Using Photoshop in Post-Production Renderings
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Using Photoshop in Post-Production Renderings

Jan 27, 2017
Video Length:  1:12:04
Presented By:  Paul Houchin


You’ve finished designing your plan in CAD. Now you’re looking to spruce up your graphics for a presentation. With the help of Adobe Photoshop – and, of course, the Land F/X family of AutoCAD plugins – you can achieve this goal quickly and efficiently. This webinar will provide an introduction to the fine art of fine-tuning your drawing in Photoshop. Starting with a tutorial on prepping your drawing in CAD for optimum rendering, we’ll show you how to send elements of your design over to Photoshop. We’ll also go over some basic Photoshop tools and rendering techniques that will help make your plan graphics even more striking and take your design to the next level.


Want to watch Part 2? Watch it here!

Webinar Contents:

Note: The following catalog of content covered in this webinar is time stamped to allow you to follow along or skip to sections of the video that are relevant to your questions. You can also search for content on this page using the FIND command in your browser (CTRL + F in Windows, Command + F in Mac OS.)

  • Intro/TOC
  • Organize CAD Layers into Group Filters Effectively
  • Plot Groups Individually as PDFs
  • Import into Photoshop Layers
  • Basic Photoshop Tools Overview
  • Techniques for Enhancing Graphics
    • Enhancing a Flat Plan

0:00 – 4:15: Intro/TOC

4:16 – 11:09: Organize CAD Layers into Group Filters Effectively

(For a tutorial on getting your landscape plan to the point of the example we’ll use in this webinar, see our Using Presentation Graphics webinar.)/videos/webinars/item/3232-using-presentation-graphics.html


Using group filters to organize the layers from a CAD drawing to export to Photoshop layers (5:15)


Group filters function like a folder structure for organizing your layers. To add group filters to your Layer Manager, click the Group Filter button. This method is also a great way of organizing your layers in CAD even if you don’t plan to bring the groups into Photoshop.


You can divide group filters into separate groups for your own purposes. For time’s sake, we’ll group them all together.


Turning visibility off to make it easy to verify that you’ve grabbed everything (6:40)


Selecting block layers (layers that start with LK) and building layers, grouping them, and turning visibility off (8:30)


We’re now left with the Xref base. (10:45)

11:10 – 14:59: Plot Groups Individually as PDFs

When we bring the groups into Photoshop, they’ll already be organized in their own separate layer. As a result, it will be a lot easier to work with them as separate entities as opposed to bringing them all in as one.  


Opening the sheet layout in Paper Space (11:10)


Opening the Plot Manager and setting up the plot style (11:18)


Note: You can use the Quality menu in the Page Setup Manager to select a higher-quality image (more DPI), but we’ll keep this setting at Normal to prevent bogging down our processing speed for the purposes of the webinar.


Plotting the base layer to a PDF (11:55)


Turning visibility off for the Xref layer (12:42)


Turning on visibility for block layers (example: trees and shrubs) and plotting those layers (12:50)


Turning the plant shadow layers off (these layers will include the text SHAD in their names). (13:10)


Note: If you want, you can keep Plant Shadows turned on when you plot your planting plan, which will prevent the need to create drop shadows in Photoshop.  


Opening the Plot Manager, selecting the plot settings, plotting (13:28)


Repeat the same process for each layer group. Once all the groups are plotted separately, we can move on to Photoshop. (14:08)

15:00 – 21:24: Import into Photoshop Layers

Creating a new Photoshop document and matching the ratio (if not actual dimensions), as well as the resolution, of the plotted PDFs (15:20)


Importing the PDFs we’ve plotted from CAD into Photoshop (16:25)


Important: When the Open As Smart Option dialog box opens, do notselect the Bounding Box option. We recommend selecting the Media Box option, which will give you the full extents of the document sheets and, as a result, allow the elements in different PDFs to line up correctly.


Organizing the list of layers in Photoshop. Make sure that ground plane elements (such as paving and groundcovers) are at the bottom of the layers list and that the top plane elements are at the top. (19:40)


You can import PDFs into Photoshop by dragging and dropping them. If you do so, the PDFs will come in on separate layers, and the layers will be automatically named after the PDF file names. (21:00)

21:25 – 25:01: Basic Photoshop Tools Overview

Photoshop maneuvering tools (21:25)


Zooming in and out using the CTRL and +/- keys (Windows) or Command and +/- keys (Mac) (21:35)


Note that the mouse wheel only moves your view up and down in Photoshop and does not zoom in and out as it does in CAD.


