Options for Blueprint Storage

Blueprints are commonly used by government agencies, construction firms, universities, medical facilities, and architects since large format blueprints are easy to read and they allow the reader to see the “whole picture”. However, storing blueprints is another matter, since they are very difficult to protect and organize. Additionally, blueprint users will face a number of challenging issues such as maximizing floor space, document safety, document security, organization, and access. Of course, cost is always a factor.

Luckily, many storage options exist for you to utilize. Options for blueprint storage include flat file drawers, rolled file storage, digitization, plastic covers, lamination, and vertical file storage systems. This article will discuss the strengths and weaknesses of each storage method.

Flat file storage systems are the traditional method of blueprint storage and work well for documents that are archival in nature, which do not need to be moved with frequency. Large format documents can be very heavy, particularly when they are on the bottom of a flat file drawer. This makes the blueprints prone to tearing and ripping when moved; the sheer weight of large file drawers can require two people to remove the files out of a flat file system. Flat file cabinets can make attractive office furniture since they can be made of exotic woods; the large surfaces can function as extra desktops or shelving. They also can provide a good storage medium for clean sheets. Flat file systems are notoriously heavy and immobile; flat file systems are very secure with locking features.

Rolled blueprints, which remain a common practice, are typically stood on end in a vertical position. While easy to access and carry, rolled files tend to deteriorate quickly. Users tend to arrange the rolled blueprints in a haphazard manner, which creates organization problems and can damage the documents. The blueprints are easily damaged from contact with other documents; they also can get dusty and dirty which encourages deterioration. Rolled blueprints can be stored in wire upright trays which provide quick access; some blueprint trays come on rollers for increased mobility. Rolling blueprints creates another problem called blueprint “Memory”. The rolling, then storing blueprints this way, even for a short period, causes them to not lay flat but rather curl back to the rolled state, when you unroll them. This makes them harder to use and it gets worse, not better the longer the are rolled.

Digitally scanning documents is increasing popular for archiving seldom used blueprints, but with scanning charges at over $100 per document, digitization can be cost prohibitive. This is particularly true for legacy documents which may be seldom used, but remain very important for future reference. Surprisingly, digital documents are not foolproof. Blueprints created by older types of software can be very difficult to read when using newer versions software. This can be particularly true for intricate drawings where precision is of utmost importance. In those cases, archiving paper blueprints is the only salvation.

Storing files in plastic covers is a good method to protect files from coffee spills, weather, or dirt. They can also protect the documents from cigarette ashes. If you have ever been to a construction site, you know that they are a chaotic and dirty place; this makes protecting blueprints at a construction site a full-time job. Plastic covers can provide good protection for blueprints that need to be carried from site to site.

For the same reason, laminated files are becoming more popular for engineers, construction workers, and architects in the field. Large document lamination is affordable and provides for the ultimate safety of a document, although the weight of the document is more than doubled. The problem here is that once laminated you can’t make changes or notes on the blueprint. Long term storage of laminated documents can prove problematic since they are inflexible and can get permanently creased.

Vertical file storage systems may be the most efficient method for storing blueprints. By storing blueprints in a vertical (and flat) position, floor space savings of up to 75% are achieved. Stored in vertical plastic sheaths, blueprints are protected from damage by dirt or contact with other documents. Access and organization is improved since all blueprints are labeled like the files in a conventional file cabinet. This easy access minimizes the stress on the office worker when searching for documents since all documents are easily found. Cost savings can be substantial since one vertical file storage system retailing for $1500 can store the equivalent of a three five-drawer flat file storage systems with dimensions of 24×36 inches, which can retail for $3800 or more. Vertical file storage systems have wheels and are mobile; they also can be locked to provide a secure storage system.

Thus, many options exist for blueprint storage; your blueprint storage needs will dictate the preferred methods of storage. For many users, multiple storage systems prove the best solution.