Big Monitors for On-Screen Estimating

      A discussion of the hardware and software upgrades involved in switching to all-digital (paperless) estimating and takeoffs. April 27, 2011

I am getting ready to go semi paperless for estimating. I'm spending $1,000 month printing plans for jobs we don't get. The trend in the industry is to move the cost of plan production from the architect and owner to the GC and the subcontractor. If anyone out there is doing this, I am looking for recommendations on what monitor to get. I'm looking for a 42"-50" monitor so I can look at plans full size and it needs to be high resolution. I need an education in the language of video screens. I am also considering On Screen Takeoff, based on a recommendation but I would be interested if anyone is using something they like better.

Forum Responses
(Architectural Woodworking Forum)
From contributor M:
How about viewing on big screen HD TV instead of monitor?

From contributor W:
You've have a few issues to think about here, the main one being screen resolution. Look for a monitor that supports 1920x1200 or so pixel resolution (1080p). That's about the largest screen resolution that can be output by most computers. While thinking that a big screen TV can be enticing it's the resolution that makes it sharp and readable.

The second consideration is your computer's video outputs, whether they be VGA, HDMI, or S video ports. HDMI is the best and if your computer has that output you're in good shape. Otherwise consider that you will have to spring for a new video card (if it's a desktop) or for a laptop, a new laptop, as video cards are built into those units. Do some searches and you'll find lots of articles, etc on using a wide screen as a monitor.

From contributor R:
Contributor W is right on the mark, and even with all you have to consider, you're eventually going to save a lot of money. I would also recommend getting a video card that supports dual monitors. We are using this type of setup and can have prints open on one monitor and have Excel/CAD open on another. The monitors can be different sizes, resolution, etc. This in itself is a huge time saver. It's a lot like having a note pad in one hand while standing at the drawing board - very realistic and easy.

From contributor W:
Yep, good point about the dual monitors. Many laptops already have this capability by using their own internal screens with the external monitor set to "extended desktop". Many of our customers have a plan on one screen and our estimating software on the other screen and just with all screen space to mow right through jobs. If you're going to install a new video card in a PC, then consider the power requirements as well. These tricked out video cards suck down a lot of power and often you'll have to increase the size of the unit's power supply to use a high end card. There are just a few green cards coming on the market and recently had occasion to install one in one of our test PCs. It worked very nicely without having to worry about a larger power supply.

From the original questioner:
Big screen TV with 1080p is the direction I'm going. I already have the dual monitor setup. I'll look into Bluebeam as well.

From contributor F:
We use a large monitor for plans and 20" for data entry, word excel etc. We have a 27" for the plans, I bought this size to try based on the assumption I can't read a full page anyway and zoom is quick. I had to get dual monitor cards for the desktop. We use bluebeam to check off and annotate the plans during takeoff. You can export counts so you can take off a variety of trims to get a trim package or fixture counts or box counts if you want.

From contributor M:
Planswift is some pretty nice software, you can try it out and after you get the hang of the keyboard controls it's great for viewing plans, fast, and even flipping through the pages is quick. It's much more fluid and fast compared to other software I've tried, a 22" screen is plenty if you practice using the software instead of getting a screen big enough to see a whole 2x3 page. I have a 28" Hanns G monitor from Newegg for $280 or so, it's great - 30" monitors with higher resolutions get very expensive, and trying to read small text on a 1080 TV at max resolution is much different than a monitor.

From the original questioner:
I ended up getting an excellent deal on a big Samsung monitor, so we'll see how that goes. I had to get a new card to run it and I will have it going soon. As for software, I am looking for something that I can use to do lineal and area measurement by room, that either inputs direct or exports to excel. I also would want to count various things and list them by room and elevation. I found an interesting software that does this in excel right on the screen with the plan, but it only allows you to enter one number in each line so you can automatically measure or manually enter lineal feet of base per room, but I want to enter number of pieces of trim, number of lineal feet, number of field joints, etc. They say that they will be coming out with a version that does this in two months. I will look at Bluebeam and Planswift and see if either has the capacity I need.

From contributor D:
What size monitor did you get? And what is your final choice software? I've tried BlueBeam now thinking to try PlanSwift.

From the original questioner:
I ended up buying On Screen Takeoff which is excellent so far, and I now have three blueprint sized monitors for me and my two estimators - we all like the system.

From contributor D:
What type of work do you do? Will On Screen Takeoff work well for custom mill work estimates?

From the original questioner:
We do custom architectural woodworking. On Screen is particularly good right out of the box for standing and running trim, paneling, and any kind of takeoff where counting quantity and square footage is important.

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