How to Make an Illustration Using ArchiCAD

There is a multitude of software to learn as an architecture student, graduate and professional. There’s no time like the present to build your skills and find a tool that works best for you. Although the usual software as Sketchup and AutoCAD, not to mention Revit as the professional standard, one software we don’t hear much of is ArchiCAD. This guest post is by Palash Trivedi who’s kindly shown us how to create an illustrative scene in ArchiCAD and post-produce it in Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop.

❗ Note: I am not a pro in any of this software, I am sharing just what I have experienced while working in these. So, I may not be able to provide an in-depth review or analysis, but I have tried to explain what I know in the best possible manner.

What Is ArchiCAD and how did I come to use it?

ArchiCAD is a BIM Software of Graph iSOFT company made for Architects, to produce fast, accurate and complex architectural projects with ease. For those who aren’t aware of BIM, BIM means Building Information Module which basically treats your 3D models with real-time material properties and Information, unlike SketchUp which treats it just as an amalgamation of Surfaces and Fills. 

Plus, it has the basic CAD capabilities which can be used to draw in a 2D environment, but here the 3D model will be generated automatically with your 2D work or if you work in a 3D environment(Model Space) then your 2D works which contain the drawings will be created or will get updated automatically.

Do you prefer it over other modelling software like Sketchup, Revit, Rhino and if yes then why?

ArchiCAD vs SketchUp.

My preference is ArchiCAD 100%

SketchUp is easy to use, but so is ArchiCAD. ArchiCAD also contains a MORPH tool which simply works just as the SketchUp works viz. creating solids, push-pull, subtraction & intersection of solids. More than that, as I mentioned previously ArchiCAD works with materials and its information, so all your walls, slabs, roofs, beams etc. will be of actual materials like concrete, steel, bricks, stones etc. based on how you apply and use them in your project. Plus, you don’t have to use two different software such as AutoCAD for 2D work and Sketchup for 3D modelling. Both the process is done in ArchiCAD itself and they will be done simultaneously. 

Considering the OBJECTS, ArchiCAD 24 has included many new objects in its library, but if you want to use your own objects like some particular piece of furniture or doors or windows, then you can easily make them in ArchiCAD in a separate file and can use it anytime.

So, in the end, it depends on you on what to use, but if you want to spend more time in Designing instead of drafting and modelling, then I would strongly recommend you to use ArchiCAD.

ArchiCAD vs Revit

I will still go for ArchiCAD.  Here the comparison is not as contrasting as compared to SketchUp as both ArchiCAD and Revit are BIM software’s and both have their pros and cons when compared each other. 

Basic qualities

ArchiCAD is one of the oldest BIM or in other words one of the first BIM software’s which came into the AEC industry. Thus, they are more experienced in BIM and Revit which came very later. But in the past few years, Revit has become more famous and used thanks to its Parent company Autodesk which is more famous in the AEC industry than any other company. But it has some advantages also such as it has more plug-ins built-in than ArchiCAD and has a bigger Object library. But in the latest version of ArchiCAD, i.e. ArchiCAD 24, they have integrated the MEP plug-in which can do most of the things which a project needs. In addition to these, ArchiCAD also comes with the integration of LIVE SYNC with RHINO & GRASSHOPPER, hence creating parametric structures will also become more EFFICIENT in ArchiCAD rather than Revit which does have a plug-in called DYNAMO in it for parametric use but it crashes very often and is not that reliable.

Workflow & UI

When it comes to workflow and UX. ArchiCAD is again better than Revit as it is very easy to use as compared to Revit and has a more interesting user interface than Revit. ArchiCAD contains tools like PUSH & PULL, MAGIC WAND & MARQUEE, which can make it very easy and fast to edit and work on your project, but these tools or tools doing similar functions are missing in Revit, which makes it very tough to learn and work as well.

Integration with Structural Engineers and MEP Consultants

Revit has a slight edge here as it has a wide range of plug-ins that are built in it, and secondly due to the already established market of Autodesk due to which many Structural engineers are already working on Revit. But ArchiCAD 24 has been significantly improved in terms of interoperability and management, and it has a better IFC (Industry Foundation Class) export option through which any Structural or MEP consultant can easily work on it, also it as introduced a BIM cloud which can be used for the teamwork with different agencies in the same project. So, it’s just a matter of time for ArchiCAD to become better.


When it comes to Visualization, both are equal in terms of output which is definitely not as good as the rendering engines like Vray or Lumion. ArchiCAD comes with CINEMA 4D & has recently bought the rights for Twinmotion and UNREAL engine which can be a very good combination but it has just been started and there are many things to improve here. 

While Revit also has a decent rendering engine in itself but when compared to other Rendering Software they both fall way behind. But both of the software can be easily used with Lumion so it does not matter much on these aspects.


I have a personal preference for ArchiCAD over Revit due to the above-mentioned reasons, but for students, I would suggest learning both the software as both have their own place in the Industry and both will make your CV very strong.

ArchiCAD vs Rhino

These two cannot be compared directly as they both are used for very different and specific reasons and these can vary from person to person. Rhino is a parametric software that is used for making complex and organic forms while ArchiCAD is a BIM software that is specially made for Architects and can make some level of complex forms in it also. But as I mentioned earlier, ArchiCAD as a plug-in for Rhino & Grasshopper, so making parametric buildings is also very much possible in ArchiCAD also. So, using both of them together would be a much efficient way provided you want to make a parametric building, otherwise just for straight or curved surfaces, ArchiCAD is more than enough.

How to Create the Illustration

Step 1: Creating a View (ArchiCAD)

Arrange a Particular View in 3D model space which you wish to generate.

Step 2: Generating a 3D document (ArchiCAD)

Create a 3D Document of it by right-clicking on the 3D Documents panel on the right side and then select “NEW 3D DOCUMENT FROM 3D”.

It will just create a Separate file of that particular view which you can edit.

❗ Note: ArchiCAD also has different view modes in 3D model Space just like Sketchup,i.e, Hidden Lines, Shaded, Vectorial etc. So I have used a Simple View mode in the View space which shows the model in just black and white surfaces, but the model already has its material properties and surface finishes. So whenever you will make a 3D document, it will be shown in the actual surface finishes which you would be providing while making the model.

Step 3: Creating a Worksheet (ArchiCAD)

Once you have generated the 3D document, you now have to create a WORKSHEET of that Document. So as shown in the image, without making any changes in the 3D document, just go to that 3D document and click on the worksheet tool in the tool’s panels on the left. 

Create the worksheet by dragging down your mouse from top left corner to bottom right corner around the area which you want to export.

It will show a small circle with the name of the worksheet written inside it on the right side as shown in image. Right click on that circle and then click “OPEN VIEW WITH CURRENT SETTINGS”

Now you have entered the Worksheet which will look like this:

Step 4; Editing the view in Worksheet (ArchiCAD)

Now click on the “Suspend Groups” as shown in image. This will allow you to edit each line and surfaces individually. You can change the color, line type, linewidth of the lines and color, its transparency or any material hatch to the surfaces.

This is how you can edit the SURFACES; just click on the surface you want to edit and all the options will be visible in the toolbar.

This is how you can edit the LINES

STEP 5; Using Marquee tool (ArchiCAD)

After completing the editing of lines and surfaces, you have to export it as a PDF. 

In order to do that, select the MARQUEE TOOL from the tools panel from the left side as shown in the image. Select the whole area as shown.

STEP 6: Exporting as PDF (ArchiCAD)

Now select SAVE AS (Shift+Ctrl+S) and Select PDF. 

Click on use MARQUEE AREA and FIT TO PAGE as shown in the image and select the page size according to your choice, Finally click OK to save it and it will be exported as a PDF.

STEP 7; Editing the pdf (Illustrator)

Now open that PDF file in Illustrator and you can edit anything on It by using the Select Same tool by going to the Select Tab respectively as shown in the images. Try to use layers to keep everything separate as it will provide better control over the view for the editing.

STEP 8: Save as Ai file (Illustrator)

STEP 9: Importing the Ai file into Photoshop 

Create a NEW file in the Photoshop and Click on PLACE LINK Option from the Files menu and select the Ai file.

If you want the canvas to be of the same size, then first make the Photoshop panel of the same size as of the Ai file and when importing the Ai file, select on “CROP TO MEDIA BOX”, it will keep the size of the view the same.

STEP 10: Editing & Exporting the final work (Photoshop)

Now you can add various things like, humans, trees, vehicles birds etc. in the view by using either brush tool or clone stamp tool as shown in the images

After finishing, save the .psd file and Export it as a JPEG or PDF file according to your need.

The final output will look like this:

Hope this tutorial opened a different kind of workflow for you and if you ever want to experiment with ArchiCAD, this can be a great first exercise to try.


How to Create Iterative Massing Diagrams in Sketchup

Massing diagrams don’t need to be complicated or take a long time to put together. In this week’s post, guest author Ellie takes us through her workflow from thinking about the programme all the way down to finishing touches and exporting your diagrams. This is especially helpful if you want to showcase an iterative process in yoru design work and make it clear, simple and effective.

Establishing your Programme

Before you get started make sure you have established the programmes you wish to feature within your building, and begin to make connections between different programmes and understand which require more space and which need much less.

There are several ways to visually document your programme that will also help you understand the spatial qualities these programmes will require. Three different examples of these programme diagrams are:

  • Bubble Diagrams
  • Hierarchy diagrams
  • Spider Diagrams.

The Bubble diagram consists of drawing different sized bubbles for each programme depending on the amount of space required or importance, they are grouped and laid out like an abstract plan of the building and help you to understand which programmes may sit next to each other and which can be apart. The hierarchy diagram used in this tutorial is useful for grouping programmes into larger zones and then breaking down the smaller spaces required for each. The size of the ‘stack’ again depends on the amount of space it needs. The Spider diagram is very similar to a mindmap except for the linking lines between the programmes show which spaces need to be connected and can be physically linked in the building.

Using CAD Modelling Software as a Tool for Thinking

Once you have established your programme you can begin to think about massing and the form of your building and begin modelling your ideas in CAD software. The software we will use for this tutorial is Sketchup as it is geometry-based and lends well for modelling simple forms easily and quickly. The key to using CAD software for massing models is not being too precious about your models and using a few tools to extrude and distort forms and not being caught up in walls or floors. Working from home for the past year has proven that CAD modelling CAN be used as a thinking tool in the way that wood and foam models were used before and is equally useful and easy.

