Alvin Rudolph Saunders, 68, a retired chief of the graphic arts department of the Army's Harry Diamond Laboratories, died Tuesday at the Washington Hospital Center after a heart attack.

Mr. Saunders was born in Charlottesville, and grew up in Washington, where he graduated from the Washington School of Cartooning while still a boy. From the late 1920s until 1939, when he returned to Washington, he traveled and did odd jobs and worked as an illustrator.

He began his government career in 1939. He was a draftsman at the National Bureau of Standards and in 1953 joined the Army's Harry Diamond Laboratories as a technical illustrator. In 1962, he was named head of its graphic arts department. He held that post until his retirement in 1973 for reasons of health.

Mr Saunders had held various part-time jobs since then. At the time of his death, he was a switchboard operator at an apartment complex in Washington.

His wife, the former Anita Vivian Huguley, died of cancer in 1979.

Survivors include two sons, Rudolph R. and Alvin M., and a daughter, Lorraine S. Williams, all of Washington, and seven grandchildren.

The family suggests that expressions of sympathy be in the form of contributions to the American Cancer Society.