Getting Started: Adobe Photoshop for Architecture Students

Adobe Photoshop may very well be one of the most well-known software out there and it’s not just for architects. Photographers, artists, designers all use Adobe Photoshop in some way. Hence, there are plenty of tutorials, guides and courses out there to teach you the ins and outs of this software.

But in this article we want to focus on why it is such an incredible resource to use and delve into some of the things you should definitely start working on. For students and beginners, the interface and range of options can seem overwhelming to say the least. This isn’t a full-fledged guide but if you are looking for something like that, here’s a few guides we love.

Click HERE.

We’re going to breakdown in detail, what Adobe Photoshop is used for during your architectural studies. This itself gives you many routes and uses so to follow we go further into setting up a document, playing with images and then looking at some of the basic yet important tools.

What is Adobe Photoshop Used For?

Although Photoshop was created as a photo-editing program, it has evolved into a bigger and all-purpose software for most projects. For architecture students, it can be used for a variety of purposes. Editing photographs of a site, prototype models, finished models or general research.

A good photograph can make all the difference on a portfolio page. Even if your models are rubbish, they can be altered in such a way that it look’s like a completely different and new model by the time you’re done. So, try and take photographs of all the models you make even if they look bad. We’ll discuss this more in the future. If Photoshop doesn’t have all the features you want, you can also try using Adobe Lightroom for even more in-depth editing.

Adding ‘people’ to your drawings can also be created in Photoshop especially if you want to create your own custom ones that can be used in any drawings. Having these pre-made not only saves time but can be really fun. You can also create textures by importing images and editing them to use later on in your illustrations or perspectives.

Probably the most common way architects use Photoshop is by creating illustrations and perspectives or edit renderings for your design project. Depending on your style or the kind of qualities you are looking for in the final outcome, creating such images have different paths. There are quite a lot of examples already out there and some even come with tutorials if you’re lucky.

We’re letting you know now; this isn’t a tutorial on how to create beautiful and stunning images (we have stuff planned for that in due time). This is basically a breakdown of some of the tools that are handy for students and beginners. Let’s get started.

Basic Rules + Setting Up a Document

After you open up Adobe Photoshop, go to File > New. The dialogue box that comes up will have several options to customise your file. File size, Resolution, Colour mode and other options that you don’t need to worry about.

File Size

Measurements are in cm, mm, px, points, inches, picas or columns. The ones you will be using predominantly are mm/cm and pixels. A pixel is a single dot in your image and a large amount of pixels make up your image. Don’t worry too much about it at this stage. Photoshop is a raster image editor (as compared to Adobe Illustrator – a vector-based program) so working in pixels is better for high quality prints. Using standard dimensions such as mm/cm is better when you want to create a page for printing.


Image resolution is measured/described in PPI (pixels per inch). This is a measure of how many pixels are displayed per inch of an image which is its pixel density. Higher PPI creates a high-quality image. By default, it’s set to 72 PPI (pixels per inch) as that is the common resolution for monitors but most of your work – assuming it’s for printing – should be set at 300PPI or higher. There are options to change this after you have already created your work, but it’s good to make this a habit beforehand.

Colour Mode

RGB and CMYK are the two modes in Photoshop. You don’t need to know too much apart from if you’re planning on printing your artwork at some stage, it’s a good idea to use CMYK because those are the colours a printer is familiar with. If you accidentally use RGB, the colours many come out slightly different which can become an issue if you’re paying a large amount for a high-quality print or if colour is a key part of the project.


Layer’s aren’t a part of setting up the document but essentially they are the backbone to any project, big or small. There are many features within the layers panel itself which we will discuss further. You can think of layers similar to sheets of tracing paper. If you did all your work on the same layer, then wanted to go back and delete an element or change something slightly, it would be much harder to do if everything was on the same layer.

By using of layers, you not only make it easier for yourself, but sometimes you can get some amazing effects in your projects. Over time, you will find that for larger images or renders and illustrations, you will end up using a lot of layers. Here, organisation is key. We suggest two important things; naming your layers and grouping your layers.

Layers are where you can stack images, change blend modes, add filters and effects, etc. The order of layers determines which image will in front or behind. This is also something to note when you are experimenting with blend modes. You can create folders and ‘group’ layers so that some parts of the design are in the same place but also to apply an effect to a large amount of elements.

Let’s break down the panel. To add and delete a layer it’s pretty simple.


To name a layer, double click and replace with whatever you want to name it. After you have 5 or more layers, it can get hard to keep track of. To create a folder of layers, click on the Folder icon next to the ‘New Layer’ icon. Then, to add into the group, select all the layers by using the Shift button and either select specific ones or click on the top-most and then the bottom layer to select all of them at once.


The blend modes are located in the drop-down menu that as set to default as ‘Normal’. The opacity is located next to that. The eye icon next to each layer simply turns the layer on or off. This is pretty useful so you can work on specific elements without have other stuff cluttered around. To lock the layer, click on the lock icon – simple right?


There are so many tools in Photoshop sometimes it’s hard to keep track of. You definitely won’t be using them all in one go so don’t worry about knowing what each one does. To begin, we suggest you check out the tools yourself. Some are pretty straightforward whereas others can be a little trickier to understand.

The Rectangle Marquee Tool is a great selection tool. There are other ways of selecting areas such as the Polygonal Lasso Tool and the Magic Wand or Quick Selection Tool. Each of these have different methods and results, so depending on the use, any is great.

Also keep in mind that most tools have a shortcut key. If you think about it, you’re going to be using Photoshop is some way or another and since there are always a number of things you need to be doing, cutting down time while using Photoshop is basically a hack. It makes you faster and it’s definitely much easier. Another thing to note is to keep the panels and toolbars how you prefer. You don’t have to stick to the default setup and over time you’re going to realise which tools and panels you use the most.

The Eyedropper Tool is for picking colours from images our from a colour palette you have created. If you’re using the shortcut it’ll cut down time and make the whole process much faster. If you happen to have a graphics tablet; doesn’t have to be a fancy, expensive one, then the Brush Tool can come in very handy. It gives you that hand-drawn quality and you can also experiment with different brush packs made for architecture.

Of course, this is only a handful of tools. As you start using Adobe Photoshop you might need to use some of the other tools depending on what you want to do. Don’t worry, we will have future tutorials going into detail on how to create perspectives or edit photographs.

Some advice for first year students and beginners; don’t feel the pressure to learn everything about Adobe Photoshop in one go. It takes a lot more time then that and even when you feel confident you might not know every single thing. Here at :scale, we’re constantly learning something new and you can do this by watching YouTube videos, finding free courses online or even something simple as searching up what you want to do.

For example, if you want a certain effect or you need to know how to create an element but don’t know how to go about doing it, search it up in Google. Most of the time, you can find the answers online if you know what you’re looking for. Once you learn something, you’ll get quicker and won’t have to search things up each time.

Just remember, it takes patience to learn a software in general. You can’t be an expert in a day, and we aren’t experts either! For more of our Getting Started series and to learn other Adobe programs, click HERE.

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