Learning the Basic Tools 

To get started creating massing models in Sketch up you need to learn a few main basic tools: The line tools, Shape tools, Push Pull tool and Scale tool. If you are not yet familiar with using SketchUp it may be useful to watch a tutorial such as this one from The Sketchup Essentials to get to grips with the software before you begin.

The way you model will depend on which is most important to you: specific form, or programme. In this tutorial, we will be following a specific form concept and then building the programme into it, but if you wish to build your form around the programmatic elements and the spaces they need then you may wish to start with the next step and work backwards. Massing models don’t have to fit a certain mould after all!

In our case, we will begin by drawing a basic shape using the shape and line tools, and then the push-pull tool to begin pulling the shape into three dimensions. You can then continue to divide and extrude the shape to form different masses.

Dividing the Form into Programme Zones

Once you have established some forms you like you can begin to play around and divide them into floors and programmatic zones. The way I did this is by selecting the top plane of the form [by double clicking] and using Ctrl + the move tool to drag a copy to the side.

Then using the line tools I divided the form into different areas and extruded them to fill single or double-storey heights. Before extruding each area I grouped them to prevent them from merging with other geometry so that they can be isolated and copied into other iterations. To do this simply double click the plane and right-click → Group.

Once in a group, you can edit these shapes by double-clicking into the group and pressing Esc to exit it after editing. I also pulled up the cores of my building along the blue axis to emphasise their location.

Exporting your Final Massing Models

Once you are happy with your massing models and their zoned copy you can begin to export the forms to turn into a comprehensive set of iterative diagrams. To do so, set up a scene on the Scenes tab. Check out this tutorial on setting up Scenes in Sketchup.

To set up the right isometric view make sure to select the Parallel Projection Camera from the Camera tab, and then highlight the model and click Iso on the camera angles tab.

You may want to draw a small line as a marker so that you can move each new iteration to the same point to ensure each screengrab is consistent. To get three different views for form, zones and circulations you need to export three different images. Firstly capture an isometric view of the entire form before dividing up, do so on the Hidden Line Style with Model Axes and Guides unchecked.

Then go to File > Export > 2D Graphic. When exporting your images choose PDF and be careful to name the images as it can be easy to mix up very similar iterations, it can be useful to also create a separate folder for the images to make them easier to locate.

Repeat these Exports with the zoned model in the Hidden Line style and also in the Wireframe style, all as PDFs, not JPEG.

Doing Post Production in Adobe IIllustrator 

Now it is time to produce a diagram from the models you have made. It is worth mentioning first if you are unfamiliar with Adobe Illustrator it may be worth watching a tutorial series to getting started. Check out our 10 Essential Tools in Adobe Illustrator for some helpful tips.

First open your PDF Straight into Adobe using File > Open and selecting the chosen image. You can open all three styles of the mass and work on them in parallel. Firstly with the zoned form, select all the lines and go to Object > Live Paint > Make to begin adding colour. Live Paint is one of the best tools in Illustrator!

Now you can use the Live Paint tool to begin adding colour to each zone of the building. Once you have added colour you can select all the lines and change them to white should you want them to blend into the page colour. 

Now lock this layer and start a new one and use the Pen tool to draw a shadow extending from the cores to their origins and lower the opacity.

For the entire form models, repeat these steps adding one single chosen colour or create shadows using shades to show the entire form and again change the lines to white. 

For the Wireframe images:

  1. Thicken and change the colour of the lines that go around the perimeter of each zone to indicate where they are but allow view through the entire form.
  2. Then using the Pen tool draw a path into and around these zones depicting circulation in and through the space. In the diagram below I used four different lines to correspond with the four main zones.
  3. Then using the Polygon tool placing small triangles to indicate the direction of the route.

 Bringing the Image Together

Once you have edited each iteration and each of its layers you can begin to assemble a final set of diagrams.

  1. First open a New Illustrator Document in the page size you wish, I recommend A2 or A3, then Select and Group each iteration layer and Copy onto the new document.
  2. Using the rulers drag out some Grid lines for the rows and columns and align each layer on a specific point.
  3. Now using the Pen tool you can add lines to connect a path from each iteration and each type of diagram, using the Scissors tool to trim around the models. Repat for the other iterations and add text.
  4. Finally export your image as a JPEG making sure to Select Artboards and you are finished! Here is the final result below.


3D Sun Path Diagram

I know so many of you have been waiting for a 3D sun path diagram since our first tutorial on a regular, simple sun pathwhich by the way is to this date our most popular article ever! The difference between the two is simply a case of aesthetics. This diagram takes a little bit more effort but the key principles are the same.

A 🌞 Sun Path Diagram is one of the pages usually included in your Site Analysis section of your portfolio. After you are given a site, you go around and note things about the surroundings such as the opportunites and constraints, the adjacent buildings and think about what kinds of effects they will have on your site. Similarly, the orientation of the site is important to note if you’re keen on building a sustainable building or you want natural lighting to have a specific purpose in the programme.

Software tools you will need for this diagram include:

  • CAD Mapper or some kind of Ordnance Survey Map where you can download 3D building topography – if you can’t find any, I suggest you make it up based on site photos
  • Adobe Illustrator
  • Sketchup is best for this but any 3D modelling software should do the same trick

The Steps

  1. Download a simple line map of your site. It would be very wise to keep in mind a certain road or even the postcode of your site if you can so that it is easy to access.

Set a false height in case there is no building data – some applications like Digimap have this for most UK areas but if you can’t find any, just go by site photographs and estimates.

  1. Open up the file in Sketchup and start playing with the model itself. You can get rid of the placement building that is on your site as we will be using a simple dashed red line to highlight this. Adjust the heights of the other buildings and figure out where your ‘boundary’ will be. It’s always best to have more buildings modelled than to have gaps later on. If your chosen location doesn’t have the data for building heights you might need to rely on your site knowledge and photographs or you could even look at documents in the area’s Planning Portal.
  1. Now you need to fix the scene. For a cooler look, I suggest increasing the field of depth. You can do this by going to Camera > Field of View and drag until you think it looks alright from a top, perspective view. Usually this is about 120 degrees.
  1. Exporting the file can take two roads. If you have access to Sketchup Pro, you can export the line PDF itself or you can take a simple screenshot of the scene and re-create it in Illustrator so that you have the freedom to play with line weights and colours.
  1. Now we will go into Illustrator and set up our page. From a workflow angle, I would suggest using Illustrator to create the diagram itself, refining it in Photoshop if you wanted to add in textures and other rasterised assets. Then, importing into your master InDesign file of your portfolio. That is where you can add your text and page headings.

** Sometimes the PDF can seem quite scary and completely black. In this instance you will need to select everything and reduce the stroke width to about 0.01. Then you can scale it up by holding the Shift key and dragging.

  1. Adding the details. You can follow the steps in our original sun path diagram tutorial to know how to add the 2D elements. Now we can begin Live Painting. Select everything (Ctrl + A) and go to Object > Live Paint > Make. Check to see that you’re able to select most of the buildings individually by using the Live Paint Bucket Tool.

At this point, if you wanted to also paint the road or the edges of the map, you might want to draw in the lines and add it to the live paint selection. You can now begin painting. I usually choose a muted palette and differentiate between adjacent buildings, noteworthy buildings (like train stations or museums) and the others by doing gradients of grey. Don’t forget to expand the Live Paint when you’re done!

  1. Keeping the site as your centre point, draw a circle on top and select everything then Right Click and choose Make Clipping Mask. If you wanted to add in shadows, you can export it as a separate .png image and mask it out in the same way. Usually you would need to resize and adjust according to your current scale.

Final Notes

For the buildings coming out of the circle boundary, you might want to trace them on a separate layer and put them on top of your clipped image. It’s always nice to stroke the entire silhouette with a thicker line to make everything look a bit more cohesive.

If you wanted to take it a step further, you could include screenshots of actual shadow analysis using the shadows tool in Sketchup and making sure the location, date and timings are correct. Most of the other steps are in the previous tutorial as well so be sure to check those out.

Let me know if this tutorial was helpful in the comments below or find us on Instagram!

How to Add Colour to a Line Drawing in Adobe Illustrator

How to Add Colour to a Line Drawing in Adobe Illustrator

Types of Architectural Images

We’ve all seen realistic renders and imaginative illustrations, but do you really know how it all comes together? Most people really underestimate the process of such images and often, first or second year students might not even have an idea how to go about doing this. This tutorial is for creative simplistic, minimal yet sometimes stunning illustrations. Of course, we explain adding colour in detail, but you still have to understand that there are two major processes before and after this stage. You may need to have a decent model to begin with in a 3D modelling program like Rhino or Sketchup. After adding colour, there’s still a lot of post-production that you can work on.

If you’re really stuck, look for some inspirational images online. You can look at Pinterest or even Instagram. We’d suggest starting in your own university, look at works of those studying masters to understand the processes behind these types of images. You could even look at units who have websites or blogs and look through the archives and find one that appeals to you and your project. It can be the colour palette, composition or small details. Personally, I like printing them out and keeping it in front of me so it’s always in my mind. Best if you have a noticeboard or plain wall in front of your desk.

Bartlett Living Laboratory – Eleni Pourdala

We’re using a 3D model as a base for this image and any other illustrations. This isn’t compulsory, but if you’re already modelling your building and are planning on using it for other purposes, it can be easier to do it this way. The other alternative is to come up with illustrations based simply off a sketch or your imagination. Usually these aren’t to scale so there aren’t any restrictions, but a model can help with overall measurements and figuring out the scales of walls or objects. If you’re here for just the adding colour part of the tutorial, skip ahead here.

The Importance of a Base Model for Line Work

At this point in the year, you should have a really solid 3D model or at least a part of your project that is decently and properly modelled. It can be a good idea to create a separate model just for your perspectives. We’ll tell you why. You don’t want to constantly be having to model things for no reason when it’s not going to be in view. So, your first step needs to be to clean up your model, save a new copy and then delete the parts you’re definitely not going to be working on.

We think this is most helpful if you have custom structures or cladding that goes around the entire building. Try and not make the mistake of overloading the model with imported objects. If you’re going for an illustrated look, you don’t actually need 3D modelled furniture, you can just add it in post-production. Remember your image is about the architecture first and the details just enhance the architecture and the project.

Keep things as simple as you can. If you have a scene or view in mind use a camera to play around till you get a good view. At this point we’d recommend you think about composition as well. Have a look at general architecture photography for real projects. You can even sketch out or clay-render different options. We often make the mistake of trying to fit as much in as possible and while this may be fine for an overhead view or axonometric projection, these kinds of images are giving a glimpse into your project and you will only have 3-4 of these in total so choose your scenes carefully.

