How to Create a Colored Site Plan | PHOTOSHOP for Architects

Finished image of colored site plan from tutorial - How to Create a Colored Site Plan Using Photoshop

Hey there!

In this post I’m going to teach you how to create a colored site plan using Adobe Photoshop. There’s a bit of a learning curve to it, but once you get the hang of it, it’ll go pretty quick. The above image was created in about 25 minutes, so not too time consuming! Obviously it’s not a fully rendered and realistic site plan, but in my experience this technique is used to help people understand plans more easily – especially if they aren’t familiar with reading plans.

I’ll teach you how to create a colored site plan from start to finish. I’ll also teach you some valuable tools that you can apply in other photoshopping scenarios as well. Here’s what we’ll go over:

And with that, let’s get to it! As always, below is the full video that you can check out – which I recommend for this one. It’s a little longer than my other videos, but there’s quite a bit to unpack. I’ll also give some step-by-step instructions below.

1. Create Your Layers

Open up your site plan in Photoshop and it will automatically start with ‘Layer 1’. Change that to ‘Linework’ and change the blending mode of the layer to multiply. Here’s a quick video on how to do that if you aren’t familiar.

After that, make a layer for each part of the site you plan to color. In my example I created a layer for the building, grass, and the trees. You might have a few more for sidewalks, asphalt, parking, existing building vs new building, etc.

The reason we have a different layer for each color or part of the site is because it will be a lot easier to manipulate it later. There are bound to be modifications to drawings and we want to plan for that and make our documents easy to update with the changes. So the correct setup of your document is important!

From here on out, make sure you are on the correct layer when you start to color. If you’re coloring the building make sure you’re on the building layer. Be conscience of it every time you move on to a different part of the site to color.

2. Make Your Selections / Painting

Time to make some selections and start painting. With site plans it’s difficult to just use the magic wand to make selections because there tends to be a lot of open borders and you’ll end up selecting most of your plan. So we need to go through with the lasso tool and make some quick borders.

They key to cranking these drawings out quickly is knowing how to use the lasso tool as well as knowing how to use the paint bucket effectively. I think it’s easiest if you watch my video for this part. If you want to jump right to the part about selecting an area and how to paint using ‘Contiguous’ and ‘All Layers’ click on the video below.

I also explain the differences between ‘Contiguous’ and ‘All Layers’ in my other post (bullet point #4 and 5) if you want a written out explanation. 

Once you understand how those tools work, you just go around your document and paint those areas. I usually start with an intense color and then turn the opacity of the layer down to about 30% or so. Make sure that you switch to the correct layer once you move on to coloring a different part of your site.

3. Use the Paintbrush to Make Trees

I think this part is pretty fun. We’re just going to grab a paint brush tool and click once on every tree to give it some color. Our brush selection should have a 0 for the hardness so that it feathers the edges rather than giving a stark circle outline. Pick whatever shade of green you’d like and then click on the middle of each tree. It’s ok if it looks really dark, we can tone down the opacity later.

There’s a keyboard shortcut that you should definitely be using here for adjusting the size of your brush. It will save you a ton of time:
[ – makes your brush smaller (above and to the left of your ‘Enter’ key)
] – makes your brush larger

For this part I have my left hand on the keyboard adjusting the size of my brush and then click my mouse with my right hand – check out my explanation in the video here.

And you don’t have to be perfect. In fact, I think it looks a little better if you aren’t. Make the brush a little big and click close to the center. It gives the site plan a little more of an artsy feeling rather than making it look like a straight computer generated image.

4. Applying Drop Shadows

At this point our site plan will have some color, but it’s lacking some depth. Fortunately, there’s a few simple ways we can fix that. The first thing we’ll do is apply some drop shadows. It’s only a few clicks away and I think it really kicks up the document to the next level. The video explanation starts here.
  •  Click on the layer that you’d like the drop shadows to be on.
  • Click on the ‘fx’ icon below your layers menu and choose ‘drop shadow’
  • Adjust your settings
    • You can leave the blend mode to ‘Multiply‘ and the color to black.
    • Angle will point to where the light source is coming from. Make sure that all of your layers have the same angle. Otherwise it will look like you have different light sources and your document will look off.
    • Opacity is something you’ll have to adjust to your liking. The higher the opacity the darker the shadows will be.
    • Distance, spread, and size can all be adjusted to your taste as well. The best thing to do is experiment with the sliders – it’s pretty easy to get something that you’ll be happy with.
Screenshot of drop shadow dialog box in Adobe Photoshop with settings used in tutorial - How to Create a Colored Site Plan Using Photoshop.

These are the settings I used for my video for the trees. Feel free to start with that and then experiment and adjust from there.

5. Apply Texture

The last thing we’re going to do is add a little bit of texture to the grass. It will help give your document more visual interest rather than a large, green blob. I’ll admit in my video it’s a little hard to tell the texture is there and I probably should have picked a better example. But the steps are still the same regardless of which texture you actually use.
I can’t overestimate how much time I’ve saved by learning this trick with the clipping mask. Click on the video here to jump to the part where I explain this process, or scroll below for the step-by-step instructions.

Here’s the steps outlined in the video:

  •  Move your texture to your document to create a new layer that just has the texture
  • Adjust the size so that it’s a little bit larger than the document
  • Move the texture layer just above the layer you want it to mask to (in this case move it just above the grass layer)
  • Alt + Click on the line between the texture layer and the layer you want to clip to (grass layer)
  • Change the blending mode – usually ‘Multiply’ is a good one
  • Change the opacity of the texture if it’s too intense

Keep this trick handy, I tend to use it quite a bit!

That’s it! I hope you found this tutorial useful on how to create a colored site plan using Photoshop. Once you get the basic technique down, experiment and have some fun with it to make it your own.

Thanks for following along and I’ll catch you next time!


Thanks for following along! Check out my youtube channel for other How-To Videos for Architects.

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