11 Tips for Hand Draughting Beginners

published  8th March 2024   I STARTING OUT, 


There are so many things you need know when you begin with hand drawing.


And whereas there are many books and tutorials on geometric construction and architectural nomenclature, there is very little to be found on the absolute basics of how to prep and use a drawing board, how to avoid smudging and the little helpers that keep you sane in the process.


This blogpost focuses on the absolute basics I wish I would have known from the very beginning. 

Preparing your drawing board

As with many other things in life, preparation will make your (draughting) life much easier. Preparing your drawing board might seem obvious or unimportant to you, but it will improve your draughting significantly while taking very little time.

1. Position your board & adjust the height

If you are lucky enough to be provided with a drawing board that has a twin column stand and foot pedal, adjusting the angle and height of your board will be very easy. You can therefore skip the next two paragraphs.


If you’re instead are working with a board on an A-stand, make sure that you have enough space behind the board to allow you to tilt it to its horizontal position. It comes in handy when you need to cut your tracing paper to length or adjust the angle while drawing.


You should also make sure that the board is set to a comfortable height for you so that you can reach the majority of the drawing surface in your favourite drawing position (standing or sitting on a drawing chair).

2. Clean your board

Clean your drawing board, ideally before every new drawing.


Use lighter fluid and a microfiber cloth to remove any lead residues on the board and the straight edge, especially the side that faces the board. For any sticky residues from tapes and glues, I recommend white spirit.

3. Check your straightedge ruler is actually straight

The next step is to check that your straightedge is actually straight.


Place your setting square on the straight edge and move it to the side edge of your drawing board. The edge of your setting square should line up with the edge of your board. If not, use the bolts on each end of the straightedge to loosen it and adjust.

4. Line the board and attaching the tracing paper

Lining your drawing board with either cartridge paper or a papyro board (=green vinyl mat) will give you more control over your line work and protect your drawing board from damage.


Cartridge paper is thick white paper that comes on a roll and needs to be cut to size and attached to the board with masking tape. You will need to exchange it after 10-20 drawings because it will get dirty.


The green mat, also called papyro board, that you might have spotted on drawing boards in some art departments, will give you slightly better cushioning and can be cleaned using lighter fluid.  Depending on how well you take care of it, it can last you a lifetime.

5. Install additional lights

No matter how well-lit your room is, you will need additional lighting at some point in your drawing process.


Ideally you would have two additional led lights, clipped left and right to the top edge of your drawing board. This way you can turn off or move away the light that creates a shadow (usually of your own hand) on the drawing board.


Attaching the lights to the top edge of the drawing will make sure that they move whenever you move the board and can be adjusted depending on the  lighting conditions throughout your drawing process.

6. Leave your straight edge at the top overnight

Not precisely part of the drawing board prep, but a good habit to get into: At the end of the day or when you leave your drawing board for an extended amount of time, move the straightedge all the way up.


This way the paper on your board will have maximum freedom to ‘move’. Tracing paper can be quite sensitive to changes in room temperature and humidity, arching and bulging as a result.


The area under the straightedge is not as exposed to these changes and will mostly stay smooth. If you leave your straightedge in the middle of your drawing board you will have a smooth strip of tracing paper in the middle and bulged areas on top and bottom of it, which can make it hard to move the straightedge without damaging the paper.


At the top of the drawing this difference creates the least problems and you will usually be able to flatten the remaining part of your drawing by taking of the masking tape and re-taping the corners.

Avoiding smudging

One of the main problems you will encounter while hand draughting is smudging.


You will notice that by the time you are finished with your drawing the initial transparency of your tracing paper will have turned into a shade of grey. Some smudging is inevitable and you will luckily ‘loose’ some of it in the scanning process, but when it’s beyond a certain level it will show up on your scans and reduce the quality of your drawing or require additional steps in photoshop to clean it up.


There are three things you can do to avoid or at least reduce smudging:

7. Lift your straightedge when you move it

It’s best to establish it as a habit from the very beginning. Whenever you move your straightedge up or down, you should slightly lift it off the board. This way you don’t rub the excess lead from your pencil lines across the entire drawing.

8. Use different degrees of hardness for your pencil leads (also called lead grades)


I recommend setting out and developing your drawing in 2H (0.3 and 0.5 thickness) and waiting with heavy hatches and thick lines in HB and 2B on the full size details until the very end.

9. Use a dusting brush

Use a dusting brush after rubbing things out to get rid of the residues.


Don’t use your hands because no matter how clean your hands are, they are still greasy enough to create smudging.


It takes a moment to get used to reaching for the dusting brush after rubbing things out, but it’s absolutely worth it. It might be helpful to attach the dusting brush to your board with a string so it’s always there and quick to grab.

Magic little helpers

There are a couple of ‘trade secrets’ that can make your life as a draughtsman infinitely easier. You just need to know about them. If you don’t already, you should have the following things in your kit:

10. Magic tape

In case your paper rips or you need to attach additional 6″ at one side to fit in that one last full size detail, magic tape will do the trick.

11. Erase shield or template

Whether you need to erase a line that is very close to one you would like to keep or need to get rid of one little point within a beautifully drawn hatch without destroying the surrounding line work, the eraser shield will make it possible. Just hold it onto your drawing while rubbing out the exposed area.

These are the 11 little things I discovered bit by bit and wish someone would have told me at the start of my hand drawing journey. I hope they makes your more enjoyable.

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