Another thing to consider is the presentation of the image. Is your projection portrait or landscape and if either, think about why? Try and have a focal point of the image and show some kind of depth if possible. Usually during painting or photography, you think about a foreground, middle-ground and background so try and sketch this out and try a couple of different compositions. You might be able to change the composition later on, but it depends on your model.

After you’ve set a scene for your image, we would suggest doing a couple of test renders using the basic rendering engine on your software and then exporting line drawings to see what needs to be fixed or changed. This process can be the toughest bit for those starting out so don’t worry, just plan ahead of time! If you’re going to be creating 3-4 final images and they’re all illustrations, set out 2-3 weeks of time, leaving an extra week for portfolio final touches.

Test Render

Exporting Options

The line drawing is probably the most important part of this tutorial, it needs to be immaculate, trust us. If you have any gaps, awkward or missing lines, it’s just going to make the process 10 times longer later on – we’re talking from experience and frustration. Depending on your software, you need to work out whether the line drawings are clear and easy to work with. Our recommendation is to use the version of Sketchup that lets you export a line drawing as a pdf or DWG file. Sketchup is also easy to use for shadows and depth of field. The type of file to export is up to you but we’d suggest either AutoCAD or Illustrator, whichever one you’re more comfortable with, but we’ll tell you the differences later. You could also sketch in parts in Photoshop if you have access to a drawing tablet.

If you haven’t already exported or imported your model into a software where you can then export a line drawing from, do it. Then, think about the shadows. In Sketchup you can play around with this quite easily. It might be a good idea to note down the type of day or consider the location of the project to get a better understanding of this. If your project comes alive during the night, you don’t need to think about every single shadow, maybe just ones that are obvious. On the other hand, if your final image is during the day, think about the orientation of your building and where the sunlight will be coming from. Lastly, export just a shadow layer as a png. If you don’t know how to do this, we’d suggest this video that explains it perfectly.

OU Graphics

An organisation tip at this point is to create a folder specific to this one image. You’ll find you’ll end up with not just the model, but several iterations of exports that you’ve tried, and then other things so just keep it all in one place for easy access.

Folder for each image

Editing the line drawing

After exporting the saved scene as a line drawing, you need to go over and check it for any missing or extra lines. The hidden line feature in Sketchup sometimes misses over objects that haven’t been classified as a 3D object such as lines. From experience, AutoCAD is much easier and quicker than Illustrator, but both do the job in the end. The reason for this is that the ‘trim’ tool in AutoCAD makes life so much easier because you can get rid of lines efficiently. Here, you can also set up the page view. For example, in the image below, there were some elements that stuck out of the ‘border’ which made it seem a bit more 3D and gave it an edge.

Essentially, just go over every area of the line drawing. Highlighting the lines in AutoCAD works great. This is because when you try using the live paint function, you need closed shapes so that the colours aren’t spreading everywhere. It’s also good to mention, if you prefer using Photoshop directly to add colour and want to see a tutorial, tell us in the comments below. Once you’re happy, you can keep it as a dwg and import to Adobe Illustrator or save the line drawing as a pdf. Save an extra copy just in case. You can use this later on for other purposes.

Adding colour using Live Paint

Before you get started, open up the line drawing in Adobe Illustrator and check your page sizes and set the document colour mode to CMYK. Then, bring out that inspiration image and have a look at the colours used. Are they warm or cool tones? It is extremely bright or muted down? Then, think about the colours you want to use. You might already be imagining something already, but it can be a good idea to take a break and look through a few more pictures. The colours aren’t set in stone, you can change them in Illustrator and also using adjustment layers in Photoshop.

If you need some ideas, have a look at our Pinterest board for Perspective References. There’s no right or wrong way of doing things, it’s just a means of helping you start. If you have your own idea, go for it.

First, set out your core colours off to one side. Draw out small squares with the Rectangle Tool (M) and create a palette that’s visible on your workspace. You can also create swatches and palettes from this if you want to re-use it for something else. This will make your life so much easier when you’re live painting in each section. The best method would be to start with one colour and go and fill it throughout the entire image. Yes, you may miss spots or have to go back and change a few things, but it creates a workflow that is way better than having to go back and change colours each time.

Then, select your linework, and head to Object > Live Paint > Make. Click on one of your swatch squares using the Eyedropper Tool (I) and then the Live Paint Bucket Tool (K) and start painting.

Your hard work of checking the line drawing comes into play right now. The areas highlighted with a red border are the paintable areas. If you don’t see the border or if it groups together two shapes this means there is something wrong with the line work. In Adobe Illustrator, you can fix this by closing the line using the Direct Selection Tool (A). You don’t necessarily need to ‘add’ or draw in a new line, just extend the line or make it smaller so that it connects with another line and creates a closed shape.

This process can take a long time depending on how much detail there is in your drawing and the amount of colours you’re going to be using. Remember to SAVE your work every now and then. I like to set reminders every half hour on my phone so that in case of errors, I don’t lose the entire colouring process. Illustrator may act up or lag in these cases so try and not have any other big programs running in the background. Once you’re done, you will reach a fully coloured stage. In this example, I’ve left out the background where the sky would be and the insides of the apartments because this is part of my post-production.

If you’re not happy with the colours and want to drastically change it in the entire image, you can select one area with that colour, then go to Select > Same > Fill Colour. This will select all the areas with that colour and then you can change it using your colour picker. If you would prefer to lighten or darken the image, we would suggest leaving it to Photoshop where you can tweak these easier.

To import your work into Photoshop, you can easily do this as an Illustrator file so there is no need to export into different formats. To finish this drawing, it needs a sky, shadows, textures and people. At the end of this tutorial, you’ll find the final image.

Post-production in Photoshop

Now the long bit is over, relax and take a breather. Then come back and keep going! The post-production part of this tutorial is up to you as a designer and the style you’re actually going for. You’ve got the hard part done by adding colour. In Photoshop, if you’re using the coloured image as your base layer, you can very easily create masks and select different areas which is exactly what you want. Now, your options are to add some texture or overlay effects and even add people. We’ll explain briefly how to do it below, but we will be creating tutorials on this later so don’t worry.

If you’re raring to go or just want to get an idea of what post-production is, have a look at the tutorials below. We love tutorials by OU Graphics and Show it Better, they’re explained well and aren’t hours long. Once you understand how it’s done, you can repeat the steps yourself – don’t fret if it takes longer on the first try.

Show it Better
OU Graphics

Also remember, the level of realism is up to you. If you’re focused on presenting something abstract and extremely minimal, you can stop at the previous step and move on to your next task. Obviously, the amount of work you put in will give different kinds of results so take this into account. The time spent on each image also should be taken into consideration so that you’re not spending too much time on one image. Usually, after you do the first one, you’ve understood the method and then as you progress, it’ll be faster.

At this point, add in your shadows and remember to use a layer mask to get rid of or add in shadows. You can use a soft Brush to paint in the shadows if you’re going for a softer look. Decrease the Opacity and make use of the different blending modes like ‘multiply’ or ‘soft light’ and see which works best in this case. Sometimes, you might have to re-size the shadow because it’s been through a couple of programs so our tip would be to find a straight edge of something you can clearly see in both your line drawing and your shadow image and match it via that.

Adding even one simple overlay texture can make all the difference to your image. It just gives a natural looking element that isn’t there when you’re just adding colour to something. To get rid of the flat look, just add in a paper texture. You can do this by finding a high-quality image of a paper such as watercolour paper, then add it in to your image as a new layer. After that, you want to go and set the layer to ‘multiply’ and then play around with the opacity so that it looks natural. Then, you can see the difference it makes. For images with a softer and lighter colour palette, this one step makes it even more beautiful.

To add areas to specific areas, we would definitely tell you to use Layer Masks. If you’re not familiar, have a look at this tutorial below by PHLEARN. He explains layer masks very simple and you can play around with the feature to get comfortable using it in your own work. This is important because it means you’re working in a non-destructive way. You don’t want to be accidentally erasing or painting over your base layer and then having to replace it. Plus, working with multiple layers can get confusing if you don’t label or group them properly. It’s better to get in the habit now, than being confused while you’re almost done but become stuck.

Other textures might include wood, metal, leather, anything that is present in your line drawing that could use a texture. Again, make sure you’re using high-quality images. Plants and grass might be easier to add at this stage. If you don’t want to use a realistic plant – which some people do – you can open it in Illustrator and use the Image Trace function to create a vector out of it. This keeps the plant proportions and colours and you can get an illustrated effect instantly. If you want to learn how to do this, check out our ‘Adding People’ tutorial.

For post-production, lighting is a core part of the process. You don’t need to go crazy with this. Below is an example of a tutorial by OU Graphics on adding light in your images. Some soft light can be quickly added using the brush but if you have a night-time scene you might want to go for a neon light situation, in which case you can have a look at the tutorial below.

Don’t forget to add some life to your drawing! Whether it’s interior or exterior images, adding people doesn’t have to be difficult or a chore. If you struggle way too much or don’t have any time, maybe consider leaving it out.

Adding colour to your architectural drawings and perspectives doesn’t need to be overly complicated. It requires a lot of time, effort and patience. If you’re willing to give your best in order to achieve the results you want, you will surely be able to do it. Just remember that the ‘adding colour’ bit is part of a larger process overall that we’ll be breaking down in the coming weeks. Have a look at the final result below. If there is anything specific you want to learn how to do or have questions, let us know on Instagram or join our Discord chat where we encourage members of our community to share tips and ask for help.

Boosting Your Skills as an Architecture Student

Boosting Your Skills as an Architecture Student

Skills You Learn in Architecture School

Once graduating, you will soon realise how valuable having a range of skills is. It doesn’t have to be specifically software or even architecture-related but something that may be valuable in any kind of workplace. Now, the type of skills you learn whilst at university will depend on your teachers, workload and other resources available to you so we can’t speak for every university. Overall, there does seem to be a lack of opportunities and just a general knowledge of skills employers will be looking for.

It may not be obvious to you which kind of skills you have while you’re studying so it might be a good idea to sit down and have a think. First, think about computer skills you have such as Adobe programs, 3D modelling software and anything else. If you don’t know where to start, take some advice from your tutors or those in the year above on what to start learning. Usually, Sketchup is well recognised by many people. There are no difficult commands to memorise or lack of tutorials, you can find almost everything online on YouTube. If you’re struggling with Adobe programs, have a look at our ‘Getting Started’ Series. These programs are essential to learn if you want your work to stand out.

