Make Blueprints

This article assumes that you have your drawings ready, such as a print of a CAD drawing, or a drawing that was drawn by hand using manual drafting tools before CAD come to town and took over.


  1. Know the terminology. Whether a CAD print, or a manually-produced drawing, these are termed a "reproducible" or sometimes known as your "originals". These are produced on vellum or some type of drawing medium that allows light to pass through it. When someone uses this type of media for their originals (also known as a reproducible), they typically intend to make a "blueline blueprint". This means a print that is actually light-bluish in color with darker blue lines than the light blue background. Hence, this is a "blueline." See "Tips" for further background information on the blueprint.
  2. Understand how blueline machines work.
    • The basic difference in a "blueline machine" from a "large format copy machine" is that blueline machines will only make a copy of a reproducible document, such as vellum (sometimes known a "trans-bond" or any material that will allow light to pass through it). This is not the only difference, but it's the most notable difference between the two types of machines.
    • Blueline machines all rely on the ability to pass light through the document that you want to copy, therefore the document you are making a copy of must have enough transparency for light to pass through it. Although this can be considered a "negative" for blueline machines, blueline machines make BLUE prints, not the black and white copies one would get with a large format copier.
    • Blueline prints are very impressive, since they are blue and show off your work nicely. Many old-timers and small architectural shops don't like to use the large format copiers since they only do black and white. Yet, many shops have both machines, a blueline, and a large format copier and use either depending on the desired results.
    • Blueline machines use a diazo process and diazo paper that comes wrapped in a thick black plastic bag sealed to keep the light from exposing the paper. Most diazo paper is yellow in color when it comes out of the sealed bag, then turns blue when it has been run through a blueline machine. The process that works to expose the paper is done with black lights and ammonia.
  3. Understand the process of making copies of your documents. Once you have your original documents ready to copy, plenty of diazo fresh unexposed paper on hand, and your diazo machine ready to go, you can begin to make your blueprints:
    • Remember, your originals must be of some type of transparent medium, such as vellum, or trans-bond.
    • Start with one original drawing and hold it up, and then place one sheet of diazo paper on top of it and match all edges, so that the two sheets appear as one.
    • Start feeding these two sheets into the machine into the lower roller section; the two will become exposed to ammonia and a black light and they will both come back out of the machine as the machine's powered rollers slowly take the paper in and back out of the machine itself.
    • When the two come out of the machine, peel away your original and lay it aside.
    • Take the diazo paper and run it back through the machine on the top roller section. Please note that most diazo blueprint machines have a bottom roller and a top roller. You can continue to run the diazo paper through the top roller process over and over, several times, depending on how new your ammonia is, the speed at which you exposed the first run when both sheets were held together, and how blue you want your print to become. It's an easy process and one you will perfect quickly, only after making a couple of blueprints.
    • Do this same process for each sheet in your drawing set, if you have multiple drawings to copy.
  4. Create a binder from one diazo paper sheet. Once all of your copies are made, if you want to you can run a single sheet of diazo paper through the machine without any original drawing in front of it. This exposes the entire sheet and makes it a very dark blue. This sheet is cut into slivers of paper the same height as your drawings, but only wide enough to make three folds in it in order to make a nice binder that you can staple on one end of your drawing set. Usually three to four staples with a heavy duty staple gun is all that is needed to secure the binder and hold your drawing set together.
  5. Consider the benefits of the diazo process:
    • The machine has a long life. The diazo process is inherently simple; the copiers have relatively few complicated parts and their maintenance is inexpensive. Most diazo copiers remain in use for well over 20 years with a high degree of reliability and little down time.
    • There is a low cost per copy. Diazo copiers use readily available and so are diazo-coated papers, vellums, and films, which are priced competitively with so-called "plain papers". The aqueous ammonia developer used by most diazo copier systems is low in cost and environmentally-safe. Aqueous ammonia is nothing more than a stronger solution of clear household ammonia.
    • The machine has low maintenance. Since the "brains" of the system is built into the paper or other media, the equipment itself requires little maintenance. There are no per-copy or click charges with most diazo copiers. They are very reliable pieces of equipment that provide years of useful life with little down time.
    • The diazo process is environmentally-friendly. The ammonia is a completely natural substance. It is a basic building-block substance, which is crucial to life on our planet. It is composed of only two elements - nitrogen and hydrogen. Ammonia is produced by all animals, including humans, as a natural product of the metabolic process. Each person generates about 550 grams per year. According to one source, 500 families release more ammonia each year than 20,000 diazo copying machines. For more on ammonia, see 'Tips' below.
    • The diazo process doesn't contribute ozone or create health concerns. The diazo process relies entirely on natural substances to create high quality copies. There is no ozone, (a highly irritating poisonous gas) associated with diazo equipment. So-called "Sick-Building Syndrome" symptoms do not occur with diazo copiers, and all employees are safe from long-term health concerns. Dry diazo copying has reached a highly refined state of functionality. Diazo systems, by definition, require only natural substances for operations. The development process involves the release of only ammonia, moisture and heat energy. The diazo industry has integrated the exacting standards for ammonia handling, containment, and removal of nearly all ammonia odors. In addition, ammonia supply containers are safe and meet industry standard specifications.
  6. Get your diazo copier. Now you have learned more about how blueprints are made, the process, and the equipment that is necessary. Well known brand names of diazo type copiers include Rotolite, Diazit, and ReproTechnology.


  • Take your time and run the prints through the machine slowly as it will make a nicer and crisper blueprint.
  • It was 1985 or so when CAD became readily available and was just becoming popular and affordable around 1988 and 1990. Prior to this, the manual method was in use, using a T-square or drafting machine, 45 & 60 degree triangles, a lead pointer and a few other tools of the trade. For some, the introduction of CAD felt like a restriction to free-hand drawing but upon using it for work purposes, most have discovered its benefits over hand-drawing.
  • The word "blueprint" is a holdover from the older process where the print would be a dark blue page and the lines or drawing would be white lines. A true blueprint is the exact opposite of a blueline. With that said, please note that a drawing on bond media cannot be copied via the blueline process. If a drawing on bond media is to be copied, one would need a large format Xerox machine, known as "large format copiers". There are multiple manufacturers that produce large format copiers, such as Xerox, Oce, K&E, Kip, and a few others. These copiers that are for making "copies of copies" and work well but will not make the blue drawing (light blue background with darker blue lines).


  • Never for any reason mix ammonia with chlorine bleach, or allow the fumes from the two chemicals to mix.Dangers of Mixing Bleach and Ammonia, from BBC U.K.
    • Ammonia mixed with chlorine bleach in various proportions can create deadly gas and several highly poisonous compounds which may even explode, i.e.: in your face.
    • The deadly gases react with tissue: attacking eyes, nasal passages and lungs, and are possibly fatal (lethal) to breathe.

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