Panning around your design in Photoshop by holding down the space bar and clicking and dragging (22:05)


Question: Do I need to use group filters when I send layers over to Photoshop? Can I just use the VPFREEZE command? (22:40)

Answer: You don’t need to, but group filters make it much easier if you need to make changes on those layers. You’ll have them saved and easily accessible.



Question: What is the advantage of using transparency in CAD? Is there an advantage to dealing with transparency exclusively in Photoshop? (23:20)

Answer: Paul prefers using transparency in CAD because it allows the overlaying elements in CAD to carry their transparencies over into Photoshop so he doesn’t have to adjust their opacities.

25:02 – end: Techniques for Enhancing Graphics

Enhancing a Flat Plan (25:15)

Hiding Photoshop layers by clicking the eye icon next to each layer in the Layers panel. We’ll hide all layers except the one we’re working on (first, the pavement layer) (26:00)


Using the Gradient tool to add some flavor to the monotone surface areas (26:05)


Paving Areas (26:25)

Creating a new layer for the gradient (26:25)


Using the Magic Wand tool to select the area we’ll be working on (26:42)


Note: The “marching ants” surrounding an area indicate that the area is selected. That means we can alter everything within the selected area while leaving everything else alone.


Moving to the new layer we’ve created, opening the Gradient tool, and adding a radial gradient to add a 3D effect (27:25)


Note: When you add a gradient in Photoshop, you’ll often need to fine-tune it to get the right contrast between the two gradient colors.


Deselecting the area by pressing CTRL + D (Windows) or Command + D (Mac) (28:50)


Adjusting the gradient’s opacity (29:10)


Creating a group of layers in Photoshop (29:25)


Adding gradients to the other paving layers (30:00)


Adding to the current selection by selecting the Add to Selection option or deselecting the Contiguous option (30:14)


Using the Adjustments options (from the Image menu) to make adjustments to the different elements on the selected layer (levels, brightness/contrast, etc.) (32:00)


Example: Adjusting the layer’s levels (low tones, mid tones, and highlights) (32:14)



Groundcover layer (33:20)

To make the groundcover less eye-catching than the trees and shrubs, we’ll drop its saturation and add a little lightness using the Hue/Saturation setting under Image > Adjustments. (34:00)


Isolating an excessively dark area of groundcover, putting it on a new layer, and adjusting it (34:40)


Copying and pasting the selected area onto a new layer above the original (35:50)


Adjusting the levels of this layer as we did for the previous groundcover layer, making this layer lighter (37:00)


Creating a group for the groundcover layers (37:40)



Amenities layer (38:15)

Dropping the saturation in the amenities layer to reduce brightness (38:25)


Adding shadows to the amenities to create more of a 3D effect using the Drop Shadows feature (To use this feature, make sure the correct layer is active. Then click the Add a Layer Style button in the Layers Manager– labeled “FX” – then select Drop Shadows from the menu.) (38:50)


With this tool, you can adjust how the shadows will appear using the sliders. You can give a long, dark, crisp shadow or a blurry light shadow, or any kind of shadow in between.



Shrubs layer (41:10)

Adding drop shadows to the shrubs layer (42:00)



Trees layer (42:40)

Adding a filter to the trees layer (42:50)

Caution: Too many filters, or using filters in an incorrect way, can make your drawing look “tacky.”


Making a copy of the trees layer (43:10)

It’s a good idea to make a copy of a layer where you want to add filters, and then add the filers to the copy. That way, you can revert back to the original layer if necessary.


Adding the filter from the Filter menu, Filter Gallery option. (Watercolor, Cutout, and Paint Daubs filters shown) (43:45)


Adjusting the settings for the filter (44:12)


Applying the filter (45:10)



Adding outlines to the tree symbols on the trees layer (45:30)

To add the outlines:


  • Select everything outside the trees with the Magic Wand tool.
  • Inverse the selection (Select menu, Inverse option)
  • Use one of the selection tools with the Subtraction feature active to ensure that only the trees are selected.
  • Create a new layer for the outlines
  • Use the Paint Bucket tool to fill the trees in with black
  • Use the Contract feature (Select menu, Modify flyout, Contract option) to shrink the selection (we’ll shrink it by two pixels)
  • Delete the inner black so you’re left with a black outline on each tree (in our example, it’s a two-pixel outline).