What you need to learn, depends on the kind of role you want after you graduate. Currently, by personal experience, there is a large amount of roles that require knowledge of Vectorworks, Rhino or Revit. These aren’t extremely hard software to learn and you might already be using it in your work anyway. In that case, you might be good to go.

Other skills like hand-drawing, model making, and architectural photography can also prove to be valuable. It might allow you to lean towards a skill that you can work on and showcase in your portfolio as a strong area of your work. But not all your skills have to be architecture related. There are many more routes and skills you can work on in your spare time that won’t take too long and will open up new possibilities for you.

Some skills might include organisation, time-management or other attributes like punctuality and professionalism. You would be surprised how many students don’t take this as seriously as they should. Leaving things to the last minute is pretty much a standard for architects because of the workload, but it doesn’t have to be that way. If you plan your time carefully and prioritise your tasks, it should all work out.

Work Experience

The architecture work experience scene is rather timid, unless you have connections and you know people, or you just manage to get lucky really. If you do end up working or interning somewhere even if it’s just for a week, it can be extremely helpful when you graduate. If you’re struggling to get architecture-related experience, try and get some kind of work experience that can relate to some of the skills you learn in architecture. Usually students go for retail jobs because they are easier to apply and get hired for. The best place to look would be on job boards like Indeed and search for something like ‘Graphic Design Assistant’ or something along the lines of whichever skill you want to build.

Ask around for work experience and network. Ask your tutors who might know of firms or work in firms where they may be able to help you get some experience. A good thing to do before you start will be to ask the employer if there is anything you can work on or get familiar with before starting. This shows you’re taking initiative and you know what to work on so when you start and therefore you’ll be less nervous or panicky because you don’t know something. Of course, you will also have to be prepared to devote time towards whichever work you decide to take up so frankly, the easiest part is applying, the hardest bit will be being able to manage your time well.

Skills to Build

Now you must be wondering, what kind of part-time jobs or hobbies can I take up to boost my skillset? We’ve got a small list below, but it’s not limited in any way. Each of these skills can lead to a job or even a business of your own. Remember, the knowledge you get from learning things whilst studying architecture is just the first step. Applying these to jobs, work experience or just as a hobby can turn into something requiring a lot of hard work that could pay off in some way in the future.

3D Modelling – product design, Lasercut products, animation, architectural rendering

Adobe Illustrator – graphic design, social media content, illustrator, typography, marketing materials, logo designing, architectural illustration work

Adobe Photoshop – retouching, photography editing, architectural images / collages, social media content, branding design, marketing materials, digital art

Adobe InDesign – Branding design, marketing materials, booklets, document creation

Architectural photography – prints of your work, freelance photography, videography

Hand-drawing – art and design, handmade art / products

Some other skills that are easy to learn include social media management, basic website design, portfolio critiques, professional photography and blogging (plus more that we can’t think of, so let us know of your ideas in the comments).


If you think about it, some skill relates to another skill which relates to another skill, and yes, you might end up being a bit further away than architecture but the skills you develop will be beneficial for you. For example, having a passion for architecture and blogging resulted in the creation of this website. We’re able to provide you with tutorials, a decent-looking and working website, archives, aesthetic feed and community reach because along the way, I’ve learnt these skills and used my existing knowledge to help me. The few years I spent studying Computing allowed me to understand basic CSS code while creating our website. So, think about the valuable skills you already possess and try build on those.

YouTube videos are definitely the way to go. If you don’t know how to do something, chances are you’ll find it on Google or through a video. Personally, it’s helped me create my own side business with ease because I have an idea of how to create websites now. It also helped me get a part time role as social media manager which benefitted the company I was working for as well as giving myself tips on how to reach more people with our blog.

Our generation is great for these things because we know exactly what kind of topics are trending and as architects we have an eye for design.  When you think about it, almost every company in this day and age will need some kind of social media branding and start-ups or small businesses don’t have the budget to be hiring experts so instead they go with the people who know it best. With a few tips from people in the same industry, you’ll understand in no time what you need to work on, and this can apply for almost anything. If you don’t really get how to capture architecture in photography, watch some videos on composition or camera management and boom, you’re improving your skills with ease.

Why Building Skills is Important

The reason for this article isn’t to persuade you into other career options. By all means, architecture is fantastic and there is a sense of satisfaction when creating and designing a space that brings joy to people. Only we can really understand the amount of hard work put into the projects we work on. Having these extra skills on the side might be the thing that sets you aside from others. For example, when applying for jobs after you graduate or even much later on, you can tell firms that you are able to go above and beyond into helping the company as a whole rather than just attending and doing your job. Being proactive and offering suggestions or improvements will only help you in the long run.

Sure, it doesn’t make you a perfect all-rounder, but if you have an interest in other things, think about how you can work on your skills to achieve results through it. We all know, students are usually tight on money, so if you offer your services on creating a few branding materials for local brands around you, you can work on using software and learning about design whilst also making a bit of money on the side.

You could most definitely add these skills to your CV. Just don’t go overboard and try keep it professional and relate back to why this has helped you overall. For example, working with a start-up usually means you’re much more involved in core projects or campaigns and you need to be able to manage your time well and do the work you’ve been assigned. Architecture (or any other course) and its prospective jobs require the same things. If an employer can see you’ve worked well in the past, managed your time and multiple projects, they will definitely see a place for you in their company.

We hope this gave you the inspiration and motivation to try do something in your spare time (if you have any!) and expand your list of skills. If you have any suggestions or recommendations of other kinds of skills, or if you have your own story to share, let us know in the comments below or DM us on Instagram.

How to Add People in Your Architectural Drawings

How to Add People in Your Architectural Drawings

Adding people to your architectural drawings at any stage can be a great way to communicate how the spaces in your building will interact with the occupants. They show how the building will be used and it’s target audience. The design of these people can be as minimal as a simple line drawing all the way to a fully-fledged character.

Usually this is the last thing you would think of during any project. But it’s better to get the smaller tasks out of the way first so that you can focus on creating drawings and images nearer to your deadline.

  1. Hand Drawn
  2. Vector People
  3. Photographs
  4. Custom

They should synchronise with the style of drawing and yet not overpower it completely. After all, you want people to focus on your drawings instead of being distracted by static or odd-looking people. We’re going to show you four ways you can add people to your drawings. This includes plans, sections, elevations and final illustrations or renders. We will even show you some great and not so great examples.

You don’t need to spend a great deal of time creating people to fit inside your drawings. During a deadline, this is probably the last thing you will think about (as well as annotation) and there isn’t a need to get stressed over it. If your project focuses deeply on the relationship of people and the building you are creating, you could take some time beforehand and create a resource or library of such people that can be fit in to any of your drawings.

These techniques are great for any level whether you’re an architecture student, graduate or an architect. It’s always good to learn new techniques that can enhance your drawings and design.

Hand Drawn

If your style of drawing is more focused towards the art of creating amazing scenes by hand, or even if you want to express an area through simple sketching, then hand-drawn people are perfectly fine. As we said, these can be as minimal as you want, just make sure they don’t look out of place or too simple in the sense that you didn’t try so hard.

Going for a ‘sketch’ style can be great to add some life to simple, clean spaces so you can experiment with the actions of the people, for example. Have a look at some of the kinds of people that are used in drawings or renders by firms and well-known architects. Some even have a signature style which they implement in most of their drawings. This doesn’t even need to be something overly complicated. We love these people by SANAA.

SANAA Architects

To practice this kind of style, you could draw from life in your sketchbook and look at the way in which people actually move in various settings. If you’re wanting to have a hand-drawn style but keep things digital you can always scan in images of multiple people and edit them on Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator.

Tip: Use the Image Trace function in Illustrator and make sure Ignore White is checked so that you can create a person that has no background, making it easy to place on top of coloured illustrations. Then you can save each one as a .png and create a library of resources.

To learn how to use the Image Trace function, check out our article ’10 Essential Tools to Master in Adobe Illustrator’

Alternatively, you could even create digital people in Adobe Photoshop with a textured brush pack if you have access to a graphics tablet or in Adobe Illustrator if you just want a cleaner outline silhouette. Don’t forget to scale the people accordingly so that it’s ready to go when the deadline is near.

You can figure this out by figuring out the scale that you use the most i.e. 1:100 and convert roughly 170cm. This means each ‘person’ will need to be about 1.7cm tall.

We’ve linked our Pinterest board below, specifically catered to different styles of people for such drawings. Give it a follow for regular updates.

Vector People

Stock Images

A very easy way for adding people to drawings are – as we like to call them, ‘vector people’. These can work great in Adobe Illustrator, but we’ll show you that in a bit. If you have final perspectives that are in an illustrative style or if you want to add colour and life to a simple line section then these can be great. Usually, you will find people that are positioned in multiple ways such as a side profile or sitting down so there isn’t much to work on.

Once again, having a resource of these people can make your life so much easier and it isn’t hard to customise these as you wish. You can find such images on Pinterest or free stock websites. If possible, try and find images that are in a .png format so you don’t have to worry about getting rid of the background each time.

We love using Freepik for free, high quality stock images. There is no download limit once you sign in and you can easily create a folder of however many you wish.

Customising Stock Images

To customise stock images, we like using Adobe Illustrator. Since it is a vector program, you can adjust the shape, colour and size without losing any quality. If you have a particular colour scheme, it can be nice to implement those colours into your people to make the drawing seem more cohesive. You can watch the video or read the instructions below.

Start off by downloading a stock vector image of people. We’ve used this one, so if you want to give it a go, try it along with us.


<a href=”https://www.freepik.com/free-photos-vectors/people”>People vector created by rawpixel.com – www.freepik.com</a>

Click on the Free Download button and save it somewhere on your computer.

download the image from Freepik

Since we only want to use one to begin with we need to crop the picture. First place the image by going to File > Place and then click on Crop in the top toolbar.

place it in Illustrator
Crop to find the one you want to customise

Choose one person depending on what kind of action they are doing or whichever suits you best. We’ve chosen this one from the second row. Now, we’re going to re-size this so we can see it better. Use the Selection Tool (V) and click and drag the corners to make it bigger. So that you don’t lose the ratio of the image, hold down the Shift key while you are re-sizing.

make the image bigger and image trace

Next, open the Image Trace Panel and don’t stress if your image turns black and white, we can now work with the settings so that it becomes a vector you can work with.

edit colours

Click on the Advanced arrow to open up more features. Then in Mode, select Colour. Check the Ignore White checkbox at the bottom and move the Colours slider to about 4 or 5 depending on how many colours you want in the image.

play around with the options

Next, click on the Expand button in the top toolbar. Now we can edit each shape as well as colours. Let’s alter the face shape so that there isn’t a white gap in between. We can also get rid of the shadow below by selecting it using the Direct Selection Tool (A).

fix any areas

Then, adjust any anomalies that might not look great. Now we can colour this as we want. Use the Direct Selection Tool (A) to click on a colour. Then go to Select > Same > Fill Colour. This selects that brown colour wherever it is present in the image, so you don’t have to go in and select or change each one.

