Picture this

As a landscape designer, a large part of your job is to sell a concept to clients. Your tools to communicate the design are often limited to plan drawings, section and perspective drawings and pictures of plants. You likely use the plan drawing, a birds-eye view of the design from directly above, to discuss the design with your client. But lacking plant knowledge, many clients are left to their imagination and your descriptions to visualize the design. In some cases, the plan drawing itself is difficult for some people to understand, and they are left wondering at the end of the presentation, “Where's the front door again?” Three-dimensional drawings are an additional aid, but the success of these depends much on the ability of the designer to draw.

So the major hurdle for designers is selling an idea that is intangible. Unlike a car salesman who has the luxury of clients being able to see, touch, smell and drive the product, landscape designers rely on drawings and visualization. An acutal picture of the proposed design, in this case, would create a somewhat tangible product through which your client could see a photo of the plants and material you're proposing for their yard.

You can paint a realistic picture with graphics software, even before building on a new house has been completed. Today there are several programs for landscape designers. Among these programs there exists variation in the way you would execute commands and save files; however, there are some commonalities. Each program has strong and weak points, whether those pertain to the quality of the finished product, ease of learning, size of the image database or cost.


Purchase a high-quality design software. You'll discover that this software is much different than the software you'll find on the shelf at a local store that sells for less than $50. Although inexpensive, those software programs are limited in their applications, quality and database of images. Professional-grade software offers you a wide range of applications and high quality prints, in addition to program and database upgrades.

This article is not intended to promote any of the listed products. They all have some outstanding qualities. Depending on your company and approach to the design process, the software that best suits your needs will vary.

However, regardless of which product you choose, there are several common techniques to using the software to build designs. While this article is not intended to teach you how to use each program because there are many variations, it will give you an idea of what the software can do and what kind of finished products it creates. If you decide to purchase design software, it most likely will include comprehensive tutorials that will teach you how to use it.

If you've used older versions of design software, you know that those programs often produced a finished product in which the pictures of plants looked like they were stuck to the top of the site photo like refrigerator magnets. Today's software has advanced to create very realistic photos on which you can blend the plant images right into the photo. As you insert objects (plant images) onto the main photo, new software allows you to render them with shading and shadows falling on the ground. This makes the added images blend into the photo and they no longer appear as pictures pasted on top. With the older software, if you filled a sidewalk or wall with a texture, it appeared flat and lacked any depth. New software improvements ensure objects are filled with texture and reflect accurate depth. The size of texture gets smaller with less detail as it appears farther back in the image.


  • Get the picture

    Your first step to using new design software is acquiring a photo of the site your client would like you to landscape. With digital cameras, you can take pictures of the site and immediately download them to a computer. You can still choose to use film; however, it requires development and scanning, which is time-consuming and costly. By using digital images, you can easily print them and e-mail them to clients. Most clients will be interested in the design of the front of the house.

    Whether you use a digital camera to take a digital image of the site or use file and scan in a photo of the site, you will be able to use the photo in your design-imaging program. By using the software, you will be able to manipulate the image by cropping it and even sharpening it to adjust and improve the image quality.

  • Cloning

    The cloning tool is one of the most useful tools for manipulating images because it has endless applications. One of many examples of this is its use for “erasing” existing plants or other objects in the original image. It is able to achieve this by “painting” with textures from the image itself. Most cloning tools operate by using two cursors: a texture box and an application box. When you click and hold down the mouse, whatever appears in the texture box will be painted onto the image in the application box.

    Using this tool, you can place the texture box on the lawn and apply the turf texture over existing objects. This is effective because it uses the textures as they actually appear in the image rather than using a texture from the database that doesn't exactly match.

  • Image database

    Most software programs will include a database of objects and textures often referred to as a library. The library organizes these objects into categories, such as trees, shrubs, grass, sidewalks, driveways, etc. You can view these images and choose which ones to place onto the photo.

    The database contains an enormous amount of objects that serves designers in all parts of the country. In comparison to the large number of items contained in the database, you will most likely only need to access a small number of the objects. In order to avoid having to search through numerous images, you should consider creating a customized library made up of your most frequently used objects and textures.

