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Landscape Graphics Breakdown: What Kind of Plan is Right for the Project and Budget? 

Casandra Maier- July, 2021


The longevity and efficiency of an outdoor space starts with proper planning.  When clients decide to work with a designer, they gain the advantage of running different design scenarios to determine the best landscape solutions for their property.  The preliminary and planning stages of the design process create the opportunity for changes and addendums that would otherwise be too costly or inefficient once the project enters the construction phase.  Furthermore, designers offer a bevy of graphics services to aid clients in the visualization of their finished landscape project.  The result is a visually appealing and functional landscape plan that is used to inform the project's construction, or to advertise the property to prospective buyers or builders.  The medium in which these ideas are communicated ranges from simple hand-drawn sketches to dynamic and experiential 3D landscape models.  The best medium for a landscape plan depends on the size, scale, and scope of the project, as well as the client's needs and budget.  What follows is a breakdown of the types of plans and graphic rendering services landscape designers offer to communicate their solutions and help clients visualize the finished product.      


Hand-Drawn Sketches & Digital Live-Sketching

Sometimes the proper landscape solution is simple, and purchasing an immersive design packet is not warranted or cost-effective.  This applies to smaller outdoor spaces, DIY landscapes, and small-budget projects.  In these cases, clients have the option of contracting landscape design services at an hourly rate, as needed.  To reduce costs during these hourly consultations, the designer uses simple sketches to communicate their ideas.  Landscape designers have many tools at their disposal to turn solutions into detailed graphic renderings.  Although it is sometimes the simplest mode of communication, the hand-drawn sketch, that is the most effective for the project and budget.  Rough sketches allow the client to begin visualizing the colors, shapes, and textures of the proposed project.  These cost-saving concepts are done on the fly during an in-person consultation between designer and client.  However, as online services are a continued need for public health and safety, there are also digital presentations and remote hourly consultations.  During a remote landscape consultation, the designer and client meet via video chat.  The designer utilizes screen-sharing technology to present their landscape solutions to the client digitally.  They sketch their ideas live, on-screen, atop photos or aerial images of the outdoor space.  Digital live-sketches are easy to alter, edit, and re-work; making this a highly efficient tool to explore different landscape solutions during the brainstorming phases of the design process.                              


2D Drawings & Concept Plans

The next tier of landscape graphics includes the most practical and functional visual documents created by landscape designers.  2D drawings such as site analyses, planting plans, lighting plans, and concept plans are used to inform the project's planting and construction.  They are presented as physical or digital plan views and cross section drawings.  A plan view depicts the proposed project from above, while a cross section is a detailed profile-view illustration of a featured area within the landscape.  These plans act like a map of the outdoor space, complete with labels and symbols for the existing and proposed plant and landscape solutions.  They indicate the areas designated for gardening, planting, seating, recreation, outdoor cooking, and outdoor dining.  They show existing structures and features that impact the landscape, including the home, shade elements, exterior buildings, outdoor lighting, property lines, and utility lines.  Concept plans also convey some of the colors, textures, shading, and lighting of the landscape.  Designers offer concept packets to fit landscape budgets of all sizes.  Plans vary in detail from simple plant concepts to more extensive master plans. The scale and scope of the project, as well as any complexities the landscape may present, influences the type of plan needed.  Many designers offer clients a free consultation to assess landscape needs and provide a projection of the design cost.       


11x17 Potruch Res HS Concept Plan 8.20.20.jpg

Image Credit: Property of ND Design Services Inc.  

Photo-Real Renderings

A photo-real rendering visually transports the client to the finished landscape.  It provides a snapshot of the future.  It allows the client to see what their landscape project will look like upon completion.  Combining form, function, and artistry, these renderings are credited with bringing the "wow" factor to the landscape design process.  Many landscape designers and landscape architects are also painters, sculptors, and mixed media artists, allowing them to lean into these artistic skills and talents for this tier of landscape graphics.  Like any work of art, the time required to create these digital renderings is reflected in the design cost.  However, the payoff in obtaining one of these drawings bodes well for the project and property overall.  Renderings are often used to attract potential buyers or gain investors.  As the name suggests, a photo-real rendering begins with a photo of a featured area within the property.  The designer obtains a "before" picture of the landscape featuring the front of a home, a backyard, a community building, a section of an office park, or a corporate entrance.  Using design software, the designer edits and re-works the photo, inputting realistic images of the proposed plant and landscape solutions.  The result is an "after" photo, also called a rendering.  It takes time and precision to create the desired photo-real look, but the stunning finished product often leaves the viewer guessing which is real and which is digital image magic.              


8.5x11 rittenhouse building planters rendering.jpg

Image Credit: Property of ND Design Services Inc.  

Photospheres, 3D Models, & Photo-Real 3D Animations

There are times when the outdoor space is too large and detailed to fully capture in a 2D rendering.  Another dimension and tier of landscape graphics is needed to truly visualize the proposed design.  Such projects include full lot enhancements, intricate residential gardens, HOA communities, office parks, and shared public spaces.  In these cases, the designer may suggest a photosphere, 3D model, or photo-real 3D animation.  A photosphere strings together multiple photo-real renderings to create the outdoor space in the round.  It allows the client to place themselves at the center of the photo and toggle their view to look around.  3D models are more simplistic digital constructions of one or more elements in an outdoor space.  They also offer an orbital 365-degree view.  3D modeling is used to build everything from park benches and outdoor furniture, to entire models of the landscape design.   The client essentially experiences "moving" through the outdoor space.  A photo-real 3D animation is the most impressive of all, with continued advancements in technology and design software.  These animations sit  at the top tier of landscape graphics.  The designer builds a life-like digital model of the outdoor space that is presented as a short video animation, or fly-through of the property.  These animations often include dynamic details like changing weather, sun orientation based on time of day, and the leaves of the trees gently moving with the breeze.  Time, precision, and artistry are needed to create these mini digital worlds, but the end results are immersive and stunning.  They provide the client with a virtual experience of the landscape, pre-construction.                   


Video Credit: Property of ND Design Services Inc.  


There are landscape graphics packets, plans, and concepts to fit budgets of all sizes.  Most designers offer a complimentary consultation to assess their client's landscape needs and provide a projection of the design fees and overall project cost.  Designers have a streamlined step-by-step process that they lead their clients through to determine the best plans and solutions for the landscape.  The type of plan that is best suited depends on the project itself but is usually based on scale and the scope of work needed.  Each tier of landscape graphics mentioned in this article lends itself to digital presentations and remote consultation, as online services are a continued need for public health, safety, and well-being.  Booking a consultation with a landscape designer is the first step to starting the design process.                 



Dodge, N. (July, 2021). Interviews with ND Design Services Inc. 

Landscaping Network. (2021). "Landscape Plans."

ArchDaily. (2021). "The Computer vs. The Hand in Architectural Drawing." Arch Daily Readers Respond.

Easy Render. (2020). "Landscape Architecture and 3D Rendering." Easy Render 3D Rendering Services.


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