Then, use the colour palette to select a new colour. Repeat this for others until you have a theme you want.

change colours

Now we’ve changed the colours to be a bit more minimal. To save the file for use later, you can save as a .png to add it directly to other drawings or save as a .ai (Illustrator) file to edit in the future. Go to File > Export As for a .png and File > Save As for a .ai file.

save the file

Make sure you select a transparent background for a .png file!

make sure the image has a transparent background

Vector people are a great and easy resource. You could even search for ‘isometric vector people’ if you’re doing that kind of an illustration or for isometric / axonometric drawings.


For renders are more life-like drawings, you may want to use actual people to make your project seem as real as possible and actually understand how that space would be inhabited. This doesn’t necessarily need to be a long process. Some people might want to use their own images with people which is totally fine. You could also use stock images that you find online.

There are essentially two routes you can take. Either use Adobe Photoshop to manually edit photographs and cut out the people you want or use .png images that are already edited with no background. Depending on the level of customisation either one is perfectly fine to use.

To find free stock images you can search on Freepik, or simply type in ‘people png.’ into Google Images.

Some firms even blur out the images to make it look like there is a moving blur or darken the image so that it turns into a silhouette. Have a look around at what kinds of styles there are and try not to copy it completely but use some of those techniques and apply it to your own drawings.

Usually this type of style is best for rendering as you can work with the lighting and make it look more natural with the addition of actual people. Try not to go overboard as less is more. You can also try scaling the people by figuring out the height and corresponding it with the scale of your drawing.

Custom People

Creating a custom set of people could be the way to go. We don’t recommend doing this close to your deadlines so if you do want to create your own people try do it in whichever spare time you get. The art style of this depends completely on your preference. It can be a simple squiggle, a detailed person or a character inspired by your building or your ideal occupant.

We suggest you experiment with whatever your comfortable with. You don’t need a variety of tools and gadgets and make sure that your scanner and Adobe programs are ready to go to edit and play with your drawings.

Having a set of custom resources can provide an advantage if you’re a student. It shows your tutors and even the examiner that you really want to show pride in your creations, drawings and people. If you’re an architect, there may already be a style your firm prefers but there is no harm in experimenting.

Finally, remember, the people in your drawings aren’t more important than the actual drawing or render or illustration itself. Think of it as an accessory to your work and a tool to help your drawings showcase some life. We would love to see some of your work where you have utilised the styles mentioned or even created your own custom people.

Use the hashtag #toscalearch on Instagram and Twitter and tag us @to.scale. We also want to feature student work and share more techniques and styles.

How to Create a Sun Path Diagram

How To Create a Sun Path Diagram – Adobe Illustrator Tutorial

A good Sun Path diagram is present in almost any architectural project. Being an architecture student, you don’t need an extremely detailed or highly accurate diagram full of numbers or figures. This method of creating a sun path diagram is done using Adobe Illustrator as well as online resources. To keep it simple, the diagram shows your site (where your building will be) and the surrounding buildings and the way in which the sun moves across this area.

For example, if your building is North facing, you can design according to the different lights that it will get. Adding windows and shade in specific places can make or break your design. By setting up your sun path diagram, you can get a rough idea of the things you need to keep a note of when it comes to designing. It can also be affected by the building heights and other constraints around the site.

This diagram should be in the beginning portion of your portfolio. Check out our Portfolio Guidance post. When you receive a brief, it should ideally come with a generic area or a specific site where you will be designing a building. As part of site research, a sun path diagram will show good research skills as well as showing that you understand the ways in which the sun can really affect your building and what you are going to do to accommodate it. This tutorial is for a simple Sun Path diagram, but we’ll be adding a 3D version soon as well as it’ll give more depth to your diagram.

A good idea is to find references. This help gives you inspiration if you don’t already have a clear idea of the layout or style you want. The best source is Pinterest. Check out our board ‘Sun Path Diagrams’.

The Steps

The first thing you need to figure out is your site. For this example, we are going to use a site in Shoreditch. We are going to use Digimap to download a version of a map of the area.

For this diagram, we are using an A2 page in portrait with the map scale at 1:1000. If you don’t know how to use Digimap follow our tutorial on How to Create Maps. After cleaning up the map, it should look something like this:

initial map

Make sure there aren’t any labels or extra vector shapes, just the building outlines and pavement outlines. The stroke width is set to 0.5pt for now.

Now, the map can be edited in several ways. You could use the Live Paint Tool to fill the closer buildings with a darker colour and the further away buildngs with lighter colours. Then, you can change the Stroke colour or get rid of it so that it has a clean, minimal look. We’re going to leave it as it is for now.

*Make sure you save your file; since we are working with a lot of detail, Adobe Illustrator could crash or lag.

Next, we need to figure out the sun position for the site. We use SunCalc. It’s a great website that shows you the exact sun positioning at whichever date and time you choose.

use Sun Calc to find your sun path

In this example, we’ve located our site, but the Sun Path needs to be set to a specific date and time. For diagrams like this, you can use Equinox dates.

adjust to a generic date and time

We don’t need the current time date, just the sunrise and sunset angles. Next, we’re going to use the Clipping Mask Tool from Windows / Mac, or anything similar that will print your screen. Save this image somewhere.

To place it into Adobe Illustrator, Create a New Layer and go to File > Place. Lock the map layer so you don’t accidently move it.

locking layers can be quite useful

Next, turn down the Opacity of the layer, and adjust the size to roughly match that of the map. Make sure you don’t change the map in any way as it is scaled. Now we know approximately where the sun path will be.

Lock the sun path image layer and turn it off for now.

adjust the sun path image

Create a New Layer and using the Ellipse Tool (L) Click and Drag to create a circle shape that is slightly smaller than the page. To make sure it is an even circle, hold down the Shift key. If you’re using later versions of Illustrator, you might not need to hold down. Look out for the link icon in the top toolbar.

The site should be in the middle of the circle. Then, go ahead and Unlock the map layer.

the circle is the base for the sun path diagram

Use the Selection Tool (V) or use the keys Ctrl + A to select everything. Then, go to Object > Clipping Mask > Make or Right Click and choose Create Clipping Mask.

clipping masks

At this point, if you want to edit the map in any way, you can Right Click and select Isolate Selected Clipping Mask. Now we’re going to edit the map and add some colour using the Live Paint Tool.

To get back out, Double Click elsewhere. Now turn on the sun path image layer, Lock and Create a New Layer. Then, use the Pen Tool (P) to trace the two sun path angles. This gives us a rough outline of the way in which the Sun will move across this area.

draw the sun angles

Then, Using the Pen Tool (P) again, draw around the site with a different stroke colour. Here we have used red but anything that sticks out works fine.

create a site outline

To change the stroke to a Dashed line, go to the Stroke Panel by using the top toolbar or by going to Window > Stroke and click on Stroke to show several options. Then, check the Dashed Line box, and adjust this so that the dashes are visible.

dashed site outline

Now, Unlock the Map layer and making sure the outline is selected, drag and drop the small square in the Layers Panel down to the Map layer.


Next, get rid of the sun path image by Deleting the layer. Create a circle shape using the Ellipse (L) on the Map layer and make sure your Smart Guides are turned On. Drag the circle so that it is in the centre of the map circle, not to be confused with the site centre. You can use the Align Panel if you are having a difficult time.

add a circle in the centre

Select the Circle using the Selection Tool (V) and create a New Layer and drag and drop the small square on to the new layer. Then, Lock the map layer.

align to the centre

Create another small circle directly above the previous one and make sure you are on the correct layer. Position this so that the centre point is on the edge of the Map circle.

add a smaller circle

With the smaller circle selected, use the Rotate Tool (R) and click on the centre of the first circle, then hold down the Alt Key and click again. There should be another window prompting you to enter an angle.

use the rotate tool

With the preview button checked, enter approximate angles until they match the point where your two lines intersect the Map circle.

Then repeat this evenly for the bottom half, 3 times. You can do this by calculating the angle in between the two lines and then dividing by 4 and adding on each time. (Yes, this is where you can finally use your maths skills)

figure out your angles + note them down

You can now Delete the middle circle. Each of the circles represent the different times. The yellow circle is Sunrise (5am) and the blue circle is Sunset (10pm). The circles in-between are 10am, 3pm and 8pm respectively. Again, this doesn’t need to be detailed down to the minutes.

Delete the sun angle layer.

colour the circles

Now, Create a New Layer and lock the circles layer. Draw two lines using the Pen Tool (P) from the yellow and blue circle to the centre of the site. Then, draw a triangle shape from one of the orange circles. We are going to apply a gradient to this.

add in a triangle shape

Click on the triangle using the Selection Tool (V) and open the Gradients Panel. Go to Window > Gradient (Ctrl + F9).

Drag Down the orange fill colour on to the Gradient Slider. Then, click on the Black pointer and click the Delete button next to the slider.

adding gradients

Then, click on the White pointer, and set the Opacity to 0%. Now, use the angle, or the Reverse button to move the orange gradient so that it is coming out of the circle end. You could also use the Gradient Tool to adjust the angle of the gradient manually by clicking and dragging.

this gives an added layer so that all the circles don’t look the same

Repeat this step for the other three circles. You can apply the same gradient to the other shapes by using the Eyedropper Tool (I) and adjusting if needed. Or just Copy (Ctrl + C) and Paste (Ctrl + V) the same shape and Rotate.

make the white transparent

Add text to each circle using the Type Tool (T) and adjust the circles, colours and gradients as you see fit.

Final Thoughts

Below, you can see that we made the circles smaller because they were taking up too much space and defeating the purpose of the map. The text shows the times of the day. You could also add in a key at this point to differentiate between the different colours.

It is a good idea to stick to a simple colour palette at this point. If you already have a theme of colours in your portfolio, use those for the lines or site outline and try not to use bold or garish colours and this can distract from the work and look unprofessional.

final edits

We also created a darker scheme that can look more interesting but might not be suitable for your portfolio, you should always try and keep your portfolio neat and minimal.

