might provide electronic copies, others don’t — or they charge an arm and a leg for it.
In some cases, the only way to get an electronic copy is to sign on for a multi-use license. But if you’re only building one house, why should have to pay an otherwise unwarranted premium just to protect your investment?
Aside from creating a backup, you might want to engage in a bit of DIY customization. With paper plans, you’ll be reduced to literally cutting and pasting to move things around. With an electronic copy, on the other hand, you can easily shift copy, paste, click, and drag your way to perfection.
If you find yourself stuck with paper plans, your options are to:
- roll the dice and risk damaging your house plans without a backup — and forego the possibility of easy, DIY customizations;
- bite the bullet and pay extra for electronic version of your house plans, which may require upgrading the associated license; or
- take matters into your own hands and make yourself an electronic backup by scanning your house plans.
Note that, depending on the terms of your purchase, the latter option may be illegal, even if you have no intention of sharing your plans with others or using the single-use license to build multiple houses. Unfortunately, creating a backup doesn’t constitute “Fair Use” under U.S. Copyright law, so…
I’ll leave the ethics and morality up to you.
Scanning your house plans
Assuming that you decide to scan your plans, either because you’re allowed to do so or because you’ve decided to flout the law and make yourself an unauthorized backup, you’ll need the proper equipment.
Since house plans are typically printed on large format paper, you’ll need access to a big scanner. A really big scanner. And no, I don’t mean a “large format scanner” like those that you can buy for a couple hundred bucks. Those scanners typically handle paper up to 11 x 17 inches.
What you need is something that can handle paper as large as 2 x 3 feet, or even larger. The good news is that such devices are readily available at most copy shops and office supply stores.
Around here, for example, FedEx Office (formerly Kinko’s) offers large format, sheet-fed scanning for under a dollar per sheet. Their equipment handles paper up to several feet across, and outputs either paper duplicates (which cost more) or electronic files in a variety of formats.
If you do this, I’d recommend scanning at a really high resolution, like 600 dpi, and saving it in a flexible format. I like TIFF, since that’s lossless and can be converted into pretty much whatever else you want in the future.
For downstream use, you might want to reduce the resolution and make a pdf, or something like that. But if you’re going to the trouble of scanning your plans, you might as well produce some really nice, archival files.
Resulting file sizes
With storage being so cheap, file sizes probably aren’t a huge consideration. Regardless, you might be wondering… How large will the resulting scanned image files end up being if you follow my recommendations?
Well, a 24 x 36 inch black-and-white scan of this sort at 600 dpi will likely result in a non-compressed TIFF of ca. 35-40 Mb. This can, however, be reduced ca. 10x by applying LZW compression, which is still lossless.
If you wish, you can shrink things even further by reducing the resolution of your downstream working files. Just keep those original scanned images untouched so you’ll always have something to fall back on.