Illustrator vs. Photoshop for Rendering Plans

Landscape Architecture for Landscape Architects Forums TECHNOLOGY Illustrator vs. Photoshop for Rendering Plans

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    Dominic Esser

    The last office that I worked for we used mostly Photoshop to do renderings. We were able to creat a pdf file of our Cadd file and then drop it into a PS file and start coloring. Eventually what we did in our office, so that all of our plans looked mostly uniform was to creat a template of trees (flowering, autumn, summer) which could be cut and pasted into the drawings. This saved time by quite a bit. As far as the colors for things like lawn, roads, DG, etc was all uniform as well, so we didnt have to guess on what colors we should use.
    I personally like PS, because back in College I used Illustrator on a few projects and really didnt like the way that it worked, however I did like the PS program, so I just stuck with it. In the last year of my employment at my last office we started using SketchUp as well, which, from what I see in the job applications, is a program that is becoming very relevant in our field.


    Dominic Esser

    Hey Jessie,
    Just so you know I have very limited exposure to SketchUp and so I dont know too much about it. If I’m wrong, I hope someone corrects me.
    With that being said, I’m pretty sure you can either import PDF files or CAD files into this program and create a 3D drawing. What I have been working with is Google SketchUp and I dont see a need to be connected to the internet unless off course you want to either download items that you want to use in your drawings or upload scenes that you have made. I think its a really cool software, much easier than other 3D software like Maya and 3dMax.

    David Fletcher

    It depends on the scale of the drawings and how much time you have. 90% of our planimetric work is in Illustrator and we use a CAD plugin from HotDOOR called Cad tools…

    We use different combinations of Photoshop, Maya, 3DS, rhino, and Illy for our renderings…

    David Fletcher

    You can view some of our renderings here

    Frank Varro

    I would say limiting you employees is extremely short sighted on a few levels:

    First, you partially hired an employee for their graphics they brought with them. Asking them to tweak some stuff is not out of line, but if you want a totally different result prepare for a LOT of growing pains as they switch techniques and software.

    Second, assuming you liked the graphics the new hire showed you, its very possible that they are going to be able to do it most efficiently with the software they are used to. Is software is a constraint at your firm, I understand, but then you should ask potential hires what software they used for a given rendering, and how familiar they are with the software you have instead / how willing they are to learn the new software.

    If your firm wants to have identical graphics for every project they do, they could do that with a set of standards. However, as this is a creative field, each person being shoe-horned into those standard styles will have issues with it- the drop shadow is to dark, this sidewalk texture looks like gravel, these trees don’t read like they have the height they do, this wetland looks like a lake, etc. Each of those people will likely get slowly frustrated. Yes, the firm hired them to do their job, so they should do it, but anytime you suck some control away from a creative person, they put less creative force into the rest of their work. So, if your firm is looking for form drawings, I would say, for everyone’s sake, that a dedicated graphics guru get hired- they do all the graphics, how they want, and everything looks the same, but still has sole.

    Ok, that got a little ranty for no real reason, so to dial it back a notch- I know Photoshop, and I am familiar with Illustrator. If you want me to do a rendering to the best of my ability, with the best graphics I can do, let me on Photoshop. Other people are the same way with illustrator. Letting people work towards their strengths has benefits. That being said, if a boss gave me the time, I would gladly learn Illustrator more, as I might learn quicker/better ways to do some stuff I normally do in PShop. I would say, from my experience, Photoshop is best for detail plans, with lots of heavy graphic detail, where Illustrator is best for large scale plans and diagrams, where the power of the vector graphics can really be used well.

    At my office we used photoshop over cad, or hand graphics over cad, for plans. Perspectives were either hand, SketchUp, or a software program that is designed with a built in plant photo library to help you build photo montages (It was buggy as hell, but when it worked, it gave decent results given the time investment), or a combination of those. Personally I’m liking plans with hand linework, colored with photoshop (below), and perspectives either hand or 3D Studio Max, depending on the time/billable situation. Feel free to check my website ( for more examples of how I like to do it. I am likely about to start yet another overhaul on the site in the next month (assuming I’m still a “free-agent” at that point), so more stuff will be coming as well.