This Sun Path Diagram tutorial was just one simple, basic way of creating a Sun Path. You can choose to add more detail or apply this to other kinds of diagrams based around the site. If you’re interested, we’ve also created a 3D Sun Path Diagram Tutorial to show you another way of spicing up your site analysis.

We would love to see any of your diagrams or hear about any other tips and methods that you use so we can share them with everyone.

Leave a comment below, or just let us know what other kinds of pages you would like a tutorial on!

The Beginner’s Guide to Site Analysis

The Beginner’s Guide to Site Analysis

A site analysis is needed to understand the environment around your building. The site is quite important in regard to the physical constraints of the project and can also inspire the programme of the building. Apart from this, it helps you actually draw up plans, sections and create views of your building as it would be once completed.

Before diving into the design of the project, you need some sort of base to go off on. There are several steps to take to thoroughly complete a site analysis. In some projects, the site itself can become a huge driver and there really isn’t another way to carry on by ignoring the surroundings.

This guide will explore the variety of things you can do to research a site ranging from its history, current condition and other things you might not find just by looking at it on Google Maps or even by visiting the area once.

In your first year of university, you’re thrown into the deep end and sometimes you might not get the help you really need. Your tutors could simply say ‘do a site analysis’ and leave it at that. So, we’ve broken it down in simple steps and even given some examples of presenting your work.

  1. Desktop Study
  2. Digimap
  3. Planning Documents
  4. Sun Path
  5. What to look for
  6. Physical Visit
  7. Presentation and Examples
  8. Final Tips

For those more familiar with a site analysis, this article might just show you some ways of enhancing your site analysis or introduce you to some better tools and tips that can make your work better. We’ve also included some links to other works and online tools so make sure you read till the end.

Desktop Study

A desktop study is pretty obvious. This doesn’t just mean finding your site on Google Maps. A desktop study will also involve researching the site deeply. If the history of that place has meaning to your project, chances are you can find out what once used to be at that site. It could also involve establishing the surroundings of your site and looking at what kinds of places are in the neighbourhood.

To start, if you haven’t already chosen a site, choose one. Most briefs might give you a generic location or neighbourhood and then you can physically find an empty site or choose a space to hypothetically build over and replace. It is good to have a street address which you should note down in your sketchbook to refer back to later on.

Then, open up Google Maps, find your site and use the walk-around feature to get an idea of the surroundings. Look at it from all angles and the satellite maps. You could even make a rough sketch if you wanted and write down some of the things that stick out to you. Now, we’re going to use a bunch of different tools online to keep going with a desktop study.


digimap is your best friend

Digimap is an Ordnance Survey map that has data on pretty much the whole world. Don’t worry though, you only need it for your site. There are several things you can do with Digimap such as downloading scaled plans and building heights. This allows your final drawings to be as accurate as possible. Most universities (at least in the U.K.) will give students access to such OS maps so make sure you take full advantage.

If you’re not too familiar with Digimap, check out our ‘How To Make Maps in Adobe Illustrator’ article which breaks it down further.

Digimap is great for site research because it provides a lot more information about an area than Google Maps. You can check historical maps of your site or get accurate data on building heights.

The way this fits into site research is that you will need to create some kind of output that combines the research you have done and explains how you want to take the project further. Via Digimap, you can print unlimited scaled maps, annotate them and use them to make models for example so the possibilities are endless. Overall, it is a great and easy-to-learn tool.

Planning Documents

Planning documents are the unheard gem we found whilst in architecture school. Not many people knew about it and the ones who did kept it a secret. This is a big advantage especially if you’re in the U.K because most countries will have something similar so try and find out by doing a simple Google search.

Planning documents in simple terms are the copies of plans, drawing statement and other documents that architects have to submit to the council in order to get approved and then proceed to continuing with the project. If your site has some kind of history, if there have been any changes, it will be on there.

The main difference between planning documents and Digimap for example, is that sometimes some sites will have gone through a lot of changes and architects that were hired should ideally have submitted plans, sections and elevations which you can use to gain information mostly about the surrounding buildings.

Not only does this save you from figuring out how the neighbouring building works but it also gives small details that you might not have known by just a visit.

The way to find your site on a planning portal is simple. Figure out which borough the address lands in and Google that specific planning portal. Some addresses may count as boroughs that you didn’t think of, so if you don’t find the exact area, try another one. Ideally, having an address or postcode for your chosen site is key. By constantly figuring out the pieces of the puzzle that is your site, you get more familiar with it and somehow end up more motivated to design a building that excites you.

Here we’ve listed an example to show you there are several links that get you closer to the files you need. Remember, there are different portals for each borough but they all work relatively the same.

click on view or comment on a planning application
make sure you search via address, the minimum you need is the street name
click on the application number link
scroll all the way down to find related documents
click on the date links to open the drawings
the drawings open in PDF

That is the gist of finding drawings through a planning portal. Sometimes there may be nothing for your chosen site, in which case you can try the neighbouring buildings. So that you don’t have to keep finding the same drawings over and over, save these in a folder offline (on your computer) so that you can look back on them for reference or printing.

Sun Path

A good form of output that involves the site is to create a sun path diagram. If you don’t know what this is, it’s basically a map of your site that shows the orientation of the sun, the building and other opportunities and constraints that are involved in your site. This allows you to get a better idea of how you want to design your building, how it will link back to the programme or even some of the constraints you need to look out for.

We will create an in-depth tutorial on how to create a simple sun-path diagram in the coming weeks so look out for that. It will show you how to find your site and the exact sun-path over your site plus a group of other additions to enhance the diagram.

This page in your portfolio should be seen almost as a basic minimum. You can find plenty of inspiration on other architecture blogs or Pinterest. Check out our Pinterest board for Sun Path Diagrams HERE.

What to Look For

Ideally, there are certain things you need to research about or look for when doing a site research. This does depend on the brief you have been given and the direction you are taking it in yourself. For example, if you are focused on the heritage of the local community or their trades etc. you might want to research a bit more into the history of the area and your selected site. Look at what was there 50 years ago and ask yourself, is there a way I can bring this back in a new way that adds to the present community? Or perhaps find a problem in the current area such as a lack of communal spaces for the youth and try and solve this in a way that can relate to your brief.

We’ve made a generic list of things to look out for which can be done by a desktop or physical study. Figuring this out will add to your knowledge of your site which in turn, will make your building an actual possibility which is good practice.

  • Site area in square feet or some kind of dimension that works for you
  • Building heights of surrounding buildings
  • Neighbourhood i.e. businesses, residential, nature
  • Site access
  • Windows / Doors that cannot be built in front of
  • Any future plans for the site (use the planning portal)
  • Transport; roads, alleyways, bus, train etc.
  • Nature around the site, such as trees, slopes, anything that wouldn’t show up on Digimap or Google Maps
  • How busy the site is; footfall, how the site is used or changed over time, vehicular movements
  • The weather/climateSite of the site
  • Community profile such as popular ethnicity, social backgrounds, trades, ages etc.

Of course, this isn’t a compulsory list, but the more information you have, the better. Also remember that you shouldn’t try and cram all this into one page. We recommend dedicating an entire section of your portfolio to site analysis which happens over a few pages.

Look out for our free checklist at the end of this article to help you organise your site analysis.

Physical Visit


If you’re lucky enough to have adequate access to your site then it makes it easier for you to re-visit the site as needed (which you will do). If not, then you will have to try and visit your site and make it worthwhile. Firstly, make sure you take your camera, a small sketchbook and pen and your phone. These are the basics.

Take pictures of your site in all kinds of angles and perspectives. It doesn’t hurt to take as many as possible, and you will most likely get home and sort through them all anyway. These pictures will be useful to capture the essence of the area as well as your site. If you can, come back after a couple of hours or at a completely contrasting time of day to understand how the site works overtime.

For example, a site near a farmer’s market will most likely be busier than at night when shops and business are closed around it. Light, climate or even people can make a huge difference to your project and you might not know it at such an early stage.

Ideally, you don’t want to be spending weeks on your site analysis, so once you have decided or been given your site, mark a day you will go and explore. Take your friends with you or plan something else on that day.

Once you have found that something you want to focus on in your project, you can then go back for a second visit and look out for the things you’re interested in. Change your approach and perhaps sketch out something you didn’t see last time. Having more than one visit means you can see things you missed last time or even compare how the site may have changed since your last visit.

A physical study will allow you to create collages or have photographic evidence that supports your statements about the community or the cultural aspects. Speak to the local business owners or active residents to learn more about the area. This first-hand approach will show that you have an interest in the community and let you figure out what it may need architecturally.

Presentation and Examples

As we said before, you need to create a form of output for your research. A section of your portfolio that sets up the site as well as your project is great to begin with if your unit doesn’t do a short, initial project. Depending on what you want to show, it can vary for each project.

The smaller details such as styles, fonts and layout will be discussed later on in another post. For now, we’re going to show you how the site analysis should fit within your portfolio and how your site analysis needs to relate back to the brief.

Usually, 5-10 well curated pages of site analysis is enough. We’ve listed below some of the kinds of pages you might want to create:

  • An overall map of the area marked with landmarks and your site
  • An annotated map of your site visit including photographs and other information
  • Photographs or study related to your interests in the site
  • Sun path diagram
  • Opportunities and constraints
  • Key drivers
Project 1

Sana Tabassum          pages 16-24

In this project, Vietnamese Modular Community, the site analysis comes after a short animation project. There are 3 maps that get more detailed one after the other. The first map simple shows the overall site, it’s general facts and figures. Then the next two maps focus on a certain area or street in Shoreditch that extrapolate the interesting features. In this case, the abundance of ventilation hardware combined with the local Vietnamese community raised an area for improvement.

Then, the site is modelled to show this exact situation and the building is further analysed through a section drawing. This means it is possible to show how the site is being used currently at the various problems it proposes to the community around it.

Next, an opportunities and constraints diagram can show the various transport links around the chosen site as well as the kind of community that live there – specifically, immigrants who might be adjusting their domestic space to be comfortable for them. This was purposely similar to how people live in Vietnam.

Finally, a sun-path diagram shows exactly what is says. The sun path over the proposed site as well as neighbouring building heights. The next project is also similar in many ways.

