Site Plan Visualization Part 2

This post introduces the many techniques I use in Photoshop to develop a vivid illustration created from the base image created in Part 1.

If you have not see in yet, check out the Site Plan Visualization Part 1.

A. Textures

Workflow Folders

I organize my folders differently depending on the type of illustration (section, plan, perspective, etc.). In this case, I created a folder for every single texture and detail item.

Start by duplicating the Textures layer from Part 1 and place it above the Base Render folder. Next, create a new folder labelled Grass and place the newly copied Textures copy layer inside.

Duplicate the Grass folder to create a folder with a Textures layer for every single texture you have in the site plan.

Rename all the folders appropriately so that there is a folder for every texture.

Texture Bases

The reason for this step is to use the SketchUp image to cut the textures with a Clipping Mask rather than cutting out the textures. This allows for much more graphic flexibility.

On the Textures layer within the Grass folder, use the Select>Color Range technique explained in Part 1 to select only the green areas of the project.

After applying the selection, hold Ctrl+Alt+I (on Mac it's Option+Alt+I) to inverse the selection. The selection should now be everything BUT the target texture. Press the delete key to create empty space in the layer around the target texture (Grass). This is now your Texture Base.

Repeat the process for every texture layer within folders.

The example above shows the same selection done to the Rooftops folder.

Texture Clipping

This is where the textures are applied to the newly created Texture Bases. Notice that the following process is applied to every folder, and images can later be replaced by simply placing them in the correct place. The advantage here is that it provides a quick way to edit the illustration, as well as an easy option to improve it in the future.

Begin dropping in textures into their respective folders and placing them above the Textures Bases.

Make sure the texture layer is above the Texture Base layers within its respective folder and right click it to make it a Clipping Mask.

This should be the end result.

Below, I have scaled down the texture by transforming it (Ctrl+T) and placed it how I felt it provides the best aesthetic.

Since I scaled the texture down to small to cover the whole grass area, I duplicated the layer and placed it on the other location. Notice that the clipping mask remains on the new layer.

Before proceeding, make sure to rasterize the texture layers if they are so not already.

Dodging and Burning

The Dodge and Burn tool can be used to make the texture look like it belongs to the surface by brightening and darkening it. In this case, I am using the Dodge tool on the Grass layer to brighten the center and the Burn tool to darken the edges.

Select the Dodge tool from the toolbar and apply the following options:

After lightening the texture, click and hold over the Dodge tool to switch to Burn.



Blend Modes

The last step to the texture editing phase ends with selecting the appropriate layer blend modes. Apply these blend modes to the folders containing the textures.



B. Details

The details of the illustration are organized in the same way the textures are. A folder for every item, which can vary from project to project. As you can see, I have Trees, People, Vehicles, and other Details.

The folders mimic the workflow from the textures, except that there is no base or clipping mask for most.


Place all the tree images into the tree folder.

Use the Select>Color Range tool to eliminate the white space (if any). Turning the Fuziness higher will allow you to get the white in between leaves.

Press the delete key to eliminate the white on each tree layer.

There are a few techniques to make trees look unique. First, duplicate all the trees to compare them.

Make all the tree layers visible.

Use the transform (Ctrl+T) tool to resize and stretch the general shape.

Make sure to make copies to keep track of the variants.

You can also flip the tree to get a mirrored image in Edit>Transform>Flip Horizontal.

Use the Dodge and Burn tools explain earlier to differentiate them further by their lighting.

Continue to make copies and using these techniques to populate your plan. Below, you can see I have used yellow trees for the street, trees with low density for the park areas, and more dense trees for busy sidewalks.

Next, to create the shadows for the trees duplicate all the tree layers and merge them together. Both these actions are done by right clicking the selected layers.

Move the tree shadows in the direction that the shadows are cast. In my case, I moved it slightly up and to the right.

Move the tree shadows layer below all the trees while keeping it in the Tree folder-

As shown in Part 1, go into Image>Adjustments>Hue/Saturation and move the Lightness nob completely to the left (dark).

Trees should have some transparency so they don't overpower the image and show what's beneath.

Lower the Opacity of the Trees group. For my image, I made it 80%.

Lower the Opacity of the Tree Shadows layer a little further. I put mine down to 75%.


People can be illustrated very differently depending on the scale of the Site Plan. The illustration I am creating in this tutorial is large enough to represent people as small circles, however this same process can be done with overhead images of pedestrians if the plan calls for that scale.

Create a new layer under the People folder.

Select the brush tool and apply the following settings.

The size of the brush may vary from plan to plan to run a few tests to choose the most appropriate, and make sure to use objects or surfaces as references. For example, I paid close attention to the benches and steps of the bridge to help me decide a size.

This is the populated image:

To create the shadows, duplicate the layer with People.

From the top menu, select Filter>Blur>Motion Blur...

Turn the small wheel to determine an angle that resembles that of the rest of the shadows in the image. I have used a Distance of 28 pixels because it creates a soft streak that can pass as a shadow.

Adjust the shadows layer so it matches correctly with their respective people.

Other Details

The last folder for Other Details contains layers defining the train area to the north, vehicles, and basic street lines. These details are done using the same techniques explained for Trees and Textures.

C. Ambient

The Ambient is the last addition to the illustration. It unifies the image, focuses on the design, and sets a mood.

Create two layers under the Ambient folder and name them Fog and Color.

Choose a soft brush as shown below and select a color that sets the mood of the image. I typically always try a clear orange.

With the Color layer selected, create a gradient of color originating from the general area where the light source shines on the project.

Set the Color layer to and Overlay blend mode.

If the result is a little overpowering, try painting with a different color or lower the opacity of the color layer.

Next, change the brush to white.

With the Fog layer selected, begin painting around the project, making the corners especially whited out.

In this case, I chose not to use a blend mode and instead focused on creating a good gradient and then lowering the opacity of the Fog layer.

D. Final Adjustments

When the image is entirely composed, the image is ready to be edited in a way that unifies the style a bit more than the Ambient step allowed.

Duplicate all the folders in the project.

Merge all the layers together. This flat image should contain the final product from the previous steps.

Begin by editing the lighting through Image>Adjustments>Curves.

The Curves window has a graph of the image's light spectrum. The curve defaults to a straight diagonal line, place modifying points on the curves by clicking and dragging what you wish to edit.

It might take a couple of tries to get the hang of this. Notice I placed two points of the curve by clicking and dragging at those locations. What I've done here is created a higher contrast of the dark areas of the image and darkened the lightest areas of the image.

Next, open the Image>Adjustments>Hue/Saturation window to slightly play with the saturation and lightness of the image.

Finally, the last tweak is left to some simple Brightness/Contrast adjustments.

Final Product

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