    Wes Arola, RLA

    great points made about creativity and productivity in the long run…
    anytime you suck some control away from a creative person, they put less creative force into the rest of their work.


    very good point wes.


    That’s some really slick work, David. Its got that “high concept” look too.
    Did you find Rhino easy to learn?

    Brian Stuhr

    In my limited and humble experience:

    This question can not be viewed as an either/or. As a current graduate student, I utilize CAD, 3D modeling, hand graphics etc. in concert with Photoshop and Illustrator. The two programs in question are complimentary to each other, being raster based and vector based respectively.

    In short, they each have their strengths, but are strongest when used together.

    You might consider a “layer management” standard for your office, since the organization of layers and masks is the most crucial part of working with complex Photoshop and Illustrator files (especially when multiple people are working on the same file)

    Hope this helps,

    Lee Attinger

    Has anybody played around using Illustrator brushes with a Wacom tablet?


    The best way to present landscape illustration is by using Photoshop tools, the software allows you to control the colors and shapes of your trees shrubs etc… you can add filters to your objects in the drawing and actually do every thing you need in order to present your ideas as you want, you can do it by using the basic tools of Photoshop
    Please visit our website to learn more about it:
    Best regards

    Nick Mitchell

    I believe Frank as made an excellent point about the “sole” of a drawing, The difference to me between photoshop and illustrator is all about efficiency, what program can i do what in the fastest. As a college student to be this is critical. I think standards are great for producing consistant rendered plans. However, i strongly believe you need to change it up once in a while to help portray the mood and emotion of a space. I personally use mostly CAD and Photoshop with a tablet like Nick. By the way, awesome renderings Nick Aceto.

    Here are a couple examples of renderings i have done to try to portray different moods.

    Bill Staley, RLA

    Hey all,

    Thanks to everyone for the responses. I thought i’d reveal my cards here – i’m the one in the office that uses photoshop for renderings, while everyone else uses Illustrator (though i’m cross-platform capable, so I end up doing both sometimes). I think its been an interesting discussion here – and i’d like the dialogue to continue. We are in the process of developing standards, though I think it will end up being seperate sets of standards for illus and photo. I’ll keep everyone posted.

    Again, thanks all.

    Bob Luther

    I use AutoCad, Photoshop, and SketchUp. One of the thinks that I keep hearing is “office standard” I take pride in trying to make each project a little differnt and unique (avoiding standard). I think the client likes the fact that their project does not look like every other board up on our walls. Every rendering I do I try a new technique or style based on how much time I have and what the client wants. I have a folder of images that I have collected from magazines, internet, land8lounge, etc. and I will print a bunch of them off to show the client (telling them of course that we may not have done them all but can replicate any of the styles represented) the client picks what they like we can then tell them how labor and intensive the proces wil be and we produce a unique set of images. Everytime I get done with a project I try to take notes on what I did to create the different effects, what worked and what didn’t and what I would do differently next time. if we don’t try new things we will never expand our skills. the extra time we spend on making things unique may be a waste but I think it is worth it ot give the client a unique product.

    John Keith Jackson

    Why use either except for touching up or adding painterly effects? Any changes required are likely to mean starting all over again. Using a CAD program with rendering capabilities allows almost automatic production of presentation Plans. Always draw with closed shapes and raise the 2d tree symbols to create shadows; simple 3D objects – extrusions for walls etc. A template drawin

    g with materials pre-assigned by layer/colour can form office wide standard . The attached image was Phong rendered in 2 minutes with Microstation V8 and was plottable to scale. One file that can be developed for 3D and working drawings.


    I don’t know if this plug-in exists, but I sure hope it does. I render in PS the same way and PDFing layer by layer can be a real time suck.

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