The general vibe I get is that a lot of garden designers/contractors who currently hand-draw but want to enter the 21st Century "Digital Age" are a tad confused about how to easily take-the-leap and produce their first CAD drawing.
To draw up an accurate garden survey and produce a bona-fide, professional looking design then i'm afraid that you really need to master a 2D vector graphics program such as AutoCAD (or equivalent). These programs have a steep learning curve and are best studied for on a night class over an academic year.
For all 3D work, I advocate that you download, learn and use Google SketchUp which is free. Although SketchUp is strictly a 3D modelling program, you can use it to produce 2D output (Bigyin! :-)) if you turn off the perspective mode (Camera>"un-check" perspective and select standard views i.e. Top View - Plan, Right View - Elevation.
Anyway, as I said, the key to using computers for garden design really is using a 2D program such as AutoCAD first and then importing this data into SketchUp to make it 3D and colour it up/add shadows etc.
As learning 2D is going to take you some time and you may be impatient to draw up your driveway designs (for example), I've had a thought on how a SketchUp "Newbie" can quickly knock up there first 3D model/2D image without having to learn the 2D CAD bit first. I have not tried this method by the way and i'm making it up as I go along, but bear with me and it should work!
Workflow (n.b. all the following is based on using Google SketchUp 8):
- Download and install SketchUp on to your computer.
- First select Window>Model Info>Units - and change all the settings to mm etc. (close the box and these will be saved).
- Draw up your survey plan/design in pencil on tracing paper/copy paper as you would normally. Don't go into too much detail, just get your basic site layout sorted. The important thing to remember is to draw this plan to a scale that fits on to an A4 piece of paper (landscape or portrait).
- Next, scan this drawing in to your computer so that it is clearly readable and save it as a JPEG.
- Next, open SketchUp, delete the annoying person and import your scan as an image (File>Import>"browse" to find your scan>check - Use As Image>Open>"stretch" image to a reasonable size (exact size not important).
- Create a new layer and make it current and visible (Window>Layers>press "+" to make a new layer>Check - visible>Move the "dot" to this new layer to make it the "current" layer>close window down.
- Select the "pencil" tool and draw lines from the "points" (i.e. corners/intersections) on your scan to trace around your designs shapes and click on your first point to close the shape and make a "face". (Draw>Line).
- Repeat the process until you have traced your entire drawing and created all the necessary faces to represent your design (N.B. press ESC when you need to move to a non-connected face. Also use your mouse scroll wheel to zoom in and out and improve accuracy).
- Next, the "clever Bit!". Select the Tape Measure Tool (Tools>Tape Measure) and measure between two points on the drawing that you know an exact dimension (e.g. across a house window/footpath width). Notice the measurement recorded in the small box in the right-hand bottom of the screen! It will not be right at the moment but if you type in the correct dimension at this precise point and press "return" you will be asked "Do You want to re-size the model?". Select yes and your model will now be scalable (hopefully!).
- Next, Camera>Zoom Extents - to get your image back!
- Don't forget to save your model (File>Save As).
- Next, add some colour/materials/textures to your model (Tools>Paint Bucket>"click" arrow to activate drop down menu>select material group i.e. Vegetation>click on a "swatch" to select that material>click on face in model to paint it with that material.
- Next, add some 2D tree/shrub components to your model (Window>Components>type "2D Plan Trees" etc. in search box and press return>click on preferred graphic>download component and follow instructions.
- Next, "geo-locate" your model (Window>Model Info>Geo-location>Add Location>zoom and pan around map until you have found your sites location and follow instructions).
- Next, Add shadows (Window>Shadows>play around with settings until you have what you want).
- Next, turn "off" perspective (Camera>Perspective).
- Next, make sure that you have all the SketchUp "toolbars" visible for use (View, Toolbars).
- Next, find icons which look like various views/elevations of a house, select it and play around with it to see what it does - self explanatory!
- Next, create "scenes" i.e. different views of your model, but first delete/make invisible the layer with your JPEG scan on. (View>Animation>Add Scene>rotate/zoom in/pan/select different views etc. and then make another scene).
- Use the tabs to navigate between scenes and select them one at a time to export as a 2D JPEG image for printing etc. (File>Export>2D Graphic>follow instructions.
- Prior to exporting the 2D Graphic, you could have tried a few of SketchUp's built in "Styles" to make your graphic output look a bit more "arty" - even hand-drawn!!! (Window>Styles>Sketchy Edges>Fine Liner etc.).
- I forgot to add, when tracing your scan, you are of course not just limited to using the "Line" command, you can also use the Circle, Rectangle and Arc ones also!
- If you want to measure areas of faces in your completed SketchUp model for take off purposes etc., then (click on the face to be measured with the arrow selection tool [hold Shift when doing so to select multiple faces]>right click mouse button>Entity Info).
- Did you know that you can import animations straight out of SketchUp for use on Youtube etc.? (View>Animation>Add Scene (lots of them 60+ to define your route on a walk-through)>mess about with settings etc. within Animation until you are happy with the results>File>Export>Animation>select "Options" button in the bottom right-hand side of the next screen to adjust output settings.
- Off course if your garden site is relatively small and rectangular etc. (few seldom are, are they?) you can maybe draw your survey/design straight up in SketchUp without the need to draw it up on paper first (I sometimes do it this way!).
- The correct way to do it though is to first draw your survey/design up in a 2D vector graphics program (e.g. DoubleCad XT) and import the resultant .dwg/.dxf file in to SketchUp for the fancy bits. The dilema here is that the FREE version of SketchUp 8 doe's not support this type of import for some reason (you have to buy the Pro version :-( ). However, there is a way around this, just intall free version 7 of SketchUp as this did support this and then once the file is exported and traced, open it in version 8 :-). In SketchUp 7 (File>Import>AutoCAD Files>Zoom Extents>then trace around the thick black lines to make them thin and create faces>use Tape Measure Tool to rescale the drawing!). To speed up the process install the Make Faces ruby script and this will automatically do the previous).
- I think that will do for now, If you've got a bit of time and really want to learn revolutionary methods of designing gardens/landscapes using SketchUp then I thoroughly recommend that you buy and read the following fantastic book written by American Landscape Architect and SketchUp Guru - Daniel Tal: Google SketchUp for Site Design: A Guide to Modeling Site Plans, Terrain and Architecture.
Thanks for now
If any one reading this discussion has need for my 2D AND 3D GARDEN DESIGN / VISUALISATION SERVICES then please contact me and I will get back to you a.s.a.p. for an informal chat on how I may be able to help you.
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*** UPDATE ***
I've just come across the following video on Youtube that perfectly demonstrates a method similar to the above:
I learn't quite a few things watching this video and, if I've got time, I'm going to watch all of his 55 videos!