Project 2

Nathalie Harris         pages 8-22

Instagram: @natzarina

Another great example of an in-depth site analysis is Nathalie’s project Inhabited Infrastructures in the Anthropocene. If we focus on the site analysis pages, linked above, then you can see the journey taken in these pages. Her site analysis starts off with a map/collage of Shoreditch. Then, she goes deeper in a specific area and compares the site with scenes from a movie which relates back to the initial task.

After desktop studies and further research, we can see the project starts leaning towards recycling and specifically the routes of recycling trucks in Shoreditch. She creates a map of the routes, links to articles and analyses certain elements that seem interesting via 3D modelling.

Initial site map

Then, the project explains the chosen site, its dimensions and surrounding images. Modelling the site in not much detail and then annotating it according to surrounding buildings or sun-path can also be great. Tracking where photographs are taken, or the historic journey of the site can further add to the reasoning behind the programme of the project.

Lastly, the section ends with key drivers that have been identified along with images to not just inform the reader or examiner but actually be able to refer back to later on in the project.

These projects are for example purposes but can provide some inspiration to your work. You can even ask other students in the year’s above to see their old portfolios to learn from them and understand why they did what they did.

Final Tips

While working on your site analysis, make sure to keep other ideas regarding your project in the back of your mind such as the programme, why you want to design this building and how all these things relate back to your site or are inspired by it. We hope the various approaches help you learn something new or find a new way to work on your site analysis.

We think this is a crucial part of your project and sets you up for success. In the coming weeks we will also touch on portfolio layout and organisation and why it’s best to have a theme or style from the beginning as well as creating your pages as you work on things throughout the year rather than trying to compile it at the end.

Having other forms of work such as models or even other outputs like animations, paintings and 3D modelling can also be great to feature in your site analysis. If you know you’re going to be working predominantly with 3D modelling software towards the end of your project, it could be a good idea to start modelling your site from the beginning. Digimap offers a rough 3D model of the majority of London so try check that out and make sure it’s accurate.

Again, you don’t need all of the things mentioned, so make sure you curate it to your interests with the project and not try and put everything you’ve ever learnt about the site in your portfolio because after all, it needs to be edited well. And don’t limit yourself to the things we’ve suggested either.

We’ve included a short checklist you can download whilst working on your site analysis. Just save the image or click the link below.


Lastly, we hope this article helped you in some way. If you have any questions or additions then make sure to leave a comment below or tell us directly on Facebook or Instagram @to.scale.

How to Create Maps

How to Create Maps in Adobe Illustrator (For Architecture Students)

We’ve all struggled with creating maps at some point in time. This article will show you the exact tools, skills and process of creating simple vector maps in Adobe Illustrator. These methods can be used with other software or even by hand (if you’re going for that effect) and are fully customisable.

At the start of any project, you’re either given a site or offered to choose on for yourself. The site and its surroundings are an extremely important feature of the project and can affect the overall design of the building. The process for creating maps isn’t too long and once you get the hang of it, it’ll be easier each time.

Look out for more resources and examples of maps we love at the end. Your map doesn’t need to be in the exact style we show you and can be as detailed or minimal as you wish.

  1. Scales and Measurements
  2. Tools
  3. The Process
  4. Tips
  5. Resources

Scales and Measurements

For architects, scale becomes an industry standard. Being able to understand this language and training your eye to figure out the size of an area on a large scale is a key skill. Maps especially should be :scale. But how can you figure out what the best option is?

We believe there are 3 important factors when deciding the scale of a map you want to create and eventually present.

  1. The size of your page
  2. The amount of surrounding information you want to show
  3. The size of your site in relation to the page


The tools used when creating a map are just as important as the thought process behind it. It is essential that you use good quality maps or images because you don’t want your work coming across as something put together in five minutes. Maps will undoubtedly be featured towards the start of your portfolio, so presentation is key because it builds an impression.

For most architecture students across the UK, there will be a large collection of resources available to you through your university, and most of the time some websites allow for university logins so that you can access materials for free.

We love using Digimap to create maps, site plans etc.

Digimap – a number one resource

Digimap is an Ordnance Survey mapping website and has quite a bit of interesting features but mainly it lets you look at and download maps from all over the UK.

A great feature of Digimap is that it allows you to download maps in common formats such as .PDF but also AutoCAD.

Once you’re logged in, you can use the ‘Roam’ feature to start tracking down your site.

Use the Roam or Download function

Google Maps

By this point, you would have either visited your site in person or seen it through Google Maps. It’s great for getting a sense of the site without actually having to be there, but also to access or view areas you physically cannot.

As long as you have an address or a general idea of where your site is, you can view this as a satellite image, in a simple map format or by using the street views.

Google Maps

The quality of Google Maps isn’t extraordinary but if you did want to use a satellite image as a plan view, we’d recommend downloading Google Earth. It lets you select your area and export as a high-quality image.

This can be useful later on in the project when you have designed your building and want to place a plan view back on site as a plan or a rendered image.

 Adobe Illustrator

Illustrator is the obvious choice for creating a vector map. If you aren’t familiar with it yet, visit our page about ‘Getting Started: ‘10 Essential Tools to Master in Adobe Illustrator’.

A vector map gives a clean, minimal outcome and Illustrator is preferred over Photoshop because you can edit the exported Digimap as well as edit colours and add text easily.

This doesn’t mean you can’t use Adobe Photoshop, or other drawing software to create your maps. If you want to see an alternative method, tell us in the comments after this article. You could hand-draw and scan in your map and edit it further using these software and it would still work fine.

The Process

By now, you must want to get stuck in and create your map. For this map, we’ll be looking at Shoreditch and using a random building as our ‘site’. In your project, the site might not be an occupied space, so to workaround this, either choose the neighbouring building’s address or locate your site using a unique landmark you can recognise.

The first thing you want to do is get logged into Digimap and find Shoreditch. Our chosen building for this exercise is:

Soho Works Shoreditch

Or you can enter the postcode: E1 6JJ (you should write your site’s address down somewhere so you can easily access it without having to try find it each time).

After entering the Ordnance Survey Roam tool and entering the postcode this is what your screen should look like.

find your site using a postcode

Now we can zoom in or out and change the type of map displayed to us by clicking on Basemaps and choosing Line Drawing.

zoom in a bit further to get these options

This gives us a clean image with our site at the centre. Now we’re going to export this map. But before we do this we need to set the 3 parameters we mentioned earlier.

  1. The size of your page

For the start of a project, we think A2 (portrait) is fine but if you choose A1 or landscape, you can easily change this in the next steps.

2. The amount of surrounding information you want to show

We want to show the majority of Shoreditch, at least its recognisable landmarks and have our site somewhere in the centre.

3. The size of your site in relation to the page

At this stage, we don’t need the site to be large because this map is focusing more on the surroundings and general area.

To export the map, you need to click on the printer icon at the top of the screen. We aren’t actually printing it yet but setting it up as a page.

the print button

Now you’re faced with the print options. You need to enter this information according to your parameters. On the right-hand side you can view what your page will roughly look like.

enter in the options

Details for this map –

Map Title: Shoreditch Map 1

Print Scale: 1000

Print Format: PDF

Page Size: A2

Print Layout: Portrait

*Uncheck Add my Name

scale 1:1000

Then, click Generate Print File and save to a location of your choosing.

Now, we’re going to open Adobe Illustrator and go to File > Place and place the PDF on an A2 portrait page*.

*This is important, the size of your artboard in Illustrator should match that of the map you downloaded to make sure the scale is correct.

place your PDF in Illustrator

After placing your PDF map make sure to save your file by going to File > Save As.

Now click on the Embed button in the top toolbar. This lets you edit the contents using the Selection Tool (V) and Direct Selection Tool (A).

that maps looks a bit cluttered

For a clean, simple vector map, we need to get rid of the extra information such as street names and legends. (If doing this in AutoCAD, you could download the .dwg file and turn off these extras as they will be on separate layers.)

To do this, you can use the Direct Selection Tool (A) and hover over extra information such as the watermark and directly delete it. To help things move along faster, zoom in and using the Direct Selection Tool (A) click on one of the texts or letters.

using the select feature

Next, go to Select > Same > Appearance. This selects everything on the page that is similar. If at any point, it selects the building lines we want to keep, try one of the other options or do this manually.

and voila!

Sometimes there may be a leftover outline that isn’t visible so be sure to do the same and select all and delete using the Delete key. Now we can repeat the same for other texts and shapes we don’t need.

Sometimes we can run into the problem of expanding the map beyond the visible borders. This can happen when trying to get rid of the outlines or the legend at the bottom.

To fix this, use the Direct Selection Tool (A) and drag across one edge of the page till the area where you want the map to stop.

deleting extra bits

Don’t be worried if this takes a long time, Illustrator is processing all of the detailed information. Sometimes you just need to wait it out and be patient, so don’t start clicking everywhere because it will just make the process longer.

After some clean up, you should end up with a result like this. For the purpose of the tutorial, we’ve set the stroke weight to 2pt, but it can be whichever is best visible at the moment according to you.

clean image

Next, using the Selection Tool (V) we are going to make the entire stroke colour Black. Select the map and then double-click on the stroke square and select Black.

change the stroke colour

*Remember to save your work as you go, there’s nothing worse than repeating these steps in case of a crash.

Now, we’re going to use the Live Paint Tool. If you haven’t used this before, read our ‘Getting Started: 10 Essential Tools to Master in Adobe Illustrator’ to understand the basics.

Click on the map using the Selection Tool (V) and go to Object > Live Paint > Make. Choose Black as your fill colour and click on the Live Paint Bucket Tool (K) which is usually under the Shape Builder Tool (Shift + M).

Now you can go in and fill in the buildings with the Black fill colour. To not get confused, fill your site – or in this case – the building, with another colour so you don’t lose it. You can click and drag to cover more areas but try not to fill in any pavements or railway lines.

fill in the map, don’t forget to identify your site

Make sure to expand the Live Paint once you’re done by going to Object > Live Paint > Expand or by clicking the Expand button.

Now, we can either turn off the stroke colour or set it as white depending on your preference. Here are both. The level of detail is completely up to you and you can play around with colours or even gradients if you want.

no strokes vector map
white strokes vector map

And there you’ve got a simple vector map. But it still needs some extra bits and resources. For example, these maps have different colours to associate with different parts of the site or even additional photos and keys. Don’t go crazy and make a rainbow coloured map, try and keep it as simple and clean as possible.

examples of maps


Make sure you use layers in Illustrator so that your map is not affected directly. It’s totally up to you how much information you want to add depending on what you want to show through the map.

Try not to overload too much information as this can make the map seem unappealing. Adding photographs, annotation and other information is fine but realistically the examiner won’t have time to read a long paragraph.