    Some programs offer you the ability to add your own objects to the database. By downloading a picture of a plant or texture, you can use the image just as you would any of the other objects in the library.

  • Objects

    When you're using your new design software to built a project, you can move and manipulate objects in a variety of ways that will easily let you change and develop your design. Here are a few ways you'll be able to enhance project-design photos to give your customers a better perspective of your ideas.

    • Grabbing an object refers to a click-and-holding an object in order to move it. Click on the object you want to move (this grabs it), hold down the mouse button while dragging the object to the portion of the you would like to place the object. When you release the mouse, the object will drop.

    • You can also change the size and proportion of an object. In addition making the object larger or smaller, the software also allows you to distort certain parts of an object, which can create perspective on ground plane objects.

    • A duplication tool enables you to quickly copy an object numerous times. This is especially helpful when the object size has been changed or when you need to resize objects you are using from your image library. Massing shrubs can be as easy as several clicks of your mouse.

    • Layers. As you place objects on your starting image, they begin to stack up one on top of the other. You can then move objects from back to front so that one grouping of flowers appears to be in front of a shrub or ornamental grasses appear to be in back of other plantings.

    • Trim. To aid in making your design as representative as possible, you can trim objects with a tool that acts as an eraser. Simply pointing the cursor and clicking on portions of the selected image with erase, or trim, them. You can trim an object to change its form, such as trimming a tree to become more vase-shaped or to make shrubs appear more rounded. This adds flexibility to the image database by shaping a plant to look like the one you want.

    • Shadows. One of the most effective tools for integrating objects into the original site image is the use of shadows. Shadows lend a sense of depth and solidity to the object. You can easily add shadows by duplicating an object, transforming the duplication into a shadow by distorting it, then placing it in the image so that it appear to be a shadow on the ground or house. For example, if you wanted to add a shadow behind a shrub, you would duplicate the shrub, distort it, thus creating a shadow image, and place it behind the shrub object where a shadow might realistically appear.


The ground plane of your design consists of, but is not limited to, the lawn, driveway, sidewalk and planting beds. To create this level in your design, you will again be able to use the software program library, or database, which will contain numerous textures, such as turf, pavers, concrete and mulch. There a few standard ways of establishing the ground plane. For example, as with the shrub and tree objects, you will be able to search the database and choose from several different types of driveway materials and shapes. Once you select the one that fits your design, you load it onto the design, just as you would other objects.

It's important to establish perspective so the photo has depth and appears realistic. Objects appear smaller the farther in the distance they are from the observer. Without perspective, the ground plane appears flat because it is uniform in texture.

  • Area. By defining an enclosed area with a masking tool (simply point-and-click the area), you can pour a selected texture into it. Some programs have a perspective effect to make the texture appear finer toward the top when you've poured it into the area.


Once you've completed the image design, saving it as a “JPEG” will create an image that is a small file and can fit on a floppy disc. You will also be able to e-mail the file to clients so that they can download and view it.

  • Printer

    In most cases, you will print the image on a standard 8.5-inch × 11-inch piece of paper from a standard inkjet office printer. Printers that have at least 300 dpi (dots per inch) will provide satisfactory quality, although increasing the dpi capability will increase the photo-quality.

  • Paper

    For quality prints, use high-quality paper. Do comparisons with various paper to find the best print quality for your purpose.

    Still not sure you should invest in landscape design software? Just imagine what you can do with it. Then, invest in it and use it so that your clients don't have to imagine.

Tony Bertauski is a horticlture instructor at Trident Technical College (Charleston, S.C.).


In considering purchasing a product, shop around at the various retailers listed. Some can send you the fully operational product that you can use during a 30-day trial period. Following the initial 30 days, if you decide you like it, you purchase a password to unlock it for further use.


Design Imaging Group, Inc.
320 Long Island Avenue
Holtsville, NY 11742
Phone (800) 776-0103
Fax (631) 654-8046

Pro Landscape

Toll Free: 1-800-231-8574

Visual Impact

3533 W. Bath Road
Akron, OH 44333
Tel: (330) 665-9080

Visual Landscaping

Eagle Point Software
4131 Westmark Drive
Dubuque, IA 52002-2627
Phone: (319) 556-8392
Toll Free: (800) 678-6565
Fax: (319) 556-5321

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