Note: If you’re working with isolated groups as we are in this webinar, it’s a good idea to turn on your hidden layers periodically to ensure that everything is fitting together correctly.


Adding drop shadows to the trees and increasing the distance and angle of the shadows. Note that changing the angle of the shadows on one layer will assign the same angle to the shadows on all other layers. (49:10)



Buildings layer (50:14)

Adding a lip or border to the rooftops to create texture (51:10)


Isolating the buildings (51:10)


Selecting the buildings with the Magic Wand tool (51:20)


Using the Contract tool to contract the selection (we’ll contract by 10 pixels this time to create wider boundaries for the buildings than we did for the trees). (51:40)


Filling in the selected areas of the buildings using the Paint Bucket tool (52:20)



Adding a radial gradient to the buildings (52:40)


Creating a new layer for the roof gradients (52:50)


Selecting the interior roof areas and adding the gradients (53:10)


Adjusting the opacity of the gradients (54:20)


Adjusting the levels and the hue/saturation of the gradients (55:40)



Adding shadows to the buildings (56:30)

Putting an inner shadow on each of the roof borders (Add a Layer Style button in the Layers Manager– labeled “FX” – then select Inner Shadow from the menu. (56:30)


Adding drop shadows to the buildings (57:10)


For the buildings, I want them to stand out so I like to either add a roof type of texture or what I will be showing today which is adding a lip or border to the rooftops.


Entering Full-screen Mode using the F key – full-screen mode gets the managers and toolbars out of the way so you can step back and take a look at your drawing. (57:35)



Adding a Paper Texture (58:13)

We’ll use a watercolor paper texture we’ve downloaded, which we’ll simply drag and place into our drawing in Photoshop.


When you use a texture, make sure the resolution and size of that texture are compatible with your drawing.


Making the texture the topmost layer and changing the layer setting to Multiply (59:30)

This setting takes all the white elements and makes them transparent.


Turning the base layer on to make linework visible (1:00:00)


Question: Is it possible to add the tree outlines by applying a stroke layer filter? (1:01:20)

Answer: Yes, it’s possible, but this method isn’t optimal for objects with transparency. Paul opted for the method shown in the webinar because the trees had transparency assigned to them in CAD.


Demonstration of tree outlines created with a stroke layer filter (1:02:10):

  • Rasterize the tree layer(s).
  • Select the Stroke option from the Edit menu.
  • Select the Outside option (the other options are Inside and Center).
  • Select a color for the stroke – we’ll choose black.
  • Select a width of the stroke – we’ll choose two pixels.


Note that the entire tree symbols were darkened when we added the stroke – which is the reason Paul opted for the select-fill-delete method.


Comment: The adjustments and filters are also available from the semicircle button art the top of the Layers Manager. (1:03:30)


Question: Is it possible to place layers as linked files rather than dragging and dropping them into Photoshop? (1:04:18)

Answer: Yes, this option is possible. With a linked file, if you ever re-export the PDF, it will automatically update in your Photoshop file.


Question: How did you create the custom color swatches in Photoshop, and is that color selection you used a basic selection I can use, or did you create it on your own? (1:05:20)  

Answer: Paul rendered the entire plan from a black-and-white drawing and created his color palette (these swatches) along the way. If you want, you can delete the default palette swatches and add your own.


Question:Is there a way to add more precise shadows (e.g., conical shadows for conifers, and different lengths of shadows for buildings)? (1:06:45)

Answer: Yes, but it will be a much more involved process that involves creating shadow layers and adding Gaussian blurs and dropping the opacity.


If you want to fine-tune each shadow while still using the Drop Shadow tool, you’ll need to split up the different objects (such as buildings) onto different layers and then adjust each layer’s shadow individually.


For conifer shadows, you could grab a tree shape (from clipart or a PNG of a conifer side view) and then lay it down so the trunk of that shape touches the trunk of the tree symbol in Photoshop. You’d then make that shape black and add a little bit of blur to it.


Essentially these methods are possible but more involved.


Before-and-after shots of our design from this webinar (1:10:50)


Remember: Keep experimenting, have fun, and look for more tutorials online.

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