Remember to add the scale of the map at the bottom of the page as well as a north symbol. You can make this quite simply or find an image online.


We’ve created a template to help you organise your map and not forget any key information. It contains a template for A2 and A1 pages as well as our own North symbol.

To download the template simple click below and open in Adobe Illustrator. Then make sure to copy it over to your map file or overwrite the template and save as a new file.


Creating vector maps becomes easier with online resources. In case you can’t use Digimap, here is an alternative as well as other website links.



Pinterest is great for looking for inspiration and styles. Find one that suits you and try to create one in your own style. Follow us on Pinterest too!


Let us know how it went and whether you did anything differently. We’re always looking for the most efficient way to create architectural drawings. If you have any questions leave a comment below!

10 Essential Tools You Need in Adobe Illustrator

Getting Started: 10 Essential Tools to Master in Adobe Illustrator

Adobe Illustrator can be daunting for beginners. The variety of tools and panels – as amazing as they are – need some time getting used to. But where do you start? The following 10 essential tools are for anyone starting out with Illustrator.

But first, what is Adobe Illustrator and why should I use it?

Adobe Illustrator is a graphics design software specially for vector graphics. Vectors are a type of image that are created using paths rather than pixels. This means they are quite different from a standard JPEG file type. A benefit of using a vector image is the scalability. Re-sizing and editing can be done easily and doesn’t leave you with blurry, pixelated images.

This is why Adobe Illustrator is preferred for logo design, illustrations and typography. For architecture students and alike, this software can be great for creating effective diagrams, maps and even simple perspective images.

  1. The pen tool
  2. Type tool – and it’s extra bits
  3. Paintbrush Tool
  4. Layers are your best friend
  5. Live Paint
  6. Swatches
  7. Pathfinder Tool
  8. Image Trace
  9. Patterns
  10. Exporting

1. The pen tool

The pen tool is a versatile feature in Illustrator and can not only be used to create all sorts of shapes but also to trace hand-drawn sketches and effectively create quick and editable drawings. By using the Direct Selection Tool (a.k.a. the white mouse) you can easily edit the anchor points and any Bezier curves.

Here are some examples of ways to use the pen tool:

Using the Pen Tool (P) hold down Shift to create straight lines at 0, 45 and 90 angles.

creating straight lines

Using the Pen Tool (P) click to start a point, then click, hold and drag to create a curve.

creating a bezier curve

If aligning points, make sure to turn on Smart Guides by going to View > Smart Guides.

using smart guides to align

To edit shapes after they are closed, use the Direct Selection Tool (A) and click on one point to isolate, or drag over more and move to the desired position.

adjusting anchor points

2. Type tool – and it’s extra bits

Many people use the type tool to simply add text to an illustration or drawing, but Illustrator allows you to do much more. This is particularly useful for typography and logo designers but can be a useful tool overall.

By holding down on the type tool, you can see the list of different options such as Type on a Path Tool and Vertical Type Tool.

type tool and its extra bits

Creating text around a shape or path can be done by holding down the Type Tool (T) > Type on a Path Tool.

Then make sure to click on a path that has no fill or stroke. This can be done for the standard shapes or by making one of your own. It’s also not limited to lines and curves.

*Make sure to click exactly where you want the text to start on the path.

creating text around a path

Another great feature is to convert a text into outlines. Illustrator allows you to treat a letter or word as a group of shapes rather than text which can then be modified.

First type out the word or letters in the desired font (don’t worry about the size) and then go to Type > Create Outlines. To separate each letter, you can select everything using the Selection Tool (V) and go to Object > Ungroup (Shift + Ctrl + G)

turning text into shapes
ungrouping shapes

3. The Paintbrush Tool

This tool is quite effective for those with a graphics tablet. It allows your strokes to be vectorised and used as shapes to essentially create amazing illustrations. With pressure sensitivity turned on you can create a varied line in a matter of seconds.

changing the pressure sensitivity of a brush
using a graphics tablet

4. Layers are your best friend

The layers panel is probably the glue that holds Adobe Illustrator together. It is extremely essential when creating any kind of graphic. There are many small features within this panel that are important to unpack.

For example, let’s say you forget to create your layers, but want to separate each shape or object on to its own layer. Select the shape, and in the layers panel click on the small square on the right-hand side. Then drag this up to move the shape on to its own layer without affecting the artwork.

moving shapes to their own layers

You can also drag and drop layers to move shapes in front or behind one another. It is a good habit to name all your layers so that they are easily accessible.

naming layers is key

To lock or hide layers you can click on the lock shaped icon and the eye icon respectively. This can be useful when you don’t want to mess up a specific layer and work on top or when you want to try things out and not have other layers interfering.

locking or hiding layers can be useful

5. Live paint

Although this may seem like one of the more complicated tools in Adobe Illustrator, it is a highly useful one for adding colour to images quickly.

Have your line work art or shape ready. Use the Selection Tool (V) to select everything you want to colour and go to Object > Live Paint > Make.

live paint

Then use the Live Paint Bucket Tool (K) which is hidden under the Shape Builder Tool and choose a colour. The areas highlighted in red are ones you can colour in. If you try to colour elsewhere you get an error box.

live paint bucket

At the end, make sure to Expand everything. This can be done by selecting everything using the Selection Tool (V) and clicking on the expand button or going to Object > Live Paint > Expand. If you missed any areas that cannot be used with the Live paint tool, you can always select and Merge by going to Object > Live Paint > Merge and go back and paint them.

expand – always

You can also get rid of the strokes to get a clean, line-less finish.

et fin

6. Swatches

Swatches are useful when you have a certain colour palette you want to stick to. Incredibly useful in logo designing or to create a tone within your artwork. To create a swatch, you can go to Window > Swatches and create a new swatch with the colour you have already selected.

creating a swatch

This can also be sorted into groups. Simply create a new group by clicking on the upper right-hand side options and choosing New Colour Group.

creating a swatch group

You can name your swatches for a project and edit these as you go. You can also download or create swatches you find online. We like to use Adobe Colour (https://color.adobe.com/explore) to look at new colour swatches or groups of swatches that you can easily re-create or download without having to enter the Hex code.

7. Pathfinder Tool

The pathfinder tool is a simple one in Adobe Illustrator, but it lets you play around with different shapes and basically creates either cut-outs or merges two or more shapes to become one. You can find the pathfinder panel by going to Window > Pathfinder.

Next, with two shapes as an example, we can use the different options to create completely new shapes:

pathfinder panel

The first is to merge the two shapes. You can do this by placing one on top of each other and clicking on the merge tool.

merging two shapes

To cut out the front-most shape, click on the second option Minus Front.

pathfinder minus tool

This tool is something you can play around with and figure out which options best suit your project.

8. Image Trace

Image trace is a good illustrative tool for artists or design students. It can turn sketches and images into a vectorised format making it easy to edit. Here we show you two examples of the ways in which image trace can be used.

This photo of a man can be turned into a vector with a few easy steps. We’ve used an image from Freepik for this example.

Hand photo created by luis_molinero.

 To get your saved or scanned photo you can go to File > Place to add the image in Adobe Illustrator.

Re-scale your image and hold down the Shift key to make sure you don’t lose the proportions.

Next, on the top toolbar you can see the option to Image Trace. When you click on this, don’t be alarmed if your image disappears or becomes a hideous mess.

image trace panel

Click on the Image Trace Panel to display more options. Our photo has been turned into a silhouette image which we can further alter. We can now change the level of detail and magically get rid of the white background.

Click on the Advanced arrow and make sure the ‘Ignore White’ box is checked.

check this magic box

But what if you wanted to keep the colours? Or make the image not so detailed?

To do this, simply choose ‘Colour’ in the Mode drop down list. You can use the slider below to change the number of colours you want present. Essentially, the smaller number of colours means less detail.

*This is extremely helpful when creating vector people to use for architectural illustrations

colour image trace

Here we have 5 colours selected as well as the Ignore White box checked. However, the colours are seemingly dull and too similar. Don’t fear, we can change this too.

Click on the Expand button in the toolbar or go to Object > Live Paint > Expand. Next, using the Direct Selection Tool (A) we can click on one of the areas that we want to change.

selecting the same colour

But selecting each and every area of that colour can be difficult and long. To make this easier, go to Select > Same > Fill Colour. Now all those areas are selected we can choose a new colour to replace this.

image traced

What if you wanted to Image Trace a scanned image or document? Place your image and start the Image Trace process like before.

In the Preset drop down menu, you can choose a range of different presets with different setting to suit the outcome.

Here we’ve used the ‘sketched art’ preset to get a simple plan outline.

scanned images work well too

9. Patterns

Patterns are an easy tool in Adobe Illustrator and making your own pattern allows you to fill larger areas with the same shape rather than copying and pasting it again and again.

Here we have a hexagon with the letter ‘S’ cut out (Remember creating outlines and pathfinder cut out?) which we want to make into a pattern to fill a rectangular shape.

Select your shape with the Selection Tool (V) and go to Object > Pattern > Make.

making a pattern

Now we can adjust the size, spacing and angle of the pattern you want to create. You can name your pattern to use in the future as this gets saved as a Swatch.

Use the Pattern Tile Tool in the top left to adjust the spacing manually.

adjusting the size

You can also use the presets to change the style of the pattern. We’re going to select ‘Brick by Column’.

brick by column

Now, you can click Done to save this as a pattern. Basically, we can use the pattern as we would any fill colour. Since it has been added to swatches, we can create a rectangle and select the swatch to fill it with our pattern.

using the swatch to fill a shape
pattern made

10. Exporting

You’re all done and dusted testing out these handful of features and actually managed to create something along the way. But what now? Saving and exporting is just as important as the actual outcome.

The ‘Save As’ feature allows you to save your document as an Illustrator file (.Ai) and an Adobe PDF whereas the ‘Export’ feature lets you save in a large number of formats, the most common being .png or .jpeg.

You can also save your artboards as separate images or pages in a PDF.

These 10 tools and features are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Illustrator but now that you’ve covered the basics we hope you turned from a newbie to someone who knows some of the ins and outs of this particular software and don’t worry if it takes a while or if along the way you make some happy accidents and reveal even more features.

Which other tools, tips and tricks do you like using in Adobe Illustrator? Comment below or head over to our Instagram to let us know your favourite feature in Illustrator. We love to see architectural perspectives and drawings that have a simple and illustrative style to don’t forget to tag us @to.scale or use the hashtag #toscalearch.